The Korean Skincare Routine

Let’s start with a little background

Beauty has been inseparable from the Korean culture for centuries, stemming all the way back to the BC era. With a culture that has been creating and developing products and techniques for so long, that expertise has caught the eye of not only the US, but most of the world as well. Products like BB creams and cushion compacts were already long-time staples in Korean makeup bags by the time they introduced themselves to the American market in the last few years.

Korean consumers are the driving factor that keeps the Korean beauty industry so competitive and reasonably priced. With highly informed consumers who have little to no brand loyalty, along with skincare and makeup being such an accepted, almost mandatory, part of Korean culture, beauty companies are forced to produce cutting-edge, high quality products at rapid speeds and low prices. In Korea, there is an almost tangible rivalry between beauty companies: the second one company does something new, you can bet all the other companies will have their own, better version of it in a few weeks. This means new innovations are always on their way.

And need I say anything about the packaging?

So what makes the Korean routine so different?

A Korean skincare routine doesn’t necessarily mean that the products have to be Korean and only Korean. The “Korean” bit of the routine is more about a mindset than a product origin. But given the expertise and market environment of the Korean beauty industry, there are so many wonderful products with new, cutting-edge ingredients (and great packaging) to choose from. With such a vast, and affordable, collection of offerings, why not give it a try? Part of the Korean routine IS actually to have fun and how can you not have fun when applying your moisturizer from an animal shaped bottle smiling madly at you? Hmm?? No frown lines here ladies and gentlemen!

Prevention is the best cure

Anyway, what makes the Korean approach to skincare so different than say, the American approach, is not only in the amount and types of products used, but the emphasis on prevention as the best cure. Unlike here in America, where makeup is used more to achieve a flawless look, Korean beauty starts with healthy skin. Instead of caking on a foundation to fake a flawless face and piling on bronzer to get that glowing look, Korean makeup is built to highlight natural, healthy skin that glows from within due to proper moisturization, treatment, and religious sun-care. The ideal skin is smooth and baby-soft, clear and lit from within. Dewy is the new matte. Achieving this kind of skin takes time, patience, and lots of dedication.

But since prevention prevails over treating issues as they arise, the Korean skincare routine uses many light, moisturizing layers to target specific skin issues with products individually designed to address them. Oftentimes, a person will wait until they actually see fine lines around their eyes to go out and buy some sort of anti-aging/eye cream while the Korean mentality is designed to make sure those lines never even form in the first place. Instead of a do-all moisturizer that promises to target multiple (and often very different) things, layers of essences, serums, and ampoules are used to brighten, prevent signs of aging and sun damage, deal with acne, pore refinement, and sebum control, and pretty much anything else you can think of. This allows for an unparalleled level of customization in one’s routine and when different needs arise, instead of having to throw out a whole routine, one or two products can be added in or replaced.

With all these specific, targeted treatments, it’s no wonder that the Korean skincare routine seems so daunting to so many with beauty articles offering to “demystify” the 10+ step routine. In reality, it depends on how many skin concerns a routine is built to address. There is also the fact that certain items in the routine, like peels and sheet masks, are not to be used every single night. Seasonal changes can play a big factor in how many and what kind of products are used. Morning and evening routines can also vary greatly. It’s as individual as its user and can be however short (or long!) the user needs it to be to accomplish their goals. Sounds a lot better than the old three-step routine, no? With skin, one size does not fit all.


Another important part of the prevention mentality of Korean skin and beauty culture is SPF. SPF in America is like flossing: it’s one of those things we know we should be doing, but let’s face it, show of hands, how many people actually use sunscreen when they aren’t just going to the beach or the pool?

Let me drill it in once and for all: use it.

Tans are nothing but visible sun damage that contributes to leathery, thick, and spotted skin as the years go by. Tanned skin is the beauty standard for most countries, but the amount of damage tanning causes not only in the present, but the future as well, is not worth it. If aging gracefully (to use the phrase in the beauty industry’s sense of the word) is a goal, start using that SPF right now. Your skin will thank you later. Tanned skin is not on any Korean beauty list and this goal goes hand in hand with a priority on anti-aging (and, um, also not getting skin cancer…).

The Korean routine not only offers an unparalleled level of customization, but also at an unparalleled price point for the quality. Cutting-edge, innovative products are ripe for the picking. With an emphasis on healthy, dewy skin and problem prevention, Korean skincare has hundreds of products literally for every skin type and concern. Ten steps (give or take) can seem like a lot, but it seems like a worthwhile investment if smooth, clear skin is the payoff. At least, that’s just my opinion.

What about you? Have you ever tried this routine? What did you think?

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