Korean skin care has been growing in popularity in North America for quite some time now, and beauty enthusiasts have been eager to investigate the hype. My very first impression on coming it across it for the first time could be summed up in one word: overkill. Surely putting all of these products on your face in one go is nothing more than a huge waste of money and time, right? I mean, you wouldn’t be able to just roll out of bed and head straight to work; it would require budgeting your time, and *gasp!* losing precious minutes of sleep in the morning, and who wants that?
Well, if you consider just how amazing Koreans’ skin looks, then it does make you wonder: does taking your skin so seriously, being so devoted to such an intense, multi-step regime really pay off?
I’ve struggled with skin issues almost all my life, to the point where I even had to go on Accutane because of severe acne. I remember my dermatologist telling me that the less I put on my face, the better; just to cleanse with a mild cleanser, and skip on the moisturizer (except for while I was on Accutane, since it dried my skin out so badly). Of course, he was also the one who told me there was no way I’d need to pursue a third regime of Accutane after the first two…
As someone who has suffered from acne for a long time, I always had it in my head to put as little on my face as possible. I felt like moisturizers and serums and all those other fancy products were only for people who already had good skin, and that unless it had benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, it would either do me no good, or make my acne worse. I never really took the time to consider that my skin deserved special attention, or that these acne products might be hurting as much as they were helping. So as a fan of first-hand experience, and someone who is always up for trying something new when it comes to skin care, I decided to find out for myself if there was any benefit to doing the exact opposite of what my dermatologist recommended.
So long, sleeping in!
My Korean Skin Care Routine
1. Oil-based cleanser: A staple to any Korean skin care regime is the idea of double cleansing. First, it is recommended to use an oil-based cleanser to remove make-up and dirt and draw out impurities, and then follow up with a gentle, water-based cleanser. I swear by Ole Henriksen’s Uncover the Truth 3-in-1 Melting Cleanser. The formula goes on like a gel, and turns into an oil when your fingers warm it. Finally, when you rinse with warm water, it turns almost milky in substance, leaving your face feeling clean, but not devoid of moisture. This particular product is a bit of a splurge, retailing at $39.00 Canadian for a 100mL jar at Sephora, but I swear by it. It’s recommended for all skin types, combats dullness and uneven texture, and contains vitamin C, rosehip fruit, cherry seed and almond oils, and vitamin E; a cocktail for soft, brighter skin.
2. Water-based Cleanser. After the oil-based cleanser has finished its job dissolving make-up and extracting impurities, I move on to a simple water-based cleanser. I use Marcelle’s Ultra-Gentle Cleansing Gel, containing aloe and glycerin, which is designed for sensitive skin as it cleanses without depleting your skin’s natural moisture barrier. It retails for $12.95 for a big 350mL bottle on Marcelle’s website, but you can purchase it at Lawtons for about the same price, or find it on Amazon. As far as drug store brand skincare products go, Marcelle is by far one of the best in terms of price and quality.
3. Exfoliate. After cleansing, it is important to exfoliate to clear away dead skin cells. I always used to cringe at exfoliating, and was actually advised against it when I was struggling with acne, since the tiny, harsh grains can further aggravate distressed skin. It honestly wasn’t until this year that I discovered chemical exfoliation, which removes dead skin cells by lifting and dissolving them, instead of mercilessly scrubbing at your skin like I always thought you had to. While chemical exfoliation is by far more gentle, however, I only incorporate this step about three times a week, since stripping dead skin every day is kind of excessive. I use Nip+Fab’s Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads, which contains glycolic acid to resurface and even out skin texture, hyaluronic acid to moisturize and refresh, and blue daisy extract to soothe skin. It’s about medium-range in terms of price, retailing for £12.95 for 60 disposable pads on Nip+Fab’s website, or $24.46 Canadian at Amazon.ca. I bought mine at Shoppers Drug Mart, I believe for a little less than what Amazon is asking.
4. Toner. I always used to equate toners to astringents, in thinking they overly dried out your skin, but its true function is to prepare your skin for the rest of your regime. Cleansing can deprive skin of all of some of its nutrients and dry it out, so toning restores its pH balance by reintroducing skin-friendly ingredients. I use LUSH’s Breath of Fresh Air toner, which contains nourishing and calming ingredients such as aloe vera, rose, and seaweed, all of which are especially soothing after exfoliating. I really enjoy that you can spritz it onto your skin, which is less wasteful than soaking a cosmetic pad. You can find it at any LUSH location, or on their website for $10.95 or $22.95 Canadian, depending on whether you want 100mL or 250mL.
