If you are even a little bit familiar with the skincare community, you will know that Korean skincare is one of the hottest topics out there right now. Everyone seems to be raving about the famous 10 step program and how it transformed their skin. There must be a reason why this routine is becoming a global phenomenon, right?

Korean skincare is based on the goal of ‘glass skin’. This basically means your skin looks like glass. Clear, glowing and even. Have you ever looked at Korean women? Their faces look flawless, dewy, young and they never seem to age.

The problem many people encounter is the fact that 10 steps sound like a lot of work, and can be quite confusing. Why would you need all these layers of products on your face? Let’s have a look at how this skincare program works, and how you can make it a perfect fit for your skin, your budget and your time.


The 10 Step Program, Step by Step

1. Oil Cleanser

Korean skincare is big on double cleansing. This means that you start off your routine with an oil-based cleanser and move on to a foam one later. Different cleansers achieve different results. Your oil-based cleanser will mainly get your make-up off, as well as the sebum your skin has produced during the day (or night!).

If you use an SPF, that will come right off too in this step, plus it gets rid of all the pollution that has settled on your face.

If you have oily or combination skin, you might avoid this step out of fear of clogging your pores even more, but studies show that it might even help keep your sebum production under control!

2. Foam cleanser

After your first cleanse, it’s time to move on to a foaming cleanser. These are usually water-based, and will get a lot of the sweat and dirt you accumulated over the course of the day off. Most of you, when using a cleanser in your daily routine, will be using one of these. As the name says it, it foams up when you use it.

When looking for a foam cleanser, Korean skincare dictates to choose one with a low pH, to avoid skin irritation. This is especially important for dry or sensitive skin, but applies to all skin types. If you are using a cleanser that makes your skin feel tight or uncomfortable after using, its pH is too high and it’s time to look for a new one.

3. Exfoliate

The recommendation for exfoliating or scrubbing is two times a week to remove dead skin cells. If you don’t exfoliate, the buildup of dead skin cells might make your face look dull and dry, despite using hydrating products. For people with oily or combination skin, feel free to exfoliate as much as needed, but be careful of irritation. If any redness or sensitivity shows up after scrubbing, your exfoliator is too harsh or you need to scale back on the frequency.

Exfoliating will aid tremendously in ingredient absorption, which is why it’s such an important step. Imagine trying to use a sponge that has a tough layer on top of it. You’ll never get the product in, however much you try.

When choosing a facial scrub, look for an enzyme based one for sensitive or dry skin, as it will be more gentle and less likely to irritate your face. Other skin types should still use a gentle scrub, but don’t be scared of the beaded scrubs, they should work fine too (beware of micro beads though)!

4. Toner

Toner is a bit different in Western society than in Korean skincare. For us, toners mostly get that last little bit of dirt off your face to make sure your skin is fully clean and ready for the next products. Korean toners, however, are the complete opposite of that. They are meant to restore the balance in your skin and is essentially your first step of hydration.

If you skip the toner, your skin might get dehydrated, plus, it helps greatly with the absorption of the products you are about to use after this. Depending on your personal skin needs, you might choose either type of toner, a hydrating one for dry and sensitive or dehydrated skin, or one that gets the last dirt off for oily or combination types. Just keep in mind that this is a very important step, so don’t skip it!


5. Essence

Okay, it’s been simple up to here, and I hope I’ve talked about products you already know and use. Let’s get into the products that are typical to Korean skincare. An essence is basically a mix between a toner and a serum. It’s meant to add hydration and help absorption of serums and ampoules (we’ll get to those later on!).

An essence is typically watery and thin, and should sink right into your skin as soon as you use it. In terms of ingredients, it’s just as concentrated as a serum and will add a lot of good things to your face to help keep your skin happy and healthy.

Oily or combination skin types might even prefer this step to a serum. Because it’s so watery, it is less likely to clog your pores and cause breakouts. If you just want to use one of these products (ampoule, serum or essence), I would definitely go with this type of product for these skin types.

6. Ampoule

I’ve seen ampoules be referred to as a serum on steroids, and that should tell you a lot about this step. Ampoules are skin softening and will aid in anti-aging when you combine them with a serum. Think of it like a booster for your skin. They are usually packed with skin loving ingredients and will give your skin a nice little boost of hydration. Notice how we are adding another layer of hydration to the several layers we’ve already talked about.

For optimum effect, you could even consider adding an ampoule to your daily moisturizer, or even try adding it to your foundation! Both of these steps will aid in that glowing, radiant skin we are trying to achieve!

7. Serum

If there is one product in this process of hydration you absolutely, under any circumstance, cannot skip, it’s this one. Serums are an essential and vital step to any skincare routine, and you should aim to use one of these twice daily. Basically, serums will be the product that’s going to give all that moisture and hydration to your skin.

It targets specific issues you might be dealing with, depending on the serum you choose. Think of wrinkles, anti-ageing or dehydration. Nowadays, you can find serums everywhere that are perfectly tailored to your problem areas, so there’s really no excuse. Dehydrated skin will see a massive improvement from the moment you incorporate a serum into your routine. Please, please go and invest in one, I promise you won’t regret it!


