Korean Skincare Routine

Step# 1: Pre-cleanse (nighttime only)

While Western skincare routines typically start out with you scrubbing your makeup off with a cleanser, the Korean alternative takes a much different approach. Pre-cleansing is basically unheard of in the West, but it is a very important step! In the pre-cleansing step, you remove all of your makeup gently by using cleansing oil. “Gently” is definitely the keyword here! Korean women would be appalled to see how some Western women harshly scrub their faces with wash cloths in order to remove stubborn mascara. Cleansing oils come in a variety of types; however, there are very few cleansing oils available on the Western market. Most likely, you will need to shop online for a Korean brand. You can choose one for dry skin, oily skin, brightening, or moisturizing, among many others. Assess your skin and choose a product that is tailored to your type. You can opt for makeup wipes before using the cleansing oil, but it’s really not necessary. If used properly, cleansing oil will take away most of your hard to remove makeup, including eye makeup. In order to use cleansing oil properly, first ensure that your hands and face are completely dry. Take a pump or two of the oil and rub a light layer over your entire face. Massage the oil into your skin, using circular motions, for several minutes. Your face makeup should start to break up, making it really easy to wash off. Next, massage some of the oil over your eyes to break up the eye makeup. Take your time here, and be extremely gentle. The skin around your eyes is very fragile. If you rub too harshly, you’ll get premature wrinkles (or make any current wrinkles worse)! Once you’ve finished with your eyes, it’s time to emulsify the oil. Wet your hands with a bit of warm water, and pat it all over your face. You should use just a little bit of water at a time until you get the right amount. The oil should start to turn white or cloudy. Massage your skin again, ensuring the oil becomes emulsified all over. Finally, rinse your face off. Nearly all of your makeup should have come off with the cleansing oil. If there’s still some residue left behind, don’t worry—this is completely normal. The oil’s main job is to gently remove the makeup so that you don’t have to scrub it off. Pre-cleansing is meant to be a part of your nighttime routine. Don’t worry about this step in the morning!


Step# 2: Cleanse

Now you’re ready to use a regular cleanser on your face. For your morning routine, this should always be your first step. What type of cleanser you use is totally up to you; however, foaming cleansers are a popular choice for many Korean women. You may also find that gentle cream cleansers work well. Similar to oil cleansers, you can find many cream and foaming cleansers that are geared towards specific skin types and needs. Foam cleansers are usually the most gentle, so if you have sensitive skin, opt for a foam cleanser. Many Western women use wash cloths or other abrasive materials to wash their faces. On the other hand, Korean women usually just use their fingers, as they are the mildest tools you can use. Again, the key here is to be very gentle; do not rub the product into your skin harshly. Instead, spread the foam or cream very lightly over your face. Then add some water, and rub softly in circular motions to buff away the rest of the makeup residue. Rinse your face with warm water and pat to dry. Do not use a towel to dry your face! If you notice any leftover eye makeup (such as eyeliner or mascara), simply dip a cotton swab into some makeup remover and gently swipe at the leftover makeup. This is also a good strategy to use if you are wary of getting oil cleansers or regular cleansers too close to your eyes.  Most oil cleansers are safe to use on your eyes, but if it’s easier for you, just use a cotton swab.


Step# 3: Exfoliate (nighttime only)

Exfoliators contain grains or microbeads that work to remove dead skin cells and other impurities from the skin.  Good exfoliation is key for clear, soft, youthful-looking skin.  Ensuring your skin is free of dead skin cells will help you look your best!  If you do not exfoliate, the buildup of dead cells will make your skin look dull, tired, and dry.  Your makeup will also look very patchy and cakey. While exfoliation is definitely part of the Korean skincare routine, it is important to note that it is not a daily step.  You should never exfoliate every day because over-exfoliation can dry your skin out and cause breakouts!  With a wide range of exfoliators available, it can be hard to know which one to choose.  Sugar scrubs are typically gentle on the skin, but even people with sensitive skin can tolerate scrubs with microbeads if they are used gently.  Many scrubs also contain natural ingredients such as rice and fruit extracts, making them extra healthy for your skin. Typically, you should use an exfoliator one to two times a week.  Any more than that, you’re likely to damage your skin.  If you think you need to exfoliate more than twice a week, try using the product just on areas that really need it (such as places where you have large pores or noticeable blackheads).  All exfoliators work the same; simply spread a generous amount of the product evenly onto your face and rub in circular motions.  The grains will break up the dead skin cells, making them easy to rinse off.  Massage around your face for around three to five minutes, paying special attention to places where you have the most problems (large pores, blackheads, acne, et cetera).  Finally, rinse it all away with warm water to reveal fresh, super soft skin!   One area you should not overlook while exfoliating is your lips.  Chapped lips can benefit greatly from some good exfoliation.  You can purchase products that are specifically designed to be lip scrubs—this is safer than using a regular exfoliator on your lips, just in case you get some in your mouth!  Use your finger to buff a lip exfoliator over your lips for a few minutes and watch the chapped skin fall away.  Your lips will be much smoother and healthier looking.


