Let's Talk Routines: Jane's Summer Routine
We’re leaving the summer behind us just like footprints in the sand, but let’s face it: San Diego really only has two seasons - sunny and sunnier. There's drier weather yet to come this Fall (aka wildfire season) but before we get ahead - let's look back at the products I was obsessed with over the last three months. :)
The Skin I'm In
First off, a little bit about my skin. My skin type has definitely changed over the years. It was once very oily and just that. Nowadays, I would say I’m more combination - oily in my T-zone and also at the top of my cheeks, but dry on the sides of my face. I’ve heard that oily skin types are actually blessed because they’ll have less wrinkles in the long run (crossing fingers) so I suppose that’s a decent tradeoff for more frequent breakouts. I think my skincare routine has a lot to do with balancing out my oiliness. Additionally, I suffer from hormonal acne around my chin and jawline (especially during that time of the month) so I try to counteract this by eating healthy, being active, and drinking water like a fish. I can’t ever forget to wash my face at night or else my skin will hate me for it the next day. However, I’m so guilty of this and as a self-proclaimed lazy girl, if I can have a routine, you can too. Lastly, my skin is also quite sensitive to fragrance, so I take care to choose products which have no added perfume or fragrance. None of the products in my routine contain added fragrance, only natural fragrance, unless noted.
TL;DR: Skin type is oily/combination, sensitive, w/ occasional cystic acne.
My routine is focused on brightening products due to some PIH (acne scarring). My goal is to lighten up my scars and dark spots so I can have more even toned skin and won't need to wear concealer. I am also all about hydration and plumping up that glow from within.
If you want a refresher on the 10 step Korean skincare routine, check out our intro to the famous 10 step routine here!
Let’s get to it!
Jane’s Summer Steps
Skincare routines are so personal that I feel like I’m sharing a part of me with you by writing this. So, welcome to my life/routine. While I love K-Beauty products, I also believe in using whatever works for your skin based on the environment that it’s in. At the moment, my skincare routine isn't exclusively K-Beauty - I’d say it’s 70% Korean, 20% Japanese, and 10% American products. I will, however, share a Korean product recommendation for as many steps as I can. (There will be links to where you can purchase each product; I'll avoid Amazon as much as possible since I can't validate if a product sold there is legitimate or not.) Like Elizabeth, I have to preface by stating that I’m not an esthetician or even an expert on skincare. The products below work for me and they might not work for everyone else - even Elizabeth and I have different skin types and two distinct routines - but we’re here to provide insight into our routines and bring attention to the products that we can’t live without. Hopefully this will encourage some of you to try out our holy grail products but we do hope that you do your own research and testing before committing to using a new product.
Step 0: Pre-cleanse / Makeup Remover
Every lazy girl’s favorite product is probably cleansing water, and here’s why.
Micellar water is made up of micelles - oil molecules surrounded by water - which make it effective in removing oil based impurities as well as hydrophilic (water-loving) impurities (pardon my chemistry ^_^). Cleansing water doubles down on this idea and packs added extracts or minerals that make it more effective at cleansing and even balancing skin. That means I can get away with using JUST cleansing water on a light/no makeup day. I don’t even have to wash my face…
Micellar/cleansing waters are quickly becoming popular in the U.S. as well. I’ll admit I loved using Simple Skincare’s Micellar Water before I discovered K-Beauty, but once I realized Korean cleansing waters are multi-tasking with more nutrients and extracts packed into them - I never went back. I typically use cleansing waters right when I get home or before I hit the gym just to freshen up. You can also do this step right before or after your double cleanse. In this case, I like to call it a triple cleanse. Your skin should feel ultra clean after doing all 3 cleansing steps!
My favorite cleansing water is the Son & Park Beauty Water. It’s an amazing multi-tasker because it cleanses, exfoliates, and doubles as a toner. (Can you say, knocking out 4 steps with one product?). The willow bark and papaya extract help to remove dead skin cells and with a pH of 4.5, it acts as a toner as well (more on pH later). I tend to save this one for when I’m not willing or able to do my whole routine that night. For a general pre-cleanse that I intend to follow with the rest of my routine, I’ve been using The Saem Green Tea Cleansing Water. It gets the job done, and I purchased it because I wanted a cheaper priced alternative to my beloved Beauty Water that is also fragrance free.
