The K-Beauty 10 Step Skincare Routine (or how to survive with 5)

The K-Beauty 10 Step Skincare Routine (or how to survive with 5)

Our first formal post is non-other than the famous 10 step K-Beauty routine! For those new to K-Beauty, skincare is viewed as more of a lifestyle and less of a routine in Korea - it's very much a part of the culture. Skincare in Korea is genderless and ageless so folks from all walks of life devote time to ensure their skin looks and feels their best. In theory, it seems logical to invest just as much time prepping and cleansing your skin as we do putting makeup onto it or exposing it to the elements everyday. Korean skincare is viewed more as a preventative measure; doing more now rather than doing the most later. This mindset has spread throughout Asia and is now burgeoning here in the states.

Hydration is the key to dewy skin and that signature K-Beauty glow or chok chok . The 10 step routine is actually 10 different product types that are used in a specific order which provide hydration in varying layers. Don't be intimidated - the routine is yours to own - tailor it to what works for you and it won't be a chore. You may not have all 10 steps, and you may have even more, but you won't need to do every step daily. Once you find a routine with the right products that you use consistently, you should see and feel a difference. You'll be rewarded with the sweet satisfaction that the effort you put in was worth it in the end.

Here's a quick rundown of each product type listed in the order they should fall in your routine. This list is comprehensive but we plan to take a more in-depth focus on each step and spotlight certain products in future posts. If you’re just starting out or in a frantic rush to get out the door, we’ve denoted the 5 essential steps to include in your everyday routine with an asterisk. Remember to space out introducing new products to your routine so you can identify which specific products your skin either loved or hated.

But first: the double cleanse.

The double cleanse method is happily embraced in Korean skincare. This method involves cleansing twice; once with an oil-based cleanser and again with a water-based cleanser. You might think - my face was clean enough the first time - but read on to steps 1 + 2 to see why this method is as effective as it is essential.

1) Oil-based cleanser* + makeup remover (optional)

There's a stigma in American skincare that adding oil to the face will make you even more oily. However, like dissolves like is the golden rule to remember here (my chemistry background comes out every now and then). Oil cleanser is essential because you can only break down the oil, sebum, and oil-based makeup on your face with the use of none other than oil. Oil cleansers can come in pump bottles or even solid balms that break down into oil once in contact with skin.

How to: Massage product in a circular motion onto the face then rinse with water. The oil will emulsify once mixed with water to wash away all the oil-based impurities and makeup. Prior to this cleansing step, you can also pre-cleanse with a makeup remover or cleansing water.

2) Water-based cleanser*

Water cleansers are typically the foaming ones we are all familiar with. These remove dirt and debris from the face, along with any remaining residue from the oil cleanse.

How to: Do this after your oil cleanse. End with a splash of cold water and you’ve successfully completed part 2 of the double cleanse!

3) Exfoliator

Exfoliators come in the form of both physical or chemical exfoliants - meaning either physical abrasives (ie: scrubs and peeling gels) or acids. Their purpose is to relinquish away dead skin cells so that products have a direct pathway to interact with your skin.

How to: Do this after cleansing and before toning. Use exfoliators once or twice a week, or less for sensitive/acne-prone skin.

4) Toner*

Toner is essential because it balances the pH levels that cleansing and exfoliating can alter, giving you a clean slate moving forward. It also preps your skin to more easily absorb the products in the steps to follow. Korean toners are different in that they're gentle and typically don't contain alcohol, unlike the astringent toners we have in the US. They do not leave your skin feeling tight and dry but rather hydrated and prepped. Toners will provide a first layer of hydration to your skin that will allow the rest of the products to be more easily absorbed. To really bring the point across - think of your skin like a Beautyblender. Once damp and hydrated, you have the ability to absorb other liquids and products more effectively after that.

How to: Pat toner onto your face and let dry for a few seconds before moving on to the next step in your routine. You can also soak a cotton round and apply using gentle upward swipes.

5) Essence

Essence is considered the heart of the K-Beauty routine. Essences add another layer of hydration to the skin and are usually light liquids packed with beneficial ingredients to help prep your skin even further.

How to: Apply it after toner and pat into your face and neck area.

6) Treatments (serums, ampoules)

Here’s where you get to know your skin on a more personal level. Treatments come in many different products types (serums, ampoules) and contain special ingredients to target your problem areas (ie: pigmentation, aging).

How to: Apply either all over face or just in problem areas. You can layer as many treatment products as you'd like but be sure to do so from thinnest to thickest consistency.

7) Sheet Masks

Sheet masks are the signature of K-Beauty. You can find sheet masks with tons of different ingredients and materials, but they all have one thing in common - serious absorption of product into your skin. Sheet masks are one surefire way to compel the essence/serum from the mask to absorb into your skin and provide deeeep hydration by locking in everything else you've put onto your face at this point. You can often see immediate results upon removing the mask and they're our favorite way to unwind after a long week!

How to: Apply to cleansed face and leave on for 15-20 minutes. Tap any remaining product into your skin (literally anywhere on your skin). Repeat once a week or even once a night if you'd like!

8) Eye Cream

Eye cream provides hydration and plumpness to the eye area, which helps to keep it firm and fight away wrinkles. Our skin is thinnest around our eyes, so care must be taken when applying any type of product to this area. This step should be started as early as your 20s.

How to: Gently tap cream into the skin around your eyes and orbital bone with your pinky finger. Take caution not rub the product in as this can lead to wrinkles!

9) Moisturizer* (or night cream)

We should all be familiar with this one. Moisturizer seals in everything you’ve just done and provides a last hydration step to your routine. Korean moisturizers come in many different forms (gels, lotions, creams, emulsions) and can be easily switched up depending on the season and level of hydration your skin needs.  

How to: Apply to face and neck in the morning and at night. A couple times a week, swap out moisturizer for a sleeping mask to provide additional hydration and nourishment to your skin while you sleep - your face will be glowing the next day!

10) Sunscreen*

Sunscreen is the MOST important part of your routine. Think of the sun as your skin’s worst enemy who only wants to destroy it completely. Protecting yourself from the sun is the best way to prevent wrinkles, premature aging, hyperpigmentation, and of course - skin cancer. Even so, we tend to think we only need it if we’re going to be out in the sun, but that has proven to be false. Sitting inside by a window can expose us to radiation, and even cloudy skies are no filter for UV rays. If you get anything out of this routine, it should be this: sunscreen is a must. Korean and Asian sunscreens in general are not like the greasy, strong smelling, pore-clogging Western types. They provide stronger sun protection and have either a pleasant or non-fragrant scent. These stronger protections are due to the different regulations and approved ingredients in Asian countries vs the US. Asian sunscreens provide broader protections agains UVA and UVB rays, whereas the US standard only measures UVB (aka SPF). We will be doing plenty of sunscreen spotlights, as even sunscreen across Asian countries differ significantly, so be sure to stay tuned!

How to: You know the drill. Pat onto face. Reapply frequently. If possible, look for a foundation or bb cream which already contains SPF for added sun protection.

*If you're starting out or just in a hurry, make sure you include these 5 essential steps in your daily routine.

We hope you enjoyed this quick breakdown and we encourage you to play around with the 10 Step Korean routine to find what works best for you. Whether you decide 5, 7 or all 10 steps is the right fit (I do them all, Elizabeth does 7), don’t be afraid to branch out and try new products. We'd love to hear about the products you use or if there are certain steps you want us to explore, so feel free to leave us a comment!

Stay Dewy,


When Beauty Calls, We Come Running

When Beauty Calls, We Come Running