A Guide to the 10 Glow-Inducing Steps of the K-Beauty Skin-Care Routine

Graphic: Well+Good Creative
If you've ever used a sheet mask, you've been influenced by Korean beauty. Slathered on snail slime? K-beauty's responsible for that as well. And if you double cleanse or have a multiple-step skin-care routine, that's pretty much because of, you guessed it, K-beauty. “Korean women have always loved to experiment with their skin care, introducing new products and new steps," says Sarah Lee, co-CEO and co-founder of K-beauty site and brand Glow Recipe.  "This led to the 10-step skincare routine."

To the "I just wash my face and moisturize" kinda girl, this sounds like a lot—but K-beauty enthusiasts are adamant about the benefits of each and every step. Not only that, but it's a major factor in self-care.

“We believe that skin care is a new movement of self-care," says Christine Chang, co-CEO and co-founder of Glow Recipe, a K-beauty site and brand.  "While skin care used to be viewed as a chore, K-beauty [has] this idea of ‘skin-tertainment’ and so taking care of skin is just as fun as doing a makeup look for glowing results. Personally, I really look forward to the few minutes each day when I can pamper myself and indulge in my daily skin-care routine.”

To learn more about the famous K-beauty 10-step routine, keep scrolling.

korean beauty skin care
Photo: Getty Images/Macniak

The 10-step Korean skin-care routine, broken down

1. Cleansing oil or cleansing water

As you would guess, it all starts with a clean base via a proper cleanse. "The first step of cleansing is with products formulated to remove the most stubborn, oil-based products and eye makeup," says Lee of cleansing oils and cleansing waters, like French-girl favorite Micellar water. "You want to apply these products to dry skin as to not dilute the efficacy of the cleanser." For a product that dissolves makeup and purifies your complexion in one swipe, she recommends the Make P:rem Cleansing Water Oil ($28).

2. Foaming cleanser

In K-beauty, double cleansing is essential in making sure you're truly ridding your skin of all of the day's grime. "The second cleanse is to clear away remaining dirt and debris from skin," Chang explains. Her advice? Opt for something clarifying, such as a cleanser with AHAs to unglue dead skin cells—she likes the Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser ($34). Take note, however: "We recommend just a foaming or gel cleanser in the morning as a double cleanse is not needed [then]," she says. One step down.

3. Exfoliator

After thoroughly cleansing, it's time to go a bit deeper with the pore unclogging action. The OG decongestant for your skin is your exfoliant, which can be done with a scrub or by way of chemical ingredients like glycolic and lactic acid. "Dead skin cells accumulate on the skin's surface, so exfoliation is important in order to resurface skin and buff away dead cells," says Lee. "We love the Blithe Splash Masks ($45), a highly concentrated blend of lactic acid and botanical extracts that re-texturizes skin and adds radiance over time." This step is an easy one to add in post-shower when your pores are opened up, and really ready for a good deep cleaning.

4. Toner

The next step then preps your skin for the nourishing goodies to come: your toner. "Hydrating toners in Korea are often referred to as 'softeners' and is the first leave-on step of hydration after cleansing," says Chang. It's also there to balance your complexion's pH. For an antioxidant-rich option, try Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner ($34).

5. Sheet mask

You may think of masks as an essential component of your nighttime regimen, but, in K-beauty, they're incorporated into their full skin-care routine. "Sheet masks have always been a staple in Korean beauty as they originated from South Korea," says Lee. "They provide high concentrations of good-for-skin ingredients like hyaluronic acid and other actives while also preventing them from evaporating, locking the serum in place."  Try the Peach and Lily Dream Mask Collection ($6)

6. Eye cream

Since K-beauty leaves no spot unturned, there's a step dedicated to that soft spot around your eyes (one that I personally tend to forget about). "Eye creams are important to your daily routine as not all skin-care formulas are ophthalmologist-tested for the delicate eye area," says Chang.  To pep up that skin, Chang prefers the Whamisa by Glow Studio Chai Tea Eye Cream ($26), which has rooibos tea extract in it to nourish and soften fine lines.

7. Essence or serum

To get the leave-on skin-boosters started, the seventh step is your essence or serum. "This should be treated as your treatment step since essences, serums, and ampoules are highly concentrated formulas with actives that help target specific concerns," Lee explains. This is where you can do everything from tackle acne to fight dryness. A blemish-treating, hyaluronic acid-infused option that Lee recommends is Leegeehaam's Grow Tea Tree 95 Essence ($34), or the Grow Hyal B5 Ampoule ($33) for dehydrated complexions.

8. Moisturizer

Of course, after all of this skin-nourishing work, it's essential to lock it all in. "The moisturizer step is the last step of hydration and acts to lock-in all of the previous steps," says Chang. She notes that you should choose one based on your skin type—so look for a non-occlusive option if you're acne-prone, or a richer creams for drier skin. Ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid are known for their hydrating properties, so be sure to look for those on the label, too. Opt for a gel-based moisturizer such as the Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb  ($38) as an oil-free choice for combination or oily skin, and the Innisfree Youth Enriched Cream with Orchid ($30) to deeply moisturize and firm the complexion without leaving skin greasy.

9. Oil

To deliver even more of a hydrated glow, it's all about oils. "Face oils are the extra credit of K-beauty and are used for an extra dose of deep nourishment after the moisturizing step," says Lee. "It’s perfect to add into your routine in the evening or to even add a drop to your daily moisturizer for an extra boost of radiance." We like applying a few drops of the Julep Boost Your Radiance Reparative Rosehip Seed Facial Oil ($36) to fingertips and massaging it in each night.

10. SPF

You'd be correct in guessing that the last yet still just as important step is one you're already wearing on the reg: sunscreen.  "This is a super important step to Korean women because UVA rays cause premature aging, skin damage, and are present year round," says Chang. Opt for either a chemical or physical SPF—either way, stay covered (the Dr. Oracle EPL Daily Sunblock SPF 50 is a fan fave). And—finally—you've finished.


What if 10 steps feels like too many?

If the idea of 10 steps is just too much to actually implement into your life, Chang and Lee note that each and every step isn't totally necessary—the main point is simply to take good care of your complexion. “Skin care is like working out and staying fit—one workout will not yield dramatic change versus being consistent and deliberate over time," says Chang.  "A properly structured routine, which doesn’t have to be a certain number of steps to be effective, consists of products, customized to your skin type and concern, that each perform an important and different role. This will keep the skin hydrated, nourished, and protected, and the skin barrier intact, which will ultimately give you a healthy, radiant glow.”

It's about taking the time to care for your skin, and getting to know it so you can fine tune what it needs. "We believe in using different products and routines for different concerns," adds Lee. "Listen to your skin and create your own routine that truly speaks to your needs. If you’re skin's dehydrated, you may need all 10 steps at times, but we believe all these steps should be used throughout a week, not in a day, for maximum benefits. The base routine will always have the cleansing, toning, treating, moisturizing, and protecting with SPF steps."

If you're breaking out, here are some K-beauty acne solutions. And, to look in a slightly different direction for inspo, these are Japanese skin-care rituals

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