Step 1: Oil cleanser (Daily, Morning + Night)
So begins my double cleanse. I am definitely here for cleansing balms because I still feel a liiittle weird putting oil on directly, so I can totally relate to those of you who are averse to doing so. Cleansing balms have a solid, sorbet-like texture that melt onto your skin like silk once in contact with the natural oils on your hands and face. (The balm texture is also super travel friendly!) When in contact with water, the substance emulsifies into a milky liquid that easily washes away.
My favorite balm is the Heimish All Clean Balm. It is fresh, soothing, emulsifies quickly, has no added fragrance, and contains 120ml of product. I prefer it to the first cleansing balm I tried, Banila Co’s Clean It Zero Purity (the green one, for sensitive skin). Let me tell you, even though Banila Co’s Purity Balm is formulated without fragrance, alcohol, parabens, or mineral oil it would ALWAYS irritate my eyes and make them itch! So, Heimish is my preferred balm of choice. It also contains more product than Banila Co., so that's another plus for me.
Favorite Oil Cleanser: Heimish All Clean Cleansing Balm
Step 2: Water-based cleanser (Daily, Morning + Night)
I’m very conscious about using a water-based cleanser that is as close to your skin’s natural acidic pH (~5) as possible. Since I’m prone to breakouts, I think it’s critical not to disturb your skin’s pH as to cause any irritation or inflammation. Typically, it’s also better for your cleanser to be more on the acidic side because harmful bacteria are less likely to thrive in an acidic environment. A lot of cleansers tend to be more basic/alkaline (like bar soap, which is why you shouldn’t wash your face with it - don’t be basic!). When a cleanser is basic it tends to strip your face of its natural oils and leave it feeling dry.
I use the cult favorite HadaLabo Gokujyn Super Hyaluronic Acid Face Wash from Japanese brand HadaLabo. The pH is right on the money at 5.5 and it’s super accessible if you live near any Asian markets such as 99 Ranch. It’s inoffensive, unscented, foams well, and my skin feels clean but neither tight nor dry after using it. I’ve also used the COSRX Good Morning Low pH Gel Cleanser which is...pretty offensive, smell wise. It smells awful, like overripe citrus combined with bad tea tree oil, but it does a good job of cleansing overall. My first impression of this product wasn’t great because my face was overexfoliated and dry at the time that I bought it, but I got used to it after a while. You also can’t beat that low pH of 5. If you can get past that strong tea tree smell then you'll be alright.
Tip: If you’re interested in finding the pH of your favorite cleansers, there’s a r/asianbeauty thread which has a comprehensive list:
Step 3: Exfoliator (1x every other week, Night)
I use exfoliators about once every other week, if I’m not experiencing any breakouts. Once upon a time I used my Clarisonic everyday, until I found out how badly this can strip your skin dry. This might be one reason why my skin isn’t as oily as it used to be, I simply overexfoliated. I don’t use a Clarisonic anymore, but I’ve tried a couple gentle physical exfoliants. My favorites are the Holika Holika Lazy & Easy Smooth Egg Peeling Gel (I have the Gudetama version <3) and Skinfood Wash Off Rice Mask. I don’t use the Skinfood wash off mask as often because it causes some irritation if I leave it on too long - possibly due to the added fragrance or other ingredients - but overall, it’s a light abrasive for those just getting into exfoliators (and it’s not as abrasive as their popular black sugar wash off mask).
Peeling gels are the real winner for me since I find them to be more gentle. Once you massage the gel into your skin, the gel substance balls up into clumps and takes your dead skin cells with it. No, despite popular belief, the huge pieces of gunk you see aren’t just your dead skin cells, it’s your skin plus oils and the product itself. Peeling gels work more like a scrub, and I prefer them to wash off masks because they’re generally less messy to work with and take less time (*ahem, so lazy*) as well. I was so excited when I found the Holika Holika Peeling Gel x Gudetama at CVS. Although it has fragrance in the ingredients list, I don't pick up any scent and it doesn't irritate me. Both products leave your skin soft and smooth.
*I’m currently in the market for an AHA/BHA chemical exfoliator. These acids are supposed to help considerably for acne or acne scarring by working deep beneath the surface of the skin. I’ve heard they do wonders for whiteheads, blackheads, and cystic acne. If anyone has an AHA/BHA product recommendation please let me know!
