10-step Korean skincare routine: What is it and how to do it?

Korean skincare
Credit : skinfood_official @ Instagram
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When you are watching Korean dramas, have you ever wondered why they have such flawless and youthful skin? In real life, many of them don’t look like their age even without makeup.

Well, it is not a secret that Koreans are culturally obsessed with healthy skincare nationwide, be it men or women. The 10-step routine is the hallmark of Korean beauty after decades of scientific and technological advancement. It is called the “10-step routine” as a reference to the 10 steps as products are layered onto the skin.

As the trend quickly takes over the globe, what many people don’t know is that it is more than a routine. It’s a lifestyle – a self-disciplinary regime to cultivate skincare. With that saying, the number of steps is totally flexible as it changes depending on your skin type, skin concerns and the season. Bear in mind, it is not about having more products, but rather finding the right products that work for your skin and using them in the right order.

We will walk you through each of the steps in this skincare regime – explaining what they do, how to implement, as well as star ingredients to look for. Let’s get started!

1.       Makeup Remover or Oil-Based Cleanser

Makeup Remover or Oil-Based Cleanser
Credit : hanskin_usa @ Instagram

First thing first, to remove every single trace of makeup. The idea of washing your skin with oil might be hard to believe, and is especially unacceptable for those with oily skin. In fact, oil-based cleansers are extremely effective for removing makeup and tackling oil-based impurities (i.e. sunscreen, sebum and external pollutants).

How to: Take 1 to 2 pumps of oil cleanser and massage onto dry skin. Add lukewarm water to emulsify (notice the oil cleanser turns milky) and continue massaging in circular motions. Proceed to rinse off when no makeup traces can be seen.

Star ingredients: Macadamia oil, Jojoba oil, Grape seed oil.

Recommendation: Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil (PHA)

p/s: If oil-based cleansers are too overwhelming for your skin, you may opt for lightweight makeup removers (i.e. micellar cleansing water).

2.       Water-Based Cleanser

Water-Based Cleanser
Credit : izaramli @ Instagram

Second step of double cleanse. Cleansing twice is recommended by dermatologists and beauty aestheticians because it helps to remove any impurities that can cause breakouts. A water-based cleanser can dissolve water-based impurities  (i.e. sweat and dirt) which the oil cleanser didn’t pick up in earlier step.

By all means, avoid cleansers that leave your skin tight and squeaky-clean because they are pulling moisture away from your skin.

How to: Apply to damp face and neck. Massage in circular motion and then rinse with lukewarm water.

Star ingredients: Green tea, Rice extract, Pearl extract.

Recommendation: Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser

3.       Exfoliator

Credit : skinfood_official @ Instagram

Our skin is constantly repairing and replacing itself – thanks to metabolism. Naturally, the dead skin cells will fall off on their own, but some will pile up by the layers, eventually creating a barrier preventing products from getting absorbed efficiently. That’s when exfoliating comes into the picture.

Basically, there are two types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliating is usually associated with the use of a skin care tool (i.e. sponge, towel, brush) or granules (i.e. microbeads or sugar) to remove dead skin cells, while chemical exfoliation uses ingredients, like Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), to loosen the glue-like substance that holds dead skin cells together so they can be removed easily.

How to: Gently exfoliate 1 to 2 times per week, focusing on the nose and cheek areas where pores are visible.

Star ingredients: Black sugar, Salicylic acid, Lactic acid.

Recommendation: Skinfood Black Sugar Exfoliating Wash-Off Face Mask

4.       Toner

Credit : acwell_official @ Instagram

Let’s get this straight: Toner is not only meant for teenagers who suffer from persistent acne. In fact, a toner with the right formula not only balances skin pH level, but also removes any residue from your cleanser. Meanwhile, it also preps your skin to effectively absorb the skincare products that follow.

How to: Damp cotton pad with toner and swipe across your face, or apply the product directly on the skin and pat gently with your palms.

Star ingredients: Aloe, Licorice, Citric acid.

