Korean Skincare 101

Everything you need to know about that infamous 10-step


Korean skincare is its own branch of philosophy. To outsiders, it can appear deliberately confusing, and its infamous 10-step regime seems like a harsh and punishing way to end your day.

In fact, Korean skincare is anything but harsh. Its main point of difference is its emphasis on care over treatment, with each step a gentle ‘layer’ of hydration and cleanliness. The ingredients used in Korean skincare products are effective but generally less abrasive than in Western products. I could write an entire dissertation on this topic, but instead, I’ll answer your burning question — what on earth are those 10 steps?

STEP ONEskin12

Oil-based cleanser: The oil-based cleanser is perfect for all skin types — yes, even oily ones! Designed to remove even the most stubborn of makeup, you can skip this step in the morning or if you don’t wear makeup. This is one of my favourite steps as you gently massage it into your skin like a Roman goddess in a bathhouse. I currently use Shu Uemura but have featured the titan of Korean cleansing oils, DHC Deep Cleansing Oil.



Water-based cleanser: Every Korean double-cleanses. If you don’t, you will have your tub of Kimchi and your Korean passport forcefully removed. I’m just kidding. You get to keep your Kimchi. But seriously, what’s the deal with double-cleansing? Well, it’s to get rid of any of the oil cleanser and any last trace of dirt. I currently use the SU:M Miracle cleansing stick, which makes the job a little more fun because it smells like the most delicious bouquet of fresh flowers.



Exfoliation: Exfoliators slough off all those dead skin cells and there’s a cathartic feeling to this process. Of course, ensure you are gentle as you don’t want to irritate your skin. Also, exfoliation is only required up to 2-3 times a week. My exfoliant of choice is Kiehl’s Retexturizing Microdermabrasion. Hello velvety skin.



Toner: This is where beauty geeks will wow you with their knowledge of pH calibration. Toner will help to get your skin’s pH at the right level to absorb the essences and treatments to follow. Since my trip to Paris, my toner of choice has been Caudalie hydrating toner. It smells like a garden and leaves your skin dewy.



Essence: Unsurprisingly, ‘essence’ is the essence of Korean skincare and perhaps the most misunderstood step of all. Essence helps cell turnover in your skin, which slows as you age, something I become more conscious of with each passing birthday. In addition, it’s hydrating and luxurious to boot. This is my meditative step. I pool a generous amount into my palms and slap my face silly. So much fun. So, what’s my essence? Iope Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning — it’s pretty and everything’s better out of a glass bottle, right?



Ampoules, serums, treatments: While I said Korean skincare is about care, it is also a bit about treatment too. This step is where you have all those amazing active ingredients targeting your skincare concerns (aging, pigmentation, acne etc.).



Sheet masks: This is how Korean skincare got its foot in the door of the global market. Korean women had been wearing these nourishing axe-murderer masks for decades and only recently did they catch the attention of the Western audience. While many adore this step, I loathe it as it forces me to keep my mouth shut for 15 minutes 3-4 times a week. When it comes to sheet masks, Korean women tend to shop around. My current favourites are the Neogen and Leaders lines although my holy grail will always be the Papa Recipe Bombee Black Honey mask.



Eye cream: A step equally popular in Western skincare, it’s the thing that keeps your eyes from looking as though they have Saturn-like rings around them.



Moisturiser: Again, as part of the Western three-step regime, this doesn’t need much explanation. One thing worth noting is that Koreans will replace their moisturiser with a sleeping mask twice a week for that extra hydrating boost. My preferred option is the cult-favourite Laneige Water Sleeping Mask.



Sunscreen: A compulsory part of the morning skincare routine, wearing sunscreen every day (even in winter) is your first line of defence against the sun’s rays, which can cause premature aging and pigmentation. My favourite is Laneige White Plus Tone Up Corrector SPF 40, but due to limited availability here in Australia, I use the La Roche Posay Anthelios. It’s great for sensitive skin although it can feel a tad greasy.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of this post and hopefully feel a little more comfortable with the 10-step regime. In future posts, I will go more in-depth into each step and my product recommendations, so watch this space.

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