Korean Skincare Routine Demystified and Explained Step by Step

19 Nov 2015

We are all aware by now that Korean skincare routine / Korean beauty regimen is an actual “thing” and not just a generic term like showering or some hyped up marketing trickery. And by “thing”, I mean there’s a legit step-by-step method to it and not just randomly slapping random products onto your face. Everyone who’s done it raves about how their complexions have improved and the overall results are generally very positive. But what exactly is this routine and how to get started? What products to use and how to select the right ones? What if I’m already using other non-Korean skincare products but want to incorporate them into the routine? Read on.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

Even though I’ve used Korean beauty/skincare products in the past (ie. Laneige and IOPE products), I’d say my initiation into Korean skincare routine steps started when I began using CNP several months ago, but at the time all I did was follow the suggested order of which products to use without a full understanding of why. I remember the first night I started, I was silently lamenting that there were so many items – seven of them *gulps*, that’s way more than I was used to – and so I applied only five in the group daily. Even five felt a lot at that time. And truth be told, I had low expectations and was very skeptical about the efficacy of using so many products in succession. I even thought that it was redundant, unnecessary, and a waste of time. But surprise, surprise – my skin actually improved after sticking to it continuously for two months and I was beyond shocked. My dry skin looked properly hydrated and nourished, T-zone oiliness was also curbed to a noticeable extent. That got me interested in finding out more about Korean skincare routine, so I looked it up to get a better understanding of how to do it properly.

The method turns out to be pretty straight-forward but very specific, in terms of what product types to use, when and how and in which order to use them. The multi-step Korean skincare routine – TEN steps to be exact, yes, 10 – is not a myth, it’s a must if you want to see great results. At first when I realized there are ten steps involved, my first reaction was “Are you effin’ kidding me!?”. But my experience with CNP was a positive one and I want great skin – don’t we all? Time to get serious and commit.

Think of this as your nightly luxurious pampering “me time”, coz this process involves quite a chunk of time and shortcuts aren’t recommended. Don’t be deterred or intimidated though, once you get the hang of it it’ll very quickly become habitual and enjoyable. Personally I’ve started using this window of time to unwind and do a brain dump, check off mental lists, and emotionally calm myself down in preparation for sleep.

Behold, here’s the lowdown of the 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine!
(with products that I think are cool and am already using/planning to get)


I used to find this dumb and pointless, because like most people I’m used to cleansers that lather and was afraid that oil will produce more sebum. Oil cleansers don’t do that. Oil cleanser slips around on the skin but it dissolves all the makeup gunk, especially BB creams, and other impurities in a comfortable manner that doesn’t dry out the skin. Cleansing products that say “oil cleanser” (right) or “melting cleanser” are meant for this first step. Organic olive oil or coconut oil is also suitable for this step, if you don’t want to splurge.

I’m now hooked on cleansing with oil, because the action itself is soothing without any vigorous rubbing or tugging, and I can see the makeup removed effectively (please remove eye and lip makeup separately). To remove the cleanser, you can either splash your face with lukewarm water or wipe gently with a wet washcloth.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. SU:M37 Skin Saver Melting Cleansing Balm 2. IOPE Moisture Skin Cleansing Oil 3. Mizon Snail Repairing Foam Cleanser 4. CNP Laboratory Cleansing Perfecta 5. Shu Uemura Ultime8 Sumblime Beauty Cleansing Oil 6. Aromatica Natural Coconut Cleansing Oil 7. No7 Beautiful Skin Melting Gel Cleanser

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The Korean skincare routine involves a double cleansing, so here’s the second part where you use a mild cream or gel cleanser that foams up and lathers. Your fave cleanser from any brand, even non-Korean ones, works great for this step. Your skin is thoroughly cleansed after this step. Sheesh, no one explained or told me back in 2011 that the oxygen bubble shield mask I used at that time was a cleanser; the name couldn’t be any more misleading wtf.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Oséque Oxygen Mask Cleanser 2. Laneige White Plus Renew Bubble Cleanser 3. Cremorlab Snow Falls Whipping Cleanser 4. Banila Co Micro Bubble Foam Cleanser 5. IOPE Trouble Clinic Cleansing Foam 6. Secret Key Snow White Cleansing Foam 7. Mizon Egg White Bubble Cleanser

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There are a few different types of products for this step, including facial scrubs and peeling gels. This step gets rid of any dead skin cells for a smooth complexion. Depending on the strength of your product of choice, there’s no need to scrub the entire face every night coz that’s excessive and may stress the skin so you can concentrate on the nose or acne-prone areas instead. A thin layer of clay mask to reduce pores or a nose pore pack to lift all those pesky little blackheads can be done in this step too.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Ohui Clear Science Tender Face Scrub 2. Goodal WashUp Deep Clean Pore Glacial Clay 3. CNP Laboratory Invisible Peeling Booster 4. Laineige Mini Pore Waterclay Mask 5. Caolion Blackhead Steam Pore Pack 6. Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine 7. Be The Skin Non-Stimulus Face Polisher