Step 4: Toner (Daily, Morning + Night)
Toners have always been part of my routine, however, American toners are notorious for being harsh astringents that are loaded with alcohol and tend to leave skin dry. I used to treat them like a second cleansing step, back when I was using just a foam cleanser, to pick up whatever dirt was left behind. When I discovered K-Beauty, I realized how Korean toners are much more gentle and don’t usually contain alcohol since their purpose is to prep and hydrate the skin, rather than clean it (remember, your skin should be clean enough from steps 1+2 aka the double cleanse). I was using just about the only alcohol-free toner I could find (Neutrogena) before I discovered K-Beauty, so I was in heaven when I realized this huge difference in formulation.
Right now, I use a microbial toner containing silver and lavender, the Hylunia Colloidal Silver Mist Toner. This product was recommended to me by the esthetician who did my first ever facial at Face Haus last month. I am LOVING this stuff. Since it contains natural lavender and colloidal silver, it's very therapeutic as these ingredients help heal acne and provide a soothing treatment to your skin. These two ingredients are known for being anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial which makes the mist feels very natural and restorative. There is some talk swirling about colloidal silver in products, but in my experience I have not had any adverse reactions to it.
As for Korean toners, I am a huge fan of the Klairs Supple Preparation Toner which, what do you know, also contains lavender. I’ve also tried MISSHA'S Near Skin Simple Therapy Mist Toner from their Near Skin line which caters to sensitive skin. It’s an odorless mist (in case you couldn't tell, I can’t get enough of mists) that provides ample hydration to the face. It gets the job done with no frills.
Step 5: Essence (Daily, Morning + Night)
It might sound extra, but I layer on 3 essences because I love them so much. (Don't freak out, it takes like less than 2 minutes to do this.) First, I spritz on Nature Republic’s Bee Venom Mist Essence - I picked this up at Beautycon this year and it has its place in my routine. Since bee venom is great for treating acne, it’s another anti-microbial product which calms irritated skin and prevents breakouts. (Fair warning, if you’re allergic to bees or anything in this essence you should definitely patch test first.) Along with my Hylunia Colloidal Silver toner from Step 4 which is also microbial, I would say these 2 products together have made a significant difference in keeping my skin clear over the last month since adding them to my routine.
After patting in the Bee Venom Mist, I move on to my usual first treatment essence, the COSRX Galatcomytes 95 Whitening Power Essence. I purchased this because it contains a high concentration of the same active ingredients (fermented yeast) as SKII’s Facial Treatment Essence and MISSHA’s Time Revolution FTE. In K-Beauty, whitening most of the time translates to brightening (there would be different verbiage if there were actual bleaching agents in the product) so I use this to improve hydration and lighten my dark spots. This essence is very watery in consistency so it absorbs quickly. In the morning, I will only use these 2 essences and move on to my next step.
At night, I go back in with another COSRX favorite, the COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. (Fun fact: this was my first ever K-Beauty purchase.) Snail mucin is packed with nutrients and works wonders to help brighten, repair, hydrate, and tone your skin. The consistency is nothing to be afraid of; it really just feels like a thicker gel-like substance and the result is worth it in the end. It takes a little longer to absorb but I find it to be very effective. These two COSRX essences come in pump bottles; they were some of the first Korean products I bought and have lasted me quite some time. I would say together they've elevated my skin to a higher level of hydration than ever before. I think all skin types would benefit from these two essences.
Step 6: Targeted Treatment - Serum (Every Night)
My first serum is still my one true love. I use the COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid, Charlotte Cho’s creation, and I’ve never looked back. Before I added this to my routine, I had been searching for a Vitamin C serum for a while before I decided on this one. Ascorbic Acid, one of the most common sources of Vitamin C, is a major ingredient used to brighten and even skin tone, containing hydrating and firming properties as well. Since my skincare focus is on brightening and reducing PIH, I knew Vitamin C would be extremely beneficial for my skin, but I didn’t know where to start. I’d also read the horror stories that Vitamin C can be irritating or too strong for a lot of people.
I took the plunge and purchased the COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid on a whim when it first launched on SOKOGLAM (I even got the free makeup bag!). I'd never tried any products with Vitamin C and this serum contained a higher than average concentration than most at 20.5% (most have 5-15%, but are not as effective) so I’ll admit I was afraid at first. I love SOKOGLAM because they provided a ton of information about proper Vitamin C usage as well as a how-to incorporate it into your routine when they released this serum. The serum checked all the boxes for me as I was looking for something with a stronger concentration of Vitamin C that wasn't prescription grade, plus the black chokeberry in the formulation helps to keep the serum stable.
