If you haven’t already heard about the 10-step Korean skincare routine, you may be surprised to learn that Koreans are serious about their skincare, and it shows in their skincare routines. In the past, I’d only used a few Korean skincare products but heard great things about Korean skincare brands. I was excited to explore a Korean skincare routine and to try Korean skincare products from brands known for their innovative formulas.
In recent years, Korean beauty, or K-Beauty has become somewhat of a global phenomenon and it is no joke. Seoul, South Korea is a beauty mecca, bustling with facialists, spas, retail beauty stores, skin clinics and cosmetic surgeons. With so many skincare lines and products, I didn’t know where to begin. So I started researching and learning about the philosophy that is behind the Korean skincare routine.
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The Korean skincare philosophy stems from the fact that skin is to be protected first as opposed to treating issues and concerns that arise with time. Hydration is a main focus in their skincare routines. This will allow the skin to glow from the inside out, and as a result, fewer color cosmetics will be required.
The Korean skincare routine is known for its double-cleanse methods and layered treatment applications. Korean skincare aficionados will recognize the technique of patting products into your skin. While we may have been taught that we should simply rub our skincare into our skin, Koreans have learned that patting may increase absorption and ultimately improve hydration.
You’ll find many Korean products using ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else and they are innovative with their formulations. They often are the originators of trends and new developments in skincare. They personalize their skincare routines based on skin type and skin goals and as you’ll soon see, will use as many products as necessary.
NOTE: When starting out with Korean skincare, you don’t have to build a skincare routine with 10 steps. You can work your way up to a more complicated regimen, keep it streamlined with a few basic products, or add a few Korean favorites into your current skincare routine.
Let’s take a look at a complete 10-step Korean skincare routine.
The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine
If you are in a hurry, or just want a consolidated list of the 10-step routine that I tried, you can skip to a specific section of this post by clicking on each step below:
- Step #1: Oil-Based Cleanser
- Step #2: Water-Based Cleanser
- Step #3: Exfoliator
- Step #4: Toner
- Step #5: Essence
- Step #6: Serum or Ampoule
- Step #7: Sheet Mask
- Step #8: Eye Cream
- Step #9: Moisturizer
- Step #10: Sunscreen
The 10-step Korean skincare routine categorizes 10 different types of skincare products that are to be applied in a specific order for maximum effectiveness and absorption into your skin.
I purchased a product from each of the 10 step categories and am happy to report that I’ve found some incredible products and most at very affordable prices. And…I purchased them all on Amazon!
Choose Products Based on Your Skin Type
Before purchasing Korean skincare products, be sure to determine your skin type and base your purchases on your skin’s needs. My skin is combination, and while it can get oily (especially in the summer), it can also become rather dry (in the winter), so you’ll see I tried a mix of products. Many of the products I tried are super hydrating as I’ve been using them this winter.
Just remember that nothing is written in stone. A 10-step routine is simply an outline of all of the options that you have for a skincare routine. You need to listen to your skin and depending on your skin issues and concerns, you can tweak the routine to make it work for you.
NOTE: I rarely apply all 10 products at once. I only apply SPF in the morning, I use an oil-based cleanser only in the evenings, exfoliate a few times a week, and I apply a sheet mask once a week.
Step #1: Oil-Based Cleanser
Oil-based cleansers can do an excellent job of removing makeup, dirt, oil, SPF, and pollution from the day, so using them at night is ideal. They break down makeup, sunscreen, and other products once they are emulsified with water. The best oil-based cleansers, often called cleansing balms, will rinse clean without leaving a layer of residue or oil on your face. I use oil-based cleansers in the evening only to removed dirt and makeup from the day.
I’ve been on the double-cleanse bandwagon for a while now, so starting the skincare routine with an oil-cleanse was a no-brainer for me. In fact, my absolute favorite Korean oil-based cleansing balm, Heimish All Clean Balm, was already in my skincare routine.
This cleansing balm doesn’t strip the skin, but emulsifies easily and removes all traces of makeup and dirt. The scent is a citrus herbal blend and one of my favorite scents of all the products in my skincare routine.
Related: Drugstore Skincare: Cleansing Balms
Step #2: Water-Based Cleanser
A water-based cleanse is Step #2. The oil-based cleanser may have left some water-based impurities on your skin, such as dirt and sweat, so that’s where this second cleanse comes in. This cleanse will help get rid of any residual makeup and oil that might otherwise lead to breakouts. I use a water-based cleanser both morning and night.
Missha Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Visible Deep Cleanser is a water-based cleanser that starts out as a gel, but once applied to your skin foams up withs its O2 Carrier Complex, Swiss Alpine Herb Extract and other botanical extracts. You massage the bubbles into your skin and rinse.
