Recently, there’s been a ton of buzz surrounding a new beauty trend: South Korean skin care. Online, beauty enthusiasts wax poetic over every Korean sheet mask (thin paper face masks that firm skin and moisturize), face oil, and other products promising brighter skin and better-looking makeup.
About Korean skin care methods
With this beauty regimen, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to skin care. No, most Korean brands prescribe a somewhat extensive, step-by-step approach to acquiring glowing, healthy skin. Depending on a person’s skin type, there are a number of different products that can be combined to achieve optimal results.
If the idea of a multistep nighttime routine sounds daunting, there are ways of cutting down on the number of steps required. While some follow the so-called “10-step Korean skincare routine,” this process, which includes cleansing, exfoliating, treating acne, moisturizing, and faithful sunscreen application, can be customized based on one’s lifestyle and personal preference. In fact, Alicia Yoon, founder of Korean beauty brand Peach & Lily, tells style website Coveteur that this 10-step process “isn’t really a thing” in Korea and emphasizes that there are no hard and fast rules for mixing and matching products.
The beauty of Korean skin care methods lies in how personalized the process can be. This year, Marie Claire magazine named Asian beauty products as “The New Skincare Superpower” and featured a whole arsenal of products, many of which were made by South Korean beauty brands.
Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam, recommends slowly adding products to your routine to “see if the consistency and ingredients are beneficial.” In doing so, you can continue adding to your regimen as you find a formula that enhances your skin’s health and appearance.
Why you should try Korean skin care products
The main reason beauty experts are into this trend is because of the extreme effort Asian beauty brands put into creating highly effective products. In South Korea, women take skin care very seriously and, according to Peach & Lily, their beauty standards are “impossible to meet.” As a result, beauty and skin care companies must respond to high demand for better products by working to create the next big thing.
A number of widely used skin care innovations – including BB cream, the aforementioned sheet masks, and the cushion compact (a product similar to foundation) – originated in Korea. The ingredients are often derived from nature so that you can ensure gentle treatment of your skin.
Which products to buy
Although Yoon dismissed any mandate insisting on the 10-step process, we’re still going to visit each step from start to finish and identify top skin care picks available on the market right now. From there, you can pick and choose depending on what your routine is missing.
Below, we’ve referenced the 10-step skin care routine outlined by Korean beauty brand Soko Glam.
Note: The prices below reflect the listed retailer’s price on the date this article was published.
1) Makeup Remover + Oil Cleanser
The first step here is pretty self-explanatory. Before using face wash, you should remove any residual makeup so you can fully access and cleanse your pores. You could buy a liquid makeup remover, but we prefer wipes since they’re so easy to use. With these Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Makeup Remover Pads ($20, sephora.com), you can grab, wipe clean, and throw away. They’re easily transportable and for those with sensitive skin, these are paraben-, sulfate-, and phthalate-free.
In Korea, face-washing is considered a two-step process: an oil cleanser comes first and then a water-based cleanser. Here, we’re talking about the best oil cleanser. The DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($26.58, amazon.com) was rated No. 1 by rankandstyle.com and earned an average 4.6-star rating on Amazon from more than 2,000 satisfied customers. Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, this cleansing oil rinses off easily and nourishes your skin as it cleans.
2) Water-Based Cleanser
A Soko Glam Best of K-Beauty award winner, Son & Park Beauty Water ($26.52, amazon.com) is a multipurpose water-based cleanser that also tones and acts as a gentle chemical exfoliator. When applying, saturate a cotton ball with the beauty water and apply all over your face to reset your skin’s natural pH. No need to rinse.
It’s generally recommended that you exfoliate a few times a week to slough off dead skin cells. For a unique exfoliating product that’s easy to use (and smells heavenly), try the Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine exfoliating wipes ($16.00, amazon.com). Another Soko Glam award-winning product, these pads are made using resveratrol, an ingredient found in red wine that’s rich in antioxidants, to help with the exfoliating process. They’re designed to firm and cleanse your skin, and we noticed these effects instantly — even after just one use.
If you don’t use a toner, we’d advise adopting this step into your regimen. Facial toners, like this Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence ($14.20, amazon.com), are designed to help the skin better absorb moisturizer and rebalance pH levels. With over 200 positive Amazon reviews and an affordable price point, this toner is unique in that it’s made from 96% snail secretion filtrate for added vitamins, moisture and skin repair.
The Soko Glam team refers to essence as “the heart of the Korean skincare routine.” If you haven’t heard of essence (it was new to us, too), this product acts as a toner/serum hybrid that works to promote skin repair and cell turnover. The essence topping our list is the May Coop Raw Sauce ($43, qvc.com) for its hydrating and nourishing properties for soft, glowing skin.
Whatever your skin concern — large pores, dullness, sunspots, wrinkles or acne — these issues are addressed with this step. While there are many routes one can go when treating the skin, we’d recommend using a Vitamin C serum for firmer, tighter, healthy-looking skin. Allure magazine calls Vitamin C a “powerhouse ingredient” for its ability to reduce inflammation and promote collagen production. There are a number of products on the market containing Vitamin C; we’re fans of the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop ($23, urbanoutfitters.com) for its potent formula that promotes brighter, better skin.
7) Sheet Masks
If there’s one beauty trend we’ve seen all over the Internet lately, it’s definitely the sheet mask. To see for yourself, head over to Instagram, where there are over a million posts hashtagged “facemask” featuring Instagrammers wearing theirs. Usually, sheet masks require just 15 to 20 minutes to fully process and are easy to apply. To try out this trend, we’d recommend the Mothermade Deep Moisturizing Rich Snail Facial Mask ($17.95, amazon.com) for anti-aging, moisturizing effects.
8) Eye Cream
For Koreans, skin care is all about being preventive and proactive rather than reacting to wrinkles and fine lines once they’ve appeared. One way to do that is to use an eye cream to protect against visible aging. Beauty editors at the online magazine Nylon Pink named this Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream ($9.86; amazon.com) as one of the best of 2017. Considering its affordable price and quality ingredients (including snail mucus filtrate), we’re giving this fragrance-free option a try.
Moisturizer is your answer to maintaining soft, silky-smooth skin. Made to suit all skin types, this Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream ($48, sephora.com) is a favorite of ours and earned rave reviews from over 890 satisfied Sephora customers. Packed full of hydrating and skin-brightening ingredients, this formula is made to feel lightweight and combat signs of aging.
10) Sun protection
Arguably the most important skin care step, wearing sunscreen is key to protecting against skin cancer and visible aging that can occur when exposed to the sun. According to Allure magazine, the formulas made by Korean beauty brands actually outperform those made by Western companies. This option, the Dr. Jart+ UV Illuminating SPF ($34, sephora.com), is an all-in-one moisturizer sunscreen with UVB-isolating ingredients to block out damaging UVB rays. Since the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends at least a level 30 SPF, you can feel confident that you’re protected while wearing this sunscreen with an SPF of 36.