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Beauty How to navigate a 10-step Korean skincare routine

Dec. 20, 2018
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If you’re into skincare, you’re probably into Korean beauty. Though once thought of as a passing trend, there seems to be no signs of K-beauty going away—likely thanks to its ability to deliver visible, skin-boosting results. In fact, a quick visit to your local drugstore will show the influence K-beauty is having on the skincare world. 

A great deal of the buzz surrounding Korean skincare lies in the much-talked-about ten-step routine. While some see it as superfluous or simply time-consuming, it’s a great way to take your regimen to the next level if you love skincare. But it can all be a little bit confusing. Luckily for you, I’m here to be your guide.

Step One: Oil Cleanse

An oil cleanse is the best way to quickly and effectively break down makeup. In the skincare world, oil fights oil, and so a cleanse offers a fantastic method to get your face clean. Note: you don’t need to do this step in the morning, as you won’t be wearing makeup (I hope).

There are two broad categories of oil cleanser: one is a liquid, and one is a solid balm. They’re equally effective, but I prefer a balm as it’s much less drippy and messy. The Banila Co Clean It Zero is a classic, and for good reason—it’s affordable, easy to use, and suitable for all skin types. 

Step Two: Water Cleanse

After you’ve removed any and all makeup from your skin, you’ll want a cleanser which has a slightly more soapy feel. A K-beauty cornerstone is the CosRX Low-pH Good Morning Cleanser, which has a light tea-tree scent making it perfect for the acne-prone. Another great option is the CeraVe Foaming Cleanser, which contains healing ceramides and hydrating hyaluronic acid to leave skin feeling extremely clean but never dry or tight.

Step Three: Exfoliant

An exfoliant can take on two basic forms: chemical (usually a liquid) which uses acids to exfoliate the skin, and a traditional, physical scrub. Chemical exfoliants tend to be gentler, although they are a little bit less gratifying. I’m a big fan of the Glossier Solution, which combines surface exfoliants (alpha hydroxy acids) with pore-uncloggers (beta hydroxy acids) to give a smooth and glowy complexion.

Step Four: Toner

If you’re using a chemical exfoliant, you probably don’t need to follow up with a toner. However, you can add in a hydrating facial mist if you want to lock in as much moisture as possible. I love the La Roche Posay Serozinc, which has anti-inflammatory properties and is excellent at reducing redness. If you’re short on money or time, though, this is a step you can skip.

Step Five: Essence

An essence is basically the middleman between a watery toner and a gel-like serum. If you go for a more liquefied essence, like the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, it can replace your toner step. If you go for something with a little more substance, such as the CosRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, then it can replace a serum, particularly if you’re on the oilier-skinned side. Again, I wouldn’t say an essence is a must-have step in your routine, but if you find one you love then they can make a difference.

Step Six: Ampoule or Serum

Technically, there is a difference between ampoules and serums—an ampoule is more lightweight and can be used underneath a serum for even more skincare fun. However, I’m putting them in one category because of their similar effects. If you want something with authentic K-beauty chops, then the Missha Time Revolution Ampoule is brilliant. It visibly hydrates and adds a glow—plus it layers well. It’s also suitable for the vast majority of skin types and needs. A Western alternative which is surprisingly similar is the Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum. Don’t let the name fool you—this is a great skin-booster for day and night.

Step Seven: Sheet Mask

The next step in your routine is a sheet mask. You don’t need to do this every day—in fact, I think for most skin types a daily sheet mask could end up causing issues. Used once or twice a week, though, they are extremely fun and provide immediate, noticeable results in terms of smoothness, plumpness, and dewiness. I like the Dr. Jart sheet masks for a treat (the Ceramidin one in particular is excellent) and the Banobagi options for a bargain alternative.

Step Eight: Eye Cream

I love the Tarte Maracuja C Brighter Eye Cream and the Kiehl's Creamy Eye Treatment With Avocado with my full heart. Both are on the thicker side and create a satisfyingly smooth and protected feeling under the eyes. They also have light-reflecting properties, which help minimize the appearance of dark circles from a night spent up all night watching YouTube videos.

Step Nine: Moisturizer

To seal in your hard work and keep your face feeling hydrated all day (or night) you’ll want to apply a moisturizer. I’m of the belief that if you have a ton of active ingredients in your prior steps, you should keep your moisturizing nice and simple. It doesn’t get much simpler than the CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion. But don’t be fooled by its giant, industrial-looking bottle—this stuff is truly fantastic. It has a thin and lightweight texture but packs a punch in terms of hydration. It absorbs quickly and leaves a flatteringly dewy sheen, which makes it a great base for makeup, too.

Step Ten: SPF

The final step in any morning skincare routine should be SPF. The sun is one of the biggest offenders in terms of premature skin-aging, and if you’re using a chemical exfoliant your skin can be even more prone to damage and photoaging. The CosRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream is a fantastic Korean option, but the Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen is very easy to pick up at your local drugstore if you’re in a pinch. Both will protect your skin without clogging pores, and create a great base for makeup.