The 10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine
With a solid layer of dirt on my face and between my toes, I walked into my hostel dorm. When straight away, in the far right corner, I saw a big yellow tube on the sink. From up close it read ‘cleansing volcano something.’ I took the cleansing part as a sign, and then, I took a dollop.
I thought it was unlike any other cleanser I ever tried. It was thick, like clay, and a lot, like foam. It took a long time to wash off, but once done, my skin felt clean, revived, and not the slightest bit tight or dry. And if I didn’t look down at my feet, it was as if half a day of walking in a Southeast Asian capital never happened.
A year later, I would come to know this yellow tube for what it is: step 2 of the 10-step Korean skin care routine. And, also, “Jeju Volcanic Pore Cleansing Foam,” one of the bestselling products of the Korean skin care brand Innisfree.
When I found out about the 10-step Korean skin care routine (through Charlotte’s Cho’s Little Book of Skin Care), I couldn’t believe my luck. I had been overwhelmed by the skin care industry. I never knew what products to use and which ones worked and didn’t. And here there was this completely worked-out routine. That feeling, that apparently, all I had to do was put out a Google search.
I finished reading Cho’s book in a couple of hours, after which I spend days researching the steps, the brands, the products, and mapping the stores that sold it all. When I came out on the other side, I was a glow warrior.
It’s been two years now since I bought my first sheet mask and had to uncheck the “minimalist” box next to my name. In return for a label though, I got control over my skin. I rarely have breakouts anymore, and I’ve reduced my visits to the beautician from eight to two per year. My skin has never looked better.
Here’s what each step of the 10-step Korean skin care routine looks like, followed by the products that I use. Most links correspond to their product page on Soko Glam unless it’s a product that they don’t sell. The links are non-affiliated, by the way. I’m referring to Soko Glam because they provide proper explanations and how-tos on all products.
1. Oil Cleanser
Banila Co · Clean It Zero Purity
A second cleanser that I love, which claims to be an oil and water-based cleanser in one, is Neogen’s Real Fresh Green Tea Cleansing Stick. Unfortunately, it dries out my skin a bit too much, but depending on your skin type, it might not do so with yours.
2. Water-Based Cleanser
Klavuu · Pure Pearlsation Revitalizing Facial Cleansing Foam
👉🏻 Sidenote: Double cleansing, that is, following step 1 and step 2, is considered to be the holy grail of the Korean skin care routine. And if you’re going to give the Korean way a go, then you should start with adding the double cleanse to your routine.
Twice a week
Skinfood · Black Sugar Mask Wash Off
Likely my favorite little pot of the bunch: an exfoliator and mask in one. Costs less than a Starbucks Frappuccino, contains the same amount of sugar.
A cleansing toner and mild exfoliant. I sometimes felt I needed a more moisturizing toner, and have then used Klairs · Supple Preparation Facial Toner on top.
Missha · First Treatment Essence Mist
Boosters, Serums, Ampules
Klairs · Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum
COSRX · BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
I only use one of these products at a time. I don’t layer them. Also, I use the BHA liquid, at most, once a week (and always at night), because it dries out my skin quite a bit. This step, by the way, is the step that I thank for fading my sunspots (the serum) and clearing my skin of blackheads (the liquid).
👉🏻 Sidenote: You can apply the Vitamin C Serum or BHA Liquid either directly after cleansing (step 2) or after toning (step 4. Ideally, you’ll then wait 15-30 minutes before moving on to the next steps. Most of the time, however, I don’t wait at all. Also, if you do decide to use these products in the morning, you must not forget to wear sunscreen.
7. Sheet Masks
Once a week
Manefit · Bling Bling Hydrogel Whitening Platinum
Benton · Snail Bee High Content Mask
I adore sheet masks.
👉🏻 Sidenote: Whitening in Korean means brightening, and not, bleaching. (Related reading: K-beauty Translations: What Does ‘Whitening’ on K-beauty Products Actually Mean?)
8. Eye Cream
Erborian · Seve de Bamboo Eye Matte
I just started using Moistfull Collagen Eye Cream by Etude House, and I think I like it better than Erborian’s bamboo gel. It’s a bit too soon to tell though.
