While living in Korea, I’ve gotten really interested in the unique skincare regimen that’s so popular here. It’s usually about ten steps, and it’s pretty intense. It can seem a bit intimidating at first, especially since there are so many products involved. However, if you keep at it, I think this routine is amazing and will definitely give you the desired effect you’ve been wanting for your skin.
In the West, skincare is usually about three steps: cleanse, tone, and moisturize. These steps are present in the Korean routine, with quite a few more things thrown in. When caring for your skin like a Korean, the most important steps are to double-cleanse, use essence, moisturize multiple times, and always use a product with good spf before going outside. Don’t worry, I’ll explain all the steps in detail, along with how to use them and some of my personal recommendations! I hope to create a bit of a beginner’s guide for anyone interested in the wonderful world of Korean skincare. Enjoy!
Quick disclaimer: I have combination skin, and it’s also a bit sensitive now in the wintertime. The skincare I use will reflect these personal preferences. If you want to start a skincare routine of your own, make sure to look for the best products for you. There are so many products tailor-made for all types of skin! Make sure to find the best routine to make your skin its personal best.
My Favorite Stores
I’d like to mention some of my favorite beauty stores in Korea, because there are A LOT of them. I don’t think you can really go wrong with any Korean beauty stores, but here are some of my recommendations to get you started:
Etude House – This is probably my favorite, and I buy most of my skincare products here. The pink and white frilly buildings are easy to spot, and their gimmick is to make their customers feel like princesses. This is a good place for makeup as well, so I satisfy a great deal of my beauty needs here. The moistfull (yep, that’s the correct spelling) collagen line of skincare products from Etude House are my absolute favorites, and you’ll see them several times in my routine. They also give out some nice samples if you spend enough money, which I use as travel sizes of skincare on the go!
Tonymoly – I have bought some beauty products here as well, including the line of Pokemon cleansers that I like so much (I keep mine to use in the shower). This is also a great store for makeup, like rainbow highlighter for example!
Skinfood – I usually go to Skinfood for haircare and exfoliators. They have some great shampoos and conditioners, and their black sugar scrub masks are very popular. The black sugar scrubs are available in a variety of scents now, including strawberry and coconut (I have the coconut one in my shower!). Skinfood is a great place for more natural, fruity and herb products, so check it out if that’s what you like!
There are way more where those came from, and I’ll be sure to mention them if I like products from other stores.
OK, let’s get to it! Get ready for bed with me, and follow me as I go through my personal skincare routine.
1 Cleansing tissue
- What it is and what it does: The idea here is to remove most of the make-up, dirt, and other debris from your face, to get it ready for the next step.
- How to use it/how often: To use, wipe all visible make-up, etc. from your face and neck. This step isn’t necessary unless you have eye makeup and/or foundation on, so you can skip it if you aren’t wearing makeup and your face is already fairly clean (that’s why I skipped this step during tonight’s routine).
- My recommendation(s): Innisfree olive real cleansing tissue, Face Shop herb day cleansing tissues
2 Oil cleanser
- What it is and what it does: Ok so Korea loves to do a two-step cleansing process as I mentioned, which is important for getting off every last little bit of makeup, dirt and debris. The first cleanser is usually light and oil-based.
- How to use it/how often: To use, massage on your dry face and neck, then add a splash of lukewarm water, massage a little more and rinse off. If you’re not wearing makeup, and you think your face is pretty clean, you can probably just skip to step 3 when starting. However, if you follow all the cleansing steps, I promise that your face will be spotless for further steps.
- My recommendation(s): Etude House real art cleansing oil (I went for the mild cleansing oil from etude house, because my skin is more sensitive and needs soothing ingredients this time of year, when it gets so cold. There are other types available as well, depending on your skin type.)
3 Foam/water-based cleanser
- What it is and what it does: In the double cleansing process, this second step removes any remaining residue from the oil cleanser. Your face will now be squeaky clean and ready to absorb the ingredients from further steps.
- How to use it/how often: If you’re using this as your first step, make sure your face feels totally clean before continuing. To use, add some water to a small amount of cleanser, foam up and massage with soft circular motions onto your face. Then rinse it off completely with warm water. This is the cleanser I use most often, and I think it’s an essential step for everyone.
- My recommendation(s): Etude House moistfull collagen cleansing foam, Skinfood egg white pore foam, Tonymoly Pokemon foam cleansers
- What it is and what it does: This step serves to remove dead skin cells, make your skin more smooth, and open up your pores in order to allow them to absorb all the moisturizers later.
- How to use it/how often: Gently massage into your skin, and allow to set (about 10 minutes). Completely rinse off with warm water. You don’t always have to exfoliate (especially if you have sensitive skin), but for normal skin, exfoliating twice a week is a good rule of thumb. You can use more often and focus on problem areas (such as blemishes and other imperfections) also, if you want.
- My recommendation(s): Skinfood black sugar mask wash off, Jeju volcanic lava pore mud pack, Etude House soft clay pack
- What it is and what it does: Toners are probably familiar to most people who use skincare. These hydrate and balance your skin’s pH levels, after the cleansing and exfoliating steps. Korean toners are different from alcohol-heavy toners from the west. They are optimized to be part of the Korean skincare routine.
- How to use it/how often: Sprinkle some into your hands or on a cotton pad. Tap it directly onto your skin or gently swipe around your face, working outwards in order to not create micro wrinkles (this technique should be used for further steps as well).
- My recommendation(s): Etude House moistfull collagen facial toner, Tonymoly wonder rice smoothing toner
- What it is and what it does: An essence is kind of a second toner; it’s basically a nourishing liquid concentrate made for hydrating the skin, and helping with skin repair after the other steps. You’ll notice a trend of many, many steps of hydration and moisturization which is so popular with Korean skincare.