5. Essence. Some people choose to skip this step, as they feel their skin is getting enough of the good stuff from all of the subsequent steps. The best way to describe essence is something between a toner and a serum, but doesn’t quite fit the bill to be categorized as either. Typically in the form of a mist, essence is just another step to deliver more nutrients and active ingredients to your skin before you seal it all with a moisturizer. I choose to incorporate this step using Dr. Dennis Gross’s C + Collagen Perfect Skin Set & Refresh Mist for its antioxidant-rich properties, such as vitamin C and 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, which minimize and prevent the appearance of hyperpigmentation, and protect against UVA and pollutants. It’s $38.00 for 3oz at Sephora, but if that breaks the bank, you’re sure to find cheaper essences by other brands. I went with Dr. Dennis Gross because I have had good results with other products in this line.
6. Serum. This is the step where you decide what your biggest issue with your skin is, and find the right serum to accommodate it. Serums are the carriers of the concentrated active ingredients that incite the change in your skin that you want to see, whether it’s targeting firmness and elasticity, fine lines and wrinkles, ages spots and hyperpigmentation, or dull/fatigued skin. Since years of acne scars and hyperpigmentation have assaulted my skin, I use Kate Somerville’s Lumi White Skin Tone Perfector. It targets skin discolouration and optimizes cell turnover, with ingredients such as licorice extract, arbutin, and natural fruit extracts. At $98.00 for 30mL at Sephora, this is by far the most expensive part of my skin care routine, but if you have to splurge anywhere, this is the step that deserves it. Right in the middle of a 10-step regime, it’s like the main ingredient in a sandwich, and we don’t eat sandwiches just for the bread.
7. Hydration Booster. Although the top of my skin is oily, it’s always been a little dry underneath (go figure), and moisturizers alone just don’t cut it. After my serum, I apply a hydration booster, which penetrates the skin far more quickly and easily than a moisturizer, which sits on top and needs coaxing to absorb. Pretty much every skin care brand has their own version of a hydration booster, but I fell in love with Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel. It’s good for all skin types, and feels so lightweight it almost feels like fresh water on your skin. Containing vitamin B which attracts and boosts moisture, and pineapple ceramide to hydrate and improve skin texture and tone, this complements my serum well, and can be used alone as a moisturizer, or underneath a moisturizer. It goes for $65.00 Canadian for 1.69oz at Sephora, putting it on the pricier side, but while I might switch out some of the other products in my skin-care toolkit to try new things when they run out, I think I’m devoted to this particular hydration booster. A little goes a long way, and it’s so versatile!
8. Mask. In a traditional Korean 10-step regime, you would use a sheet mask at this point, to deliver more hydration and nutrients to your skin. Since I haven’t yet found cruelty-free sheet masks (and I find them kind of wasteful), I use Nude Skincare’s Advanced Renewal Overnight Repair Mask. I don’t do this step every night, but on days where I might be doing a peel, or extracting blackheads, to give my distressed skin an extra boost. It contains honey and fig extract to moisturize and soften skin, with omega 6 and omega 9 to boost skin’s natural hydration and refresh dull, tired skin. Although it’s currently out of stock, I purchased it at Sephora for $42.00 Canadian for 50mL.
9. Moisturizer. FINALLY, you seal in all of that good essence and serum and hydration with a moisturizer. As someone with oily skin, I used to dread moisturizers, thinking that I had enough “moisture” to deal with as it was. The truth is, oily skin needs that moisture just as badly as dry skin, because if it lacks hydration, it just goes on to produce more freaking oil. For my skin type, I do avoid some of the heavier moisturizers, and since I get my hydration from all of the previous steps, it’s more of just a sealant for me, to trap all of that good stuff in. I use Nip+Fab’s Kale Fix Moisturizer, which contains aloe vera, kale extract, and almond oil to hydrate and reduce skin damage. It’s neither too heavy nor too light, keeps my skin moisturized without feeling oily. Amazon.ca currently lists it for $47.19 Canadian, which is ludicrous, because I purchased it at Shoppers Drug Mart, and I don’t think I paid even half that price. That said, I’m going to refrain from linking it, because as much as I enjoy it, it is certainly not worth almost $50 Canadian. This moisturizer is just a personal choice of mind, but if you ask me, any moisturizer is good moisturizer if you’re using it to seal the deal on your skincare regime.
