If you’re familiar with any aspect of Korean beauty, it’s probably the famous seven-step Korean skin-care routine!!! It’s gotten a ton of press over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a bit shocking. Geez Louise, you think, seven steps is a lot. Those Korean women sure are high maintenance . . .
But here’s the thing: While Korean women do typically include more products in their skin-care routine than their American counterparts, it’s not as if they’re using all ten products twice a day every day. Whether it’s daily, every other day, or weekly, each product enters the rotation for a specific purpose. Some you might even use only once a month, or only during a certain season.
When I first started going over to my friends’ houses in Seoul, my eyes would bulge when I saw the stacks of products above their sinks. But as they would patiently explain what each product was for, I started to see the point. “This is for my T-zone, because I get an oily shine early in the day,” a friend would say as she gave me a guided tour of her vanity. “This treats the brown spots along my cheeks, and these are the moisturizers I use in the summer.” I had always believed in a quality-over-quantity and less-is-more philosophy, but I could tell she knew what she was talking about. Besides, her skin was gorgeous, so she was definitely doing something right.
Treat Your Skin with the Respect That It Deserves
I’m a big believer that there is only one person who will motivate you to do things that require discipline: you. But if you’re hearing about the seven steps and thinking, No way, not me. I barely have time to shave my pits and trim my toenails, I get it, because that’s what I thought at first, too. But whatever you may hear, there are no miracle cures, and the only true way to get good skin is to invest a little time and effort.
Many of us have started a skin-care routine out of fear (Oh my God, I’m going to look like my mother!) or to reverse damage we’ve already done (These brown spots weren’t here last month!). Or if you’re like me, sometimes all it takes is a semi-public shaming from some well-meaning coworkers. All of these work, but the best and most lasting motivation is the desire to treat your skin-care routine as part of your overall well-being.
When you’re a busy person, it’s easy to forget about your skin. Because let’s be honest, you can always cover it up (at least temporarily). With the right angles, filters, makeup, and lighting, good skin can easily be faked. But you can’t spend your entire life by candlelight, and reality doesn’t come with Photoshop. And when you’re young, you think you and your skin are invincible. “Your UV rays don’t hurt me!” you say while shaking your fist at the sun. Then one day you blink and wake up to brown spots, fine lines, congested pores, and borderline eczema. But before you get depressed and go lie down on the couch (out of the sun), let me assure you: These skin-care woes are avoidable. Adopting your own arsenal of steps (whether it’s four or ten) is one of the first lines of defense.
When you start to think about putting together your own skin-care routine, don’t be intimidated by the idea that you’ll have to spend a certain amount of money, use only Korean products, or buy products you don’t need. Every Korean woman’s skin-care routine is different, because every skin has different needs. This information is just a guideline to show the order of the steps and give you a sense of the products that you can use regularly.
1. Makeup Remover and Oil Cleanser
On days when I wear a lot of makeup (especially waterproof mascara and a lip stain), I start my routine with a cotton pad soaked in gentle makeup remover or an oil-based cleansing tissue. This helps remove eye makeup precisely, which may not seem like a big deal, but you want to get all your mascara off, as your eyes and eyelashes are delicate enough as it is without being caked with a week’s worth of old mascara.
After that, I use an oil cleanser on the rest of my face. Apply on dry face directly with your fingers, and use gentle, upward circular motions. Contrary to popular belief, even those with oily skin can use an oil cleanser—it won’t make you oilier. What it will do is break down all the oil-based debris that’s left on your skin, such as makeup, sunscreen, and sebum, as well as smog and pollution.
3 Concept Eyes Lip & Eye Remover gently eliminates all traces of waterproof mascaras, eyeliners, and lip stains.
Banila Co. Clean It Zero Classic is a sorbet-soft, lightweight formula that transforms from a solid balm to a silky oil on the skin and effortlessly dissolves stubborn makeup and dirt.
Tony Moly Floria Brightening Cleansing Oil gently whisks away makeup and washes away sebum and brightens the skin tone with the superstar fermented ingredient saccharomyces ferment.
Skin-food Brown Rice Oil Cleansing Tissue comes with forty pre-moistened wipes containing vitamins and antioxidants from rice bran.
2. Water-Based Cleanser
Now it’s time to wash your face again, and no, I’m not kidding. Cleansing twice is not only practiced by Koreans, but it’s actually recommended by many estheticians and dermatologists because it helps to thoroughly remove any impurities that can cause breakouts. Apply a water-based cleanser, which will usually be creamy in texture or foam up when you add water, to a wet face, and work it in circular motions with your fingers. During both cleanses, gently massage the face to help increase circulation and enhance lymphatic drainage.
Neogen Dermalogy Real Fresh Green Tea Foam is a light cleanser formulated for sensitive skin types, is made with green tea extract to fight free radicals, and leaves skin feeling soft and moisturized.
Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick has convenient twist-as-you-go tube packaging that works into a gentle lather. It’s made with fermented damask rose extract and rose petals.
Benton Honest Cleansing Foam begins as a rich cream, and transforms into a luxurious foam. Leaves skin soft and moisturized with botanical extracts.
