The 10 (yes, 10!) steps in the Korean skin care regimen

I’ve been to South Korea thrice, and I've tried my best to embrace the Korean skin care regimen by buying something new every time I visit. Shopping for cosmetics in South Korea was thoroughly enjoyable, but at the same time, it was also a real struggle. I had a hard time deciding if a product is worth investing in or not, as many of them were being sold in bulk (say two to three jars). If you're headed there soon, make sure to research before visiting and draw up a shopping list so you don't get overwhelmed!

But wait, how many steps do Koreans go through to achieve porcelain-like skin? We've listed it down for you so you know what to look for if you love Korean skincare!

1 PRE-CLEANSE. Koreans know the importance of having a clear skin. Like any skin care regimen, the first step is to get rid of the dirt and grime off your face, but with Koreans? It's more than one! The pre-cleanse involves cleansing oil or facial wipes. The objective of this step is to remove makeup and other residue on the face.

I normally use facial wipes from The Face Shop and Innisfree. My sister, on the other hand, swears by Banila Co’s best-selling balm, Clean It Zero.

2 CLEANSE. The next step is to actually clean your face with a facial wash. It took me years to find a facial cleanser that works for my skin, so I’m often iffy when trying new ones. Fortunately, Banila Co’s facial foam cleanser is an effective cleanser that also battles acne.   

3 EXFOLIATE. If you haven’t discovered Cure, then you’re completely missing out on the wonders of exfoliation! Exfoliating at home can save you lots of money on facial treatments. It’s also oddly satisfying to do — just pump one or two drops of the exfoliator, massage onto your face, and watch dead skin cells “shed” off.

4 TONER. A toner removes any residue that you may have missed in the previous steps (Koreans take cleanliness seriously and you should too) and restores the skin’s pH balance. 

5-6 ESSENCE / SERUM / AMPOULE. This is where it gets slightly confusing. Koreans have labeled their products as essence, emulsion, and serums. Are they all the same thing? Do you need all of them? 

Essences are said to be less concentrated among the three, but Koreans can’t seem to get enough of them! Think of essences as a primer for your moisturizers and creams. The most famous essences are the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence and Missha Time Revolution Essence.

Serums have smaller molecules than moisturizers, thus could penetrate the skin better and address specific concerns like dryness, dark spots, and hydration. That being said, serums do not serve as an alternative to moisturizers. Serums still won’t leave your skin completely hydrated.

An Ampoule often comes in a smaller bottle with a higher concentration of active ingredients. They’re also more expensive than serums and are often marketed towards women who have more serious skin concerns like wrinkles and fine lines. 

7 MASK. Masking is the ultimate secret to that elusive Korean glow. If you've been following all the steps so far, a mask after would allow all that product to steep properly for a good 20-30 minutes. Even if you haven't been doing all the other steps, masking is sort of the short cut. The powerful ingredients in a good facial mask combines all the steps effectively.

Facial sheet masks are like candies in South Korea. Salesladies in Myeongdong would give you one just for visiting their store, no purchase required! I was able to buy a packet of 100 sheet masks from The Skin Food for P1,800 or just PHP18.00 a piece — that’s 3x cheaper than what we usually have in stores here in Manila!

8 EYE CREAM. Eye creams are dedicated to the most delicate and sensitive area on our face: the eyes. They are more easily absorbed and are not too rich so as to avoid clogging the pores around the eyes (millia).

9 MOISTURIZER / EMULSION. After all that liquid therapy, you’d expect that it would be over by now. Not exactly. The second to the last step is applying some good ol’ moisturizer to seal it all in.

10 SUN/NIGHT CREAM. All those hydrating products can't do anything to protect you from then sun, unfortunately, so it’s still imperative to apply a sunscreen during the day. At night, a sleeping mask or cream helps rejuvanate your tired skin from a long day. I use suncreen from Biore and a Green Tea sleeping pack from Innisfree.

Truth is, the Korean skin care regimen is A LOT to take in. You don't need to do all of them, of course, because you should be able to asses what your skin needs without going overboard. Since April of 2015, I’ve successfully incorporated several Korean steps in my routine and I've noticed that my skin looks 10x hydrated, brighter, and less tired.

How many of these steps have you included in your skincare routine? Do you love Korean products too?