Recommendation: Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner

5.       Essence

Credit : cosrx.kr

In Korean skincare, they are more of a believer in “layering products” than relying on one thick cream to do all the work. Koreans believe that this would allow the skin to breathe and avoid pore-clogging.

Imagine your toner as the first layer of moisture, and essence as the second layer. Generally, essences are lightweight and packed with a concentrated blend of hydrating, anti-aging and brightening ingredients.

How to: Apply essence on the face and neck area. Pat lightly until fully absorbed.

Star ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, Rice extract, Snail mucin.

Recommendation: Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence

6.    Treatments (i.e. Serum, Ampoule, Booster)

Credit : bentoncosmetic @ Instagram

Speaking of treatment-related products, it is often related to skincare products that contain highly concentrated potent ingredients that are relatively effective to tackle specific skin concerns, such as acne, skin redness, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and etc.

How to: Apply treatment products on targeted areas. Gently tap into the skin until fully absorbed.

Star ingredients: Vitamin C, Tea tree, Niacinamide.

Recommendation: Benton Snail Bee Ultimate Serum

7.       Sheet Masks

Sheet Masks
Credit : mediheal_idn @ Instagram

Probably the most recognised step of the whole regime. As sheet masks are typically soaked in serum, you have another layer of moisture. Sheet masking usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes and it can be done as frequently or infrequently according to your preference.

Nowadays sheet masks are so accessible, you can even get it at as low as S$1. But do bear in mind that not all sheet masks are the same. The good ones stay juicy throughout the wear time and leave your skin supple from inside out.

How to: Apply sheet mask onto clean skin. Sit back and relax for 15 to 20 minutes. Pat in the remaining essence for in-depth skin absorption.

Star ingredients: Cucumber, Green tea, Rose.

Recommendation: Mediheal N.M.F. Aquaring Ampoule Mask EX

8.       Eye Cream

Eye Cream
Credit : innisfree

Eye cream is nothing new to the game, but it might be the hardest step to put into implementation, especially if you’re under 40. Eye creams are packed with beneficial ingredients and formulated to be extra gentle and non-irritating, so that dark circles, puffiness and crow’s feet are kept at bay.

It’s best to use eye cream regularly before wrinkles show up – as the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. We learned that Koreans actually start to incorporate eye creams into their skincare routine as early as the age of 25!

How to: Take a pea-sized amount of product and apply it using ring finger around the orbital bone, avoiding the water line.

Star ingredients: Ginseng, Honey, Lily.

Recommendation: Innisfree Orchid Eye Cream

9.       Moisturizer

Credit : mamonde

In the Korean beauty routine, moisturizers are seen as an occlusive layer to seal in all the layers applied earlier. Imagine putting a lid on the pot while cooking and letting the ingredients brew inside.

Moisturizers come in a variety of textures and thickness. For instance, they come in forms like lotion, emulsion, gel, cream and sleeping mask. Since you have applied so many products earlier, all you need is a thin layer and that will do.  Of course you can skip this step if your skin is already well hydrated and supple.

How to: Apply in circular motions and pat into your skin until fully absorbed.

Star ingredients: Ceramide, Centella asiatic (cica), Honey.

Recommendation: Mamonde Moisture Ceramide Light Cream

10.   Sunscreen

Credit : anessa_kr_official @ Instagram

You should always wear sunscreen, even you are spending most of the daytime indoors. It is the easiest and most effective way to prevent premature aging and skin cancer. There are two types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens form a physical barrier on top of the skin to reflect UV radiation, while chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation without damaging the skin. Having said that, one isn’t better than the other, it is really up to your preference.

How to: Apply onto your face and neck as the last step of morning skincare routine. It is recommended to apply at least 15 minutes before going outdoor, and reapply throughout the day.

Star ingredients: Titanium dioxide, Zinc oxide, Avobenzone.

Recommendation: Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Skincare Milk SPF50+ PA++++

The above mentioned products are provided for your reference only. You will require a different intensity of skincare products at different stages. Feel free to consult a dermatologist to understand your skin condition better.

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