The Ultimate Korean SkinCare Guide
It’s been several years now that K-beauty has taken over our beauty shelves and still, more and more American women become attracted to not only K-beauty products but the entire Korean skin care system. This can be attributed to the fact that K-beauty focuses on the skin first and promises “glass skin” (i.e. poreless, translucent, glowing) instead of trying to mask problems with foundation and concealer. Sounds quite appealing, doesn’t it?
If you’re interested in K-beauty but feeling a bit overwhelmed, not sure how to chose skin care products?
We’ve created this guide to help you gain a better understanding of what constitutes Korean skin care, the philosophy behind the system, the ingredients, how to shop for Korean skin care products correctly and perhaps most importantly, if K-beauty is the answer to your dreams of youthful and perfect glass skin.
What are the differentiating factors of Korean skin care?
The short answer is that Koreans place emphasis on prevention and looking natural while shying away from masking problems with makeup. But there are other characteristics of K-beauty that distinguish it from other popular skincare philosophies:
One of the best things about Korean skincare is that many of the Korean beauty products are surprisingly affordable. Perhaps this makes the infamous ten-step routine doable without breaking the bank!
Variety and fun
Korean skin care boasts an impressive abundance of sheet and cloth masks ranging in style and ingredients. You can find items made from everything like pineapples to watermelon. This makes the entire experience more exciting and keeps you interested in trying new things.
Innovative, adventurous ingredients
Korean skincare products do not shy away from ingredients that might be considered disgusting—as long as they’re effective. Korean serums, for example, tend to be highly concentrated with loads of ingredients derived from such newfangled substances as snail slime (mucus) and bee venom. These are used to target certain problems like dark spots, acne or fine lines and other skin concerns.
Highly researched ingredients
K-beauty isn’t only about ingredients that produce shock factor, for example, snails and bees — they also include active ingredients known to effect visible change, like rice, botanicals, fruit extracts and volcanic ash.
Essence and ampoules
Essence is like a cross between a serum and toner. It is a little less concentrated and more lightweight than a serum. An ampoule like a mega-serum with even more concentrated ingredients. It is usually used sparingly to target a specific concern when skin is facing a particular problem, like breakouts or a lot of dehydration. These two products are hallmarks of Korean skin care, as you won’t find them in other rituals.
The Korean Skincare Routine
The Korean skincare regimen comprises a morning and nighttime twice-daily routine with 10 important steps. These complicated steps also work for combination and acne-prone skin.
10 Step Korean Skincare Routine Day and Night
The Morning Routine
1. Oil-based cleanser
The first step of the Korean skincare routine involves washing with an oil-based cleanser (cleansing oils) to remove impurities, including dirt, oil and makeup. A good makeup remover is the key to getting your skin cleansed and ready for the other 9 steps.
2. Water-based cleanser
Next, a water-based cleanser or commonly known as cleansing water is used to further break down excess sebum and pollution. This double-cleanse ensures that your skin is perfectly primed for all the treatments to follow.
Exfoliation is very important as it helps unclog pores and remove dead skin cells. This is generally recommended 2-3 times per week so it might not always be a part of your morning routine.
Toners help prep your skin. They help absorb all the various serums, essence and ampoules that you’ll apply next.
An essence helps deliver optimal ingredients and also helps to hydrate. Some great essence ingredients include rice extract and hyaluronic acid.
This step involves using whatever serums or ampoules your skin needs. This will generally depend on whether you are battling dark spots, acne, wrinkles or dehydration.
7. Sheet Masks
Sheet masks and sleeping masks are very popular in Korean skin care. Not only do they help promote a moment of relaxation in the routine, they also deliver essential ingredients to further hydrate and give you a glow. The Taut Collagen Mask is a great option for this step as it helps tone, brighten and hydrate all in one, while also targeting sagging and wrinkles.
8. Eye cream
An eye cream should be used daily because the skin around the eyes is very thin and very prone to wrinkling. An eye cream can also help with dark circles and morning puffiness.
Moisturizers help seal in moisture to keep skin plump throughout the day.
SPF sunscreen is a preventive treatment to keep skin from developing dark spots and wrinkles over time.
The Nighttime Routine
The Nighttime routine involves mainly the same steps as the morning routine, except you don’t apply SPF sunscreen at the end. The last step of a nighttime routine is to put on night creams to prevent skin from becoming dehydrated during your sleep cycle. Double-cleansing is also especially important during the nighttime to remove all traces of makeup, pollution, sebum, debris and SPF.
Benefits of Good Korean Skincare Brands and Products:
1. Clear skin
Following the 10-step routine will help your skin stay clear of breakouts and dark spots that can make skin look uneven.
2. Hydrated and glowing skin
Hydration is so imperative for good skin, and this routine will give you that coveted radiant glow.