Step# 4: Toner

Similar to the Western-style routine, the Korean routine also incorporates a toner.  Toners from Korean brands contain different ingredients than your typical Western toners.  Most Western brand toners are full of alcohol and other drying ingredients.  Korean toners, on the other hand, do not contain alcohol and are meant to hydrate the skin. There are actually several purposes of the toner step in the Korean skincare routine.  The first is, as mentioned above, to hydrate the skin.  Another purpose is to remove fine traces of residue from the first two steps.  It’s pretty clear—Korean women like to make absolutely sure their skin is squeaky clean (without being dried out, of course)! Yet another purpose of the toner step is to soothe your skin.  After using a Korean brand toner, your skin will feel very refreshed.  This makes toner a wonderful step for your morning routine!  The final purpose of the toner is to rebalance the pH level of your skin. Toners come in many varieties, but it’s unlikely you will find one that you react badly to, since Korean toners do not contain harsh chemicals.  Most are marketed as “refreshers,” so more likely than not, you’ll end up with one that is great at hydrating and waking up the skin.  You can also purchase a separate toner for use at nighttime.  If you choose to do so, go for one that is meant to be soothing.  However, you can certainly use the same toner in your morning and night routines. Use a cotton pad or cotton ball to swipe the toner over your face.  Let it air dry and absorb completely before moving on to the next step.


Step# 5: Essences

Applying an essence is one of the most essential steps to the Korean skincare routine.  It is also one of the more unique steps, as Western skincare does not have this type of product.  Essences are liquid products that come either in the form of a lightweight lotion or a mist.  Their purpose is to promote skin cell renewal, which helps keep your skin looking youthful and firm.  If you have started to age, essences can help you regain some elasticity in your skin.  Most essences will help you achieve a brighter, healthier looking complexion.  (There are also many Korean products that claim to “whiten” the skin, but don’t worry, essences will not bleach your skin). You may want to try out several essences in order to find one that works best for you.  Some Korean women use more than one! If you use an essence in the form of a lotion, simply pat a thin layer on.  If you opt for a mist instead, spray it all over your face and neck, patting it in afterwards.  Let the essence completely absorb before you move on to the next step!


Step# 6: Ampoules

Ampoules may also be strange to you if you’re unfamiliar with Asian beauty routines.  Think of ampoules as similar to Western serums.  They’re a bit thicker and much more concentrated than essences.  These products are usually the consistency of oil and often come in a jar with an eye dropper applicator.  Ampoules contain powerful vitamins, so a little bit of the serum goes a long way!  They are meant to target your current skin issues such as dull complexion, loss of elasticity, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.  Ampoules can also be used as a preventative measure.  Even if you’re young, you can still benefit from incorporating an ampoule into your skincare regimen.  Use one to fight off the common signs of aging now, and you’ll have less to worry about in the future.  It’s much easier to prevent than to correct! You can mix and match your essences and ampoules, and it is very common for Korean women to use more than one of each!  Do your research before purchasing essences and ampoules; look for ones that target the problems your skin currently has (or the problems you want to prevent).  Everyone’s skin is different, so we all have different needs.  Create your own customized mix of essences and ampoules in order to treat your skin specifically.  You can also rotate between different ampoules and essences in order to maximize your skin’s benefits without having to slather on multiple ones every night.   Use the eye dropper tool (if your ampoule comes with one) to dispense a few drops of the product around your face. Then, spread the product evenly over your face and rub it in gently.  Remember to let it absorb completely before moving on to the next step.


