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The Beginner’s Guide to a Glowy 10-step Korean Skincare Routine (thank me later)

Over the last few years, South Korea has established itself at the center of skincare. The Korean skincare regime has become one of the most followed routines in the world – and why? Because it works! Established and developed through centuries of cultural fascination with healthy-looking skin; today it’s less of a “routine” than it is a lifestyle.

What is K-Beauty?

After living in Hong Kong, where skincare products are found in every corner of the city, you understand why the locals’ skin is so unblemished; the whole island of Hong Kong is obsessed with Korean skincare – and they have all the right to be! The Korean multi-step skincare regimen is packed with all the essentials to make your skin flawless!

Korean skincare really emphasises the importance of learning about the purpose of each step in order to understand how your skin behaves. After that, you can tailor your products to fit your needs in order to achieve your personal skin goals. That’s why the routine fits all skin types: dry, highly sensitive or oily skin. For this reason, the routine doesn’t need to be all 10 steps, one day you might just do 4 steps, and the next day you might want to add a few steps to boost hydration.

For many Koreans, skincare is a part of their culture, so they usually start taking care of their skin from an early age (compared to the mindset of most of us in Europe who usually begin to think about anti-ageing when we discover the first few lines). The Korean products are many – it’s a jungle and it’s impossible to try everything. Due to the high interest and demand, there are a lot of brands. Vegan, eco-friendly, and products created using a limited amount of ingredients to fit sensitive skin in harsh environments. Shipping these products from an Asian online store may be challenging, because of this, we have put together a list of places where you can purchase K-beauty products from a European address. Check it out below!

While it may seem crazy to spend 10-15 minutes a day applying skincare products, the Korean skincare routine makes your skin hydrated, glowy and fresh. Most of all, it will give you that extra confidence and self-love. Something I can promise you is, once you start, there’s no going back. With an open mind and a few weeks getting used to the routine, you will be searching for new K-beauty products like a true skincare nerd!

Here’s a breakdown of each step, how it works, and some products involved (all South Korean brands, of course). Are you ready? Only good (skin) days ahead, let’s begin!

STEP #1

OIL CLEANSER

An oil cleanse is the first half of the ever-so-popular double-cleanse which is one of the key elements in the K-beauty skincare. Sure, you could use your makeup remover at night and call it a day, but that means you’ll most likely end up with mascara on your pillowcase the following morning. To truly remove ALL makeup and impurities from the big city air pollution, reach for an oil-based cleanser.

HOW TO: Massage the oil all over your dry face and then add lukewarm water to emulsify the cleanser. Massage again and then rinse everything off!

Erborian cleansing oil – € 39

The Erborian Oil has a creamy texture and becomes a smooth oil as it touches your skin. Formulated with coconut and sunflower seed oil to help leave your skin soft, clean and comfortable while it removes your makeup and impurities. Without parabens, sulfates and phthalates. The product fits both oily, dry and sensitive skin.

For the budget price, Innisfree’s (which is one of the absolute biggest Korean brands) cleansing oil, gently cleanses the face and leaves it moisturized. Fits sensitive skin that helps softly dissolve your makeup and impurities containing freshly squeezed Jeju green tea.

STEP #2

WATER-BASED CLEANSER

That’s right! We’re cleansing again! It’s called double cleansing for a reason. Oil cleanser removes the first layer of dirt and makeup. The other half of the double cleanse is the water-based cleanser, it’s there to wash away the remaining oil from the first step.

HOW TO: Add water to your cleanser and lather, massaging onto face and neck. Rinse with lukewarm water. Make sure you rinse off all the oil cleanser so your eyes don’t start to hurt from the oil.

Cosrx Good Morning Ph – € 11

Cosrx is one of the biggest Korean skin care brands next to Innisfree, their Good Morning cleanser is one of, if not the most popular morning cleanser.

STEP # 3

EXFOLIATE

You don’t always have to exfoliate (especially if you have sensitive skin). Exfoliating once or twice a week is enough to get that smooth skin we’re dreaming about. Rubbing off dead skin cells makes it possible for the rest of your skincare products to mingle with your skin and create magic.

How to: Gently massage or tap an exfoliant into your skin. If it’s a wash-off mask, gently massage the product into your skin and leave it on for 5-10 minutes and then rinse off with warm water.

Skinfood Black sugar mask – € 15

The black sugar mask helps exfoliate and moisturize your skin. Packed with organic black sugar that is enriched with vitamins and minerals to hydrate and nourish. If you have more sensitive skin, I would recommend Skinfood’s Black Sugar Honey Mask Wash Off which is packed with honey which is nicer and easier to apply to your skin.

STEP #4

TONER

Toner helps restore your pH balance, preparing your skin to better absorb what comes next. However, compared to many western toners, Korean brands are focused more on hydration and as you will notice, are a bit thicker in the formula.

How to: Pump 1-2 drops of the toner into your hands and tap the product directly onto your skin, or dispense it onto a cotton pad and gently swipe around your face working outwards.

Benton Aloe Bha Skin Toner – 17 €

This toner contains Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, and Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice. BHA (0.5%), Snail Secretion Filtrate and Hyaluronic Acid. Which all helps skin texture, heals, balances, and hydrates your skin. No synthetic fragrances or colors.

