The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Does it Work?


From serums to face oils to sheet masks, skincare in Korea is no joke -some might even call it excessive. But as Korean beauty brands make their way overseas and become trends, they’ve slowly started to take over the beauty world.


For many, the famous “10-step” Korean beauty routine can seem somewhat excessive, and I don’t blame them. Who has that much time in their mornings and evenings!? To outsiders looking in, this “million-step” routine might seem ludicrous and extreme, but when you look into it, it simply comes down to: cleansing, exfoliating, treating, some intense moisturizing and wearing SPF -never forget the SPF!


When I lived in Taiwan, I was introduced to this broad routine, one that I didn’t know I could get on board with. When I was 18, my main struggle was the acne that appeared all of a sudden one morning and refused to go away and so with much determination I went to the dermatologist, who prescribed me some creams and told me to stay away from moisturizers, exfoliators and basically anything he hadn’t prescribed, because he didn’t want anything reacting with my skin. So you could imagine my surprise when I went to a dermatologist in Taipei that urged me to wear moisturizer and to exfoliate -the two things my dermatologist back home told me to steer clear from. She told me that the reason why I should wear moisturizer wasn’t because I had wrinkles, in fact, she told me that my skin was in surprisingly good shape, but because I had oily skin and I didn’t exfoliate, the build up from dead skin and outside factors, like smog, were causing my pores to clog up faster and hence, I was still getting breakouts. I left her office with a few recommendations from her and when I got to my classroom and started talking to my friends, they looked at me like I had three heads. “What do you mean you don’t have a skincare routine?”, “Didn’t your mom teach you?”. To be fair, my mom has always had a pretty simple skincare routine -cleanse and moisturize, with the occasional facial and use of exfoliators, but my mom believes more in natural beauty products and that beauty comes from what you put in your body, as much as from what you put on top of it.


I guess the real difference between how Asians -mainly Koreans- take care of their skin in comparison to the way Westerners do is this: they start really early. Like, well before you get your period your mom is already giving you products for you to maintain that baby-smooth skin. Meanwhile in America, skincare consists more of you rushing into Nordstrom or Sephora on your 30th birthday in hopes of finding a $100 eye cream and moisturizer that will somehow magically revert what years of sun damage have done. A thorough skincare routine is really just a part of their culture in Korea, it’s something that’s been taught since early childhood.


I’ll be honest, it took me awhile to get used to a routine and at first I didn’t think bright, dewy skin was a thing for me -being an oily girl myself. But man oh man, has that changed. And if you’re sitting at home reading this thinking this might be a little too high maintenance for you, just give it a try!




Remove your makeup -especially your eye makeup- gently with your trustworthy makeup remover, makeup wipes or cleansing oil, because expecting your regular cleanser to take off all those layers of makeup and dirt isn’t all that realistic and you don’t want to end up with racoon eyes forever. You can also go ahead and use coconut oil, but make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin or breaks you out!



Koreans are huge believers of the double-cleansing method, where you literally use two different kinds of cleansers to thoroughly clean your face. Step 1 features the first cleanser, which serves to just take everything off your face and in Step 2 you go in with a foam cleanser -or another oil cleanser if your skin is really dry- this time around to remove any lingering dirt or sweat. The rule of thumb is if it takes you 30 minutes to put on makeup, you should spend at least the same amount taking it off and replenishing your skin. Like the step above, use gentle, circular motions with your fingers to massage and clean your face. Koreans believe face massages increase circulation, making your skin brighter!



Exfoliation is good for not only clearing out your pores, but also to get rid of all that dead skin that unfortunately stays on top of our skin. Unlike the previous steps, this one is not recommended for daily use. In fact, depending on your skin and needs, you might exfoliate anywhere from twice a week to twice a month! Make sure you focus on your t-zone to get rid of blackheads, but also keep in mind that you need to be gentle when it comes to exfoliation. When it comes to facial exfoliation, because you usually use gritty products, using a gentle touch will provide the best outcome.



What in the West we call “toning”, in Korea they call “refreshing”. You see, after you cleanse so many times, your skin is in a fragile state and in need of some serious moisturizing and what toner does is it preps your skin for the following steps. Having tried both, I can say that I find Korean toners to be less harsh and drying than American ones, which is probably why they’re called “refreshers”. Experts recommend to dispense the product onto your bare hands, rub them together to hit up the product and activate the ingredients and press them on your face or you can dispense it on a cotton pad and wipe your face and neck.



