Korean Beauty 10-step skincare routine

The now-famous Korean skincare routine looked like a trend when it first showed up in here in the middle east. they’re here to stay. And as a self-identifying K-beauty addict, I am all for it.

Despite the clamor over Korean products, there’s one aspect to this style of skincare that either turns people off or lights them up. It’s called the 10-step routine, and it refers to the way products are layered onto the skin.

Regardless of what camp you’re in, the 10-step routine is a hallmark of Korean beauty, but what many don’t know is that that number of steps is very flexible and it will change not only depending on your skin type but also the seasons. I’ll walk you through each of the steps in this feature, explaining what they do, why they’re important, and if they will improve your skin. It may mean you spend 10 minutes in the bathroom in the morning or at night, but if you can’t spare 10 minutes for yourself, we need to back up to a lesson on self-care first.

What is the Korean skincare routine?

These are the 10 steps as commonly recommended by Korean beauty retailers and influencers.

  • Oil cleanser
  • Foam/cream cleanser
  • Toner
  • Essence
  • Emulsion
  • Ampoule/Serum
  • Sheet Mask
  • Eye Cream
  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen

Korean skincare step 1: Double cleanse

The first step of the Korean skincare routine is to wash your face twice: once with oil, once with a foaming cleanser. Why? Because each type of cleanser gets a different type of crud off your face. While oily skin types may be balking at the idea of washing with oil, it’s actually extremely effective against oil-based impurities like SPF, sebum, and pollutants. It’s not as good against sweat and dirt, though, which is where the second cleanse comes in.


Korean skincare step 2: Toner

Korean toners come in many varieties, from thin to viscous. You can also include active ingredients like AHA and BHA in your toners if you’d like more intense results against aging, acne damage and fine lines. Typically, Korean toners are packed full of botanical ingredients that address similar concerns. You can apply them with your hands and pat into the skin, or apply with a cotton ball or pad. But since your skin reacts happily to the touch of warm hands, we like to opt for the former whenever we can.


Korean skincare step 3: Essence

One of the keys to the glowy results of a regular Korean skincare routine is layering products. Rather than relying on one thick cream to do all the work, the Korean skincare approach advocates layering products to allow the skin to breathe and avoid clogging the pores. So if you think of your toner as the first layer of moisture, think of an essence as the second. These products are typically also thinner in texture, and some even feel watery. They penetrate the skin at a deeper level and aid the absorption of the products to come.


Korean skincare step 4: Emulsion

Another layer of moisture, you say? Yes. If you want “glass skin,” you have to work for it. That means drinking tons of H2O, exercising and eating well, and spending more than 30 seconds on your skincare routine. If you think that’s too long, don’t complain to us when you get another terrible breakout!

The emulsion layer is often just a bit more viscous than the previous layers, starting to build the richness and sheen we are going for in the final result. Much like the prior layers, these products are often packed with botanical extracts and other power-packed ingredients. However, some skin types may need more moisture than others. If you are an oily skin type, for instance, doing an emulsion layer might make you feel greasy. For super dry types, we can never get enough layers! The best way to decide if this step will work for you is to get to know your own skin. Luckily, the more hands-on time you have with it during your routine, the easier that becomes.

Korean skincare step 5: Serum/ampoule

Typically serums and ampoules come next in the lineup, but if you feel your skin has had enough, feel free to skip them. What I’m telling you may be blasphemous to some converts of Korean beauty, but as I said before, only you know what works best for your face.

That said, both serums and ampoules are highly concentrated products. Ampoules are presented as a souped-up version of a serum by some companies. these products are kind of … the same. A big blast of intense moisture, a thicker texture, and an opportunity to add more juicy goodness to your skin. Use it if you dig the effects. If you’re trying for the glowy look Koreans call “chok chok,” don’t skip this step.

Korean skincare step 6: Sheet mask

Easily the best-known product in this lineup, sheet masks have become so ubiquitous that they’re easy to find just about anywhere. I’ve even seen them at the dollar store. If you can afford it, though, you’ll want to spend more than a buck on a mask. These usually take 15-20 minutes and can be done as frequently or infrequently as you like. My favorite times to use them are before and after plane rides (as the pressurized air in the cabin dries the heck out of your skin), after a long day in the sun, or before a special event.


Korean skincare step 7: Eye cream

Eye cream is not unique to the Korean skincare routine, but it is one of the hardest products to consistently use because it’s more a preventative product if you’re under the age of 40. Eye cream is designed to moisturize the ultra-thin skin around your eyes where crow’s feet and fine lines are bound to appear. However, if you use eye cream regularly before they show up, you’ll see a marked difference in how old you look (or in this case, how young!).


Korean skincare step 8: Moisturizer

After all these layers, a thick layer of cream must sound a little crazy. More moisture, still? Maybe not for everyone (I know some friends who sheet mask as their final step). But in the traditional Korean beauty 10-step routine, you use a cream (also known as an occlusive layer) to seal in all the layers before it. Think of it as making a fragrant stew and putting the lid on the pot. It allows the fragrances and flavors inside to mingle and absorb, which is a lot like what all the luscious ingredients you layered are doing in your epidermis when you add a moisturizer.


Korean skincare step 9: sunscreen (AM step)

Most of us were taught as kids that we had to wear sunscreen when we went to the beach. Unfortunately, we weren’t taught that we should also wear sunscreen pretty much every day. Asian sunscreens also have a major advantage over others. Originally developed in Japan, it’s a rating system a lot like SPF. The difference is that products scored with it protect you from both UVA and UVB rays––something many products in the do not offer.


Korean skincare 10: sleeping masks (PM step)

So you’ve slathered your face with all these layers, and you’re starting to feel like a cake. I get it. But since your body goes into mega repair mode at night, it’s a good time to help with the process by using a sleeping mask. Think of it like a night cream, or a special treatment. It’s simply an extra layer of moisture, but often sleeping masks are designed to work while your body is at rest.