New Year, New Skin: The 10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine

People ask me all the time for skin care tips because I look a lot younger than my age. Of course some of this is due good genes and being Asian (Korean American)–BUT it’s also the result of good skincare products and habits you can try yourself. Have you heard about how seriously Koreans take their skincare? The now famous Korean approach to skin care involves at least 10 steps. To most, it sounds like they’re going overboard with their skin care, but what they do actually works!

First, you should know that these are the top things NOT TO DO and will age you faster:

  • Being in the sun with no sun protection. (Solution: wear a hat!)
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drinking too much alcohol regularly

    Wear a hat to protect your face from the sun!

Don’t be intimidated by this anti-aging routine. These steps don’t really add that much time to your skincare routine once you have it down. In short, here are the steps that I do regularly:

  1. Remove Eye Makeup
  2. Remove Makeup
  3. Cleanse
  4. Exfoliate (not daily)
  5. Clay Mask
  6. Toner
  7. Essence(s)
  8. Serum or Sheet Mask (can be daily or weekly)
  9. Face Moisturizer or Sleeping Mask
  10. Eye Cream

1. Remove Eye Makeup

This is pretty standard. I’ve tried various kinds, which all work pretty similarly, but recently I’ve been using Bobbi Brown Long Wear Eye Makeup Remover. You can do this as a separate step or do it in the next one, with the rest of your makeup. I’ve found that it seems more thorough to do eyes and face separately.

I haven’t been using this product, but several friends can attest to using the gentle Bioderma Sensibio H20 Water to remove not only eye makeup, but all makeup.


  • Soak a cotton ball in remover and then gently hold on your eye for several seconds.
  • Then dab to remove eye makeup.
  • Don’t pull or rub your eyes! The skin is more fragile around your eyes.

2. Remove Makeup with Oil or Balm

Start with an oil or balm to remove all makeup first. The concept is that oil removes oil–which is what most makeup is made of. Some of examples of oil-based removers that are good are Tatcha PURE One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil,  DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, and Boscia Makeup-Breakup Cool Cleansing Oil.

Another option if you don’t want to use oil is a balm. Here’s my take on one of my favorite balms, Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm.

As an alternative, I also started using Nooni Snowflake Cleanser, which has shea butter and lotus extract. Lotus extract is full of antioxidants and is good for protecting your skin from damage and has brightening qualities. Shea butter is also good for dry skin.Snowflake Balm Box.JPG

If you like luxury products, try the Eve Lom Cleanser, which comes with its own muslin cloth for exfoliation and just plain fanciness. Not necessary in my mind, however.


  • Start with a dry face when you put the oil or balm on. Then wet your fingers and massage until it gets milky.
  • If you don’t have any makeup on, you can skip the oil/balm step and go straight to cleansing.
  • I prefer to use a solid balm vs. an oil, as it’s easier to put in a small container for travel without having to worry about oil leaking all over your bag. Also seems like I’m using less product to do the same job.

3. Cleanse

This is the one step everyone’s already familiar with. Or at least, you should be!

I have tried so many cleansers for my dry/combo/sensitive skin. My current favorite is from Labiotte Lotus Total Recovery Foam Cleanser because it doesn’t strip dry skin but is effective at cleansing.

Read about another cleanser I like: Kanebo Suisai Beauty Clear Powder pods.

I also use a Clarisonic Mia a couple times a week, when I feel like I want some extra deep cleansing and light exfoliation. I also use the Delicate Brush Head, which is softer than the one that comes with the brush by default, the Sensitive Brush Head. There are even softer ones that I haven’t tried yet, like the Radiance Brush Head, but I’m afraid that they won’t clean as deeply.


  • I wouldn’t use the Clarisonic Mia every day because it might be too harsh.
    • Use the Clarisonic Mia with your cleanser, after makeup removal with your oil or balm.
    • Wash your Clarisonic Mia brush head every time. I like to use Dr. Woods Shea Vision Black Soap to clean my makeup brushes and my Mia brush head because it’s cheap and gets more makeup out of the brush quickly.
  • Try really hard to never sleep with your makeup on. I know, it’s hard when you’re coming home late and are sleepy. But think of all the makeup sludge and bacteria that will be seeping into your pores while you sleep. Eek.

4. Exfoliate

This should NOT have to be done hard core every single day. There are gentle daily exfoliators that you can use, but I like to mix it up and sometimes use a stronger one a couple times a weekscreen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-10-10-am. Read my post about how to get smoother skin for some tips and why it’s important.