This is a very interesting cleanser. I’m not one for foaming cleansers since they tend to strip your skin, but not this cleanser. It’s formulated with a pH of 5.5 which is ideal to protect the skin’s barrier. It really does foam up on its own which is fun to witness every time I use this cleanser. When you massage the bubbles in, it turns into a white creamy foaming cleansing, a little reminiscent of a thin layer of shaving cream. The foam dies down after a few seconds and it rinses clean without drying out my skin. Please note that this cleanser has a mild fresh fragrance.
Step #3: Exfoliator
Exfoliation is the next step in our 10-step Korean skincare routine. Whether you choose chemical or physical exfoliation, removing dead skin cells will reveal brighter, smoother skin that radiates clarity. It will also help your other skincare products be more effective as it will allow them to absorb more deeply.
I make sure to incorporate exfoliation into my skincare routine a few times a week whether I am following the 10-step Korean skincare routine or any other skincare routine.
Wish Formula 200 Bubble Peeling Pad uses a dual peeling system: a patented fermented peeling solution and a peeling pad to reveal brighter fresher skin. The peeling pad is drenched in actives such as Vitamin C, lactic acid, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and a fermented extract complex, plus nutrient-rich extracts of celery, cabbage, tomato, broccoli, turnip, and carrot.
The box comes with 4 individually wrapped bubble peeling pads (4 exfoliating treatments). Bubbles seem to be a running theme in this skincare routine! You pour the liquid peeling base into the larger white package alongside the dry peeling pad and squeeze to mix the two in order to activate bubbles. You then massage it over your entire face for about 2 minutes.
The sponge has a fiber side to apply the ingredients and a soft side to pat the ingredients into your skin. This formula stung my face slightly and my skin became a little red, but the irritation went away in a few minutes. I have somewhat sensitive skin, so I attribute the irritation to the potent acids and vitamin C in the formula.
After rinsing, my face was noticeable more radiant and bright. I really like the sponge and save them to be used a few more times before disposing of them. This product may be a little much for sensitive skin. For non-sensitive skin types, you can use it once or twice a week to brighten your skin.
Step #4: Toner
The toner step of this routine ensures that your skin’s barrier is protected and supported. It also removes any residual product from earlier steps in your skincare routine such as cleansers or exfoliators. It moisturizes and preps your skin for important upcoming treatment steps.
Secret Key Aloe Soothing Moist Toner is probably the least exciting product that I tried out of all of the products in this 10-step routine, but it still is a lovely product. This toner is loaded with soothing ingredients and is ideal for stressed skin or skin that has been overexposed to the sun’s harmful rays. There are 13 botanical extracts in this toner. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories are abundant including green tea extract, aloe vera extract, purslane extract, sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid), and snail secretion filtrate.
Wait, what? Snail secretion filtrate? As in snail slime? Yes, you read correctly. This is the first product (but not the last) in this Korean skincare routine that includes this favorite K-Beauty ingredient. Snail slime is all the rage due to its ability to repair and hydrate and for its nutrient-rich ingredients. More on that later. This toner is clear and has a subtle green tea scent, so you wouldn’t even know snail secretion filtrate is in there. This is a nicely hydrating and non-irritating toner.
Step #5: Essence
The essence, a category of skincare unto itself that comes to us from Korea, is similar in consistency to a toner, yet is used to apply more active ingredients to the skin than toners do. Think hyaluronic and other acids, glycerin or rice extract. Essences will also balance the pH of the skin.
Another thing that sets an essence apart is that you do not apply with a cotton pad, as you would a toner. Essences are meant to be gently patted into the skin with your fingers/hands. They tend to work best for those with drier skin, as they will add an additional layer of moisture to the skin.
I’ve really been enjoying the essences that I’ve been using from Korean skincare brands and alternate between two. The first is Purito Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence. This essence is so gentle and the consistency falls right between that of a watery toner and a light serum.
It contains 92% galactomyces ferment filtrate to control oil production, improve elasticity, and brighten the skin and 5% niacinamide to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brighten the skin and calm inflammation. It is weightless and moisturizing.
The second essence that I’ve been alternating with the Purito essence is COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. Yes, more snail mucin!! This essence is clear and I don’t detect any fragrance, so the only thing that differentiates it from other essences is its texture.
Its thin gel-like sticky texture is not my favorite, but the high concentration of snail secretion filtrate is moisturizing, soothing, and improves elasticity. It can even help with acne scars. Plus I’ve noticed an improvement in the appearance of pores. I have a feeling that the large 3.38 oz bottle will last a long time.
