How to Build Your Routine

I’m not gonna lie-this is a HUGE post. And hopefully, it contains everything you would ever need to know about types of skin products and where they fit inside a routine.

Before We Begin:

Its really important to slowly introduce products, one at a time, and giving them at least 2 weeks to work. This is the minimum amount of time your skin would need to let you know if a certain product/ingredient irritates your skin, causes breakouts, or is just to heavy, etc for you. Patch testing is also a good idea…the inside of your elbow or wrist are good places along with underneath your chin.

Products and product samples are easily found online along with other important information like reviews and ingredient lists. Its really important to be patient and diligent until you find The Holy Grail of whatever product is being sought. Part of the fun of Korean skincare is the sheer volume of new (and so cute), effective products. New formulas and product types are always popping up on the market and old products are constantly being revamped and repackaged (look for ex: in the title). You must be like a hound hot on the trail and be extremely specific and choosy when going after what type of product you may need.

The Most Important Step:


Sunscreen is the best defense against aging and if there is one single thing you get from this blog, let it be this:

WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN…all day, every day. Rain or shine, no exceptions.

Even if a foundation, primer, or facial cream boasts an SPF, be aware that you need at least a ¼ teaspoon of any sun protection product in order for it to be fully effective. For this reason, it is so important to invest in a stand alone sunscreen with no less than SPF 50+ and PA +++(+). Broad spectrum coverage is what is important; a decent sunscreen must protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Think of it like this: UVAGING and UVBURNING…neither is something you want to skimp on protection from (especially if you are using products with melanin-inhibiting ingredients!).

And also be sure to get your ears, neck, and any areas (like your décolleté) that might be exposed.

But sunscreens feel so gross! They’re all greasy and mess up my makeup! They break me out!

This is where Asian sunscreens have saved me. There are so many different formulations all with excellent coverage and protection. Out of all the sunscreens I’ve tried, none have felt overly thick, oily, or greasy. Most have worn well under makeup and none (none! I tell you and this is coming from sunscreen/acne queen over here) have ever broken me out. Asian sunscreens are a whole different breed than their American counterparts.

Oil Cleansers-yes, even oily skin types need these

Oil cleansers are part one of the Double Cleanse (a skincare component that is glorious enough to deserve capitalization). There are a ton of various oil cleansers available not only in Asian markets, but in America as well. I prefer liquid formulations that I can just slap and massage on, but many people swear by balms, creams, and cleansing waters. The ultimate goal of oil cleansing is to remove any oil based impurities that might be lurking on your face like makeup and certain hair products…and yes, this also includes that sunscreen you’re religiously using on a daily basis. Basically, the oil cleanser goes onto the face, is gently massaged around, then it emulsifies when it get rinsed off with water. I personally like to let my liquid oil cleanser sit for 30 seconds or so to give it a head start on my mascara and lip products (because I’m too lazy for point makeup removal).

Foaming Cleansers-go low (pH) or go home

Foaming cleansers are the second half of the Double Cleanse. Foaming cleansers are really nothing new, but paying close attention to their pH might be. A foaming cleanser finishes what the oil cleanser started; it tackles water-based impurities like sweat and sends them down the drain. Foaming cleansers have an ideal pH between 5.0-6.0. Most are much higher, stripping skin of lipids and destroying its acid mantle. The majority of cleanser pH’s can be googled or if you’re feeling cool, with litmus strips at home. If you DO, in fact, test pH at home, be sure to mix the cleanser with a little water for the most accurate results (as it will be mixed with water when used, not coming straight out of the bottle). The basic rule of thumb is if your face feels tight (“squeaky clean”) after cleansing, your pH is probably too high.

So now that the face is clean, it’s time for toner. Toners fall into two categories: pH adjusting and skin “prepping.” One guess as to what a pH adjusting toner does. If you are using a low pH cleanser, a pH adjusting toner is probably unnecessary unless you are using an active/pH sensitive product after this step on your face. Skin prepping toners (also known as boosters) “prep” the skin for the products to follow and are usually formulated with gentle, nourishing ingredients and sometimes with brightening components. Think of your face being like a sponge. A slightly damp sponge will absorb more water, faster, than a completely dry sponge. NB: These prepping toners can’t be applied before actives as they will neutralize the acids.

Get Active with Acids

Actives can be a huge pain to deal with and I don’t recommend using them unless you really need to. This is the category of big gun prescription medications (like Retin-A) and take time and patience, but deliver big results for big concerns. Products like these require various wait times and pH levels in order to work and figuring out how often to use them, what concentration is both effective but not destructive to your skin, and also what product is best for your needs can be very difficult. Formulations also matter and they aren’t all created equal. And don’t even get me started on using vitamin C with the refrigeration, oxidation, and what not. But this is the category of skin care people struggling with wrinkles/fine lines, uneven skin tone/pigmentation, severe acne and such should turn to if other treatments aren’t working well/fast enough.

The most common actives thrown around are:

-L-ascorbic acid: also known as vitamin C, L-AA helps combat signs of aging, sun damage, and hyperpigmentation left behind by acne

-Alpha-hydroxy-acids: abbreviated as AHA, includes ingredients like lactic and glycolic acid. Helps reduce signs of aging, sun damage, hyperpigmentation left by acne, and with managing breakouts. AHA’s do cause photo-sensitivity so are best used at night (and always with that sunscreen).

-Beta-hydroxy-acids: abbreviated as BHA, this includes the famous salicylic acid. BHA’s help with reducing the appearance of large pores and blackheads as well as with managing breakouts.

