Most Americans view face washing and moisturizing as a pretty complete daily skin care regimen. But compared to the 10-plus-step skin care routines many Koreans practice, our simplified method seems elementary. And with K-beauty trends remaining as hot as ever, maybe they’re on to something.
Koreans believe that multilayering several products, morning and night, is the key to obtaining and maintaining beautiful, youthful skin.
“People in Korea take skin care very seriously, and it’s taught from a very young age,” says Charlotte Cho, board-certified esthetician and co-founder of Soko Glam, a Korean lifestyle and beauty retailer with a vast selection of Korean beauty products.
Cho says she commits about 15 minutes every morning and night to her skin, not counting when she chooses to use a sheet mask.
Korean men also partake in multilayering skin care routines.
Kerry Thompson of Raleigh, co-author of the book “Korean Beauty Secrets” and owner of the blog Skin and Tonics (skinandtonics.com), says in Korea, “men are much more invested in skin care compared to American men. It’s not uncommon for a Korean man to have more than five steps in his skin care routine.”
A daily Korean skin care routine typically consists of double-cleansing with a makeup remover and cleanser, and then using an exfoliator, toners, an essence, serums, a sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, sun protection and lip care. Peels, wash-away masks, sleeping masks and sheet masks are supplemental components that are not used daily. For additional benefits and natural coverage, BB creams and CC creams are used in the morning.
Before trying anything new, it is important to know your skin type so you can choose the right products.
“Combination skin is characterized by an excess of oil in the T-zone (across forehead, down nose to the chin area),” says Tia Teasley, a board-certified esthetician for Benefit at Belk-Crabtree. “Dry is characterized by fine pores and possible flaking or rough-textured skin due to a lack of hydration. Oily skin types are best characterized by excess oil, larger, more visible pores that may be more prone to blackheads.”
If you have trouble establishing your skin type, Teasley recommends consulting a licensed esthetician or dermatologist.
When trying a new product, Thompson says it’s essential to space each product at least a week apart. “That way, if you have a reaction to something, it will be easier to identify which product or ingredient caused it,” she says.
For those wanting to wade in slowly, Thompson recommends starting with a cleanser, a refresher/toner, an essence or serum, a moisturizer and a sunscreen in the morning. “These are the most crucial components for beautiful, healthy skin – but are still manageable.” She also strongly recommends double-cleansing if you wear makeup.
Kimberly Arnold is a Raleigh-based makeup artist and beauty writer. On Twitter: @beautybrainNC.
The Korean Skin Care Routine
Double Cleansing: Makeup Removal & Cleanser
Double-cleansing, which utilizes eye/face makeup removal and a second cleanser, “is to ensure that skin is gently, but thoroughly cleansed,” says Thompson. The first step of double cleansing typically requires an oil cleanser, but balm and cream cleansers are also common.
▪ Balm Makeup Remover: Eve Lom Cleanser, $50-$135, Sephora.com
▪ Oil Makeup Remover: Josie Maran Argan Cleansing Oil, $32, Sephora.com
▪ Cream Makeup Remover: Pond’s Creme Cleanser, $9.99, Ulta.com
▪ For Normal Skin: Koh Gen Do Oriental Plants Facial Wash, $45, Sephora.com
▪ For Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: Yes to Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Cleanser, $9.99, Ulta.com
▪ For Men: Anthony Glycolic Facial Cleanser, $28, Sephora.com
Exfoliators are typically used after the skin has been cleansed, but only weekly or bi-monthly. But Teasley believes exfoliation can be done up to twice a week with a non-professional grade product at home, or once a month with a professional grade exfoliant (such as microdermabrasion or chemical peels) – and only by a licensed professional or dermatologist. She warns that “over-exfoliating could strip the skin and cause damage.”
▪ For All Skin Types: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Gentle Exfoliating Treatment, $65, Sephora.com
▪ For Men: Marlowe No.122 Men’s Facial Scrub, $8.99, Target.com
Refreshers are commonly known in the U.S. as toners or skin softeners. Cho says they “help balance your skin’s pH levels and (prep) your skin with a bit of hydration to better absorb your following skin care treatments. Think about your skin like a sponge – it’s more difficult to rehydrate it when it is dried up and hardened than when it is already damp.” For application, Cho recommends to “sprinkle into your hands and tap directly onto your skin or dispense onto a cotton round and gently swipe all around your face working outwards.”
▪ For Normal/Combination Skin: Chantecaille Pure Rosewater, $66, Nordstrom.com
▪ For Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: Lush Tea Tree Water, $10.95-$22.95, Lushusa.com
▪ For Dry Skin: Koh Gen Do Oriental Plants Lotion II, $54, Sephora.com
Essence is a product category that was created in Korea, but it has slowly made its way here. Cho says, “You can consider essence the heart of a Korean skin care routine. A bit dual purpose, essence is a kind of toner and serum hybrid made for hydrating and aiding skin repair and cell turnover.” Some people may confuse them with toners, but Thompson says, “toners function as astringents, while Korean toners function as a very light hydration step that contains a higher concentration of skin-benefitting ingredients. Some essences are very similar in function and consistency to a serum, while others are a lot more like vitamin rich moisturizing toners. However, all essences add an additional layer of hydration to your skin care routine and can offer additional targeted benefits such as anti-aging, or spot lightening, etc.” Cho recommends “applying it directly to freshly toned skin with your hands and patting it in.”
▪ Wei Lotus Blossom Thirst Relief Milky Essence, $58, Weibeauty.com
▪ Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence, $49, Sokoglam.com
▪ SK-II SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $99-$290, Sephora.com
Serum or Ampoule
Serums, also known as ampoules, are high-performing skin care products that target specific skin conditions. Thompson says, “they are the most powerful products in your skin care routine when it comes to targeting skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation or wrinkles.” More than one serum can be used at a time to address various skin conditions.