10. Eye cream. I feel as though everyone’s mother has sworn by applying eye cream to reduce the appearance of crow’s feet, bags, and loss of elasticity in the eyelids. I’ve taken to using eye cream is something of a preventative measure, and because I don’t always get a good night’s sleep. Since I’m approaching 30, I have noticed some crows feet at the corners of my eyes when I smile, so I decided now is as good a time as any to get on the ball with this trend. Like moisturizers, every skin care brand carriers its own type of eye cream or eye mask, and I’m confident that one is as good as another. I use Dr. Dennis Gross’s Ferulic+Retinol Eye Cream, because starting out, I wanted to go with a brand that I trusted. The product itself is fine, and I have noticed a slight reduction in dark circles and lines over the past couple of months, but at $85.00 Canadian for 15mL at Sephora, I’ll probably try something new (and cheaper) when I run out.
11. Sunscreen/SPF. Okay, I lied; depending on whether or not you’re going outside AT ALL, you should apply sunscreen, or a moisturizer with a good SPF to finish off your routine. It’s not uncommon for North Americans to skip on the sunblock when they’re only taking a 10 minute walk to the store, or just sitting in the car. The truth is, however, this is arguably the most important step in your skin care regime. After spending all of that time or money on your face, it doesn’t take long for harmful UVA and UVB rays to undo all of the work you’ve put into pampering your skin. I used to avoid it, thinking that it would cause my face to break out, but in fact he sun can oxidize all of the oil and gunk on your face, which can lead to breakouts. I’m definitely taking this step to heart, and now I apply sunscreen whenever I’m about to go outside, even if I’m just sitting in the car. There are two sunscreens that I turn to, depending on my morning situation: Josie Maran’s Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47, or Juice Beauty’s SPF 30 Oil-Free Moisturizer. If I anticipate braving the great outdoors right away, then I use the Josie Maran in place of my other moisturizer; otherwise, I use my kale moisturizer in the morning, and apply the Juice Beauty later on in the day, when I’m preparing to face the sun. The Josie Maran retails for $40.00 Canadian for 2oz, and the Juice Beauty, $36.00 for 2oz. For the rest of my body, I use Juice Beauty’s SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen, which you can also find at Sephora for $25.00 Canadian per 3.75oz. Regardless of what sunscreen you prefer, make sure it’s at least SPF 30, and for the love of your skin, USE IT!
The Final Verdict…
It’s been about a month since I’ve committed to this Korean beauty regime, since it can take 28 days for your skin to cycle through a renewal process, and I have to say, I have noticed a difference:
- My skin looks and feels WAY more hydrated, but less oily
- I haven’t had as many breakouts, and the zits that have appeared also disappear quickly, and are less likely to scar or leave a hyperpigmentation that takes forever to fade
- My pores actually look clearer AND tighter! This was never a goal of mine, but I’ve actually had to do double-takes in the mirror, thinking this was never possible
- My skin tone has evened out a lot, and a lot of my acne scars and hyperpigmentation have faded
- I don’t look nearly as tired or as haggard as before
Of course, I have also taken note of some of the complications that accompany such an intense and lengthy skin care protocol:
- It can be EXPENSIVE
- You can’t sleep in, if you want to have enough time to get it all done before you’re out the door
- Not very convenient for travel
- It can be overwhelming, especially if you are in a rush
- Not enough space on my bathroom counter for all of the things…
- Annoying to keep track of which days I exfoliate, use a mask, etc.
Over all, I have to say that the best thing about this sort of skin care regime is the way it benefits my mental health. I don’t just feel like I’m cleaning my face, but taking care of it. Even though the results aren’t immediate, I feel better about myself on a day to day basis, with or without make-up. Knowing that you’re putting time and effort into yourself does as much for your mind as it does for your skin, which is something I hadn’t considered going into this. While I’m not sure (financially, at least) if this is something I can continue, I’ll definitely be keeping at least some of these steps in my daily skin care routine.
Have you tried a 10-step method, or have you found a regime that works better? Let me know! 🙂