Step# 7: Moisturize

This step should look very familiar to you—moisturizing is an important part in almost any skincare routine, Korean or not.  After cleansing your skin, especially as thoroughly as you will if you follow the Korean skincare routine, you’re going to need to replenish your skin’s moisture.  Well-hydrated skin will stay healthy and youthful.  As you age, your skin will need more and more moisture, so everyone’s routine will look a little bit different here. For your daytime routine, be sure to use a light moisturizing lotion.  If you have oily skin, you can opt for a gel formula.  If you have really dry skin, you should start out with a light moisturizer first.  See if your skin reacts well to just a lightweight lotion; don’t worry about adding in any additional moisture at first.  However, if your skin isn’t quite as hydrated as you’d like, replace your light lotion with a heavier one.  It’s important to note that Korean brand lightweight moisturizers are not always called “lightweight moisturizers.”  Korean products sometimes get very creative with their names, so be aware that “milk,” “emulsion,” and “lotion,” can all mean the same thing!  For your nighttime routine, you may choose to use anywhere from one to three moisturizers!  It’s up to you, and you should base your routine off of your skin’s needs.  The first type of moisturizer you can use at night is the same emulsion or lightweight lotion you use during the day.  After that, you can put on a heavier night cream.  Once that absorbs, topping it all off with a sleeping pack will ensure your skin will be completely moisturized all throughout the night!  Sleeping packs are essentially thick moisturizers chockfull of beneficial (usually anti-aging) ingredients.  Some sleeping packs require you to rub them in while others instruct you to layer it on with a brush.  You then leave the pack on all night and wash it off in the morning for super hydrated, radiant skin.  There are hundreds of sleeping packs on the market, all geared towards different needs. Using three moisturizers at night may seem a bit excessive, but remember, Korean women are serious about their skincare!  You can certainly get by with only using one moisturizer.  If you choose to use only one, make it a heavy night cream, as they are better at keeping your skin hydrated while you sleep.  You can also choose to add in a sleeping pack a few times a week instead of putting one on every night. No matter how many moisturizers you put on, be sure to give them plenty of time to absorb before adding additional layers of moisture.  If you’re going to use a sleeping pack, make sure it’s the last thing you put on!


Step# 8: Eye Creams

The eye cream step should be in both your daytime routine and your nighttime routine.  The eye area is especially delicate and prone to wrinkles, so choose an eye cream that hydrates, prevents or treats signs of aging, and improves elasticity.  You can get by with using one eye cream for both your morning and night routines, but keep in mind a lot of eye creams are thick.  Thick eye creams don’t fare the best under makeup, so you’ll be better off using a thinner cream during the day.  Save the thicker cream for nighttime when you need the most hydration! Many Korean eye creams are multifunctional, so you can purchase one product that will brighten, prevent signs of aging, hydrate, improve elasticity, and treat puffiness all in one!  You’ll also notice a lot of interesting ingredients in Korean brand eye creams, such as snail extract.  Extracts from bees (such as bee venom) are also common ingredients.  Do not be alarmed!  While it may sound gross to put snail slime and bee venom on your skin, these ingredients are actually very beneficial.  Snail extract in particular is known to improve the elasticity of the skin, so if you want youthful looking under eyes, get over the gross factor!  It is often said that the Korean skincare industry is years ahead of the Western industry; it’s true that they have really innovative and interesting products and ingredients that you just can’t get on the Western market.  While some things will certainly catch on, Korean brands will always have a uniqueness to them you can’t come by elsewhere.  Don’t be alarmed if you see “weird” ingredients—just remember how advanced the Korean skincare industry is!


Step# 9: SPF (daytime only)

Most Koreans are crazy about sun protection.  It is not uncommon to see women carrying umbrellas on sunny days, just to keep the sun off their skin.  Others may wear visors or large hats.  It’s also common to see people covering their arms in order to avoid any exposure to the sun. This may strike you as odd, since many Westerners desire tan skin, often lying around in the sun for hours in the summer or visiting tanning salons in order to fake the bronzed skin look.  In Korea, it’s totally the opposite.  Pale skin is desirable, as traditionally it indicated that someone was from a rich family.  Rich families stayed indoors while poor ones were forced to work outside in the sun, thus tanning their skin.  Pale was always considered more beautiful than tan, and that mentality is still around in modern Korea. For women in particular, sun protection is a huge concern.  Most Korean BB creams and foundations contain a dose of SPF in order to cater to the market they serve.  Even though these products already have SPF, many Koreans wear an additional regular sunscreen product on a daily basis! There is a wide array of sunscreens in varying SPF levels available on the Korean market.  You don’t have to purchase a special Korean sunscreen if you don’t want to; you can use a Western sunscreen brand, as there aren’t any special ingredients in Korean sunscreens.  What’s most important is that the sunscreen is at least SPF 20 and blocks both UV-A and UV-B rays. You should apply sunscreen every day, even if it’s not sunny outside.  The sun’s rays can still penetrate through the cloud cover enough to cause a slight tan over a long period of time.  What should be more of a concern, however, is that exposure to the sun (including on cloudy days) can cause premature signs of aging as well as skin cancer.  You should be using a sunscreen as part of your daily skincare routine if you want to prevent both damage to your health and to your skin. Although BB creams and foundations have SPF in them already, studies have shown that in order to benefit from the SPF in these products, you would have to use at least four times the amount of the product that you normally use.  Since the SPF is not concentrated enough in the BB creams or foundations, you need to add an additional product (with the main function of this product being SPF) to your routine.  Think of the SPF in BB creams and foundations as an extra shot of protection. The best time to apply sunscreen is after you finish all of the other steps in your morning skincare routine, but before you apply any makeup (including face primers). In addition to wearing sunscreen, large hats/visors or umbrellas, and long sleeves to protect their skin, Koreans also wear sunglasses often in order to protect the delicate skin around their eyes.  Even though sunglasses aren’t a skincare product, you should consider wearing them daily as part of your routine as well!