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Step 4: TONE

I’ve always associated toners with alcohol-laced astringents that end up tightening and drying up the skin, so I used to avoid this entirely. However I’ve learned now that the function of using toner is, as its name suggests, to tone and rebalance the skin’s pH levels after cleansing. A toner neutralises, softens, and preps the skin to be in optimal state to absorb the nutrients from the products that you’ll be applying next. Korean toners also clarifies and hydrates, so instead of tightening or drying up the skin at all, it’s the first step of introducing moisture back onto clean skin.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Re:p Organic Cotton Treatment Toning Pad 2. Tony Moly Pocket Bunny Sleek Mist 3. InnisFree Green Tea Balancing Skin 4. Son&Park Beauty Water 5. Missha Time Revolution Wrinkle Cure Extreme Soft Toner 6. Missha Super Aqua Hydrating Toner 7. Mizon Intensive Skin Barrier Toner

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Completely different than toners, an essence is a nourishing liquid that contains an active ingredient that optimizes the skin’s natural cell turnover rate and promotes skin regeneration. This makes the skin softer, smoother, brighter, and more supple. Essence works on the cellular level of the skin and should be applied all over the face in gentle patting motion.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence 2. InnisFree Soybean Energy Essence 3. Dream Age Radiance Powder Essence 4. Laneige Time Freeze Essence 5. Beyond True Eco Charm Organic First Essence 6. SK-II Facial Treatment Essence 7. HERA Cell Essence Cell-Bio Fluid Sync

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Step 6: SERUM

A serum or a booster is a super-concentrated version of an essence and typically identifiable as thick in consistency. Depending on what your individual concerns are, there are tons of serums out there to pick from and they target anti-aging, whitening, improving elasticity, blemish-reduction, etc. They can be used together by layering one over the other and lightly massaged into the skin.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Sulwhasoo Capsulized Ginseng Fortifying Serum 2. Maycoop Raw Activator 3. IOPE Super Vital Extra Moist Serum 4. Laneige White Plus Renew Original Essence 5. InnisFree Whitening Pore Synergy Serum 6. SkinFood Black Sugar Perfect First Serum Gold (Gold Special Edition – Limited) 7. Amore Pacific Rejuvenating Serum 8. Rose by Dr. Dream Dream Age Rejuvenating Serum

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Step 7: MASK

For this step, you can use cream masks, wipe-off masks, or sheet masks which are the most common and affordable ones. The basic premise of sheet masks is that they’re hydrating and calming. Leave on for ten to fifteen minutes; do not go to bed wearing a sheet mask and fall asleep with it on until the next day like I used to because that turned out to have the reverse effect of drying out the skin (after the cotton sheet dries up completely, it begins to absorb the moisture from your face, oops!). Many sheet masks nowadays have wonderful ingredients to target specific skincare concern, and depending on the condition of your skin. And the designs are getting fancier and fancier!

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. VDL Beauty Trip Series 2. Tony Moly I’m Real Series 3. It’s Skin Prestige Syn-Ake Agetox 4. Mediheal Dress Code Series 5. Skin9 Village Peking Opera Series Whitening Collagen A B, Whitening Honey A B

Korean Skincare Routine 101

6. Etude House Wonder Pore Black Sheet Mask 7. Mediheal Pore Soda Bubble Mask Sheet 8. Berrisom Animal Mask Series 9. CnF Real Essential Pig Collagen Mask 10. Skin9 Village Super Whitening and Anti-Wrinkle Collagen Pack Series 11. Holika Holika Before and After Series

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Step 8: EYE CARE

Because the skin around the eyes are thinner and more delicate compared to the rest of the face, special attention has to be given here by using targeted products. The objective is to keep this area super hydrated because as we all know, it’s the first to develop wrinkles. You’ve all heard it before, don’t rub, tug, pull, or stretch. Pat your eye serum and/or eye cream gently using ring finger.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Cel-Derma Ideal Radiance Hydragel Eye Patch 2. Laneige White Plus Renew Eye Cream 3. Petitée Black Pearl and Gold Hydrogel Eye Patch 4. HERA Collagen Eye-Up Cream 5. Re:NK Time Lab Intense Wrinkle Repair Eye & Lip Cream 6. EasyComforts Blue Nourish My Eyes Pads 7. Tony Moly Panda’s Dream Eye Patch 8. Swanicoco Peptin Eye Repair Cream 9. Holika Holika Black Caviar Wrinkle Recovery Eye Cream

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What I like best about Korean moisturizers is how lightweight and ultra hydrating they are. Whether it’s cream-based or gel-based, the texture is smooth and doesn’t leave a greasy sticky feeling afterwards. The product names usually sound promising too, like “Rich Moist”, “Moisturizing Bomb”, and “Smooth Pudding”… with those keywords, it’s hard not to imagine luxuriously hydrated skin. Korean moisturizers, often referred to as “emulsions” too, are typically not dense or heavy so they can double-duty and be used during the daytime as well.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. Sooryehan Bichaek Ginseng Cream 2. The Saem Urban Eco Harakeke Firming Seed Cream 3. Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream 4. Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb 5. Cremorlab Smooth Pudding 6. Tony Moly Floria Nutra Energy 100 Hours Cream 7. Hwang Hoo Bin Royal Jelly Nourishing Cream 8. Ohui White Extreme Celight Emulsion