3. Pale and translucent
Following the 10-step Korean skin care routine will help remove dark spots and hyper-pigmentation that can make skin look uneven and dull.
Serums and ampoules used daily, in addition to moisturizer and SPF, will keep skin looking youthful and help prevent premature skin aging caused by sun damage.
5. Minimum need for cover-up
You will agree that this is a great result of the 10-step routine. Going without makeup or only using a minimal amount will keep skin healthy and able to breathe throughout the day.
Maintaining the 10-step Korean skin care routine will prevent a lot of problems, including aging concerns, discoloration and acne breakouts.
With so many up-and-coming Korean skin care brands and sellers, how do you know which one is really good and will work for your skin?
Because K-beauty has become so popular pretty much throughout the world, there are a lot of copycats out there that claim to be selling legitimate products. This is why it’s in your best interest to recognize some brands that actually get their products from Korea. Soko Glam, Peach & Lily and Glow Recipe are great, reputable brands/sources that you can trust. Soko Glam has a list of trusted brands on its website, while Peach & Lily regularly puts up curated lists of the best products available. Glow Recipe has its own lauded products and includes lists of trusted brands on its website.
Best-Selling Korean Skincare Products
Here are some best-selling and award-winning Korean skin care products as found on the above-mentioned websites:
COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid
This is a Best of K-Beauty Award Winner. It is a vitamin C serum that lightens and brightens by combating dark spots, acne scars and other areas of hyper-pigmentation.
Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream
Snail mucin extract is a popular ingredient in many K-beauty products, as it is believed to be a powerfully healing ingredient that also provides ample amounts of moisture to keep skin hydrated and firm.
Whamisa Organic Flowers Deep Rich Essence Toner
This product contains 97.5% organic ingredients including aloe vera, fermented dandelion, argan oil, oat kernel and chrysanthemum extract. It will help provide hydration as well as keep skin plump and “bouncy.”
S-Energy Repair Eye Cream
This eye cream is a Best of K-Beauty Award Winner as well, and is well suited for mature skin that is beginning to show signs of lines and wrinkles like crow’s feet.
Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots
Also a Best of K-Beauty Award Winner, this is a treatment for acne that involves using sticker-like round patch to put over blemishes to treat them quickly and effectively, without drying.
Korean skincare enough for anti-aging?
The answer to this question really depends on your skin. If you’re in your 20's, committing to a solid skincare routine (whether or not it’s K-beauty inspired) will serve you well—particularly if you focus on taking preventative action, like using vitamin C and sunscreen on a daily basis.
However, if you’re in your mid- to late-30's or above, your skin may already be showing the telltale signs of aging, such as wrinkles, sagging, dark spots and crow’s feet. Or if you’re in your early 30's, you might be seeing subtle traces of these things beginning to manifest.
For a complete anti-aging strategy, relying solely on topical treatments won’t suffice. Plus, consider the fact that you live in the U.S. where climate, diet, environment and lifestyle are all different than in Korea (where the weather is less drying to the skin and food options are vegetable-heavy). You’ll quickly realize your skin requires an extra boost of nourishment—even if you perform the exact same routine as Korean women do.
The good news? There’s a solution—and that’s supplementing with ingestible collagen.
Collagen is a protein that is found abundantly in the body, and in the skin it provides a firmness and springy texture that keeps us looking youthful. As we age, collagen begins to deteriorate, and thus, we get wrinkles and sagging along the jawline. This is not something you can tackle simply with skin care. However, it is possible to replenish collagen from the inside.
Taut Collagen is a liquid drink supplement that helps minimize fine lines, wrinkling, sagging and even discoloration from the inside out. Each 1.7 oz glass bottle contains 13,000mg of premium marine collagen peptides, which help regenerate collagen in the skin to give it a firmer, more supple and youthful appearance.
Over time, elasticity is also boosted, and even problems like scars and stretch marks will begin to look better and be less noticeable. But when it comes to wrinkles, this formula is especially powerful, because nothing beats collagen when it comes to having younger, firmer skin.
Other great ingredients in this formula include elastin peptides (another protein that keeps skin firm), hyaluronic acid (a hydrating ingredient that can hold up to 1,000X its weight in water), grape seed extract (to help fight free radicals which degrade collagen) and vitamin C (to also help stimulate collagen production). All these together, along with collagen, help skin stay looking as youthful as possible.
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In sum, Korean skin care can work wonders for many people (legions of Korean women with flawless-looking complexions say so), but even if you dedicate yourself to the long yet beneficial routine, a boost from the inside-out will supercharge your skincare ritual. Pair Taut Collagen with your K-beauty routine and you’ll tackle anti-aging—and enjoy beautifully dewy and gorgeous skin just like Korean women.