It’s no breaking news that Korean women have some of the most flawless, porcelain-like, and ageless skin in the world. Chances are you’ve probably read a dozen headlines about their mysterious, seemingly excessive, 10-step beauty routine without being able to grasp it to its full extent. What exactly does such a routine entail, and is it really necessary? Here’s where we come in.
First, do keep in mind that what truly makes or breaks a complexion is consistency – and, arguably, dedication. Korean women go the extra mile by performing an overwhelming amount of treatments, professionally and at home, which you don’t need to replicate, but setting a routine for yourself to follow every single day is key. Secondly, if you’re wondering why on earth anyone would layer that many products, know that you are not alone and that as it happens, it isn’t just all bells and whistles; there is some logic behind the process. Generally speaking, the products composing a 10-step routine are layered from thinnest to thickest, for better absorption, and are meant to provide as many layers of moisture as possible. Have you ever tried putting some dish soap on a dry sponge? Of course not. You always make sure it’s thoroughly wet first, don’t you? Well, your skin isn’t so different. It absorbs oils and other moisture-binding ingredients much better when prepped with water-based products first. Something else to note about a K-beauty routine is that it’s meant to be tailored to your skin’s needs weekly, if not daily. Some products target very specific skin concerns (more on those later) and when you multiply them, you get the perfect antidote to whatever it is your epidermis needs to thrive. For this reason, learning to read your skin and acknowledge its constant evolution is just as crucial, if not more, as getting the order of application right. Since that’s settled, let’s move on to the actual routine.
The first two steps and overall one of the most important takeaways of the Korean routine is the double-cleanse method. That’s right, not only should you always cleanse your skin, but you should do it twice. The first cleanse uses an oil-based product that will quickly break down every trace of makeup, as well as effectively remove sticky sun protection filters. The second cleanse is often water-based and is meant to thoroughly cleanse your skin. After that comes an exfoliator, chemical or physical, to remove dead skin cells and make sure your products can properly penetrate your epidermis. Next up comes a toner, usually poured onto a cotton pad and gently swiped all over your face, to make sure that there are no debris of makeup, cleanser or exfoliator left on your skin. As a fifth step, you’d use an essence, which is often described as the heart of the Korean routine. Essences are packed with hydrating ingredients, encourage cell turnover, and are the first layer of hydration post-cleansing. They are precious little devils and should not be wasted on a cotton pad, but rather patted on lightly with your palms and fingers. Ampoules are next, and if you’re confused as to what they are, picture a super-potent serum targeting one concern specifically (think brightening or tightening, for example). They tend to be thicker in texture, too. Their sister product in Western tradition — the serum — follows, providing yet another coat of protection, treatment and / or comfort depending on your weapon of choice. During nighttime, you would then put on a sheet mask, which is the most meditative part of the ritual, mostly because they tend to slip and move and that you shouldn’t need another reason to lay down for a well-deserved break. Once the mask is done working its magic, it’s time for an eye cream which yes, against popular belief, really is necessary. The skin around your eyes is much thinner than the rest of your face and needs special care. Pat it on with your ring finger as to not apply too much pressure. Finally, the last step is moisturizer – this one is a no-brainer. Needless to say that during the daytime, you would follow with an SPF.
Now, ten steps are a lot and many of us cannot afford to tap and dab and swipe that many products onto our skin morning and night, and that’s alright. Korean women don’t actually do all of these steps every single day as some treatments should not be used more than 2-3 times a week, like exfoliating products and masks. One handy trick is that when using a sheet mask, massage the excess into your skin and skip the ampoule and serum steps altogether. Double-cleansing, moisturizing, and SPF are non-negotiable, but everything you do around that should be tailored for your skin, whether that means adding six additional steps or two is up to you. Sure, this will take a while longer than it would otherwise, but what’s one moment to yourself in a frantic daily routine? Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
Below we’ve gathered both Korean and Western versions of the K-beauty products.