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I first knew of this type of product from watching Taiwanese program  “Ladies First” on TV years ago, when the show hosts raved about the sold-out Laneige Water Sleeping Pack (which I believe remains the most famous one till this day for anyone who’s never heard of or used a sleeping pack before;  incidentally also the only brand I’ve used in this category). In Korea, they use the word “pack” for mask. Unlike sheet masks, a sleeping pack is usually a whipped gel or cream that you put on as the last step of your five tier wedding cake cream frosting Korean skincare routine for an intense boost of hydration overnight. It also serves as a protective barrier over everything else you’ve applied before this step while you’re sleeping, so that you wake up with radiant, supple, hydrated, soft, smooth, glowing, even-toned, gorgeous, damn-this-must-be-magic-I’m-so-pretty skin the next morning. Many products have firming, plumping, gentle exfoliating, and brightening benefits in them too. A sleeping pack is oh-so-luxurious.

Korean Skincare Routine 101

1. InnisFree Capsule Recipe Sleeping Pack 2. Saint Peau Collagen Pudding Sleeping Pack 3. Etude House Collagen Moistfull Sleeping Pack 4. Medi Flower Blackberry Sleeping Pack 5. Banila Co It Radiant Brightening Sleeping Pack 6. SNP Diamond Water Sleeping Pack 7. Mizon Special Therapy Good Night White Sleeping Mask 8. Bird’s Nest Aqua Sleeping Mask Pack

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General Rules to Observe

Rule 1: There are tons of products out there that you’ll want to try and incorporate into this routine, even non-Korean brands.I like that majority of Korean skincare products are formulated with plant or natural active ingredients, so they’re generally friendly and compatible with other brands/products. But how do you do that without messing up the order of steps? The general rule to observe is to always apply the most watery and fluid ones first, and then layer the more viscous, thicker products over it.

Rule 2: Apply the products in gentle circular motion or pat. For example with cleanser, don’t rub vigorously. Another example with serum, don’t wipe and rub it all over your face in a hurry – what’s the hurry? Massage the product in an upwards motion and then pat lightly for better absorption.

Rule 3: As much as possible, wait for at least 20 seconds in between steps to allow whatever product you’ve put on to be fully absorbed. I know this is ridiculous for those who are in a hurry to get to zzz, so lightly patting your skin with your fingers after application of product should hasten the process a bit. Maybe saves you like, ten seconds per step.

Rule 4: SPF SPF SPF SPF SPF SPF SPF. This is obviously not for night time, but after all that effort and time you’ve put in every night, the last thing you want is to undo all that pampering and expose your skin to the death rays of the sun the next day. So yeah, please put on a good sunscreen. I’ve just started using this eSpoir Fresh UV Mist SPF30 PA++ to carry around and mist on the go.

How Much to Spend

With so many products to use in such a comprehensive multi-step skincare routine, budget is a natural concern (aside from bathroom countertop space). From comparing and contrasting the products designed for each step from a range of Korean brands, I’d say allocate a minimum of $200 to start. Some items are inexpensive while others are high-end. Beauty and skincare products in Korea are affordable to begin with, but even with the overseas markups including shipping, the total cost should still be reasonable. Of course if you want to get these Korean products cheaply, then get them while visiting Korea and save on import markups and shipping costs.

Korean Skincare Routine Demystified

After getting on board with Korean skincare routine,  I’ve come to the conclusion that the secret to having good, radiant, supple, and blemish-free skin is keeping it hydrated and nourished. Selecting and using the proper products is essential but non-Korean brands (or at home remedies, eg. DIY honey sugar scrub, yogurt mask, etc.) can be incorporated into the steps outlined above. The routine puts a lot of emphasis on keeping skin hydrated and allowing enough time for every product to be absorbed into the skin. I believe what we put into our body is also as important as what we put on our skin. In other words, good lifestyle habits cannot be neglected either: drink adequate water daily (soju too), eat nourishing food (BBQ pork belly and kimchi), exercise (chasing after K-idols), get enough sleep (if you’re planning to sleep by midnight, better get cracking with this skincare routine at 10pm). Just kidding about the bracketed remarks.

Boy, this is one heckuva lengthy post that’s taken me an entire weeks to consolidate and edit the content. :] Do share with me if you’re already doing the Korean skincare routine, how’s your skin different before and after you started this? What are your fave products? How long do you spend on average every night on this routine?


One Response to Korean Skincare Routine Demystified and Explained Step by Step

  1. Pamela says:

    Hi, is this 10 steps for daily night applications or do you apply them in the morning as well? If no, then what steps do we need to apply in the morning prior to stepping out of the house?
    Thanks :)

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