My favorite of the moment because this can be done quickly right after cleansing a few times a week: Dr Brandt Microdermabrasion Skin Exfoliant.


  • Avoid exfoliating with products that have irregularly shaped granules, as they might scratch and be too harsh your skin
  • Again, don’t feel the need to do this every day. Your skin needs time to regenerate.

5. Clay Mask

Okay, this one also doesn’t have to be done every day, although some cleansers are actually clay masks that you can use daily that are the more traditional wash-off masks.

Fresh has a wash-off mask that you can use if you have normal/oily skin or combination skin Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask. It’s kind of a miraculous product. If you have the beginnings of a pimple or spot, you can put this on (even overnight, if your skin isn’t sensitive) and the redness is gone or much reduced by the morning. Regular use improves your skin, helping to control breakouts and make large pores appear smaller.

This Korean brand that I like has a mask that I like which is gentler than the Fresh one for jeju-island-mapdaily use: Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Pore Cleansing Mask. This detoxifying volcanic ash comes from a South Korean island called Jeju, south of the peninsula and west of Japan. The great thing about volcanic ash compared to charcoal is that it has the same purifying properties but is gentle to use on sensitive skin.


  • Instead of using your fingers to apply the mask, you can save more product and apply it more efficiently with a makeup brush or silicon brush.

6. Toner

Why use toner, you ask? A wise old lady/sage/skin aesthetician once told me while giving me a facial that using toner is like using dental floss. “You can just brush your teeth–but you need to floss to get really clean. Toner is like using floss for your face.” Profound. 😛

Toner is that extra cleaning step where you take a cotton ball and soak it in liquid to remove any additional dirt or remnants of makeup on your face after cleansing.

In the old days, there was the idea that you needed to remove every trace of oil off your face in some battle against the dirt that you couldn’t see on your face. Well, now we have figured out that your body has natural oils for good reason–and that you shouldn’t strip your face of surface oils in a full-scale attack every night. The Koreans believe that good anti-aging skin care should be gentle at every step–and that hydration is key for all of them.

For years, I used a non-alcohol based toner of sorts, Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Balancing Softener. Its anti-aging ingredients are gentle and good at getting the last bits of makeup off your skin. (Not to be confused with the annoyingly similarly-named Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Balancing Softener Enriched. I felt like it was too drying.)

Now I use a selection of three–yes three–different products, depending on the state of my skin. There’s no rule about strictly only using one product until it runs out. Where’s the fun in that?

  1. Algenist Hydrating Essence Toner – I use this when I’m feeling dry and maybe have irritation, but still want to do the extra clean up.
  2. Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Balancing Softener – Little stronger than #1, but still gentle.
  3. Manyo Factory Galatomy Clear skin AHA/BHA Exfoliation Toner – Translation: Alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic and lactic) and beta hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid. Because this Korean product has AHAs and BHA, it chemically helps to lightly exfoliate and get rid of dead skin cells, so I use it on areas that tend to have clogged pores. It’s gentle enough for sensitive skin too.manyo-factory-toner


7. Essence

Not to be confused with toner, an essence is a liquid used to pat onto skin (not with a cotton pad) after cleansing and toning–but before serums or moisturizers. I use two, count ’em, two essences. Yes, it sounds like a lot of effort, but it makes my skin feel so much softer when I layer products. Layering hydrating products is also a very Korean skin care-kind of thing. Read my blog post about what an essence is and how to use it. Also, check out my recommendations, like SK-II Facial Treatment Essence and Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence.


8. Serum…

This is where you can mix things up, depending on your mood and skin condition at the moment. For example, if you are concerned about the beginnings of worry lines between your eyes (a.k.a., why people think you always look angry or worried), then you can use a gentle retinol product.

There are a ton of retinol products that work, from prescription to drugstore brands, like Olay Regenerist Intensive Repair Treatment. A gentle one that’s more natural that I’ve been using is Life Essentials Retinol Serum 2.5%.

Sometimes you might want to use a Vitamin C serum. This is a good way to get rid of dark spots, smooth the skin and helps stimulate collagen. I like using this product because it’s cheaper than the competing one from Skinceuticals: Cosmetic Skin Vitamin C+E Serum Combination Antioxidant Treatment 15% Vitamin C, 1%Vitamin E, and .05% Ferulic Acid.


