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This 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine Will Totally Transform Your Complexion

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If you feel like you’ve been hearing more about Korean beauty and skincare recently, you aren’t imagining it. More and more Korean skincare and beauty trends, brands, and products are being adopted around the world, like cushion compacts and glass skin. Not only has the global adoption of Korean beauty raised the standards in skincare products with innovative launches and good-for-you ingredients, but they’ve also changed the way we approach our skincare routines and address skin concerns. From double cleansing to cream skin, we owe so much to Korean beauty.

At the heart of Korean skincare is the 10-step Korean skincare routine. “Although the term ‘10-step Korean skincare routine’ was coined in 2012 by Charlotte Cho, it is said that Korean skincare routines originated in the 7th century,” says Nicole Hatfield, certified esthetician for Pomp and founder of Radiant Beings Wellness & Beauty Coaching.

A focus on hydration, targeted treatments, and sun protection are hallmarks of the routine—and that’s why the regimen has become so widely adopted. While the idea of embracing a 10-step routine morning and night can seem daunting, the reality is that the plan sounds much more intimidating than it actually is—especially because some steps are only required on a weekly basis, so you aren’t actually following a 10-step routine every morning and night.

Intrigued? We thought you would be. That’s why we’re simplifying the process and talking you through the importance of each step so you, too, can achieve glowing, youthful-looking skin. Continue reading below for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the coveted Korean skincare routine.

About the Experts:

Nicole Hatfield is a certified esthetician for Pomp and the founder of Radiant Beings Wellness & Beauty Coaching.
Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in NYC who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She is also a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Breaking Down the 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine

1. Oil cleanser

Considering the concept of double cleansing originated in Korea, it’s no surprise that it’s at the foundation of any good Korean skincare routine—especially at night. “The benefits of double cleansing are to effectively remove makeup, SPF, or debris at the end of the day,” says Hatfield. To get your double cleanse on, first reach for a cleansing oil (this also acts as a makeup remover) like the FARMACY Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm. Massage it onto your dry face to melt away makeup, draw out excess sebum, and SPF. Next, add water and emulsify.

2. Water-based cleanser

To ensure no traces of dirt and grime are left behind, follow up your oil-based cleanser with a water-based cleanser like the GLOW RECIPE Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser. This step is also a good time to target any skin concerns with a cleanser that’s specifically formulated to address your skin type.

3. Exfoliate

You’ve probably heard that exfoliation is important, but here's the reason why: Exfoliation sloughs off dead skin cells and removes dirt and debris that can clog pores, leaving you with a more radiant, smoother, brighter complexion. Once or twice a week, reach for a physical or chemical exfoliator to keep your skin glowing. One of our fave is the TULA The Cult Classic Purifying Face Cleanser, which contains lactic acid, making it a gentle exfoliator for sensitive skin types. If you have acne-prone skin, a cleanser with salicylic acid, like the DERMA E Deluxe Very Clear Acne Cleanser, is your best bet. If you’re on the market for another powerful alpha hydroxy acid, look for cleansers that list glycolic acid as an ingredient.

4. Toner

“Traditionally, a toner is used as the final step in cleansing, designed to remove residue from the cleanser and the last traces of dirt and any pollutants from the day that the cleanser may have missed,” says Hadley King, MD, NYC-based dermatologist. While the toners from our teen years were known for harsh, drying ingredients, the toners of today have come a long way. Nowadays, toners can protect the skin barrier and keep breakouts at bay while also preparing your complexion for the next step of your skincare routine. “They can be either hydrating or exfoliating, but even the ones with active exfoliating ingredients are still designed to contribute to the moisture barrier of the skin, not detract from it,” says Dr. King. Reach for a nourishing toner, like the DR. BRANDT SKINCARE Antioxidant Spray Toner, to balance your complexion’s moisture and pH levels.

5. Essence

An essence or emulsion is like a shot of goodness for your skin, loaded with potent ingredients that restore hydration and aid in cell turnover. Some even offer anti-aging and antioxidant benefits, like the SUNDAY RILEY Pink Drink Firming Resurfacing Essence, which is packed with peptides, ceramides, and antioxidant-rich green tea. By this stage, your skin will be feeling prepped, primed, and ready to soak in all of the amazing products remaining in your routine.

6. Treatments

After applying your essence, it’s time to address specific skin concerns with serums, ampoules, and treatments. Whether you have oily skin, fine lines, dry skin, or hyperpigmentation, there’s a treatment out there for your skin type. During the day, you might reach for a vitamin C serum to arm your skin against environmental stressors and fight off free radicals, while at night, you would opt for an anti-aging treatment like retinol or glycolic acid. Need some recs? During the day, apply the SWEET CHEF Ginger + Vitamin C Serum Shot to restore radiance and fade dark spots. At night, apply the KAZU Beauty Retinol and Vitamin A Facial Oil for anti-aging benefits and to help combat hyperpigmentation. “Some retinols are deactivated by sunlight, so that is why they are traditionally used at night,” says Dr. King.

