Skincare is a huge deal in South Korea. The need for healthy, radiant skin has made Korean Skincare lines some of the highest grossing and constantly advancing industries in Korea. And the rest of the world is getting in on the action. We’ve see the cleverly placed products in our favorite dramas, music videos, variety shows, and movies. In fact, if you’ve seen any K-Drama where a character sits in front of a mirror, odds are their vanity is piled high with skincare products or the leading lady conveniently pulls out some makeup and the camera just so happens to capture the brand of the item.
But what goes into a Korean Skincare Routine? Well, that’s entirely up to you. Each routine should be personalized to fit you and your lifestyle. Everything from your allergies to the amount of time you have in the day dedicated to skincare will influence how long your routine is. So for me to be here and tell you what your routine is going to look like would be silly. This isn’t cut and paste. It’s a very hands on find-out-what-works-and-what-doesn’t-work process. And it might take you a while to find the perfect combination of products but I can assure you that when you find the routine that works for you and your skin, you will see brighter, clearer days!
So, let’s get down to the core of all of this. While your routine will be unique, it should follow a basic format. And even then, this format also varies. A lot. Your routine can be as quick and simple as 4 steps. Or something a little bit heftier like the oh so popular 11 step routine. Remember your routine is exactly that…YOURS. Play around with the order of it all, add or skip steps you may not need, just make sure it works for your skin.
- Oil Cleanser/Cleansing Balm
Oil-Based Cleansers are amazing when removing makeup. Using an oil cleanser to help remove the gunk off your face is an excellent first step in starting your routine. While it may seem counterproductive to add oil to your face during cleansing, rest assured, these are “good oils” that’ll do wonders for your face.
Cleansing Balms are similar to cleansing oils in the sense that they’re both multipurpose cleansers, that not only clean makeup, but also clean dirt and grime off your skin. The big difference between the two is the application method; balms are thicker than oils so some people warm the balm in their hands before applying to the face. It can be applied straight from the container if you’d prefer it that way.
- Foaming Cleanser/Gel Cleanser
Foaming Cleansers are fun. At least I think so. This works as the secondary cleanser that fully cleans the skin after the initial cleaning with your oil or balm cleanser. There are also the gel cleansers that work similarly to foams.
This step isn’t for everyone. Your skin may be too sensitive to exfoliate so if you have sensitive skin keep that in mind. There are a lot of different exfoliating products, the most popular being sugar scrubs and are often mixed with other ingredients such as honey, coffee, and strawberries. Exfoliating the skin helps remove dead skin cells lingering on the skin and can help rid you of blackheads and even tighten noticeably large pores. But don’t forget, over exfoliating is just as bad, maybe even worse, than not exfoliating.
Toners are popular in Western skincare routines, just like in a Korean routine. The difference being that in a Western routine, toners are used as the secondary cleanser. This is done by putting toner on a cotton pad and wiping your face with it until you see noticeable gunk on the once clean cotton pad. I will admit, this is what I used to do before adopting my new routine. Korean toners are used to “reset” your skin to prepare it for the other products you will be applying. Toners may also be labeled as “skins”. And a good alternative to toners are boosters that do just that, boost the skin. On top of all that, there’s a third option you can use. “Booskins”…which are essentially boosters and skins already put together for you. I personally alternate between a toner and a booskin.
- Eye Cream
This is another optional step. Not everyone uses an eye cream, which is fine. Those that do have told me that they like to apply the eye cream before essences and serums to fully penetrate the skin. But it can be used in whatever step. More power to you!
Essences and serums are very similar. The only notable difference I’ve been able to gather is that the essence tends to be much more lightweight than serums. Serums and ampoules have a thicker consistency than most essences and have key active ingredients that target specific skin concerns. Because these three are similar in what they do, I know a few people that only use 1 or 2 of them, but there’s no harm in using all three, especially since different essences, serums, and ampoules have different areas of concentration.
- Sheet Mask
Sheet masks are my favorite part of this whole process. They were what piqued my interest in Korean skincare. Sheet masks are thin sheets soaked in an essence (yup, more essence) that target different skin problems. There are different kinds of sheet mask, some made out of cotton, others out of gel, but most tend to be fairly inexpensive and very easy to find. I’ve been able to find some pretty good masks at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Burlington, Ulta, and Sephora. Masks are perfect for a relaxing night in, and when chilled in the refrigerator, make for a cool summer treat.
Pretty straight forward. If you have dry skin you may need to use an emulsion (basically a lotion) and then a cream on top of that. Those with oily skin can get away with just using an emulsion.
- Sleep Mask
Optional. This is to be applied at night (or if your sleep schedule is all upside down, during the day works…just as long as it’s used before sleep). Using a sleep mask helps lock in the products used earlier.
Optional. Another pretty straight forward step. Sunscreen is a huge deal in South Korea because Korean women want to protect their skin from UV damage. Korean sunscreens are especially nice because they don’t leave you feeling greasy. This should be used in the morning.
Well, that’s about it. Don’t let this whole mess scare you off. My skin has never felt better than after I developed my own routine. And I can’t stress it enough that your routine needs to be personalized to fit your skin. And if you need any help don’t e afraid to ask! Or join a Korean beauty group on FB, that’s ultimately how I figured out my routine and made tons of new friends that were able to walk down the K-Beauty road with me.