For most of my adult life, I’ve been struggling with many skin problems, which was one of the reasons for me to try out different beauty products and regimens. I finally found a skincare routine that works for my skin: Korean skin care routine (with my own adjustments).
In this article I will share with you my morning Korean beauty regimen that includes 8 steps, as well as its shorter 5-step version.
I know that in many advertisements of beauty products in Korean culture you can hear a lot about ‘flawless skin’. I want to emphasize that I don’t believe in such thing – we all have various skin problems and ‘imperfections’ – and THAT’S OKAY. That’s what makes each of us unique and beautiful.
The reason for me to practice Korean skincare routine is the specific order of applying beauty products, that WORKS for MY skin and makes it HEALTHIER.
8-Step Korean Morning Skincare Routine
First, let’s start with the full 8-step morning skincare routine (later on I will show you how you can reduce it to 5 steps).
It’s very important to know basic rules for layering all your skincare products.
1. Oil-Based Cleanser
One of the things that distinguishes K-beauty routine is the double cleansing method. How does it work?
In the first step you need to wash your face with oil-based cleanser to remove oil-based impurities, and sebum.
What I like about oil cleansers is that (usually) they are gentler for sensitive skin.
If you have oily skin type, you may be now wondering if it’s a good idea to use oil-based cleansers. The answer is: yes, absolutely! Double cleansing will ensure all dirt is removed from your face – which means lower risk of clogged pores.
2. Water-Based Cleanser
Once you’re done with the oil cleanser, it’s time to wash your face AGAIN – this time with a water-based cleanser. You can choose between gel or jelly cleansers, foam and even milk cleansers.
Second part of cleansing is supposed to remove all grime, sweat and all that water-based impurities from your face.
One thing you should remember about is to choose cleanser with the right pH – so it doesn’t damage your natural skin barrier and doesn’t strip your skin from its natural oils.
New studies show that the natural skin pH is on average 4.7 (and up to about 5.7)1 – and it’s important to use cleanser with similar pH level so it doesn’t disrupt your skin pH balance.
Now, here are a few tips what cleansers and ingredients you should include in your skin care routine, depending on your skin type and concerns.
- Dry skin: Cream and jelly facial washes, with hydrating ingredients like jojoba oil or argan oil.
- Sensitive skin: Gentle face washes (cream or milk type), alcohol-free, fragrance-free.
- Oily skin & acne-prone skin: Foam cleanser with non-comedogenic ingredients like tea tree, AHA, BHA (salicylic acid).
Speaking from my experience: I used to have very dry skin, recently its condition is way better, but it’s still sensitive, reactive and prone to acne breakouts. From oil-based cleansers my favorite are the ones with PHA or lactic acid (which is the most gentle of AHAs).
From water-based face washes I usually choose jelly type with soothing ingredients like black rice and pH 5.5. I avoid facial washes that foam like crazy because I feel like leave my skin pulled up, feeling dry and tight.
But to be perfectly honest, I don’t always double cleanse my face in the morning, but it’s an essential part of my night Korean skin care routine. It’s best and most effective for removing waterproof makeup and mineral sunscreens.
Remember that with proper deep cleansing you’re less likely to get clogged pores, blackheads and acne breakouts.
After all that cleansing and exfoliating it’s important to balance out your skin pH level and prepare it for absorption of next products.
Applying toner will also help to close your pores and make them less visible, as well as keep your skin hydrated.
Remember that there are a few ways to apply toner: you can use a cotton pad or simply use you fingers to gently tap the toner on your skin. If you have a facial toner in spray bottle, sprinkle it on your face.
- Dry skin: Choose hydrating toners with glycerin, propolis or hyaluronic acid (remember that the later one needs to be applied on damp skin!).
- Sensitive skin: Opt for alcohol-free and fragrance-free toners, with ingredients like black rice, Centella Asiatica, aloe vera, rose water, oats.
- Oily & acne-prone skin: You can choose between exfoliating toners with AHA, BHA or witch hazel, or refreshing and anti-blemish toners with tea tree oil. The toner should help keep your sebum production at bay.
- Hyperpigmentation: Look for toner with niacinamide.
- Mature skin: Mugwort is one of the anti-aging ingredients, popular in Korean skincare.
This step is basically what distinguishes Korean skincare routine. What is essence? It’s a lightweight liquid packed with high concentration of active ingredients, that you should gently massage onto your skin.
You can find essences that address various skin concerns, and help with hydration, pigmentation, skin texture, soothing and faster skin cell turnover.
5. Serum / Treatment / Ampoule
In contrast to essence, serums and ampoules are thicker and usually have higher concentration of potent actives.
Depending on your skin type and concerns you can choose between moisturizing or brightening serums, ampoules that help to treat dry patches and improve natural skin barrier.
Make sure to apply your treatment only when the essence is well-absorbed, and also give your serum or ampoule some time to absorb, before you move onto the next step!
Here are my recommendation for specific ingredients in serums and ampoules (and essences):
- Dry skin: Vitamin E, glycerin, propolis, ceramides, peptides.
