The Korean Skincare Routine
Skincare in Korea is a somewhat exhaustive multi-step process, a fact which seems to have sparked a ton of intrigue in the beauty world as of late. To outsiders looking in, the “million-step” Korean skincare regimen sounds a bit extreme, but it all boils down to cleansing, exfoliating, treating, intensely moisturizing and applying plenty of SPF during the day. I guess the real differentiating factor between how Koreans take care of their skin and more Western routines is that in Korea, you’re programmed to start early— well before your first training bra—while our more American version of skincare tends to be a sudden mad dash to Nordstrom to buy $100 eye cream, hoping it will reverse some of the teenage UV damage when we hit the age of 30. Thorough skincare is really just a part of Korean culture—it's completely ingrained in your life since early childhood, when you're dragged along to the communal bathhouses by your mother to have your dead skin sloughed off with bright green viscose cloths.
To those who believe they aren’t high maintenance enough for that bright, dewy skin: I didn’t either. But, like our American moms always said while shoving (their version of) Korean stir-fry into our mouths: just try, you might like it!
Step 1: The Eye Makeup Removal
Remove your eye makeup gently with good makeup remover or Innisfree Olive Real Cleansing Tissues, because expecting a normal cleanser to do a detailed job is what leaves you with week-old mascara on your lashes. And the last thing you want to do is tug the skin around your eyes, because, like most things in life, it will hold up better if you treat it gingerly. Also, use it to remove any long-wear lipstick.
Step 2: The Cleanse
Rule of thumb is, if you’re going to spend 30 minutes putting on your face, you should spend the same amount of time are take the same amount of care when cleaning it off. Use an oil cleanser like The Face Shop Rice Water Cleansing Oil and use gentle, circular motions with your fingers to massage and clean off that foundation and BB cream. Koreans (and Into The Gloss) believe that massaging the face increases circulation, which equals brighter skin.
Step 3: The Exfoliator
Exfoliating with a natural scrub like the Skin Food Black Sugar Wash Off Mask really brings your skin back to its glory days when it was as soft as a baby’s butt. Twice a month is plenty, just concentrate on the t-zone or where blackheads frequent. When it comes to facial exfoliation, Korean women often believe less is more.
Step 4: The Refresher
What we in America think of as “toning' is an essential step. It's believed to help remove pollutants along with any residue from your cleansers, while also restoring your skin’s pH balance. It soothes and preps your skin to absorb the next step—the essence. I’ve found Korean toners are less harsh and drying than other kinds that I've tried, which is maybe why they're called “refreshers.” And they're made from more interesting ingredients—the SU:M37 Waterfull Skin Refresher contains fermented bamboo extract. Dispense the toner onto a cotton pad and wipe your face and neck—and don’t be surprised at the dirty streak left on the pad.
Step 5: The Essence
Considered the most important step to Korean women, yet still a mystery to many. Soak your face in Missha First Treatment Essence, which many compare to the popular SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. It affects skin on a cellular level, speeding your cell turnover rate which makes skin smoother and brighter. I’ve had the most noticeable results from adding this this to my regimen.
Step 6: The Sheet Mask
Sheet masks are a twice-a-week ritual, or more if your face is very dry. The wet, papery, Jason-like masks (I love Manefit Bling Bling Hydro Gel Masks [ed note: discontinued]), are soaked in ingredients like collagen, which they in turn soak into your skin. The fun is in the variety; some masks contain avocado extracts (containing tons of antioxidants) or Vitamin E (anti-aging). The secret to sheet masks? They force your skin to absorb the nutrients and moisture better than if you just applied a cream or serum—before the product has a chance to evaporate. The immediate effects are addicting, after one use your face is slightly more plump and much brighter due to all the moisture your skin just absorbed.
Step 7: The Eye Cream
This is a self-explanatory product, but take note of the technique. Gently tap Etude House Moistfull Collagen Eye Cream around the eye area. This leads to better absorption of the product, and of course eliminates any of that tugging and pulling.
Step 8: The Moisturizer
Really, another layer? If you haven’t noticed, Korean women are all about layering, to the point you feel your skin has been mummified. Again, generously massage the Etude House Moistfull Collagen Emulsion (the Korean translation for “moisturizer') with gentle strokes so that it really, truly, penetrates into your skin.