Step# 10: Masks & Facial Massages

This final step  will detail a couple of steps that are considered to be “extra.”  These are steps in the Korean skincare routine that you don’t have to perform every night, but they are still part of the routine and can be very beneficial to your skin.  Some women do perform them almost every night, but they aren’t as necessary as the other steps in the routine.


Face masks are something you will definitely see all over Korea.  Not only are there several types of face masks to choose from (such as sheets masks, liquid masks, packs, and so on), there are also endless variations in scents, ingredients, and beneficial properties.  There are masks that brighten, whiten, hydrate, cool, renew, and just about anything else under the sun! You can purchase any type of mask you need in the form of a tube, jar, or sheet.  Tubes usually contain masks that are more on the liquid side.  Jars are for the thicker masks (such as clay masks), and sheet masks are thin slips of paper soaked in different essences.  Masks that come in tubes and jars are pretty self-explanatory—you simply apply the product to your face, allow it to dry, and wash it off with warm water.  These are very similar to masks on the Western market, but of course many of them are geared towards different skin issues.  For example, brightening and whitening masks are really common in Korea.  It’s important to note that “whitening” does not indicate bleaching!  If you use a whitening mask over a long period of time, your skin may become a bit lighter, but it won’t be anything drastic.  Sometimes, “whitening” is used interchangeably with “brightening,” even though these terms don’t mean the same thing in English. Sheet masks are sort of a novelty for those of us in the West.  There are a few Western brands that have come out with sheet masks, but you certainly can’t get the same kind of variety you can with the Korean sheet masks.  Sheet masks are a really convenient way to boost your skincare routine.  These masks are packaged in individual sachets.  All you have to do is remove the mask and place it over your face, lining up the eye and mouth holes in the paper.  Press the mask until it adheres to your skin, and leave it on for about 20 minutes.  You can leave it on for as long as you like, especially since the masks are always so saturated with essence!  It takes them a long time to dry out.  You can also use the leftover liquid in the packet to brush on your skin after you take the mask off.  Let it absorb into your skin and carry on with your routine! No matter what type of mask you use, it’s best to use it after your toner.  This way you won’t be cleansing away all of the good ingredients the mask is putting into your skin!  It’s best to use masks once or twice a week, but if your skin is really problematic, you can use one three times a week.  You may want to alternate between types of masks as well; this way you can treat your skin to different ingredients each time.  For example, one night you can use a clay mask to remove impurities.  A few nights later, you can use a brightening sheet mask to enhance your complexion.  Finally, a cooling or hydrating mask is always a good idea!  They can make a huge difference if used once a week.

Facial Massages

Koreans believe that facial massages can tone the skin, enhance the skin’s color, slim the face, drain the glands under the skin, help circulation, and improve the overall appearance of your face and neck.  There are many types of facial massage, so searching around on the internet is sure to lead you to some useful tutorials.  For the purposes of this book, a simple massage is described below in detail.  You should perform the facial massage with your nighttime moisturizer.  Give it a shot!  You should notice an improvement in your skin and also be able to relax and unwind after a long day!

Step 1: Take out a little more night cream than you normally would.  Mix it with a drop or two of an essence if the cream is too thick for the massage.  Mixing with a liquid substance like an essence will help make it easier to massage into the skin.

Step 2: Warm up the mixture between your hands for a few seconds.

Step 3: Pat the mixture onto your face, starting first with your forehead and chin.  Press firmly a couple of times to transfer the product.  Do the same to your cheeks and nose.

Step 4: Massage the middle of your face using the knuckles of your index and middle fingers.  Start under your cheekbones near your nose and move up and out towards the outer part of your cheek and your temple.  Repeat this motion a couple of times, applying light pressure only.

Step 5: Start with your knuckles on the sides of your nose this time.  Move up both sides of your nose to the top of your forehead.  Then rub down the sides of your forehead towards your jaw.  This part of the massage helps to drain fluid under the skin, slimming the face.  Remember to only use light pressure and to repeat this step a few times.

Step 6: Using your index fingers, lightly massage under your eyes, starting near the bridge of your nose.  Work your way under your eyes and up towards your temples.  Press very lightly, as the skin under your eyes is delicate.  Press a little more firmly on the temples to relieve pressure.

Step 7: Finally, make a fist with both hands.  Start at the bottom of your chin and push upwards towards your ears.  This will relieve tension, slim the face, and help remove toxins from your glands. Facial massages can be performed nightly, for those who are very industrious!