- How to use it/how often: Apply a small amount to freshly toned skin, and pat it in. Essence is considered by Koreans to be one of the most important steps, along with double-cleansing. Therefore, I would highly suggest you get this product for your routine.
- My recommendation(s): Etude House moistfull collagen essence, Skinfood royal honey essence
- What it is and what it does: Serums and ampoules are concentrated essences that directly treat the issues you’re most concerned about. These can get very specific, and target anything from dull skin and large pores to wrinkles and acne. I use an anti-aging serum once in a while, to help with fine lines, and also prevent future wrinkles.
- How to use it/how often: Gently tap a small amount onto the skin.
- My recommendation(s): Missha time revolution night repair activator ampoule
8 Mask sheets
- What it is and what it does: Sheet masks are a relaxing, and often fun part of the routine. Like the serums and ampoules, there are so many different masks available with different benefits, such as anti-aging, firming, skin radiance, hydration, soothing, etc. There are lots of masks (like the one I used) that give you a character or animal face. Further, there are some really weird masks as well, like placenta and horse oil (I’m too scared to try these yet).
- How to use it/how often: Just put one on and chill for 15-20 minutes (depending on the instructions on the back). Use one about once or twice a week, and whenever you have time and a desire to use one (some Korean people use one every night before bed!). On nights that you’re not using face masks, you can use other masks as alternatives, including lip and eye masks (which I’ll talk about a little later).
- My recommendation(s): Animal and character masks from Face Shop, Many others (you can’t really go wrong here, just look for a mask aimed at what you want for your skin! They’re also available at pretty much every beauty store)
9 Eye cream
- What it is and what it does: The skin around your eyes is different from the rest of your face; it’s thin and fragile, and should be treated as such. An eye cream provides the area with extra hydration and protection. I would especially recommend using this step if you have fine lines, puffiness, or dark circles (like I do) under your eyes.
- How to use it/how often: Use your ring finger to very gently tap a bit of eye cream around your eye. Avoid the water line, and never rub! Treat it like your applying cream to flower petals.
- My recommendation(s): Etude House moistfull collagen eye cream, pink vital water eye serum
- What it is and what it does: This is equivalent to a typical moisturizer in the West. It’s for replenishing hydration after all the cleansing, and it’s the first moisturizing step, in a process of up to three moisturizers.
- How to use it/how often: Apply to face and neck like any facial lotion. I don’t think this step is super important, so you only really need to get it if you have super dry skin, or if you’re a completionist and you want to try every step!
- My recommendation(s): Etude House moistfull collagen emulsion
11 Moisturizing Cream
- What it is and what it does: This is an ultra-rich moisturizer; it locks in the emulsion to keep skin hydrated for as long as possible. It plumps the skin slightly, to help with fine lines. This is especially useful in dry climates, or during dry months of the year.
- How to use it/how often: Pat a small amount into your face and neck morning and night every day. On days when your skin feels extra dry, you can swap your regular moisturizer for a sleeping pack (next step).
- My recommendation(s): Etude House moistfull collagen cream
12 Sleeping pack (night) / Sunscreen (day)
- What it is and what it does: You can use sleeping packs as super-strong moisturizers, to keep your skin hydrated all night. It’s great for when your skin is feeling especially dry. / Even if you’re going outside for just a little while, you really should use sunscreen during the day. Koreans use sunscreen religiously, which I think is a key factor to them aging so well. Use a cream with good spf, or if you use BB cream, it probably includes some sunscreen as well.
- How to use it/how often: Apply a good amount of sleeping pack to your face and neck, and massage in gently. Allow to set all night, and rinse off in the morning. Then, apply a sunscreen or makeup with spf in the morning, and reapply throughout the day as needed. Make sure to apply the sunscreen after all other skincare products, in order to optimize protection and prevent it from diluting with other products.
- My recommendation(s): Etude House bubble tea sleep pack, Tonymoly banana sleep pack
- For your hair: Kelly and I started using hair serum here in Korea, and it’s really great! Run some through your hair after washing it. It’s very useful to help keep your hair smooth and shiny (recommendation: Tonymoly silk argan honey oil). If you want even more deep smoothing action, try a hair mask while in the shower (recommendation: Etude House silk scarf double care hair mask).
- For your lips: Another “mask” you can get is specifically for your lips. Use one of these for chapped lips or just for periodic moisture treatments (recommendation: tonymoly kiss kiss lovely lip patch).
- You can also use several different types of packs for target areas, to get rid of blemishes, moisturize, or reduce fine lines. You can find eye, nose, and chin packs at Etude House. I like to use them on nights when I’m not using a full-face mask.
- Foot and hand packs: There are also special packs for hands and feet. Hand packs are like gloves filled with moisturizer, which you can use as intensive hand cream. There are also foot-peeling packs, which help you shed excess, dead skin (recommendations: foot peeling packs from Etude House or Tonymoly).
- Fruit trend: Something I wanted to mention is the fruit trend with Korean beauty products. There has been an abundance of mango, strawberry, and especially banana products recently. If you’re interested in hopping on the trend, check out some banana lotion or mango sunscreen!
And there you have it, my Korean skincare routine! I definitely can’t always keep it up, and while I have all the products and information now, sometimes I’m just too lazy. I really admire all the people who stick to the routine; they have the skin to prove it. Korea has the right idea when it comes to skincare, and although it might be a little much at times, I think the important tips are good for everyone to know. Make sure to cleanse, moisturize and use sunscreen if you want great skin in the future. Good luck, and keep that skin beautiful!