It’s been several years since Korean beauty (or K-beauty) took over our beauty shelves and still, more and more American women become attracted to not only Korean beauty products but the entire Korean skin care system. This can be attributed to the fact that Korean 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?
You might be interested in Korean beauty but are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the wide array of skincare products on the market, or the seemingly vast ten-step beauty routine. Scrolling through all of the options on Soko Glam or another K-beauty blog, you might find yourself lost in a sea of products and brands wondering what really is the best skin care product for you?
We’ve created this guide to help you gain a better understanding of what constitutes Korean skin care, the philosophy behind the system, key 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 Korean skin care places emphasis on prevention and looking natural while shying away from masking problems with makeup. But there are other characteristics of Korean beauty that distinguish it from other popular skincare philosophies:
One of the best things about Korean skin care is that many 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 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, and there is always an option to account for every skin type and skin concern!
Innovative, adventurous ingredients
Korean skin care brands 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 skin care ingredients that produce a shock factor, for example, snails and bees — they also include active ingredients known to affect visible change, like rice, botanicals, fruit extracts, and volcanic ash.
Find more helpful reading in our comprehensive guide to skin care ingredients for every skin type.
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 is like a mega-serum with even more concentrated ingredients. It is usually used sparingly to target a specific skin concern, like breakouts for someone with an oily skin type or a lot of dehydration for someone with a dry skin type. These two products are hallmarks of Korean skin care, as you won’t find them in other rituals.
More helpful reading:
The 10 Step Korean Skin Care Routine (Day & Night)
The Korean skincare routine includes morning and nighttime twice-daily routines with 10 important steps. These complicated steps can be adapted for each skin type, even working for combination and acne-prone skin.
The Morning Routine
Step 1. Oil Cleanser
The first step of the Korean skin care routine involves washing with an oil cleanser (or cleansing balm) to remove impurities, including sebum, oil, and makeup. This oil cleanser typically has a balmy texture, containing ingredients such as olive oil, jojoba oil, or grapeseed oil.
Gently massaging the product into your face while you cleanse is essential to the routine, making it a relaxing experience while really drawing out those impurities. A good oil cleanser that removes makeup is the key to getting your skin cleansed and ready for the other 9 steps.
Step 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 second water-based cleanse is typically a foam cleanser with a low ph level, common ingredients include green tea, rice extract, and chamomile.
Low ph level water cleansers help keep your skin barrier intact while also removing any remnants of sweat or dirt that your first cleanse might have missed. An oil cleanser primarily targets oil-based impurities like sebum and makeup, while your water-based cleansers target water-based impurities like sweat and dirt. Together, the two cleansers are a dream team for keeping your skin squeaky clean.
This double-cleanse ensures that your face is perfectly primed for all the treatments to follow.
More helpful reading by RenewSkin Inc.: Best face cleanser
Step 3. Exfoliation
After double cleansing, exfoliation is very important as it helps unclog pores and remove dead skin cells. This can be done physically with products contain granules (e.g. black sugar) or using a textured face cloth. Chemical exfoliation is also common, using products containing alpha-hydroxy acids or beta-hydroxy acids that remove dead skin cells. Popular examples of these include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid.
Exfoliation is generally recommended 2-3 times per week so it might not always be a part of your morning routine. Some days, you will go straight from cleansing to step 4.
Step 4. Toner
Applying toner with a cotton pad helps prep your skin by removing any residue left behind from your cleansers and exfoliating products. Using a cotton pad to gently pat the toner into your skin is key to helping you remove oil and product build-up.
Toners also help repair your skin barrier and prepare your face to absorb all the various serums, essence, and ampoules that you’ll apply next. Common ingredients in K-beauty toners include licorice water, kelp extract, and mineral water.
Step 5. Essence
An essence is a type of lightweight skin care product that helps deliver potent active ingredients directly to your dermis, helping to hydrate and brighten your skin. Essences often feel watery in texture, and their lightweight feel means that they can get through your pores and deliver nourishment deep into your skin.
Some great essence ingredients include rice extract and hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is particularly popular as a moisturizing ingredient, as it is a humectant that can attract and retain up to 1000 times its weight in water. In skin care, this is a miracle ingredient that can hydrate and smooth even the driest of skin, and it is suitable for all skin types.
More helpful reading:
Hydrate From The Inside Out With Taut Hydrate
Hyaluronic acid is one of the best ingredients for hydrating any skin type, and it is loved by the K-beauty industry and its followers. You will find it in many essences as it is a deeply hydrating ingredient that needs to seep into your skin's layers in order to be fully effective.
Taut Hydrate by Renew Alliance goes one step further than your average essence or moisturizer, in that it allows hyaluronic acid to work on your skin from the inside out. As a supplement, Taut Hydrate can go beyond surface hydration to replenish your body's natural hyaluronic acid and moisturize your skin on your face and your whole body.
