The 5 Essential Steps of the Korean Skin Care Routine

By June 2, 2017

New to K-beauty and confused about where to start? We’ve got you! We’ve condensed the 10-step K-beauty routine into five essential steps that are easy to follow!

The world of K-beauty is incredible, full of products for every skin concern imaginable, packed into step after step of skin goodness. But let’s be honest here, all those products and steps can get confusing, and can certainly seem overwhelming at first.

But it’s not as confusing as it seems, and it’s actually really exciting (and pretty easy) to jump into this wild world of radiant skin. To help you along the way, we’ve decided to pull together the five absolutely essential steps of Korean skin care that are the pillars of beautiful skin. This is a great way to get your feet wet with new products, and start you on your journey to perfect skin. Let’s go!

Step one: Cleanse

k-beauty routine

Cleansing is the most important step of the skin care routine, which is why it comes first.  Making sure you remove dirt, pollutants, impurities, and anything else that may have accumulated on your skin over the course of the day or night is vital to keeping your skin clear and healthy.

And Koreans have a special way of making sure you get everything bad off and out of your skin: the double cleanse. The double cleansing process involves cleansing first with an oil, which gently breaks down makeup, sunscreen, and oil based impurities. The Enature Moringa Cleansing Balm is a great choice.  Massaging the balm into your skin gently breaks down impurities, while also boosting collagen production and soothing the skin. It leaves your skin clear, but also nourished and balanced.

You could also oil cleanse with a traditional cleanser, like the Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil. This cleanser comes out out as a oil that you slather on your face and then emulsify with warm water. It’s a hypoallergenic formula that uses a variety of vegetable oils—like black bean oil and back sesame oil—to both cleanse and moisturize skin.

After your oil cleanser clears everything off, you follow up with a water-based cleanser, which cleans deep into the pores. If you have acne-prone skin, you can get targeted with your water cleanser and try something like the Skinfood Tea Tree Bubble Cleansing Foam. This foam is made with tea tree oil, which tackles and prevents blemishes while cleaning deep into the pores. The thick foam makes sure your skin is clean, but goes about it in the gentlest way possible. Or if you’re looking for a great overall water-based cleanser, you can do no wrong with the Klavuu Pure Pearlsation Revitalizing Facial Cleansing Foam. It lathers up nicely to cover your face in a cleansing foam that smells like marshmallows.

The double cleansing method ensures that your skin is left clear, clean, and balanced, without being stripped of natural oils. It makes sure your pores are ready and waiting to receive all the goodness that’s about to follow!

Step Two: Exfoliate

k-beauty routine

The next pillar of the K-beauty routine is exfoliation, which is the process of removing the dead skin cells that your cleansers can’t catch in the first go around. Exfoliation is vital because keeping dead skin cells on your face reduces cell turnover, which means your skin isn’t producing fresh, young skin as quickly and effectively as it could. And keeping your skin clear of dead skin cells is the best way to keep your skin bright, clear, and youthful!

There are two different ways to exfoliate: Chemically and physically. Each way offers different benefits, and you should make sure you choose the method that is best for your skin’s needs!  Chemical exfoliants use small, concentrated amounts of gentle acids to push away dead skin cells.  The Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Pads are a phenomenal chemical exfoliant, using acids like lactic and glycolic acid, combined with natural exfoliators like lemon, orange, and papaya.  This gently removes dead skin cells, leaving your skin bright and clear.

The next method is physical exfoliation. In this process, you physically remove skin cells from the face through abrasive ingredients like sugar or biodegradable beads. The most popular and common is sugar, which is what’s used in the K-beauty cult favorite, the Skinfood Black Sugar Mask Wash Off. This exfoliating mask uses fine particles of black sugar to slough through dead skin cells.  The formula is also filled with nourishing ingredients—like hydrating shea butter—to balance and hydrate the skin while simultaneously removing dead skin. As you work the sugar gently into your skin, you’ll also increase  circulation in your face, which makes your skin look bright and healthy. The result is clear, baby smooth, glowing skin.

But remember: Physical exfoliation is extremely effective, but it’s much harsher on the skin than chemical exfoliation, so you should only do it a couple times a week and adjust as necessary if you encounter redness or irritation.

There are also products that combine chemical and physical exfoliation, like the Neogen Rice Peel & Activator Sake. The peeling cream base is packed with effective chemical exfoliants that you spread across your skin. Then you sprinkle drops of the sake activator into the cream, which causes it to slightly bubble up, physically sloughing through dead skin cells. It’s gentle, effective, and it’s the best of both worlds!