- Sensitive skin: Centella Asiatica, green tea, aloe vera.
- Oily & acne-prone skin: AHA, retinol, tea tree oil, niacinamide, primrose oil.
- Hyperpigmentation: Niacinamide, Vitamin C, kojic acid.
- Mature skin: Mugwort, retinol, coffee, galactomyces.
6. Eye Cream
Did you know that one of the most important goal in Korean skincare routine is prevention, especially from signs of aging? That’s why eye cream is a must-have and should be included in every beauty routine.
What’s important, eye creams are not only for mature skin. Actually Korean women start applying eye cream quite early to fight those fine lines and wrinkles in eye area.
But that’s not all. The goal is to reduce puffiness and dark circles, too!
Because the skin around eyes is very thin and delicate, I recommend you to avoid creams that are full of synthetic ingredients that can cause irritation (especially if your skin is already reactive).
Best anti-aging ingredients that you can find in Korean Beauty eye creams are: snail mucin, caffeine, peptides, cucumber extract, licorice and kojic acid.
To lock in all that hydrating and other benefits from previous step, you need a good moisturizer.
You can choose from various textures and concentrations: face creams, lotions, gels or emollients. Opt for something lightweight that won’t leave your skin greasy, especially if you already have oily skin.
Moisturizer is a crucial step for keeping your skin hydrated and plump, as well as strengthening your skin barrier.
- Dry skin: lotions with birch sap, creams with propolis and squalane, emollients.
- Sensitive skin: Centella Asiatica, oat extract. Moisturizer should be fragrance-free and soothing.
- Oily & acne skin: I recommend oil-free lotions with tea tree oil, Cica, AHA.
- Hyperpigmentation: Creams with Niacinamide, Vitamin C.
- Mature skin: Creams with mugwort, snail mucin.
Probably every Korean woman finishes her morning skincare routine with a sunscreen.
Did you know that damage from sun exposure is the main cause of skin aging?
And as I mentioned before, protection from sun damage and fighting early signs of aging is one of the main goals in K-beauty.
I strongly recommend mineral sunscreens (physical sunscreens), which are safer for your skin, as well as the environment, in contrast to chemical sunscreens.
Look for mineral sunscreen that contains contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – these ingredients will protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Sun protection is ALWAYS a part of Korean skincare morning routine, even if you stay indoors. It’s also essential if you’re using skincare products with ingredients that increase your sensitivity to the sun (like glycolic acid, salicylic acid or retinol). Choose a face sun cream with SPF 50+ protection.
There’s one more thing to remember: after the whole day make sure to wash off the sunscreen in your evening routine, before going to sleep. Otherwise, your pores may get clogged and it can lead to breakouts.
If you’re using mineral sunscreen, here is where double cleanse method comes in handy. The oil-based cleanser is the most effective solution for washing off mineral and waterproof sunscreens.
Extra Steps To Add From Time To Time
There are 2 additional steps that you can include in your morning routine from time to time.
If you’re in a hurry you can definitely skip them, but there’s tons of benefits of performing these two steps at least once per week.
To ensure all the dead skin cells are removed and your pores are unclogged, it’s crucial to perform exfoliation from time to time. Depending on your skin concerns and sensitivity, you can use face scrubs or exfoliating acids 1-2 times per week.
I don’t recommend exfoliating every day, because instead of unclogging your pores, it will only strip your skin of its protective barrier and oils.
Here’s how to choose exfoliator accordingly to your skin type:
- Dry skin: AHA – but choose the most gentle acids like lactic or mandelic acid.
- Sensitive skin: PHA.
- Oily skin & acne-prone skin: Salicylic acid (it will help with blackheads and breakouts).
Speaking for my personal experience: I prefer to exfoliate during my nighttime Korean skincare routine, just in case of skin irritation or increased sun sensitivity.
Korean beauty market offers literally hundreds of sheet masks that target specific skin concerns, but what they have in common is that they provide a boost of hydration.
So what is actually a Korean sheet mask? It’s a one-piece disposable mask that is soaked up in beneficial ingredients. You put it on your face for about 10-20 minutes.
During this time all the magic happens: it hydrates, moisturizers, nourishes and brightens your skin, as well as regenerates skin cells. The ingredients penetrate your skin more deeply, and then all those beneficial properties are sealed in. It also allows your skin to rest (and you to relax).
I recommend adding the sheet mask to your 10-step Korean skincare routine 1-2 times per week, depending on your skin needs.
Here are a few tips how to choose sheet mask for your specific skin concern.
- If you need hydration: Look for masks with hyaluronic acid, Bifida Ferment Lysate, vitamin E, cucumber extract, propolis extract, kelp extract, squalane.
- Fighting premature aging: Choose mask with mugwort, hyaluronic acid, collagen, snail mucin, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, ceramides, red ginseng. You may also want to check out lingzhi mushroom mask for sagging skin.
- Anti-acne and better oil production control: Try out sheet mask with tea tree oil, salicylic acid, glutathione, witch hazel, rosemary and Centella asiatica.
