Korean women baby their skin, aiming for a flawless and ever present glow. Thus, skin care is a huge focus, while makeup is kept simple. And Korean women tend to have lovely skin. Blush is generally pastel and light. Face coverage is a luminous BB or CC cream, while eye makeup is minimalistic and lips are bright.
The 10 Step Korean Skin Care Routine is a Ritual
Step 1: Makeup Removal (Cleanse 1)
Use an oil cleanser to remove oil based and makeup related debris. Apply an oil-based cleanser (whether an oil, pudding or cream) on dry skin to “melt” away makeup. Gentle, circular motions with your fingers can be used to massage and clean off foundations or BB cream. Massage is believed by many to help increase circulation thus adding a glow. I find that with an oil-based cleanser I don’t need a makeup remover but if you do, gently use one to remove excess eye and lip makeup.
Step 2: Cleanse 2.
The second cleanse is done with a gentle foaming (water-based) cleanser, which removes whatever is left over, essentially the dirt from your own skin and the environment. Some people skip the oil based cleanser in the morning.
Step 3: Exfoliate
Exfoliate once or twice a week. I read that in Korea many women only exfoliate twice a month but I don’t agree. Really, how often you exfoliate depends on your skin and whether or not your need to scruff off dried skin more often. Use a gentle exfoliator and softly blend it in circular motions on your face. Never rub, especially hard. A gel peel also works great to very softly roll off the top layer of your skin, leaving the glowing fresh skin underneath.
Step 4: Tone/Refresh
Toning is a considered an essential step in Korea. Toners, or refreshers, remove pollutants and cleanser residue, while also restoring your skin’s pH balance. They also soothe and prepare your skin to absorb the essence, serum and moisturizer that follow. Korean toners tend to be gentle and can be applied with a cotton ball or pad or just with your fingers (I do the latter).
Step 5: Essence
The essence is often considered the most important step in a Korean skin care routine. The popular SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is a well-known version but Korean brands make equally effective products at a fraction of the price (such as Missha and Secret Key). The essence impacts skin on a cellular level, quickening cell turnover rate thus creating smoother and brighter skin. The essence feels a lot like water but I’ve seen a noticeable difference since adding it to my routine. Pat it on then sweep in an upward motion.
Step 6: Ampoule/Serum
Ampoules are also referred to as serums and boosters. Many of the Korean versions address single issues but more than one can be layered on top of each other. Thus some add collagen, which is anti-aging and increases skin elasticity. Some are night repairs similar to the Estee Lauder version. Others include green tea, ginseng and more, and target hydration, spot correction or aging.
Step 7: Eye Cream
Eye cream is meant to be tapped on gently around your eye. Again, don’t tug at skin. Eye creams are also targeted at specific issues such as aging, discoloration or elasticity.
Step 8: Moisturizer
Everything you’ve built up so far will be held in better, so it can have the maximum impact and absorption, by your moisturizer. Again, these moisturizers are often targeted at specific issues, including hydration or anti shine. A lighter moisturizer can be used during the day and Korean companies make a number of gel-based ones, which absorb beautifully.
Step 9: Night Cream
Hydration at night is considered important in Korean skin care. At night a heavier cream might be used. Every week so use a night mask, which is a super creamy product that hydrates more than a regular cream (so you don’t want to use it too often). Moisture is supposed to “plump” up your face and I have to say the rumor is true! A dot of oil can be added after and blended in to increase moisture and absorption. Argan is a popular option or ingredient, among many others.
Step 10: Sheet Masks
Sheet masks are used twice a week and are essentially a papery or rubbery sheet that is soaked in whatever ingredient you’ve chosen. Worn for about 15 minutes (and don’t rinse your face after) they are used before moisturizer. And the belief is that by having them sit on the skin for a while they are better absorbed instead of just evaporating away. I love the variety available and they cover pretty much any need you could imagine!
Step 11: Sunscreen
Every day put that sunscreen on. Not everyone includes this step but it is essential to protect your skin.
Step 12: BB or CC Cream/Foundation
Again, not everyone includes this step as an “official” one but it does provide a little more polish than going out bare faced. And many Korean BB or CC creams have both protective and restorative ingredients. Korean BB creams are often heavier coverage than some of the like products in the United States.
Optional: Mists. To maintain dewiness and the re-activate the products you’re using, a mist twice a day helps. I don’t do this step.
Maintenance Facials. In Korea ongoing spa visits are considered an expected part of an ongoing skin care routine.