8. Sheet mask

This step, like the exfoliator, is not a daily essential. Sheet masks, or any hydrating mask for that matter, are a great boost to your skin depending on how much you need it. This product is by far the most known one out of the entire routine, since sheet masks seem to be everywhere these days.

As I said before, feel free to use any hydrating mask at this point in the routine, and use it anywhere from once a week to every day. Personally, I would recommend a face mask 3 times a week, but you can adjust this frequency, again depending on needs. Leave to soak in for 20 minutes, relax, and enjoy!

If you prefer to use a cleansing mask, for example a clay or seaweed one, use it between your cleansing and your toner. This means doing your double cleanse, then a mask, then a toner and follow the rest of the routine as normal.

9. Eye cream

I feel like eye cream is one of the products that is easily overlooked, especially in younger people. You use a moisturizer, why should you use an eye cream too? Well, the skin around your eyes cannot hydrate itself, because it doesn’t have sebaceous glands. (Remember sebum? It’s the lipid that’s going to help lock your moisture in and keep your skin from getting dehydrated.)

This step is essential against dark circles and wrinkles, and you should use an eye cream even when you’re young. We have this saying in Dutch that says its better to prevent than to cure, and that definitely applies here. Start using an eye cream as early on as you can, and thank me later!

To apply, use your ring finger, as it applies less pressure to your eye area than the other fingers, and use the cream on both your eyelid and under eye area.

10. Moisturizer

We’re almost there! Look how far we’ve come already! So the big misconception with moisturizers is that they hydrate your skin. They most often don’t. What they do is create a protective barrier over your skin, effectively locking in all these layers you’ve just put on your skin. This gives them the best chance to work their magic on your face as effectively as possible.

You don’t need a thick layer of this, but just enough to seal everything in for all-day hydration. Moisturizers come in all forms and shapes and are widely available for every skin type and need. Try using a gel based cream for oily/combination skin, or a rich and nourishing one for dry and dehydrated faces.

A nice bonus a lot of moisturizers have nowadays is SPF. We’ll go a little more in depth on SPF in a minute, but I personally love using a day cream with this step already built in.

11. SPF

Melanie, I thought you said it was a 10 step program? It is! SPF is not always mentioned as a separate step because lots of people will use a day cream with it built in. If it’s not included in your daytime moisturizer however, you should add a separate step for sun protection.

Sunscreen is most often forgotten or only used on sunny days. Don’t forget that even though it may be cloudy or the middle of winter, if it’s light out, the sun is shining and UV rays are being sent to your skin. Sun damage is the number one reason for wrinkles, so don’t skip on the SPF, whatever you do.

For your face, choose a sunscreen that is formulated for facial use and proven to be non comedogenic. This means it won’t clog your pores and cause breakouts. Use at least SPF 30 and reapply during the day on sunny days (at least every two hours).

If you have sensitive skin, opt for a mineral based SPF, but be wary of the white sheen this type of sunscreens can cause.

12. Sleep mask

Sleeping masks are very big in Korean skincare for their regenerating and hydrating features. They are meant to be used instead of a night cream or moisturizer, and are designed to maximize skin regeneration while you sleep.

Depending on your skin type needs, these masks can be extremely rich and moisturizing and will work wonders once you find one that works for your skin. Korean people swear by this step. They say they wake up looking like a new person. Seems worth a try, right?

Bringing It All Together

So, do you really need all these steps? The short answer is no, you don’t. Korean skincare brands advertise shortened versions of this routine themselves. It all comes down to your individual choice. You need to take into account how big your budget is, how much time you want to spend on skincare, and what your skin needs. Don’t forget you will be doing this twice a day, every day.

My personal skincare routine is six steps. I double cleanse, use a toner, a serum, an eye cream and a moisturizer. I use a light day cream with SPF and a rich, hydrating night cream with Aloe Vera to help soothe my sensitive skin. I exfoliate twice a week and use a mask three times a week. Only one of my products, my serum, comes from a Korean brand, the others were simply bought by looking at the right ingredients.

You do not need to use Korean products if you find them too expensive or hard to find. Plenty of drugstore/pharmacy products nowadays offer good alternatives to their Korean equivalents. They offer natural ingredients and are free from components that might irritate your skin. Take a look at brands releasing new products at the moment. Hydration is hot, and they are catering to the changing market.

Korean products often have very high botanical contents and are packed with natural ingredients. The key to any Korean routine is that you can never hydrate too much. Take a look at what your skin needs and purchase products accordingly.

The biggest rule of thumb for skincare is that doing something is better than doing nothing. Even if you just use a face wash and a moisturizer, you’re already helping your skin out more than when you don’t use anything. Remember this!

Alright, we’ve made it to the end of the routine! Has this post cleared up your confusion over Korean skincare? Are you inclined to change up your routine after reading this? Let me know in the comments below!

Keep glowing!