If you’re familiar at all with Korean skincare, you may have heard of the 10-step Skincare Regimen, first recognized in the US by Charlotte Cho. We’re here to break it down, as you may be thinking, that’s a lot of steps.
In South Korea, preserving and caring for your skin is so deeply ingrained in the culture, and people learn from a very young age how to care for their skin. You can take a look through recent years in history and see how the skincare industry in the US has exploded after being introduced to K-Beauty, and many western brands are currently mimicking Korean products and research. Because of this, a lot of crucial ingredients or skincare education can get missed when we are not learning and/or purchasing directly from the producers. We’re here to make it so that it's a little easier to navigate, because doing it on your own can get a bit overwhelming.
Something that I really appreciated learning from my Korean friend and colleague, was that there are many people who view the act of caring for your skin as an act of resistance; it is a time that people, especially women, are able to view this as self-restoration, rather than vanity and superficial behavior. It can be categorized as a feminist act, or as resistance against the stigma that spending time and money on beauty products can have. It is setting aside time for yourself; Personally, I consider my skin care regimen to be a daily ritual, almost ceremonious. It has become a space in the day to reflect and spend time with myself doing something that feels good, with intention.
So while you’re digging in and learning about all of the possible things you can put on your skin, remember that taking this time for yourself can be considered an act of resistance, meditation, or however you’d like to think of it.
While this 10-step Regimen creates a straightforward way to navigate your routine, it is merely a suggestion. You do not need to have all 10 steps all the time, every day, or at all, in your routine! Finding the right products and amount of steps for you may take some trial and error. It’s all about finding products that work, and using them in the right order. Read through to learn what each step’s functions are for and consider the highlighted products an easy, 10-step regimen that we’ve curated just for you!
Oil cleansers are the first step to double cleansing. They are crucial to those who wear sunscreen (meaning everyone should be using this!) and makeup daily. Oil cleansers remove oil-based impurities and grime from your skin in a very gentle way, and are often a good alternative to makeup removers. This step gives an opportunity to deliver beneficial oils to the skin while cleansing debris deeply from the pores. Adding this step will help to deep-cleanse the skin without stripping or drying it out.
Water-based cleansers are the second part to double cleansing. This step is crucial to removing water-based impurities like dirt and sweat that the oil cleanser cannot. Without using water-based cleansers, the skin is more prone to breaking out and clogging pores. Using both oil and water-based cleansers together will ensure your skin is thoroughly healthy and clear of pollutants and debris.
There are physical and chemical exfoliants, both of which will assist in cleaning out the pores and getting rid of dead skin cells. Exfoliation is crucial to a brighter healthy complexion and skin-cell renewal; it is important that you find the right exfoliants for you, as over-exfoliation can happen and will sensitize your skin.
In Korea, toners are an essential step in the routine. Unlike many Western toners, Korean toners are made to balance and hydrate the skin, preparing it to effectively soak up the rest of your product. If you’re not preparing your skin with a toner, it is actually possible that you may be clogging your pores! Toners can be applied with cotton rounds (like these product-saving pads by Pyunkang Yul), or applied directly with your hands by tapping it into your skin with your palms.
There are many different types of toners, and like any other product, you might need to play around to find your favorites! Click here to learn more about why toners are a crucial step for hydration.
Essences are another step that frequently gets skipped in Western skincare, but has proven to be very effective for providing extreme hydration for the skin. It is generally a bit more viscous than toner, and more lightweight than a serum- the perfect bridge product for in-between. Using an essence will also help for the next products to soak in much more effectively.
This step is where any targeted treatments come in. Ampoules and serums are generally more concentrated with active ingredients or packed with antioxidants and vitamins. They can help target a number of concerns such as hyperpigmentation, wrinkle-prevention, and acne. The gel-like textures soak in perfectly when prepared with essence and toner.
You can layer multiple serums and ampoules. Some people use ampoules as power-treatments for a number of days leading up to a big event like a wedding or photoshoot. Ampoules tend to be even more concentrated than serums. As long as you're layering, make sure you follow the rule of thumb for any skincare routine- thinnest to thickest. Thinner textures go underneath so they can soak in before the thicker consistency.
Sheet masks are what K-beauty is famously known for. It is actually recommended to do a sheet mask daily- yes, that’s every day. As long as you are choosing your masks well, your skin will thank you, and you might even find this daily ritual to be extremely peaceful. It is the perfect excuse to take 20 minutes to yourself to purely relax.
The sheet itself prevents the essence it is soaked in from evaporating before being fully absorbed into your skin. From hydrating to clarifying to soothing masks, choosing the right one is key! Since you can never have too many, sheet masks are super fun to play around with and try new ones often. It may be recommended to use clarifying masks a bit less often (maybe twice a week), since they will have more active ingredients.
Eye creams are designed specifically for this delicate area, making them another crucial step in your regimen. Wrinkles can only be prevented, so using an eye cream consistently will help prevent dark circle, wrinkles, and fine lines from forming sooner. When applying, use your fourth finger to dab the cream into the skin, so as not to pull on this area.
The function is in the name! After the past eight steps of hydrating your skin, you’re going to want something that helps seal it all in so it doesn’t evaporate out of your pores (a process known as transepidermal water loss). Moisturizers come in many different forms- gels, creams, emulsion, lotions, and oils. You could even break this down into multiple steps if you wanted to get really detailed with your skincare. The bottom line is, you’ll need a moisturizer to seal in all of the previous products you’ve put in and aid in plumping the skin.
Sunscreen should be worn every single day, even if you will be indoors. If you are not wearing SPF, your skin won’t even notice the benefits from the other steps you are applying. Sunscreen is the easiest and surest way to prevent signs of aging and skin cancer. Click here to learn more about finding the right sunscreen for you!
Evening: Sleeping Mask
Scientific research shows that our skin cells reproduce and renew during sleep, which means that doing our intensive care before we sleep aids that function. Sleeping masks are an easy way to ensure you get your beauty rest. Massage this into the skin as your last step, and rinse off your face the next morning. If your skin is very sensitive or you choose to use this step nightly, be sure to use a sleeping mask that is more delicate with less active ingredients so as not to damage the skin barrier.
There you have the grand Korean 10 Step Routine laid out! As mentioned above, this is merely a suggestion, or an outline. There are even more steps you could add, such as lip masks, eye patches, nose strips, and more. If this feels overwhelming, start small. I always say, the only things that will work are things that you will use!