STEP #5

ESSENCE

Halfway through! You’ve almost made it! The heart of the Korean skincare routine and one of the biggest differences between Korean and western skincare is the Essence. An essence is a kind of toner/serum hybrid that boost your skin. Finding the right essence can be a bit tricky in the beginning (talking from experience) many of the essences contain different acids and ingredients, which fit different skin types.

 

HOW TO: Apply the product to freshly toned skin and pat it in. One important note is to pat it into your skin – don’t spread it around.

Cosrx Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence – 16 €

One of the most sold essences for the average person is the Cosrx Snail essence. Packed with 96% snail secretion filtrate for super intense repair and hydration, loaded with replenishing and revitalizing nutrients to help prevent and repair damage. Snail mucin has the ability to repair everything from dry patches to acne breakouts while helping zap hyperpigmentation.

STEP #6

SERUM

This step focuses on what you wish to boost in order to directly treat the issues you’re most concerned about. Whether they target dull skin, large pores, pigmentation, wrinkles, or acne – serums are the ideal skin-perfecting step. Gently tap these into your skin!

 

How to: Pat the serum onto your skin with your fingers. The serum can be used a few times a week when you want an extra boost of confidence.

Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum – 32 €

This soothing serum gives a moist boost and is suitable for skin that easily becomes red and inflamed, in need of a calming serum. After I used this product, my skin got a whole new softer and clearer texture. As it should be, with that price tag.  

STEP #7

SHEET MASKS

It’s time for the sheet mask! Many say that if essences are the heart of the Korean skincare routine, sheet masks are the soul. All you have to do is apply a mask to your face and relax for 15-20 minutes (and probably take a selfie). Sheet masks provide you with a maximum nourishment for your skin. Use a sheet mask at least once a week or every single day if you’d like!

How to: Sheet masks have clear instructions on the back of their packages since different masks are applied in different ways. After you remove the mask, feel free to dab the remaining products into your skin, or just leave it. Sometimes I don’t apply night cream after because I just love the feeling of a good sheet mask.

There are A LOT of sheet masks. Every brand has their own. But here are some I personally have tried and loved:

For sensitive skin that needs hydration: TONY MOLY Seaweed mask – 6 €

For normal/mixed skin: Innisfree My real squeeze mask – pomegranate – 2 €

Innisfree has a jungle full of different sheet masks for your specific skin care and they are one of the biggest Korean brands – so they know what they are doing. 

STEP #8

EYE CREAM

The skin around your eyes is thin and delicate, which means you should treat it with special care. An eye cream provides the area with extra helpings of hydration and protection. Use your finger to very gently dab (never rub!) eye cream around the entire orbital bone, avoiding the water line.

HOW TO: Gently dab; never rub!

Erborian Seve de Bamboo Eye Matte – 34 €

A light and uplifting eye cream which hydrates your eyes. For the person who wants a cheaper option, to for Cosrx Honey Ceramide Eye Cream – around 17 €.

STEP #9

MOISTURIZER

By now your skin should be feeling super hydrated and look very dewy. Korean skincare is all about layering products in order from thinnest to thickest, which is why you want to save your heaviest product, your moisturizer, for last.

Hydration is the final key for glowing skin, so it’s important to find a moisturizer that works for your skin type. They come in many forms – lotion, gel, or cream – all of which work to seal in moisture, plump up the skin and smooth away any fine lines.

HOW TO: Pat a moisturizer onto your face and neck, morning and night every single day. On days when your skin feels extra dry, swap your regular moisturizer for a sleeping mask.

 

Banila Co. Dear Hydration, Boosting Cream – 25 €

This is the most ultra-hydrating and innovated boosting cream I have tried. The cream contains mint, basil, and neem leaf extracts to effectively lock in moisture and protect the skin from external stressors like pollution. And best of all, gives you a long-lasting glow and makes skin dewier and smoother, prepping it for makeup application.

 

STEP #10

SUN PROTECTION

Koreans fully understand just how damaging the sun can be for the skin when it’s not properly protected, which is why SPF is so important. Even if you’re stepping outside for just a couple of minutes – you must wear sunscreen. It’s the easiest and most effective way to prevent early ageing of the skin (and skin cancer!). It’s important to put this on last so it can fully shield your skin from UV rays.

HOW TO: Apply every morning as the last step of your routine!

Innisfree – Perfect UV protection cream anti-pollution SPF50+ PA++++– 22 €

This triple function UV screen is formulated solely with mild ingredients and provides a safer protection. The sunscreen from Innisfree also has a PA++++ rating (Japanese sunscreen rating system), which means that it has the highest rating and protection for sunscreens.

Congratulations, you made it past the finish line! Yes, I know, it’s a lot in the beginning. That’s why you don’t need to start with all steps at once, you will learn as you go! The key to this routine is consistency and taking a few extra minutes of each day to care for your skin (and yourself) — something your future self will thank you for, no matter how many steps or products you’re using. The important thing is that you take care of yourself and feel good from within.

By Yasmine Mubarak
Pictures by Yasmine Mubarak