Korean Skincare Routine: My 10 Step Guide

Korean Skincare Routine

07 June, 2016 Korean Skincare Routine: My 10 Step Guide

I’ve been promising a post on my Korean skincare routine for months now, and I’m both relieved and chuffed to finally be publishing it. I’ve long loved the concept and act of indulging in a 10 step ritual, and the Korean skincare routine, which encompasses various cleansing, exfoliating and hydrating steps, is right up my street.

I’d like to preface this post with the disclaimer that I absolutely do not go through this routine every day; rather, I choose to pamper my skin and unwind with great skincare after a particularly stressful day, if I’ve been travelling, or on the weekend when I have more time available. If you’re after quick and easy skincare routines for morning and evening, check out my dedicated posts here and here.

Also, although this is a Korean-inspired routine, the products aren’t necessarily from Korean brands. I’ve included a few from Korean and Japanese brands like Tony Moly, DHC and Too Cool For School, but most are from Western brands that do skincare incredibly well.

Korean Skincare Routine

So, onto the Korean skincare routine itself, and why I love it. I was first inspired by this wonderful video from one of my favourite Youtubers, called Rachel Nguyen. She takes you through the process of cleansing and nourishing, and doesn’t make it seem like a chore – it’s more of a fun process that helps you to get into the rhythm of the day, or start to unwind and get ready for bed. Armed with her tips and tricks, I created my own Korean skincare routine, inspired by this fabulous ritual.

Step 1: Oil Cleanse

Favourites: Boscia Makeup Breakup Cool Cleansing Oil, Merumaya Melting Cleansing Balm*, The Body Shop’s Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil

This step is all about getting rid of grime, dirt and the bulk of my makeup, including heavy liner, eyeshadow, mascara and foundation. I usually apply one of my favourite oils or balms directly to dry skin (with makeup still on), and massage in circular motions. This process is super messy, but it’s the most efficient way of getting rid of thick product that can often take ages removing if using a micellar water or wipe. Once makeup has either dissolved or been smudged around enough, I’ll remove it with a hand-hot flannel. If I’m in the mood, I’ll use the oil or balm again, just to lightly condition it and ensure all makeup has been removed.

Step 2: Water-Based or Foaming Cleanse

Favourites: DHC Face Wash*, Philosophy Purity Made Simple Cleanser, Sarah Chapman Skinesis Rapid Radiance Cleanse

I was surprised to see a foam or water-based wash as part of this routine, as they tend to be a little harsh on more dry or sensitive complexions. The goal with a foam or water-based cleanser is to remove residual oil from the first cleansing step. I’ve actually found that foaming washes are pretty nice to use after a heavy oil or balm. If you’re super anti-foam, then go for anything that spreads or emulsifies easily, and whisks away excess oil to help leave skin completely cleansed, yet comfortable.

To enhance the bubble factor, I use the DHC Bubble Foaming Mesh*, which creates an insane amount of foam! My top tip would be to create the desired lather before applying it to the skin, so you’re not applying the harsh surfactant directly to your skin.

Step 3: Exfoliant (Chemical or Physical)

Favourites: Merumaya Gentle Exfoliating Toner*, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid*, Pixi Glow Tonic, Philosophy The Microdelivery Exfoliating Wash, REN Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial

I love using chemical exfoliants to help smooth skin and create an instant glow, although I do enjoy the sensation of using a more abrasive physical scrub. Whether you go for a chemical or physical exfoliator, make sure you’re using it at least twice a week. I typically use a chemical toner about three times a week, as anything with AHAs such as lactic or glycolic acid really agrees with my skin. If I’m using a physical scrub, I’ll use it only once a week, to help minimise irritation. The REN Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial combines both chemical and physical exfoliating elements, and delivers instant brightness. So, so good.

Step 4: Toner

Favourites: La Roche Posay Serozinc, Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic, Janjira Brightening Toner*

The vibe I get with toners is that they should help to finalise your cleansing and exfoliating steps, and lay the groundwork for the hydrating products you’re applying on top. Rachel mentions witch hazel as a product to use in this step, as it helps to counteract redness and reduce inflammation. I like to switch between an anti-bacterial toner like Serozinc, a reviving one like the Instant Boost Skin Tonic, and a hydrating one like the Brightening Toner from Janjira. Judge how your skin looks and feels, and apply a toner accordingly.