Essence is known as “the heart” of Korean skincare, as it is considered the most important part of it. However, it’s still considered a mystery to many. Essences affect skin on a cellular level, speeding your cell turnover, AKA making your skin smoother and brighter. This step is definitely more for those who have dry skin, but if you still want to give it a try, totally go for it!




Now, this isn’t a step that is necessarily for everyone, since these treatments are meant to combat brown spots or hyperpigmentation. Serums, Ampoules and Boosters serve as super-concentrated versions of essences and are usually made with great ingredients that nurture your skin.


Step 7: MASK

Whether that’s a clay or a sheet mask, masks are a twice-a-week ritual, or more if your skin is dry. Just like exfoliation, how often you use masks depends on your needs and your skin type. In Korea, sheet masks are definitely preferred, as they are soaked in ingredients like collagen and vitamin C which in turn soak in your skin. They’re freaking amazing and come in such a broad variety! So why do these masks work so well? Well, for starters, they force your skin to absorb all the nutrients and moisture much better than a serum or an essence would. In fact, they can substitute them and cut your routine time. The best part is that the results from sheet masks are immediate, leaving your skin plump and bright!



This step is pretty self-explanatory, but it depends both on technique and the type of eye cream you choose. Eye creams usually focus on everything from fine lines to dark circles and the application is rather simple: tap. Gently tap the product around the eye and -never rub. This allows better absorption of the product and eliminates any tugging or pulling around that area.



Now, step 9 depends on whether you’re doing this during the daytime or nighttime. If we’re talking about your morning routine, you’ll want to use a moisturizer and whether or not you decide to use a face oil during your night routine really depends on how much moisture your skin needs. Korean women are all about layering products, from lightest to thickest. Just like all of the previous steps, you want to gently massage your moisturizer or face oil, with gentle strokes so that it really penetrates your skin. Some people even subtly tap the product as well.



Korean women are pretty obsessed with SPF. Next to skin hydration, SPF is everything. It can never be stressed enough how important sun protection is on a daily basis and this might be one of the biggest differentiators in Korean beauty regimens. If you’re acne prone I would highly suggest you using SPF, as it prevents your pimples from turning into dark spots and scars. And when it comes to your night routine, you’ll be replacing this final step with a night cream, to lock in all of that moisture. I’m gonna be honest, by this point your face is going to feel like a 6-layer cake and your skin will feel unbelievably nurtured and will look beautifully glowy -or like Korean women call it “dewy”.




I’ve been committed to this routine for about 6 months now and there’s no denying my skin looks and feels better than it used to. It was all about creating a routine and making time to take care of myself. During the day, I start off with the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, which I prefer to use during the day since I don’t need a strong cleanser to remove as much as I would at night. Then, I follow it with the Nooni Springwater Toner, that is made to target acne prone skin without drying it out, and with the Glossier Super Bounce Serum to help my skin recover some of the water it lost during sleep. After that I go in with the Origins GinZing Eye Cream that helps fight my unfortunately hereditary dark circles and a mixture of the Glossier Priming Moisturizer and the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30, to nurture my skin and also protect it. At night, I like to switch things up depending on my needs. I start off with double cleansing, with the Banila Co Clean It Solid Cleanser to remove all my makeup and then I go in with the Kate Somerville Gentle Daily Cleanser that is effective enough to leave my skin clean but gentle to not strip my skin and leave it feeling dry. After that I alternate from the Glossier Super Pure Serum, which I use whenever my skin is having a really bad breakout or during my period or the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, which helps brighten my dark spots and helps with my pigmentation. All of this is followed by my Kiehl’s Avocado Eye Cream, which I use at night because it’s nice and thick, and the Sunday Riley Juno Face Oil and the Nooni Advanced Repair Cream to lock everything in. For the days I want to exfoliate I use my tried and true Neutrogena Deep Clean Scrub and whenever I wanna do a face mask I alternate between the Glossier Mega Greens Mask and the SKINFOOD Snail Mask Sheet.


Hopefully you’ve stayed with me after all that.


I have to admit that despite the fact that this routine sounds intimidating, it really isn’t. When it comes to it, it really only take around 15 minutes -remember, you don’t have to do masks and exfoliants everyday- and once you get used to it, it feels more like a pamper session rather than a chore. My evening routine has become therapeutic and all about taking care of myself and my skin. Of course, if you’re coming home feeling tired and drained from homework and studying and life, do yourself a favour and just wipe off the day’s makeup with some cleansing wipes and take your time to chill and watch some TV. You’ve deserved it.



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