Our unique formula contains 99% pure plant-based hyaluronic acid that can combat moisture loss and wrinkles, keeping skin full, plump, moist, and radiant. It also contains grape seed extract, a potent antioxidant that can boost your skin's radiance and help even out your skin tone.
With Taut Hydrate, you'll be on your way to achieving that signature K-beauty glass skin in no time!
Step 6. Treatments
This step involves using whatever face oil, serum, or ampoule your skin needs. This will generally depend on your specific skin concern and whether you are battling dark spots, acne, wrinkles, or dehydration.
Types of treatments may include:
Antioxidants – to treat dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and to offer additional protection against the sun and environmental pollutants
Vitamin C – this powerful antioxidant is particularly beneficial for brightening dull, tired-looking skin
Amino acids – to soothe and moisturize the skin, and treat inflammation
Tea tree oil – this oil treats pimples and other acne-related blemishes
Ginseng oil – this herbal oil moisturizes and brightens skin
Snail mucin – to repair damaged skin and fade hyperpigmentation
Salicylic acid – this oil-soluble acid is an effective spot treatment if acne is your skin concern
Beat Dark Spots & Uneven Skin With Taut Bright
If you find that dark spots or hyperpigmentation are getting in the way of your glass skin goals, you should consider adding antioxidants into your skin care routine.
Taut Bright is a potent supplement that contains 7 powerful antioxidants and active ingredients designed to beat dark spots, protect your skin from cellular damage, and brighten your complexion from the inside out. It combines Glutathione, L-Cysteine, olive leaf extract, artichoke leaf extract, grape seed extract, alpha-lipoic acid, and vitamin C to detoxify your cells and protect against free radical damage.
The best news? Our formula is 100% vegan, and it contains no preservatives or nasty chemicals. Just two capsules per day will help you treat hyperpigmentation and achieve lighter, brighter skin with that luminous glow you've been looking for!
Step 7. Sheet Masks
Sheet masks are a very popular category of Korean skin care. Not only do they help promote a moment of relaxation in the routine, but they also deliver essential ingredients deep into your skin's layers to hydrate and give your complexion a radiant glow.
The key to their effectiveness is the sheet, which is a type of light cloth or mesh layer that stays in contact with your face and ensures that your skin soaks up all of its nutrients. You can sit back, relax and allow the ingredients to get to work on your skin. After 15 or 20 minutes, gently remove the sheet and massage any remaining essence into your skin.
Many of the best Korean sheet masks will contain green tea extract, rose water, snail mucin, or collagen essence.
Try A Sheet Mask Infused With Rich Collagen Essence
Our Taut Collagen Mask is a great option for this vital skin care step as it helps tone, brighten and hydrate your complexion all in one, while also targeting sagging and wrinkles.
Our unique and potent formula contains marine collagen peptides, hyaluronic acid, botanical squalene, and vitamin C, which work synergistically to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and achieve smooth, plump, and radiant skin.
The rich collagen essence has a calming and soothing effect, which is perfect for irritated or damaged skin. Our sheet mask can also be used after microneedling or dermabrasion procedures to speed up the skin healing process.
Step 8. Eye Cream
Eye creams are essential items in any K-beauty collection. Eye cream should be used daily because the skin around the eye area is very thin and prone to crow's feet wrinkles. An eye cream can also help with dark circles and morning puffiness in the under-eye area.
Korean beauty eye creams are gentle but potent formulas, often including ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, licorice water, or ginseng.
Step 9. Moisturizer
After applying your eye creams, a moisturizer helps seal in moisture by creating a barrier layer on your skin to keep it plump and hydrated throughout the day. Korean beauty promotes using a lightweight moisturizer with a potent concentration of active ingredients to hydrate the skin without clogging pores or feeling heavy. Many of these moisturizers will be humectants, meaning that they contain active ingredients that attract and retain water in the skin (e.g. hyaluronic acid).
A typical Korean beauty moisturizer will contain hydrolyzed collagen peptides, honey, green tea, or snail extract.
Step 10. Sunscreen
The final key step in the Korean beauty skin care routine is sun protection. SPF sunscreen is a preventive treatment to keep the skin from developing dark spots and wrinkles over time, and skipping this step is an absolute no-no in the K-beauty world.
In fact, K-beauty offers the best sunscreen available on the market to keep your skin safe from UV rays. In Korean beauty, there is not only a wide range of SPF filter options available, but they also follow a stricter and more advanced system of testing to show just how much protection each sunscreen is really giving you.
They use the PA system, which uses 4 ratings: PA+, PA++, PA+++, PA++++. For maximum protection, go for sunscreen items labeled PA++++. If you are shopping for a U.S.-made sunscreen, make sure it is broad-spectrum, which means that it will protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays.
K-beauty typically promotes using mineral sunscreen made with titanium dioxide or zinc.
The Nighttime Routine
The nighttime skin care routine involves mainly the same steps as the morning routine, except you don’t apply SPF sunscreen at the end. Double-cleansing is also especially important during the nighttime to remove all traces of makeup, pollution, sebum, debris, and SPF. Toner, essence, treatments, moisturizer, and eye cream follow in the same order.