I use the Triple C Lightning Liquid every night since Vitamin C can cause sensitivity when your skin is exposed to the sun. (If you incorporate it in your morning routine, don’t forget sunscreen.) I’m currently on my 2nd bottle and I can say with confidence that it’s the only product I’ve used where I’ve seen immediate results that have lasted to this day. (PSA: Like all Vitamin C serums, it oxidizes/turns yellow after 3-4 months so it needs to be replenished frequently.) I love it so much I've even converted Elizabeth to this serum. I’ll never forget her telling me how she she saw a noticeable difference after just one day. I really can’t say enough about how amazing this serum is; it’s holy grail status for me.
Favorite Serum: COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid
Step 7: Sheet Masks (1-2x a week, Night)
So many sheet masks, so little time. There’s no way I could talk about every single sheet mask I’ve tried, so here are some standout favorites:
- Peach Slices - Calm Mask
- Peach Slices - Clarifying Mask
- Peach Slices - Brighten Mask
- Mizon M Line - Enjoy Vital Up Time Calming Mask
- Mizon M Line - Enjoy Vital Up Time Soothing Mask
- The Creme Shop - Neroli Oil Face Mask
- The Face Shop - Real Nature Rice Face Mask
A lot of my favorite masks are ones I use to soothe or clarify irritated skin, especially when I'm experiencing a breakout. These masks usually contain aloe, jasmine, or lavender. I find that I really like all of the Peach Slices masks, which is awesome since they’re available at my local CVS, however, the fit of these masks leave something to be desired. They're a bit on the longer side and the holes don't match up that well, but a plus is that they contain a TON of essence. Like, dripping in essence. I also enjoy brightening masks which typically contain rice or citrus. Lastly, I can’t forget hydrating and multitasking masks with superstar ingredients such as snail filtrate, niacinamide, and fermented yeast which I use when I feel like I need an added boost.
Step 8: Eye Cream (Daily, Morning + Night)
Eye cream is probably my least favorite step and I do it begrudgingly because I know that I need to. Right now, I use a Mario Badescu eye cream with hyaluronic acid (their best-selling). Mario Badescu offers 8 variations of eye creams depending on your skin type and concern. I chose this eye cream because it's affordable, fragrance free, and lightweight. The hyraluronic acid plumps up the eye area by helping it retain moisture. Prior to this step, I pat a bit of my Vitamin C serum around my eye area to keep it firm then the hyaluronic acid seals it all in. The cream comes in 0.5 oz tub but since a little goes a long way, I’ll probably change it up before I use the entire tub.
While not an eye cream, on occasion I'll use another under-eye treatment - The Saem Iceland Hydrating Eye Stick. It plumps up and hydrates the under eye area for a quick lift on the go. I dot it around my orbital bone (it says to swipe, but...wrinkles!) to make my eyes look less tired whenever I need it. I picked this up at CVS through the Peach Slices collaboration as well, and I couldn't resist the super cute packaging.
*I'm in the market for a Korean eye cream, preferably one that comes in a tube. Recommendations are welcome!
Step 9: Moisturizer, Sleeping Pack (Daily/2x a week, Morning + Night)
For my morning routine, I slather on Peach Slices Citrus Honey Aqua Glow right before my sunscreen. It doubles as a moisturizer and serum and I love how it’s lightweight yet effective - packed with brightening extracts and honey as an anti-bacterial component. I also use this moisturizer at night when I need an extra boost and during drier months I use it layered with a thicker moisturizer on top. With its gel-like consistency, it absorbs quickly and leaves behind a hydrating, non-greasy feel. I think it’s a wonderful product for everyone but especially sensitive or oily/acne-prone skin types. You can find this at CVS due to their collaboration with Peach Slices!
Night - Mizon Recovery Gel Cream
The Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream is one of the first Korean moisturizers I purchased (and repurchased). I love its lightweight consistency (more of a gel than a cream) and my face always feels soothed and calmed after applying this at the end of my routine. I’ve already touched on the magic of snail mucin, so I’m definitely a firm believer (pun intended) in this ingredient!
