10 Step K-Beauty Routine » Skin Theory (2023)

Double-cleansing is often credited as being the cornerstone of the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine, and whether or not you choose to adopt all the steps below, the benefits of double-cleansing are undisputed.

The first part is, of course, the oil cleanser. It dissolves oil-based products (like certain foundations, sunscreens, etc.) as well as excess oil and sebum produced by your skin during the day, and clears these from your skin without stripping it of moisture.

For someone with oily skin, this may seem counterintuitive, but it is a far more effective and gentle way to get rid of excess oil than harsh cleansers (which usually just encourage your skin to produce more oil anyway).

For those of you who are still unconvinced, you can rest assured that any excess cleansing oil left on your skin will be removed with the next step

You may be tempted to think that Korean foaming cleansers do not differ much to Western ones, but they almost always offer added benefits over and above cleaning your skin.

For one, they are often formulated with ingredients beneficial to your skin – think snail mucin, rice water, and Hyaluronic Acid. Another feature usually not found in Western cleansers is a lower pH — keeping your skin closer to its natural state. You can read more about the benefits of a lower pH in Step 4 below.

While you may be familiar with exfoliating, this step in the Korean routine is far gentler than you are probably used to and comes with a number of options:

The most common type of physical exfoliator in the Korean routine is a peeling gel. These are usually formulated with enzymes, which gently remove dead cells, and cellulose, which binds with old skin cells and excess oils and forms the “clumps” that are synonymous with this method.

Despite its harsh-sounding name, chemical exfoliation is relatively gentle. Chemical exfoliators are usually formulated with acids (AHA, BHA, and PHA) all of which peel away old cells and reveal a brighter and clearer complexion. Over time they also minimise blackheads, whiteheads, and the appearance of pores. Chemical exfoliators can come in the form of cleansers, toners, serums or moisturisers, so they will not necessarily be used in this step.

(sometimes also referred to as Skin, Mist, Fresher, or Softener)

Toners are usually used to prep the skin for the moisturising steps of the routine. They work by lowering the skin’s pH (closer to its natural state of 4.5–5.5), which allows it to absorb other products more effectively.

Toners with a very liquid consistency, or those that also have a mild cleaning or exfoliating effect, are best used on a cotton pad. Others toners, especially those with a thicker consistency can be applied directly to the skin with your fingertips.

Even as one of the more famous steps in the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine, for those new to K-beauty essences are still a bit of a mystery. This is in part due them having no Western skincare equivalent, at least until recently.

Essences contain active ingredients that penetrate deep into your skin to nourish, repair, and hydrate it.

Many essences contain fermented ingredients which are just as good for your skin as they are for your body!

Tip: You can decant very liquid essences (and toners too!) into a spray bottle. Mist all over your face and press or pat in until fully absorbed. You can also carry this with you to refresh your skin during the day — a lifesaver in dry winter or air-conditioned environments!

(sometimes also referred to as ampoules or boosters)

Serums are definitely not a new concept and many people have probably used them at some stage in their normal routine. They contain high concentrations of active ingredients for various skincare concerns — anti-aging, pigmentation, dehydrated skin, etc..

Serums can be layered, but always remember that actives (such as Retinol and Vitamin C) should not be mixed in the same session. Actives are best applied at night as they make your skin extra sensitive to sun damage, but you still need to wear sunscreen during the day.

This is undoubtedly the most well known, fun, and pampering part of the routine. Especially if you — like most of us with busy schedules — only do this twice a week.

Mask sheets are amazing at hydrating because they essentially “force feed” your skin by creating a barrier and allowing it to absorb all the goodness inside.

There are a few different types of mask sheets, the most common being essence and serum types. When using essence mask sheets you can apply them straight after your toner, and apply a serum after you have removed the mask and allowed all the remaining essence to absorb into your skin. Serum mask sheets can be applied after essence or serum, depending on the needs of your skin.

Stocking up on a variety of sheet masks will allow you to have one on hand for your skin’s every need!

Tips: Keep your sheet masks flat so the essence is properly distributed. Alternatively, lay the one you’re going to use flat for an hour before using — this will prevent any dry spots on the mask sheet when it’s applied.

If you feel the mask drying out before it’s time to take it off, you can pat the remaining essence onto the mask sheet. Just remember that longer is not better — as the mask sheet begins to dry it will actually start draining the moisture back out of your skin.

Don’t throw the mask sheet pouch away just yet! You can use the remaining essence on your neck or hands — use it alone or under a hand cream in winter for extra soft and hydrated skin.

Moisturiser is an essential step which locks in all the goodness you’ve applied up until now.

Korean moisturisers are available for every skin type and concern and come in various forms — lotions, emulsions, gels, and creams. Particularly popular are moisturisers containing ingredients such as Snail Mucin and Hyaluronic Acid.

Emulsions are usually lighters versions of moisturisers that absorb more quickly into the skin. They can be layered under your moisturiser if neede, or used instead.

Sunscreens are essential for protecting your skin from premature ageing and pigmentation, not to mention serious diseases like skin cancer.

But even people who understand the damage that UV rays do to your skin are often reluctant to wear sunscreen. The most common reason is that sunscreens (even the more expensive ones with better formulations) often feel like slathering oil on your face. Fortunately, because it is an essential step in the routine of so many Koreans, the formulations of Korean sunscreens are closer to moisturisers than the greasy sunblock we all remember from childhood.

UV protection can be divided into chemical and physical (containing ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), and sunscreen can contain one or the other, or in many cases, both. Korean sunscreens are available for every skin type and concern — whether you have ultra-sensitive, dry, oily, or acne-prone skin, there is a product for you.

A sleeping mask makes the most of your skin’s night-time ability to regenerate. This last step of the nighttime routine is great for many skin concerns — but it’s a life-saver for dehydrated skin.

Sleeping masks can be used a few times a week (or more often if required) after or instead of your moisturiser, depending on your individual concerns.

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