▪ For Hydration: Wei Beauty Lotus Blossom Hydra-Rescue Replenishing Serum, $68, Weibeauty.com
▪ For Brightening: Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power C X 30 Vitamin C Brightening Serum, $85, Sephora.com
▪ For Anti-Aging: Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II, $62-$92, Sephora.com
“If essence is the heart of a Korean skin care routine, the sheet mask is its soul. It’s a quiet, meditative, skin-nourishing ritual that imparts maximum treatment into your skin while you relax for 15-20 minutes,” says Cho. Sheet masks can be used following your serum, one to two nights a week.
▪ Karuna Karma Kit+ Face Mask Set, $28, Sephora.com
▪ SK-II Facial Treatment Mask, $135, Sephora.com
▪ For Eyes: TATCHA Luminous Deep Hydration Revitalizing Eye Mask, $12, Sephora.com
Eye creams are important because the skin around the eye area is so delicate and requires a special, non-irritating formula. For the best application, Cho recommends using “your ring finger to very gently tap – never rub – eye cream around the entire orbital bone, avoiding the water line.”
▪ Caudalie Premier Cru Eye, $99, Sephora.com
▪ For Men: Anthony High Performance Continuous Moisture Eye Cream, $38, Sephora.com
“Hydration is your express lane to dewy glowing skin,” says Cho, which is why moisturizing in the morning and evening is crucial to your daily skin care routine. “Finding a moisturizer that works for your skin type is a crucial step to protecting your skin. They come in many different forms so it shouldn’t be too hard – like an emulsion, a lotion, gel or cream. Morning and evening, pat a moisturizer all over face and neck to keep skin protected and hydrated, sealing in all the work from your other steps.” One to two nights a week, moisturizers can be substituted with sleeping masks.
▪ Yes to Cucumbers Soothing Daily Calming Moisturizer, $14.99, Ulta.com
▪ Lotus Blossom Hydra-Lock Oil Free Gel Cream, $58, Weibeauty.com
▪ Peter Thomas Roth Ultra-Lite Oil-Free Moisturizer, $42, Sephora.com
▪ CLARINS Multi-Active Nuit, $56, Sephora.com
▪ Caudalie Premier Cru the Cream, $158, Sephora.com
▪ philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar Night, $52, Sephora.com
Typically, sleeping masks, also known as “sleeping packs,” have similar consistency to rich night creams, and their main function is to deeply hydrate. Thompson says, “some sleeping masks may have additional benefits, such as lightening hyperpigmentation, or slowing the effects of wrinkles, but for the most part, moisture is the primary goal of a sleeping mask.” Cho says, “you only need to use them once or twice a week, in place of your usual night cream.” She adds that, “they are great for all skin types” and “the revitalizing effects will leave your skin feeling softer and looking brighter and refreshed.”
▪ For Dry Skin: Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask, $48, Sephora.com
▪ For Brightening: Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power C X 30 Vitamin C Brightening Sleeping Mask, $62, Sephora.com
Sun protection is essential in the morning to prevent sun damage and premature aging. and can be layered over any moisturizer you’ve used that contains SPF. Cho says, “It’s important as the last step so it can shield your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, without being diluted by all your prior skin care products.”
▪ For All Skin Types: Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer SPF 30, $19.50-$39.50, Nordstrom.com
▪ For Men: The Art of Shaving Eucalyptus Daily Facial Lotion with Sunscreen SPF 15, $35, Sephora.com
Cho strongly recommends protecting and hydrating your lips. “The skin around our mouths is much thinner than other parts of the body. We’re constantly working it and moving it around, too, which means it’s at risk for showing age sooner than other areas.” To maintain the health and look of your lips, Cho says to “gently exfoliate them with a toothbrush one to two times a week. Every day, make sure to give them a deep dose of moisture. When you’re outside, use a lip product that has SPF.”
▪ Lip Conditioner: BY TERRY Baume de Rose, $60, Beauty.com
▪ For Men: Anthony Advanced Formula Lip Balm SPF 25, $9, Sephora.com
BB Cream and CC Cream
Lastly, in the morning, BB creams and CC creams are commonly used post-skin care. Many of these products combine the benefits of antioxidants and skin care with the coverage of makeup. Thompson says, “BB creams, which usually have more coverage, and CC creams, which usually have less coverage, are popular because they are skin-perfecting, while still maintaining a natural finish.” Many also offer targeted benefits such as hydration, brightening and mattifying effects.
▪ For Hydration: Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Beauty Balm SPF 25 PA++, $34, Sephora.com
▪ For Brightening: Estée Lauder Crescent White BB Creme SPF 50, $50, Sephora.com
▪ BY TERRY Cellularose Moisturizing CC Cream, $86, Beauty.com
▪ Giorgio Armani Luminessence CC Color Control Bright Moisturizer SPF 35, $55, Sephora.com
Optional steps to a Korean-inspired skincare routine include wash-away masks and peels. Sleeping masks are different from traditional wash-away masks, which Thompson says, “tend to be more targeted and have instantaneous results. Exfoliation is a popular function for many wash-away masks.” Cho adds, “you only need to do them twice a week.”
▪ Wash-Away Mask: Eve Lom Rescue Mask, $50-$85, Sephora.com
▪ Peel: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, $16, Sephora.com
Win the book
To win a copy of “Korean Beauty Secrets: A Practical Guide to Cutting-Edge Skincare and Makeup,” by Kerry Thompson and Coco Park, send an email to email@example.com by midnight Sunday (May 1). Please put the word “Korean” in the subject line to be entered in the random drawing. Only the winner will be notified.