Sleeping Pack - Mizon Goodnight White Sleeping Pack
A few days a week, you can switch out your regular nighttime moisturizer for a sleeping mask/pack to pump up your skin with beneficial ingredients that work overnight! I think sleeping packs are a godsend for drier skin types, but I always feel a difference when I wake up the next day feeling refreshed after wearing a sleeping pack. The results are temporary but I think they’re nice to use especially on days when you want to put your best face forward (ie: a presentation, business meeting, date, etc). I use another Mizon favorite, their Mizon Goodnight White Sleeping Pack. This mask contains niacinimide which is great for evening out skin tone and lightening dark spots. (Don’t worry, the whitening in this product means lightening and not bleaching.)
Mini-Step: Acne Treatments (As Needed, Night)
I think we can all agree breakouts are the worst. Acne scars are essentially battle wounds which need to be healed. My world changed once I discovered acne patches of hydrocolloid, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil. Whenever I see a pimple forming or a whitehead peeping, I stick on one of these treatment patches to work its magic overnight.
The Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch and Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots are both hydrocolloid patches which act like a vacuum on your blemishes. These work best on whiteheads or pimples with puss that have already formed. Hydrocolloid patches just SUCK UP all the fluid from whiteheads and flatten out your pimples. They.Are.Magic. Especially for cystic acne. I wake up the next day and I literally peel off my blemishes. The other type of acne patch contain tea tree oil and salicylic acid. These are best for flat pimples that don’t contain much fluid, like when you feel one on the fringes of coming out, or when you’re trying to help recover a pimple that has already popped. I like using the Face Shop's Anti Trouble Blemish Patch or Spot Corrector for these situations.
Step 10: Sun Protection (Daily)
Let’s talk about sun, baby. Once not a thought in my mind, now something that crosses it everyday. I did a lot of research when venturing into the Asian sunscreen world - and why not? The hot and humid Asian climate makes for some of the best, waterproof, and most lightweight sunscreens out there.
Sunscreen can be measured by UVA (aging) and UVB (burn) rays. UVA is measured in PA and UVB in SPF. You’ll recognize that American sunscreens only measure UVB rays...or otherwise provide “broad spectrum” protection, and yeah, we’re not told how strong this protection is.
When it comes to Asian sunscreen, I only buy Japanese sunscreens because they provide a higher grade of protection than Korean sunscreen. Japanese regulations allow their UVB ratings to measure from PA+ to PA++++, where the more (+) the better sun protection. Korean sunscreens are only measured up to PA+++. Truthfully, Korean sunscreens can technically provide protection up to PA++++, we just wouldn’t know because their bottles can’t read higher than PA+++. Thus, I find it better overall to shop for Japanese sunscreen. Another thing I’m weary of is Korean sunscreens being so strongly fragrant. I've found more Japanese sunscreens that do not have added fragrance. One caveat is that most Japanese sunscreens contain alcohol; it will be a bit of a challenge finding an alcohol-free, fragrance free Japanese sunscreen stateside. Luckily, I haven't found that the alcohol in these formulas is too drying or irritating. This may be an issue for drier skin types, however.
My absolute favorite sunscreen is Biore UV Perfect Milk. It’s super light, waterproof, and “milky” in texture. It glides on easily and leaves no white residue whatsoever. A little bit goes a long way and I’ve been using this baby everyday since April and I’m still on the same tiny 40 ml bottle. I like how it’s also small enough to slip into your purse too! It’s about the size of a deluxe hand cream.
Tip: A great resource for researching Japanese sunscreen is RatzillaCosme's site. It's an impressive site that offers an amazing index of Japanese beauty products as well as reviews.
Favorite Sunscreen: Biore UV Perfect Milk
Skincare to me is like another form of self care. I honestly believe I'm happier now that I have a skincare routine and I've learned so much about my skin and my body through this journey. While I love my current skincare routine, I will always be open to learning and looking for that next holy grail product. I'm grateful that Korean skincare allows me to explore so many options, since the competition is vast and the demand is high. Brands are constantly cranking out the next big thing so there's always going to be something new and better to discover. Our skin needs are ever-changing and what works one day might not the next so it's awesome that this industry reflects all of our different skin needs. I think half the fun of curating my routine is being able to predict what might work for me and finding out whether it actually does. I would consider myself lucky in that I haven’t had any super crazy reactions so far to any of the products I’ve tried, but I always recommend doing research and patch tests before adding a new product to your routine. Starting out may be intimidating at first but just remember, if this lazy girl can have a 10+ step routine, so can you!