  • For the vitamin C serum, you can start with the 15% vitamin C version and see how it goes and then get the stronger 20% version.
  • If you’re using a retinol serum, sometimes you want to hold off on using the
  • If you use any of these serums in the day, please put on a good sunblock or sunscreen on your face if you’re going outside for any reason.
  • Read up on some myths of using retinol and vitamin C from one of my favorite experts.

8. …OR a Sheet Mask

I love a good sheet mask! I usually alternate using a mask or a serum, although you could apply both. There are so many options out there, depending on what your skin concern is. There are also just general anti-aging masks that use skin-softening and plumping ingredients like collagen.

9. Face Moisturizer

This is part of your old school routine. I’ve used a ton of different moisturizers and also keep about three different ones on hand. Mostly because I’m always on the search for a new, better moisturizer.

Even though I’m pretty happy with this Korean bestseller brand for day because it’s so moisturizing (supposedly for 26 hours): Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb, I switch to Clinique Turnaround Overnight Moisturizer at night. Sometimes night creams have more moisturizing or potent ingredients because you don’t have to worry about being too greasy at night.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can additionally try a sleeping mask, which is like a thicker moisturizer that you put on only at night and then rinse off in the morning. I usually don’t put this on over my moisturizer because it’s so thick already. The benefit of it is that when you wake up in the morning, your skin has retained the moisture from the sleeping mask. Some popular Korean brands are Laniege Water Sleeping Mask and Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask.

10. Eye Cream

Last step: use a cream specifically for your eyes. I have tried all different kinds with various levels of hydration. Some are good for the day, when you don’t want a greasy cream to interfere with your eye makeup and some are better for night when you want maximum moisture.

The reason you want a good eye cream is that the skin around your eyes is more fragile and likely to wrinkle faster. Eye creams tend to have more powerful ingredients that are still gentle enough to apply without causing burning or tearing in your eyes. Sometimes regular face moisturizers are too thick or irritating to be used under and around the eyes.

Some options I like:

Further Motivation:

You can pick and choose what steps you decide to do each night if all of them are too overwhelming.  Ultimately, it’s what you can do as a regular routine that will most benefit your skin.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Water, 3.33 fl. oz.

TATCHA 1-Step Camellia Cleansing Oil

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (M) 4.1 fl oz

Boscia Makeup-breakup Cool Cleansing Oil, 5 Fluid Ounce

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm 3.8 oz / 125ml

Memebox Nooni Snowflake Balm Cleanser

Eve Lom Cleanser, 3.3 Ounce

dr. brandt Microdermabrasion Skin Exfoliant, 2 fl. oz.

Clarisonic Mia1, 1 Speed Sonic Facial Cleansing Brush System, Pink

Dr. Woods Shea Vision Pure Black Soap with Organic Shea Butter — 8 fl oz


Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Pore Clay Mask(Original)

Algenist Hydrating Essence Toner for Women, 0.42 Pound

Shiseido BENEFIANCE WrinkleResist24 Balancing Softener 150 ml / 5 oz

Manyo Factory Galatomy Clear skin AHA/BHA Exfoliation Toner

SK_ll,SK2 Facial Treatment Essence 75 ml Skincare Pitera Water, sk2 from Japan, by For mom SHOP

[Cosrx] Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence 100ml

Olay Regenerist Intensive Repair Treatment, 1.0 fl oz

Retinol Serum 2.5% for Wrinkles, Fine Lines, Acne Scars, Skin Blemishes & Minimizes Pores – Vitamin A + Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E, Organic Green Tea, Jojoba Oil – Organic, Natural & Cruelty Free

1 BEST Vitamin C+E Serum Combination Antioxidant Treatment – 1 oz / 30 ml – Super Combination Antioxidant Formula – 15% Vitamin C, 1% Vitamin E, and 0.5% Ferulic acid.

belif Korean Cosmetics The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb, 1.44 Ounce

Clinique ‘Turnaround Overnight’ Revitalizing Moisturizer 1.7oz/50ml

[Laneige] 2015 Renewal – Water Sleeping Mask

[Sulwhasoo] Overnight Vitalizing Mask (Yeo Woon Pack / Sleeping Mask) 30ml

Olay Eyes Ultimate Eye Cream for Wrinkles, Puffy Eyes and Under Eye Dark Circles, 0.4 Fl Oz

Shiseido Eye Care 0.51 Oz Benefiance Wrinkleresist24 Intensive Eye Contour Cream For Women

One thought on “New Year, New Skin: The 10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s