The last step of a nighttime routine is to put on night creams or a sleeping mask to prevent skin from becoming dehydrated during your sleep cycle.
What Is A Sleeping Mask?
The main difference between the daytime and nighttime Korean skincare routine is the sleeping mask, which is a potent face mask worn overnight. They contain a high concentration of active ingredients designed to target your specific skin care concerns, and they should only be used two to three times per week as overuse can cause skin irritation.
These overnight masks can have a lightweight gel or pudding-like consistency, unlike the heavier cream face masks we are used to on the U.S. market. They absorb into your skin while you sleep, while your body rests and skin regenerates they can be most effective.
Benefits of Good Korean Skincare Brands and Products:
1. Clear Skin
Following the 10-step routine morning and night will help your skin stay clear of breakouts and dark spots that can make skin look uneven. Double-cleansing with two types of cleansers removes oil that causes breakouts, exfoliating removes dead skin cells and keeps pores clear, while toners and treatments keep ph levels balanced for clear, radiant skin.
2. Hydrated & Glowing Skin
Hydration is so imperative for good skin, and this routine's combination of hydrating skin care ingredients in its cleansers, toners, essences, moisturizers, and masks will give you that coveted radiant glow.
3. Pale & 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. The emphasis on protection and sunscreen keeps your complexion safe from environmental toxins and UV rays, helping you to achieve and maintain lighter, brighter skin.
More helpful reading on how to lighten skin naturally.
Serums and ampoules used daily, in addition to moisturizer and SPF sunscreen, will provide the protection your skin needs to stay looking youthful and help prevent premature skin aging caused by sun damage and UV rays.
5. Minimum Need For Cover-up
You will agree that this is a great result of the 10-step Korean skincare 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 skin concerns, discoloration, and acne breakouts.
Our Guide To The Best-Selling Korean Skincare Products
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 Korean beauty has become so popular pretty much throughout the world, there are a lot of copycats out there that claim to be selling legitimate Korean cleansers, toners, and masks. 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.
Here are some best-selling and award-winning Korean skin care products as found on Soko Glam:
Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm
This cleansing balm is a great oil cleanser for the first step in the ten-step skin care routine, and it is exclusive to Soko Glam. This cleanser reduces oil-based impurities like sebum, sunscreen, and makeup. Its main ingredient is seaberry, which is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids.
Just don't forget to follow up with a second cleanse using a water-based foam cleanser to remove water-based impurities like sweat and dirt.
Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil
Among the top K-beauty cleansers, this pore cleansing oil is a best-seller on Soko Glam for good reason. This oil cleanser is formulated with polyhydroxy acids suitable for sensitive skin, designed to fight breakouts and remove dead skin cells, revealing softer, smoother skin free from breakouts.
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 skin issues such as dark spots, acne scars, and hyper-pigmentation.
Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream
This moisturizer boasts snail mucin as its star ingredient, and it has hydrating properties that promise a dewy glow for every skin type, especially for sensitive and acne-prone skin.
Snail mucin extract is a popular ingredient among many K-beauty brands, 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 is one of the best K-beauty toners that Soko Glam has to offer. It 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
The S-Energy Repair eye cream is also a Best of K-Beauty Award Winner and it is well suited for mature skin that is beginning to show signs of lines and wrinkles like crow’s feet. This eye cream is packed with antioxidants and active ingredients to treat the sensitive and delicate skin around the eye area, minimizing dark circles and puffiness.
Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots
Also a Best of K-Beauty Award Winner on Soko Glam, this is a treatment for acne that involves using a sticker-like round patch to put over blemishes. This is a way to treat them quickly and effectively, without drying.
Is 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-30s 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, and you may need a more potent anti-aging skincare routine and strategy.
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 way 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 skin care routine as Korean women do.
The good news? There’s a solution—and that’s supplementing by drinking collagen.
Collagen is a protein that is found abundantly in the body, and in the skin, it provides 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, there is a way to replenish collagen from the inside with supplements.
More helpful reading:
Pair Your Korean Beauty Routine With Collagen Supplements For Maximum Anti-Aging Benefits
Taut Premium Collagen Drink is a liquid collagen drink supplement by Renew Alliance 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 1,000 times 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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Transform Your Skin In Just 24 Days With Our Ultimate Transformation Program
If you want to jump-start your skin care routine and get your skin back on track, our Taut Collagen Ultimate Transformation Program is the perfect option for you.
This program includes 3 boxes of Taut Premium Collagen Advanced Formula Drinks (24 bottles), Taut Hydrate (60 capsules), and Taut Collagen Masks (5 sheets). Combined, these products can provide visible effects on your skin in as little as 24 days, including reduced fine lines and wrinkles, soft and supple skin, and a brighter, more radiant complexion.
This kit is a great complement to a Korean skin care routine, incorporating their all-important sheet masks with a powerful dose of hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and hydrolyzed collagen peptides.
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 help 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.
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