If you do decide to include acids in your routine, take your time introducing them and really listen to your skin. Sunscreen and having the rest of your skin routine on lock are vital in making sure these products don’t damage your skin. Always add them one at a time and build up both in terms of usage per week (once-per week to 2-3 times per week) and percentages of active ingredients. Reduce usage if signs of discomfort occur. And be sure to apply to a dry face as water will magnify the effects.

First Things First: First Essences

First essences are like a super-charged toner that typically consists of some kind of ferment extract (yeast is most common) and brightening agents/melanin-inhibitors like niacinamide. The fermented ingredient(s) are supposedly anti-aging. They moisturize and deliver antioxidants to the skin while melanin-inhibiting/brightening ingredients help treat dullness and uneven tone. Missha has a super famous first essence called Missha Time Revolution the First Treatment Essence, although many other companies have their own versions.

Essences, Serums, and Ampoules-oh my!

These types of products are highly concentrated solutions that target specific skin issues. Most routines include all three types, although this will vary depending on skin needs. Since these types of products don’t have to cleanse, protect from UV radiation, or do anything other than treat one or two issues, their formulations can be more potent and therefore effective. Application tends to go from lightest to thickest, but be sure to read each individual products instructions and pat the product in until fully absorbed.

Essences are the lightest, wateriest of the group and are often liquid or gel-like in texture. Serums and ampoules, while technically different with ampoules being slightly thicker and more potent than serums, are almost often used interchangeably on labels. All of these contain high amounts of beneficial and nourishing ingredients and are the basis for most of the customization in a routine. There is a huge selection of choices out there so it may be best to experiment with samples before buying full size.

Emulsions and Creams-seal in the goodness

Emulsions and creams are heavier and thicker than serums and ampoules. Their main purpose is to moisturize and “seal in” all the products that have been applied in the previous steps. Emulsions are ideal for those with oilier skin types and warmer weather as they are slightly lighter than creams. Creams, while not necessarily “creamier” than emulsions, provide a thicker layer of moisture, making it more suitable for drier skin types and colder weather.

Sheet Masks-Look like a Serial Killer from the Comfort of Your Own Home!

Sheet masks are probably the best part of the Korean skin routine. They provide instant moisture and results, and are ESSENCE-ialy a facial in a pouch (haha, see what I did there? I refuse to apologize). In exchange for looking like a serial killer for 10-15 minutes, the aftermath of the mask will be smooth, plump, hydrated skin that makes makeup application a breeze. They are super easy to use as well. Just remove them from their pouch, unfold them, plop them on, take them off once the edges start drying (10-15 minutes on average) and then pat in the remaining essence on your face. Voila! Instant facial.

Most sheet masks boast that they are soaked in an entire bottle of essence meaning that there will always be a little bit left in the single-use pouch they come in. This remaining essence can be patted in before or after using the mask, or used to show some love to other parts of your body like the neck, elbows, etc. just whatever you do, DON’T SAVE THE ESSENCE…or reuse the mask. Masks are meant to be one-time use only. The essence the mask is soaked in does not have the necessary preservatives to keep the solution sterile and effective. By saving it, you risk the essence growing bacteria, mold, or just generally, “going bad.” The essence in the mask pouch is not built the same way your essence in the bottle is.

There are two main types of masks:

Pulp/ Fiber-based masks: This type of mask is the most common, has a huge selection to choose from, and are at the bottom price-point. They are generally one piece and made out of cotton or paper.

Hydrogel: These types of masks are also quite common and are slightly more expensive than their fiber-based counterparts. Usually, they are applied in two pieces and their material hugs the face better than fiber-based masks, but the problem of them sliding off is still a potential issue. These can be worn for a long time due to their manufacturing process. The essence is actually mixed in with the mask material during production!

There are other types of materials, but these are the most common.

Sleeping Packs-repair your skin even while you sleep!

Sleeping packs are just heavy-duty, generally moisturizing/brightening treatments that are applied at night. Usually, they are meant to only be used 2-3 times per week, but some people use them every night. Again, skin is unique to everyone. Sleeping packs are the last step of treatment in the evening and can often be used in lieu of creams and emulsions.

Exfoliation-get your glow on!

Exfoliation comes in two forms: physical/manual and chemical. Physical exfoliation uses particles to slough off dead skin cells (think of a sugar scrub). Chemical exfoliation, usually labeled as “peels,” rely on enzymes or acids to break down the bonds holding dead skin attached to the face. Dead skin cell removal is important in managing breakouts, evening skin tone, and combating dullness. Treatments like these should be used 2-3 times per week. Cure Aqua Gel is an amazingly effective-yet-gentle chemical exfoliator and can be bought easily online.

Other Things

Other things that might be included in a routine include eye cream (do I really need to explain this one?), spot treatments (like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, etc), wash-off masks (wax on, wax off), face oils (oil that you put on your face to moisturize it), and facial mists (usually very elegantly or very cute spray misters that help keep face moisturized during the day).

You Survived…here’s a gold star!

So there you have it. These are pretty much all the products that could possibly find their way into a routine. Have I missed anything?

This list may seem overwhelming, but most of these products aren’t used every single day and morning/evening routines can vary quite a bit. But the layering and preventative approach to these products can really make a difference in perfecting skin. A 10 minute morning skin routine can shave a 35 minute makeup routine down to 15. Foundation and concealing take next to no time to apply on a healthy canvas.

Well, hope you enjoyed this post and found it comprehensive and informative enough to start building your skin routine with ease. What’s currently in your routine?

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