- Soothing reactive skin, reducing redness: Cica, aloe vera, heartleaf, lotus water, calendula.
- Reducing appearance of dark spots, smoothing out skin tone: Niacinamide, vitamin C, rice extract.
My 5 Step Korean Morning Skincare Routine
Because I usually don’t have a lot of time in the morning, I often limit my AM skincare routine to 5 essential steps.
I’m always starting my day with face wash. Currently I’m using Haruharu Wonder Rice Cleanser which has 5.5 pH. It has a form of a lightweight gel. I like that it doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin, doesn’t cause any redness or itching, or dry patches. It’s one of a few cleansers that doesn’t leave my face feeling tight.
To balance my skin’s ph levels after cleansing, I apply toner. I don’t use cotton pads, I simply pat the toner on my face with my fingers.
My absolute favorite facial toner is this fragrance-free Haruharu Toner. It’s the only toner that I can use for longer period of time without any skin irritation or breakouts. Many other toners start to break me out after some time, even if my skin tolerates them in the beginning.
About twice per week I use this Glow Recipe Watermelon PHA+BHA Toner. It tightens my pores and helps me to get rid of blackheads. However, because my skin is really delicate (and often dry), I can’t use it everyday.
I usually skip essence and serum in my morning skincare routine (unless I have more time – then I use for example I’m From Mugwort Essence and The Ordinary Niacinamide Serum).
3. Eye cream
I think that taking care of the skin around your eyes is super important, not only if you want to fight those fine lines, but also if you struggle with dark circles or puffiness (like I do).
Personally I actually don’t mind those small wrinkles around my eyes – they prove I smile a lot! But I don’t like the fact that the skin under my eyes often looks tired.
I tried lots of different eye creams with ingredients like caffeine or peptides, but there is actually only one that doesn’t irritate my skin and really helps reduce the visibility of dark circles: it’s this COSRX Snail Eye Cream.
4. Moisturizing Cream
I used to have very dry skin with lots of dry patches especially around my mouth, so skipping a moisturizer was never an option! Now at least this condition I have under control.
I tried dozens of Korean face moisturizers, and here are a few that my skin really liked:
- Round Lab Mugwort Calming Cream – Very lightweight and nourishing cream, it has anti-aging properties, as well as soothes irritated skin.
- Krave Beauty Oat So Simple Water Cream – I love it because it has only 9 ingredients so it’s perfect for ultra-sensitive skin. It has calming and hydrating effects thanks to squalane and oat meal extract.
- Rovectin Cica Care Sleeping Pack – This is actually a night cream, but I sometimes use it during the day too – basically whenever I feel like my skin needs extra moisturizing. It’s super gentle, extremely moisturizing, makes my skin smooth and plumper and smells gorgeous!
- Beplain Cicaterol Face Moisturizer – Great for moisturizing and soothing dry skin with compromised barrier. It makes the skin glowing, but not greasy.
By the way, before I started practicing Korean skincare routine, I was using this Uriage Xemose Face Cream for many years. It was delicate enough for my skin, didn’t break me out and helped me to get rid of dry red patches on my face.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to finish your morning Korean skincare routine with SPF cream. It doesn’t matter if you have dry, oily or acne skin types, or combination skin, you should always use sunscreen if you want to have healthy skin.
There is one particular sunscreen that I can truly recommend to anyone: this Pipette Mineral Suncreen with SPF50. It’s suitable for babies, kids and adults.
I know that lots of people don’t like mineral sunscreens because they leave a white cast on your skin, which becomes visible especially when you sweat.
What I love about Pipette sunscreen is that is way more lightweight than other creams and doesn’t leave that white film on your skin (or at least it’s almost invisible, even if you sweat – and I leave in Thailand now, sweating is kinda my natural state!).
K-Beauty Morning Skincare Routine – FAQ
Here are my answers to some popular questions about Korean skincare routines and all these steps.
Should I Do Korean Skincare In The Morning Or Night?
If you’re really dedicated and want to achieve that healthy, glass skin, you should do Korean skincare routine in the morning AND at night.
Of course you don’t have to perform 10 steps every time – you should adjust your AM and PM routines to your skin needs. Remember to follow perform the steps in proper order, but feel free to skip some of them if you feel like your facial skin doesn’t really need them (or you’re in a hurry).
How Long Does It Take To See Results From Korean Skincare?
It’s hard to say how long you need to wait to see the result from Korean skincare routine. It depends on your specific skin concerns, as well as products and active ingredients you’re using – some of them work quicker than others.
I would say it may take anywhere between 2 and 8 weeks to see results from Korean skincare routine.
Do Koreans Cleanse Their Face In The Morning?
Yes, Koreans do cleanse their faces in the morning. Some use double cleansing method, while other just use water-based cleansers. Using a face wash should always be the first step of your morning and night Korean skincare routines.
Do Koreans Exfoliate Everyday?
No, Korean don’t exfoliate everyday. In most cases, exfoliation should be included in your Korean skin care routine 1-2 times per week. Remember that the goal is to remove dead skin cells, not over-exfoliating and stripping your face of its natural barrier!
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