The Creator of the 10-Step K-Beauty Skin-Care Routine Says We’ve All Been Doing It Wrong

Photo: Getty Images/Shana Novak
Ever since K-beauty made its way to the U.S., the phrase has become synonymous with the idea of a 10-step skin-care routine. But, uh, there's one problem: Korean women don't actually swear by the 10-step rule.

The term was actually coined by Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam and Then I Met You, in a 2013 interview which subsequently went viral in the beauty community. But apparently, it was sort of—kind of—taken out of context.

When I met with Cho earlier to chat all things K-beauty,  she explained that the term was intended to be more of an educational tool than an actual commandment. Her intention, she explained, was to help skin-care connoisseurs educate themselves about Korean products they may have not yet been familiar with, like essences and sheet masks. "The essence of the Korean 10-step skin-care routine is not about using 10 steps every morning and night—think about [it] as a great educational tool about the different steps and what they do," she says. "After you've done the 10 steps, then you know what each step does and how it impacts your skin. If I'm not really concerned about acne, I could take out one of the steps, but if I'm really concerned about wrinkles I will invest in another step. It's really just a buffet of ingredients and products that you can incorporate into the health of your skin."

And, she confirmed, the myth is not true: "Not all Korean women are using every single step every morning and night," says Cho. " If you think about it, using a sheet mask every morning and night for 20 minutes would be impossible for most lifestyles." Truth.

The concept of "skip care," which involves paring down your routine to only include the necessities, has popularized in Korea of late, and Cho says it's worth borrowing here in the U.S., too. So which skin-care steps should always be incorporated into your routine? Cleansing, because you "have to start off with a clean slate;" hydrating with a toner; and finishing off with a moisturizer and SPF during the day, according to her. What happens between toning and moisturizing—whether you want to use an eye cream, serum, a sheet mask, whatever—is totally up to you.

And while 10 steps certainly isn't the hard and fast rule, Cho admits that there's no harm in doing them all if that's something you want to stick with."If you use that much product, you're obviously going to help your skin," she says. Otherwise, though? Looks like your a.m. (and p.m.!) routine just got a whole lot more streamlined.

K-beauty isn't the only international tradition worth learning from—here are 7 bathing traditions from around the world worth traveling for. And here's what you should know about skin malnourishment, which is, apparently, a thing. 

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