Korean Skin Care Starter Guide

Korean skincare can seem a bit intimidating, and understandably so with trendy websites and their click-bait headlines talking about 10-step routines. Korean skin care gets a lot of attention for having a “crazy amount of steps that can take up to an hour to complete” – that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Your routine has as many steps as you need it to have, because it’s all about customization. The best part is that Korean skincare is super affordable, with products at all price points, so you too can be a fancy potion master with a shelf full of serums and sheet masks.

The reason for multiple steps in a routine is because each one has a different, singular function. All-in-one products might sound nice, but I’ve found that multiple products that address specific concerns work much better. A jack of all trades, a master of none kind of deal.

These are the basic steps of an extensive routine with the products associated with each step.

  1. Oil cleanser: Used to break apart and lift makeup/sunscreen off the face
  2. Foaming, gel or powder cleanse: Cleaning power that washes off the oil and gunk off the face that has been collected and broken up by your oil cleanser. See more below about double cleansing.
  3. Toner: Nourishing, restores the pH of skin and hydrates. Preps skin for routine. Typically rather different from western, alcohol based, toners.
  4. PH dependant actives: This includes AHA’s/BHA’s, Vitamin C, and Ret. More below
  5. Treatment Step:  These are your serums and ampoules. They contain all your problem fixing ingredients. More about all these below
  6. Moisturizers: The name says it all! Helps to seal everything in and keep your skin hydrated. There are emulsions, lotions, and cream which range from lightest to heavy, respectively.
  7. Sunscreen: Protecting your skin is your most valuable skin care tool. An SPF of 30 or higher is recommended. Prevention means less treatment later. Sunscreen helps to prevents sunspot, cancer and premature aging.


A Word About Double Cleansing

Double cleansing is a gently way to remove every last bit of dirt, makeup and sunscreen. Step one is an oil cleanser that breaks apart makeup, sunscreen and stubborn gunk from your face. Step two is a foaming, or gel cleanser, that washes away everything the oil cleanser has broken up. A low pH cleanser is usually recommended, as it makes the process gentle on the face while still providing cleansing power.

A Word About pH Dependent Actives(AHA’s/BHA’s and Vitamin C)

Actives include vitamin C, retinoids, and the chemical exfoliants AHA/BHA. These are the skin care heavy lifters and can do wonders, but can also wreck skin if used too often or wrong. Chemical exfoliants help to smooth the skin’s texture, prevent future breakouts and control buildup in pores. Vitamin C and retinoids help to promote college production, diminish sunspots and repair sun damage.

These products are very depend on the pH level of your skin, which can be altered by whatever product you currently have on your face. It’s best not to instantly follow up one with another, as they can interfere with each other.

A Word Treatments (Serums, Ampoules)

These are your serums that contain ingredients to help combat problems and achieve your skin goals. Some help to calm the skin, some help add a glow, while others provide a boost of moisture. There are people who have one or two serums that they use every day, while others have a rotating shelf of serums to choose from depending on how their skin is feeling that day. Once again, there’s that word: customization!

These can also make your routine long if you have a few you like to layer, but the general “rule” is to layer your serums from thinnest consistency to thickest. I don’t always follow this rule myself, but it’s a good start.

A Word About Sheet Mask

My favorite part! Sheet mask are a token Korean skincare step that you might of seen on Instagram. They’ve become popular enough to be sold in large beauty stores within the US, albeit at a crazy high markup. They made of various material, but are usually cotton mask that are soaked in a serum. These mask are applied to your face and left on for 15-20 minutes. I personally like to leave mine on for about 30 minutes so I can get as much as I can out of it.

The concept behind the mask is that you are getting immersing your face in the serum, which does not evaporate thanks to the mask. Some people think sheet mask are miracle workers, thanks to some poorly written click bait articles, but they are simple another step in a routine. What they are great for is moisture! You get a kick of plumpness from hydration that sometimes a lotion just cant do.


TL;DR (but you really should)

Korean skincare only has as many steps as you need/want. Goes in order of double cleanse, toner, actives, serums, sheet mask (if you choose), moisturizer, sunscreen and you’re done! Customize and experiment with your skincare to create a routine that makes your skin happy!


– Genie