You have probably heard of the multi-step Korean skin care routine from magazines, TV or other blogs. And like me, you were probably overwhelmed by the number of products and the amount of time needed to achieve the bright, dewy glow that all Korean celebrities seem to have (even their male celebs have perfect skin!)
Just check out these lovely actresses. Song Hye Kyo (top) and Gianna Jun (bottom) are both 34, and Ha Ji Won (middle) is 38 but they barely look a day over 30.
Images of Song Hye Kyo, Ha Ji Won and Gianna Jun are not mine
From being a reluctant trialist I am now officially a believer! It was a slow and gradual conversion. My routine used to be so basic- cleanse, tone, moisturize, plus eye cream. My initiation into the world of Korean skin care started 2 years ago when I was on the hunt for a holy grail moisturizer.
After going through several Western and local brands and feeling like my skin didn't improve that much at all, I tried one from Etude House and it worked sooo well that I started trying other products (eye cream was the next), and then soon dabbled in other stuff that were well beyond the typical CTM routine (essence and emulsion anyone?) until one day I just realized that I was using an entire army of products on my face!
If you are interested in trying this out for yourself, here's a little guide to help you out on your next trip to a Korean beauty store. A few people have also been sending me DMs asking about what I use on my face, and instead of shooting back with just "Korean beauty routine!" I decided to do a whole post about it haha.
Let me break down the steps here (corresponding products are similarly numbered on the photo above):
1. OIL CLEANSING
I was skeptical about this at first because of my combination skin (more on the oily side), but now I personally think that if you were to make just one major change in your routine, this would be it. Using an oil cleanser before anything else gently lifts the oil based impurities (excess sebum and makeup) sitting on your skin. What I do is spread it all over my face for about a minute, giving my face a little massage in the process, then wipe it all off with a tissue. Depending on how much makeup you use, repeat until all visible traces are gone. It is so satisfying to see all the make up and grime coming off so easily with the oil. I remember back in the dark ages of my non-oil cleansing days, I would use a ton of Cetaphil and wipe my face mercilessly with tissues or a face towel just to remove mascara or long wearing lipstick. Talk about being harsh!
Current fave: Virgin coconut oil
2. REGULAR CLEANSING
After oil cleansing, proceed with your regular facial wash. Try not to use soap or anything with alcohol that will strip the natural oils off the face.
Currently using: MISSHA Fruit Tea Cleanser in Lemon
Exfoliating removes the top layer of dead skin cells and makes your skin super soft and smooth to the touch. There is such a thing as over exfoliating, so try to limit this to twice weekly and be gentle on the skin while scrubbing. Also try to choose scrubs with smaller beads.
Current faves: The Bodyshop Vitamin C Microdermabrasion Exfoliator, Etude House Berry AHA Bright Peel Facial Scrub
Korean toners are nothing like the toners I grew up with. Most of the toners and astringents of the past were alcohol-based and harsh on the skin, with the intention of making the pores smaller and removing excess oil. I used to love that squeaky clean and tight feeling right after using toner, but that wasn't because my pores were shrinking; it's actually the alcohol dehydrating my skin! Not good. Korean toners, however, are alcohol-free, balance the skin's pH, and prep the skin to absorb all the goodness of the succeeding steps.
Currently using: The Face Shop Myeonghan Miindo Heaven Grade Ginseng Whitening Toner
I loove using masks. Sheet masks, wash off, peel off- love them all! They're like one shot wonders, super convenient and gives you an instant skin boost whenever you need one. I put this under step 3A because I don't do this daily, only 3-4x week or whenever I feel like my skin needs some extra TLC.
Now this is the part where it starts to get a little bit confusing. Generally, an essence is a watery, less concentrated version of serums. This is considered as another prep step as it aids in the skin's regeneration process and allows better absorption of the serum and moisturizer.
An emulsion is a watery version of moisturizer. However, different brands in Korea aren't consistent with this one, as there some that you have to apply before serums, and ones that have to be used after. The rule of thumb here in layering skin care products is that you put the most lightweight ones first, going up to the thickest.
Serums pack concentrated amounts of active ingredients that target specific skin concerns such as hydration, uneven skin tone, fine lines and wrinkles, etc. I usually chose brightening serums since I spend a lot of time under the sun to avoid getting uneven skin tone.
Current fave: The Face Shop Blanclouding White Moisture Serum
7. EYE CREAM
The skin around our eyes is thinner and more fragile than the rest of our face, and can easily show signs of aging when not properly taken care of. Korean brands made me a believer in the importance of eye creams when I saw how much of a difference it made to my dark circles. The brands I used in the past didn't help at all and some of them even irritated my eyes.
Current fave: Etude House Honey Cera Eye Pack Cream
Now that you've layered on a bunch of creams on your face, we don't want all of that good stuff to evaporate into thin air. Seal it all in with a moisturizer. My current moisturizer is this really light aloe vera gel from Nature Republic. This isn't the last step yet (one more step to go), so I love that it doesn't feel heavy on my skin.
9. SUNBLOCK (AM)
Finally, the last steps!! This one is another important, non-negotiable step. Too much sun exposure causes premature aging and fine lines, which are difficult to correct once they start to set in. I live in a hot, sunny country and my work involves constant sun exposure so I make sure to bring a small bottle of sunblock and retouch every 4 hours.
Current faves: Nature Republic Calendula Sunblock (SPF 50) and Nivea Face Sunblock (SPF 50)
9. SLEEPING PACK (PM)
Another new variation on night cream, and sort of like a hybrid of moisturizer and serum. When we sleep, our skin regenerates and repairs itself. Amp up your beauty sleep with the help of an overnight pack, which provides your skin with an extra dose of nutrients while you sleep.
Current fave: Etude House Toning White C Sleeping Pack
To make it even easier, here's a summary for the AM and PM routine:
If you're curious to know what it has done for my skin, please see some of my just woke up, no make up, no filter pictures haha (Umm I just sounded so full of myself LOL! But this is for demonstration purposes though. Sorry I wasn't able to take decent pics, decided to make use of these photos from my phone full of selfies).
Another one of the rewards I get from this routine is that I don't see the need to pile on base makeup after. No need for heavy concealer and foundations. Most days, I only use sunblock and pressed powder when I go out.
For those asking if you have to follow all of the recommended steps in the Korean beauty routine, the answer is NO, you don't have to. The great thing about this is that the beauty industry has given us so much options and you can easily personalize a routine that works with your time and budget.
Personally, I can do without the emulsion. When I'm feeling tired after a long day at work, I usually stick with just steps 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7. Or if I'm really reeaaaaally tired, I'll just double cleanse, tone and throw on a mask or sleeping pack haha. It's actually pretty easy and relaxing once you get the hang of it.
Thanks for reading! What's your experience so far with Korean beauty products? Drop me a line :D