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Korean Skin Care 101

Posted on: Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How to do the korean skincare routine1

Over the last year, I got really into obsessed with Korean Skin Care. I have no idea if this is an equally big thing in Europe but here in the US, it seems to be in every magazine, blog and also physical stores/chains started to advertise and carry Korean brands/products. In the beginning, I was just curious about this whole 10 step regimen since it sounded equal parts insane and luxurious to me. I started to notice all the Korean women with the most beautiful, porcelain skin (did I ever mention that I spend way too much time eating Korean BBQ, Korean Chicken etc. in NYCs K’town? Different story for another time) and began researching the secrets behind Korean skincare.

In a nutshell, Korean women take a different approach to makeup than we do on the Western side of the world. Skincare is a big part of their culture, and while the European/American approach to skincare is more reactive, Korean women start being proactive from a very young age and tend to view caring for their skin and complexion as the ultimate investment – worthy of not only their money but even more so their time. Many perform an intricate 10-step(!) cleansing and moisturizing routine—every single night. Koreans (especially women, but men as well) view the care of skin as something to savor and enjoy. 
Rule of thumb is, if you’re going to spend 30 minutes putting on your face, you should spend the same amount of time are take the same amount of care when cleaning it off. Also, new skincare ingredients and technologies are something for which Koreans have a great reputation and many state of the art Korean skincare technologies really do lead the world.
Do I need to say more? I was hooked! I’m still far away from a 10-step regimen but I’ve been happily trying different products and regimens over the last couple of months and I’ve definitely seen a big improvement in my usually super oily skin (obviously your skin doesn’t need to be oily for Korean products – duh).

Would you love to learn more? Try some products? Are you a big skincare junkie? I’ll try to ease you into the addicting world of Korean Skin Care and give you my favorite links, info and shops to discover. Ready? Here you go!


main.original.640x0cPhoto: ImaxTree

The fundamentals – The different steps:

  1. Oil Cleanser. Oil cleansers are an essential step for all skin types. Koreans believe that massaging the face increases circulation, which equals brighter skin.
  2. Foam Cleanser. The second part of the ever-popular Korean double cleanse method. First, Oil Cleanser, then foam. (Double cleansing was the first change I did to my skincare routine and I immediately noticed a difference!)
  3. Exfoliator (optional). When it comes to facial exfoliation, Korean women often believe less is more. Twice a month for me.
  4. Toner. I’ve found Korean toners are way less harsh and drying than many western Toners and they’re made from more interesting ingredients like Snail Mucin, Aloe…They almost feel and smell like water – which was not my usual definition of a toner before.
  5. Essence. The main difference between an essence and a toner is that while the toner cleans and preps the skin, the essence improves the skin. Considered the most important step to Korean women! An essence affects the skin on a cellular level, speeding your cell turnover rate which is supposed to make your skin smoother and brighter.
  6. Serum. This is a more concentrated version of an essence, usually thicker in consistency. Also called Ampoules. Different serums can hyper-target skin issues and are meant to be layered. (Think Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair for example)
  7. The Sheet Mask. Korean women think of masks as single serving serums. The wet, papery masks are soaked in ingredients like collagen, which then soak into your skin. There are hundred of different kinds even for sensitive areas like the lips, eyes, chin, and neck. The masks are supposed to force your skin to absorb the nutrients and moisture better than if you just applied a cream or serum. (I have yet to try my first sheet mask!)
  8. The Eye Cream. This is where western and eastern skincare regimens are completely on the same page and yet, I’m always sooo lazy when it comes to those teeny tiny jars. My least favorite step.  
  9. Moisturizers/Sleep Masks. For the glowy skin finale, you double up once again and layer a lightweight moisturizer (also called emulsion) with an ultra-rich night cream/sleeping mask. During the day, you would only use the moisturizer.
  10. SPFDuring the day, the last step is to add an SPF product. A BB cream or check out those amazing Korean mineral Air Cushions!

visual guide

Illustration via “a visual guide to korean skin care” Obviously you don’t need to use all these products in the same routine!! It’s a good visualization of the different categories and subgroups.