Step #6: Ampoule or Serum
A serum or ampoule (highly concentrated serum) comes next. This is where we get to the meaty part of the routine. A serum or ampoule will usually be the step of your skincare routine that contains some of the most active ingredients in your skincare routine. This is the step where you will treat your skin based on your skincare issues, such as age-related concerns ranging from fine lines and wrinkles to hyperpigmentation or discoloration.
Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule contains 10 different kinds of probiotics plus the fruits of purple carrots, plum cabbage, eggplant, beetroot and blueberry. I’ve been testing Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule for this skincare routine and also as a drugstore skincare alternative for Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair. It is similar in look and feel to the luxury Estee Lauder product. While the results may not be quite as immediate to Advanced Night Repair, it is an effective and affordable alternative.
Step #7: Sheet Mask
Sheet masks, central to the Korean skincare routine, are the next step. Sheet masks are used to deliver active ingredients in the form of an essence to the skin with the help of a sheet applied to your face for a short period of time. You can wear a sheet mask from a few to several minutes which also allows you to sit still since moving around with the sheet on your face doesn’t work too well.
Leaders Media Amino Moisture Mask contains 17 types of amino acids to soothe, moisturize, and protect the skin. It also contains mineral water, rich in minerals, and hyaluronic acid. The mask is best for those with dry skin.
Talk about hydration. I used this mask in the evening and after allowing it to sink into my skin for 10 minutes, I simply patted in the residual essence on my skin and finished my skincare routine. I woke in the morning to plump and radiant skin.
Step #8: Eye Cream
The skin around your eyes gets its own step in this Korean skincare routine. Skin around the eyes can be sensitive and thinner than other areas of your face, so a gentle eye cream that addresses specific issues is ideal. Eye creams are formulated to address a variety of issues including dark circles, bags, puffiness, wrinkles and fine lines.
Benton Fermentation Eye Cream has some all-star active ingredients in its formula. It contains galactomyces ferment filtrate plus bifida ferment lysate for repairing and brightening the skin. Hyaluronic acid moisturizes, aloe barbadensis leaf extract soothes and Ceramide NP supports the skin’s barrier while improving moisture retention. Beta-glucans and adenosine plump, firm, and smooth the eye area.
I’ve been enjoying this eye cream for its light and non-irritating formula. It’s super gentle and even though you need only a small amount, the tube is a generous 1.05 oz size and very reasonably priced.
Related: Do You Really Need An Eye Cream?
Step #9: Moisturizer
We are getting near the end, I promise! Next, to seal in all of the previous treatments, we apply a moisturizer. Moisturizers take the shape of many different forms in Korean skincare and you can choose the form best suited to your skin type.
A sleeping mask, or sleeping pack, is more intensive than a regular moisturizer and can replace your regular moisturizer once or twice a week. Sleeping masks are formulated to provide the benefits of a face mask but in the form of a night cream. Great for dry skin, they can provide extra moisture and repair for dry or dehydrated skin.
A great option for oily skin are gels or emulsions, which are similar to watery lotions. A water-based emulsion will provide the moisture yet not the weight of a heavier cream.
This winter I’ve been using Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream. This gentle cream is the real deal when it comes to providing moisture. Great for sensitive and dry skin, it reduces redness and improves hydration with ingredients such as shea butter, ceramide 3, and lipidure. It’s also vegan and free of dyes and fragrances.
Step #10: Sunscreen
We’ve made it to the last step of this 10-step routine! Sunscreen is a necessary step to any skincare routine. Wearing sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays every single day regardless of whether the sun is out or not. I gravitate toward sunscreens that are mineral-based and contain titanium dioxide and or zinc oxide.
The drawback to mineral sunscreens is that they can leave a white cast on your face, especially for darker skin tones. Some mineral sunscreens are tinted, which helps a little. I found a mineral sunscreen that I absolutely love from the Korean brand Etude House. Etude House Sunprise Mild Airy Finish Sun Milk SPF50+ / PA+++ is a thin formula that works well for my pale skin and doesn’t leave a white cast. The best part about this sunscreen is that it leaves a non-sticky matte finish and doesn’t interfere with makeup and other skincare products. Please note that there is a scent that smells somewhat medical, but it dissipates after application.
Final Thoughts on The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine
If you made it to the end of this, thanks for hanging in there and reading about a 10 product skincare routine. If 10 steps are too many for you, and I expect they might be for most, you can always give the 5-Step Korean skincare routine a try and narrow it down to a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, and SPF. You can switch out the SPF at night for a mask or essence.
I am so happy to learn about Korean beauty and its amazing range of skincare products. What’s so great is that many are reasonably priced and can easily be found on Amazon. I’m particularly enjoying the essences that I purchased for this routine. Do you use Korean skincare products? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and until next time…