7. Sheet Mask

Good news: You don’t need to use a sheet mask on the daily to notice the benefits. Start by adding this step to your nighttime skincare routine just twice a week. “Sheet masks are generally saturated with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, as well as active ingredients like antioxidants, and niacinamide,” says Dr. King. Prolonged contact with the sheet allows your skin to soak in nutrients and moisture—and that’s why sheet masks are so amazing. Find a sheet mask that’s suited for your skin type, then simply apply, sit back, and relax to allow the sheet mask to work its magic. If radiance is kind of your thing (isn’t it everyone’s?), you’ll want to try the glow-boosting HUANGJISOO Red Fruits Brightening Sheet Mask.

8. Eye Cream

When it comes time to treat dark circles, crows feet, and puffiness around your eye area, it’s best to use a formula specifically designed for the eyes. Nothing’s worse than applying a product that ends up irritating your skin and eyes, totally taking you out of commission. “The delicate skin around the eyes is particularly prone to irritation, fine lines, dark circles, and puffiness,” says Dr. King. So if it doesn’t already, eye cream should have a spot in both your daily morning and night routines. If you want to combat puffiness, try a formula that contains caffeine, as this will help constrict blood vessels. If you’re concerned about fine lines and wrinkles, anti-aging peptides and retinol should be your go-tos. For dark circles, try one of the best eye creams for dark circles. And if you’re simply looking for a high-quality, all-around eye cream that’s suitable for most skin types, BELIF Moisturizing Eye Bomb hydrates and boosts elasticity for up to 26 hours.

9. Moisturizer

Regardless of whether you follow a 10-step routine or a two-step routine, moisturizer is one of the most essential skincare products on your beauty shelf. “If skin is well hydrated, it will look and feel plump, youthful, and healthy,” says Hatfield. You’re also less likely to experience redness, acne, or irritation if you properly moisturize. Ipsters rave over GLOSSIER Priming Moisturizer Rich, which moisturizes without leaving any greasy residue behind.

10. SPF

Another non-negotiable step in any skincare routine is sunscreen, and it should always be the last product applied to your face before you move onto makeup. “Much of the sun damage that accumulates in our skin is the result of daily incidental sun exposure, so it is very important that SPF is worn everyday,” says Dr. King. While UVA rays are linked to aging skin cells and are responsible for wrinkles, sunspots, and sun damage, UVB rays are the main culprit of sunburns because they cause direct damage to the DNA in skin cells; they’re also linked to most skin cancers. In order to protect your skin against the sun’s harmful UV rays, apply a lightweight facial sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher—we like the COOLA SUNCARE Classic Face Organic Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50—every single day.

The Simple Version

Ten steps looking a little too ambitious? We get it: The idea of following a 10-step skincare routine in the morning can be enough to make even the most dedicated skincare fans want to stay in bed. But you can still reap the benefits of a 10-step Korean skincare regimen without spending all that extra time (seriously!).

Don’t believe us? Just follow these five basic steps for glowing skin.

1. Cleanser

Save double cleansing and exfoliation for your evening skincare routine and reach for a gentle cleanser in the morning to prep your skin.

2. Toner

Once you finish cleansing, balance your skin’s pH levels and moisture with a toner.

3. Treatments

Whether it’s an acne spot treatment that zaps skin impurities or a vitamin C serum that prevents free radical damage caused by pollution, you can still target specific skin concerns without taking up too much time during your morning routine.

4. Eye Cream

Protect the delicate skin around your eyes with an eye cream twice daily.

5. Moisturizer with SPF

We’ve never met a beauty two-fer we didn’t like. Reaching for a moisturizer that contains SPF, like the MURAD Perfecting Day Cream SPF 30, saves you major time by ensuring that your complexion gets both hydration and sun protection—a win-win in our book.

Does the 10-step routine really work?

The reason why the multiple-step K-Beauty routine has been so widely adopted? Because it really works! “It offers multiple products designed to hydrate and support the skin barrier, and prepare the skin for the next step,” says Dr. King. The beauty of the routine is that the products are designed to work together harmoniously, allowing your skin to really reap the benefits. “None of the products or ingredients are deactivating or diluting other steps, as can sometimes happen when people try to layer products that don't work well together,” says Dr. King.

So if you're on a quest for healthy skin, give this trusted skincare routine a try—even if you don’t go for all 10 steps.

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About the author
Katrina Mitzeliotis Lanza
Katrina is a freelance writer and on-air correspondent with over a decade of experience covering beauty, fashion, and entertainment. When she isn't freelancing, you can catch her on QVC or chasing after her two-year-old son.
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Article Last Updated December 2, 2020 12:00 AM