Dermalogica’s Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF50 (day)
Missha · Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream (night)
On those days that my face needs extra moisturizing, I replace my night cream with a sleeping pack, which is like a moisturizer on steroids: Laneige · Water Sleeping Mask.
By the way, you don’t need to use two different creams. You can use “Missha’s Snail Cream” for both your day and night routine, but then you’ll need to include a sunscreen for the day.
10. Sun Protection
Missha · Mild Essence Sun Milk SPF 50/PA+++
Since my day cream already contains SPF50, I don’t use a separate sunscreen. But when I did need one, this is the one I liked best.
🐘 The elephant in the room: Ten products! I know; it’s a lot. Are they all necessary? Probably not. But what I know for sure is that my skin has never looked better. Also, remember that you decide how far you go into the rabbit hole. You can stick with a 5-step routine if you want. You can also look for two-in-one products. Just don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
About Those Ten Steps
Even though it’s called the 10-step skin care routine, you won’t be following all ten steps every morning and night. Here’s what my routines look like:
- AM: 1 (oil cleanser), 2 (water-based cleanser), 4 (toner), 5 (essence), 8 (eye cream), 9 + 10 (moisturizer with SPF)
- PM: 1 (oil cleanser), 2 (water-based cleanser), 4 (toner), 5 (essence), 6 (treatments: vitamin C or BHA), 8 (eye cream), 9 (moisturizer or sleep pack)
- Twice a week: 3 (exfoliator)
- Once a week: 7 (sheet mask)
The above is my ideal on paper. In reality, there’s no calendar or check-off list. After some serious experimentation with the routine, I can nowadays go by feeling. If my skin feels rough under my fingers, I exfoliate. If it looks dry, I slather on a sleep pack. Dull? Sheet mask. In need of extra self-love? All ten, baby! But, my minimum is five steps (2, 4, 8, 9, 10).
🙊 The confession: I don’t always double cleanse. Since the toner I use is a cleansing toner, I feel I can get away with using only a water-based cleanser on most days. If I’ve been wearing makeup or muppeting around Bali though, I always double cleanse (both before bed and after waking). This is somewhat of a bad habit though. And before you think of doing the same, you may want to read: The Double Cleansing Myths You Need to Stop Believing.
- Don’t go overboard. Start by adding one or two steps to your current routine and take it from there.
- You don’t need a new line of products. Just incorporate the skin care that you already own into your new routine and complement with one or two new items. Once you use up your “old creams,” you can look into replacing them with new ones.
- It doesn’t need to be Korean. In Singapore, I can easily get my hands on Korean skin care; however, this might not be the case for you. That’s fine. It’s the routine that matters. Most non-Korean skin care brands will have products for all ten steps, even though they don’t advertise it as such.
- If you don’t know what product to get, go for the star product. Every brand has one. Banila Co. has an entire line of skin care products, but they’re famous for their oil cleanser. Get the cleanser, and get out. You don’t need to get their day cream and toner too. You want their star product, not their B-listers.
- Use it up. Refrain from buying a new product until you’ve used the current one up. To.the.last.drop. Don’t be a hoarder of half-empty, almost-expired, pots and bottles. Besides, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out just how long you can do with a product if you follow this rule.
🍒 Cheeky fact: When Mr. G and I were dating, I never had to worry about packing skin care. His bathroom was stocked with Dermalogica merch. Winner.
Where do you go from here? To Soko Glam. They’ve all the information you need to get started. Even if you can’t buy anything from them (because shipping), you can still use their website to learn more about the Korean skin care that is available on the market (that’s what I do). Make sure to have a look at their navigation bar. I find the tabs ‘skin care’, ‘routine,’ and ‘best sellers’ especially handy. And here’s a bit more:
- The routine on one sheet: The K-Beauty of 10-Step
- If you prefer a book: The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin by Charlotte Cho
- Buy it here: Soko Glam, Lazada (if you live in Singapore), and iHerb (also has all the superfoods you may need)