Products I’ve tried so far & where to get them

I bought all my products via SoKo Glam and relied heavily on the product reviews(!) and recommendations from the shops founder, Charlotte Cho. Great customer service, too! Charlotte writes a blog called “The Klog” and recently published her first book “The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin” (which I still need to get, sounds amazing!). I have zero experience with German/Austrian shops myself but – this looks promising. Also, check amazon!

So far I’ve tried & LOVED the following products:

  1. Clean it Zero Classic from Banila Co. This award-winning cleanser feels like a sorbet at first and then transforms into a silky oil on the skin. It removes stubborn makeup without stripping your own natural oils. If you would like to try only one Korean product – start with this one, it’s amazing!
  2. Green Tea Cleansing Foam from Skinfood. So far I’ve loved all the Skinfood products and this cleanser is formulated with natural, antioxidant-rich green tea extract to moisturize and brighten your skin.
  3. Skinfood Black Sugar Mask. I’ve never used a better exfoliating scrub. Ever. It’s Skinfood’s star product, smells heavenly of brown sugar and leaves your skin feeling SO soft. I use it once a week and it feels as if I had a facial afterward. I already gave this one as a gift, twice – it’s so good!!
  4. Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner. Very different from all the toners I’ve used before. Feels slightly sticky at first before it absorbs cleanly. Not drying at all. I love the feel after using it and the bottle seems to last forever.
  5. Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence. The most expensive Korean product I’ve bought so far. The water essence contains 80% Fermented Yeast Concentrate, which absorbs into the skin instantly, supposed to be repairing and nourishing on a cellular level. I loved the feel after using it but I wasn’t a big fan of the watery consistency. It felt like I’ve finished the bottle in no time.
  6. Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence. The second essence I bought after finishing the above mentioned, Missha Essence. I like the Benton essence much better because of its gel-like consistency, it smells nice and the pump is convenient. Also, whoa snail mucin!!

Next, I would really like to try my first sheet masks and get a great Serum (this one has great reviews). I’m also curious about all those air cushions (sounds so easy and convenient!). Keep in mind that I didn’t buy all those products at once, but rather have been easing my way into Korean Skincare over months and months.

1Pictures: Soko Glam

Intrigued? Further shops, links, and awesome reads:

The Korean Beauty Section at Sephora

Urban Outfitters has a surprisingly large Korean Beauty selection!

All Korean Skincare posts from Into the Gloss

New York’s Best Stores For Korean Beauty Products via refinery29

Here’s what happened when I tried a 12-step Korean Skincare Regimen via Fashionista

The ONE Skincare Product Every Korean Woman Uses via Byrdie

Lucky enough to be traveling to SoKo soon? Here are The Best Places to Buy Beauty Products in Korea

Trying Out Korean Beauty Products via Cupcakes and Cashmere


  • Sandra

    I totally understand you!
    After living in Taiwan for half a year I slightly noticed my friends being totally obsessed with skin care and all the associated products!
    Then, after I visited a friend and colleague of mine in Seoul, I got really influenced by her already using so many beauty products form the local beauty chains in the city! You literally just see drug stores and beauty chains one after another when strolling down the streets and cannot avoid stepping into one and coming out of them with loads of products and little try-out-sachets :D
    I love the sheet masks! they are just so handy! having tried a sleeping pack I have to admit that my kind of skin is just not used to it and didn’t react well on them after application :|
    anyway, it’s kind of weird to see Koreans on the street – the always look so ‘perfect’ but having used sooooo much make-up!

    regards, Sandra

  • Julia

    Wow! Danke für diesen tollen Post :) Als Beauty-Produkt-Junky habe ich genau JETZT einen vollen Einkaufswagen bei MiiN Cosmetics.
    Liebe Grüße aus Wien, Julia

  • Vicky

    Das klingt echt super interessant, aber 30 Minuten sind schon super lange!!! In Europa ist das leider noch gar nicht angekommen, aber die Amis sind uns ja immer weit voraus!

    liebste Grüße,
    Vicky // The Golden Bun

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