Step 5: Essence

Favourites: DHC Beauty Lift Essence*, The Body Shop Drops of Youth Essence-Lotion*

Essences are a quintessentially Asian phenomenon, and they provide a combination of benefits you’ll find in toners, serums, and other hydrating products. Applying essences involves ‘sandwiching’ moisture, to create a more plump and bouncy looking complexion. I typically apply a light layer and then immediately apply a serum, to help lock in the hydration. Look for essences that contain plant extracts and help to increase cell turnover. I like to pat essences in, and allow to dry for about a minute.

Step 6: Serums and Boosters

Favourites: Antipodes Skin Brightening and Tone Correcting Serum*, Superdrug Vitamin E Serum, No7 Beautiful Skin Overnight Radiance Boost, VOYA Palmarosa Balm Serum*

Slightly thicker than essences, serums are designed to target specific concerns – such as fine lines, lack of radiance, enlarged pores, blemishes, rosacea, oiliness, etc. I’ve created a wardrobe of serums over the years, with products designed to create a myriad skin concerns. You’ll often find a concentration of ingredients and actives, and the texture will most often be quite sticky and slippy.

I love layering serums, and often choose two or three to combat skin issues, depending on my needs. Serums normally need to be patted in, but depending on the texture, I like to massage and work them in deeply. You can also use oils at this step, although I usually only apply them at the final step of an evening routine.

Step 7: Sheet Mask

Favourites: DHC Bio Cellulose Mask*, Etude House I Need You Sheet Mask, TONYMOLY I’m Real Sheet Mask

Sheet masks are (in my opinion) non-essential to a skincare routine, however, as part of the Korean regime, they are one of the most important components. A sheet mask delivers an intense boost of moisture, and a serum-like texture that absorbs into the skin under a gel or linen fabric. I like to use unusual varieties, such as snail, broccoli and silk extract, as they offer incredible benefits – and are also pretty fun to use. Keep on the skin for 15-20 minutes, then massage the excess into the face, neck and décolletage. Don’t wash it off, it’s all good stuff!

Step 8: Eye Cream 

Favourites: Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado, Bobbi Brown Hydrating Eye Cream

Eye cream is pretty simple: choose something hydrating, lightweight, and moisture-boosting. I apply mine with my ring finger, and lightly tap from the the cheekbone up to the orbital bone – once it’s dried, I’ll massage it in to make sure everything has absorbed evenly. A good eye cream will add radiance and hydration to an area that has little to no sweat glands, and can dry fairly easily.

Step 9: Moisturiser

Favourites: Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturising Gel, Avene Cleanance Mattifying Emulsion, MAC Oil Control Lotion, Rodial Stemcell Magic Gel*, Clarins Lotus Balancing Facial Oil, Glossier Priming Moisturiser

I used to see moisturiser as the main event in my skincare routine, but after adapting my regime over the years, I view it more as a nice extra step. Caroline Hirons has compared applying a super expensive moisturiser on bare skin to wrapping up in a trench coat without anything on underneath. You’ve got to build layers, people! The rule of thumb is to use something that offers just enough hydration for your complexion type, and if you’re using it in the AM, something that will work well as a base for makeup. The Rodial gel is amazing, and does a brilliant job both morning and night. The Clinique lotion has been my go-to for years, and the Clarins oil is there for when I need a little extra moisture.

Step 10: SPF, Overnight Mask or Spot Treatment

Favourites: Origins Drink Up Intensive Mask, Elemis Marine Cream, Too Cool For School Pumpkin Sleeping Pack, La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo+, Paula’s Choice Clear Ultra-Light Daily Mattifying Fluid SPF30+

For the final step, choose products that suit your exact needs; if it’s the morning, opt for SPF (30 at least), or maybe a blemish-busting treatment. At night, go for sleeping masks or retinol-packed creams that help regenerate and exfoliate your skin while you sleep. The Too Cool For School mask (review coming soon!) is particularly good: it hydrates, brightens, exfoliates, and calms. Plus, the tube is adorable! Again, like all of these steps, this is totally optional, although I do think locking in all your previous steps with a thicker gel or lotion helps to ensure skin stays hydrated and cared for for longer.

You deserve a medal – you got through all 10 steps of my Korean Skincare Routine!

All in all, those 10 steps should take you about 3 hours. Just kidding. Once or twice a week, a 30 minute skincare session is seriously blissful, and I’d definitely recommend you testing out the Korean skincare routine, if you’re up to the challenge.

Have you tried a Korean skincare routine before? Let me know what you think, and don’t forget to check out my product recommendations! Most have been reviewed on my blog, and if you see any products you want me to talk about in the future, PLEASE let me know in the comments.

Have a fabulous day!


*Products sent for consideration. I was not remunerated for writing this post.