3. The Exfoliator
Don’t underestimate the importance of exfoliating! It helps loosen debris in clogged pores and sloughs off dead skin cells, which can improve your skin’s texture, brighten your complexion, and help your other products absorb better. You can use a mechanical exfoliator, like a sugar scrub, or a chemical one, which uses ingredients like lactic or salicylic acid to dissolve the “glue” that binds dead skin cells to healthy ones. Exfoliate once or twice a week, and focus on your nose (where blackheads love to party) and the visible pores on your cheeks. Don’t forget to lightly scrub your lips, too, which keeps them soft and helps your lipstick go on smoothly.
Skinfood Black Sugar Mask Wash Off is a nourishing wash-off mask that promotes hydration and the sloughing of dead skin cells for better product absorption.
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine uses physical exfoliating pads soaked in tartaric acid (AHA) to chemically exfoliate and to promote clearer, smoother, and tighter skin.
AmorePacific Treatment Enzyme Peel uses natural papaya enzymes to eliminate dry, dull surface cells for a smoother and brighter complexion.
Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling is an innovative “peeling” exfoliator that transforms from a creamy serum into a foamy exfoliator to gently remove dead skin cells.
4. The Toner
Toner is an in-between step and often the step people will tell you to skip if you’re trying to simplify your skin-care routine. But don’t listen to the naysayers! Toners are actually very important. Used after cleansing, they help remove any leftover residues from your cleanser while also prepping and repairing your skin’s barrier to effectively absorb the moisturizers that follow.
In Korea, a lot of women use hydrating toners instead of astringent ones, and you can find ones that are suitable for all skin types. They’re packed with humectants that aid in soothing and hydrating, which is why toners are often called “refreshers” by Korean brands. Use a cotton pad to swipe it all across your face and neck or you can pat in the product with your hands.
RE:P Organic Cotton Treatment Toning Pad balances and soothes the skin with chamomile and lavender. The organic cotton pad offers gentle exfoliation to remove impurities.
Son & Park Beauty Water is a smart cleansing liquid made from natural plant extracts that tones, exfoliates and hydrates to deliver smooth and revitalized skin.
Su:m37 Water-full Skin Refresher hydrates and balances the skin with ingredients such as bamboo water and red clover flower.
Missha Time Revolution Clear Toner is a fragrance-free highly enriched hydrating toner formulated with fermented ingredients that helps even out the skin tone and preps the skin to absorb the rest of the skin-care routine.
5. The Essence
Aw, the essence—the heart of the Korean skin-care routine! Korean women consider essence the most important step; it’s a skin-care category that was created in Korea. Essence is still hard to find elsewhere, but I bet that won’t be the case much longer! I’ve also had the most noticeable results from adding this to my regimen, because essences help hydrate and increase cell turnover. Hello, brighter skin!
Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence improves elasticity and evens out skin tone by promoting skin renewal with its superstar ingredient, saccharomyces ferment filtrate.
Neogen Code 9 Lemon Green Caviar Essence & Tox Tightening Pack uses a unique triple-layer sheet pad soaked in cell-communicating ingredients to even out skin tone and deliver nutrients to the skin.
IOPE Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning has more than eighty fermented ingredients that promote clear, healthy, hydrated skin.
6. Ampoules, Boosters, and Serums
Ampoules, which are often referred to as serums and boosters in Western lines, are what you would get if you put an essence on the stove and boiled it down until it was just the good stuff. They usually have a thicker consistency and are used to target and treat very specific skin problems. They can help brighten skin (by increasing cell turnover, as I’ve said before), fade sunspots, and smooth fine lines.
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop Serum revitalizes the skin by brightening and reducing the visibility of dark spots and acne scars.
Missha Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator Ampoule is a mouthful, but is awesome as a spot treatment to reduce signs of aging, improve skin elasticity, and protect barrier function.
RE:P Ultra Moist Gel Oil an advanced serum that intensively replenishes rough, dry skin with argan and jojoba seed oils.
7. The Sheet Mask
If the essence is the heart of the Korean skin-care routine, then the sheet mask is the soul. It’s the quiet, meditative ritual of relaxation. On average, you should use a sheet mask twice a week, but you can do it more often if your face is very dry. The fun of sheet masks is in the variety and the price—sometimes you can even grab one for a dollar.
Place a sheet mask on your face and then lie back and chill out for twenty minutes. The secret to sheet masks is that the sheet helps keep the product from evaporating, and its prolonged contact with your face forces your skin to absorb more of the nutrients and moisture than if you just applied them via a cream or serum.
Manefit Bling Bling Hydrogel Mask is a two-piece mask soaked in nourishing essences that instantly cools and soothes stressed, tired skin on contact.
Tony Moly My Little Pet Eye Patch uses green tea extract and niacinamide to revitalize, moisturize, and reduce the visibility of fine lines and dull under-eye skin.
Skinfood Hydro Fitting Snail Mask Sheet uses snail mucin to encourage cell regeneration, soothe irritated skin, and replenish moisture levels.
Banila Co It Radiant Lace Hydrogel Mask Sheet hydrates and nourishes the skin with ingredients such as aloe. The clear and white lace pattern makes sheet masking chic.