Step Three: Sheet Mask

k-beauty routine

The sheet mask is a staple of Korean skin care. Koreans believe hydration is the key to just about everything, and there is no better way to deliver moisture to the face than through a sheet mask. Drenched in hydrating essences, sheet masks deliver highly concentrated nutrients and moisture to the face over the course of a 20-30-minute application period.

Different masks achieve slightly different things, all while hydrating the skin! For example, the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Sheet Mask is a calming mask that moisturizes your skin and contains balancing properties that reduce redness and irritation. It leaves your skin feeling calm, soothed, and nourished.

Masks can also be used to cleanse the skin even further. The Ultru I’m Sorry for My Skin Black Mud Mask – Tightening uses natural clay, volcanic ash, and bentonite to draw impurities out of the pores and leave them clear, clean, and firm.

You can also target aging concerns with masks like the Manefit Bling Bling Hydro Gel Mask Wrinkle Gold. One of the reasons moisture is so coveted in the K-beauty routine is because it’s believed to prevent wrinkle formation and reduce signs of aging. This mask delivers that moisture, but also contains collagen—the protein your skin produces to retain its structure and elasticity.

The possibilities with masks are endless and they’re quick and easy to use. You can use them as frequently as you want (even every single day) and your skin will only thank you for all the goodness!

Step Four: Treat

k-beauty routine

This is where skincare gets really personal—in the best way possible! The treatment step allows you to consider which skin concerns you are dealing with and choose products that target those concerns specifically. Here are some examples:

If you’re struggling with dullness, dark spots, or uneven skin tone, you should consider a treatment that brightens and evens the skin. The Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum is a cult favorite, delivering a highly concentrated blast of vitamin C and skin brightening ingredients to target dark spots and pigmentation, leaving your skin looking even and radiant.

If dryness is your vice, an ultra-hydrating essence like the Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence should be your go-to. This essence is a do-it-all product, which tones, moisturizes, and nourishes the skin. You can apply it once or in layers, depending on how much moisture you need. It uses hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture from your prior steps, and deliver a major dose of hydration that keeps up all day long.

If you’re struggling with breakouts, using the right treatment is absolutely vital. Spot treatments are the most targeted of this category, as you apply them right on where your spots are occurring and nowhere else. A great example of this is the Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch. These patches are a holy grail skin care item in Korea because of their powerful healing and protecting properties. If you notice a breakout, just put this patch on directly after cleansing and let the magic happen! The patch protects the breakout from further irritation and pollutants and encourages the spot to heal rapidly and effectively.  Peel it away at the end of the day or after waking up in the morning to reveal clear, healed skin.

Step Five: Moisturize

k-beauty routine

If moisture is the backbone of the K-beauty routine, then the moisturizer you use is obviously hugely important. Moisturizers come in various forms, including oils, night masks, and regular creams.

Let’s start with oils.  Don’t shy away from oil, even if you have oily skin! We know, it seems like adding oil to your skin will make your skin oily and greasy, but that’s not the case at all. And if you have oily skin, using an oil can actually be even better for you! Your skin produces oil because it’s craving moisture, so applying oil provides it with the moisture it needs and helps regulate and limit oil production in the skin. Using an oil delivers targeted moisture, and enables your skin to better receive moisture in other forms from other products. For example, the Hanskin Bio Origin 369 Oil uses omega oils to nourish and moisturize the skin, leaving it soft and smooth.

Night masks, or sleeping packs, are similar to night creams. You layer the mask on like a cream before you go to sleep, and let it work all night. This allows for an intensive release of moisture into the skin while your skin is undergoing the vital regenerative processes that occur while you sleep. The RE:P Nutrinature Ultra All-Night Moisture & Relief Mask is intensely hydrating and ensures your skin doesn’t dry out while you rest. Rinse it off in the morning to reveal soft, hydrated skin.

And of course, a standard face cream is essential. Using a cream like the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream every day is needed to ensure your skin keeps its moisture levels normal. Apply it morning and night to ensure your skin locks in the moisture you’ve delivered to it throughout all your other steps.

So, there you have it: The five essential steps of the K-beauty routine! Of course, each step has its own nuances and there are steps even beyond this that you can use to nurture your skin even more. But these five steps are a great way to dip your toes in the water and see incredible results!

+ Which step of the K-beauty routine do you think is the most important? Let us know below!