In Korea and Japan, women have long considered skin care the key to good makeup. Only a strict skin care regimen of layering products, patting into skin for proper absorption and facial massage can prep skin to “eat” your makeup well, with foundation melting into skin and imparting a natural finish, as opposed to sitting on top and looking like a mask.
Why layer products? According to Christine Chang of Glow Recipe, an online site for natural, “harsh-free” Korean skin care products, “It’s similar to how wearing several thin layers during the winter is often warmer then just one thick sweater. Several layers of skin care products are thought to be a more effective way to keep skin hydrated and supple for longer, rather than one thick layer of a heavy cream.”
While there’s been debate over exactly how many steps constitute the true Korean skin care regimen, the steps below offer a solid guideline. “The famous 10-step skin care routine is possible because women also like to use sheet masks at night, which are used directly on skin after cleansing and toning, then followed by one’s usual skin care routine,” says Chang. “A few other steps that are in vogue are pre-serums or ‘first serums’ [like Sulwhasoo’s First Care Activating Serum or Shiseido’s Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate], which are used before one’s usual essence to give a boost to the rest of the skin care routine, and also ‘finishers,’ which are used after a cream to give an extra dewy glow to the skin.”
Step 1: Double Cleanse — Remove Makeup
Throughout Asia, cleansing is widely considered the most important part of skin care, which has resulted in the development of highly specialized products and methodologies,” says Chang.
“The double cleanse method is commonplace in Korea and Japan, where there is the belief that because multiple ‘layers’ are needed to achieve a finished daytime look (skin care, makeup, UV protection), more than one step of cleansing is needed to truly remove everything.” The first step is to remove makeup and sunscreen with a cleansing oil. “These products are formulated to remove even the most stubborn oil-based products and eye makeup,” says Chang.
Step 2: Double Cleanse — Wash Face
After an oil cleanser, the second step is to clean dirt, pollution residue and debris with a foaming or gel cleanser.
Step 3: Hydrating Toner
Also called “skin” in Korea, this category goes by several names, ranging from “lotion” to “water.” Whatever you call it, these toners prep skin and boost the efficacy of following treatments. “Korean toner is not the same as the Western concept of toner, which is alcohol-based, liquid and applied with a cotton round,” says Hilary Burns-LaRiche, marketing manager at Korean prestige brand Sulwhasoo. “Korean toners are a watery gel texture that soothes the skin and restores balance.”
Step 4: Essence or Serum
This is where it can get confusing because essence and serum are both skin treatments with high concentrations of beneficial ingredients. In Asia, what is called “essence” can range from a liquid (some are even sprayed on) to a thicker serum-like texture. “Women in Korea use the two words interchangeably,” says Chang. “In fact, many foreign brands rename their serums locally as ‘essences,’ since this is the more widely understood term.” Generally, think of essences as lightweight versions of serum, both in texture and often in concentrations of active ingredients. So if you’re in your 20s, go with an essence. A little older? A serum might be better.
Step 5: Emulsion, Fluid or Lotion
Whatever you call it, this step is basically a lightweight moisturizer to replenish skin’s hydration levels. Emulsions provide light hydration on its own, says Burns-LaRiche, so in hot summer weather or if you have an exceptionally oily skin type, you may want to skip the face cream step. For drier or more mature skin, you’ll want to layer on both.
Step 6: Eye Cream
Korean skin care is a routine that begins very early on for preventative purposes,” says Burns-LaRiche. “This is not so common in Western culture. Young women in Korea use eye creams to keep fine lines, puffiness and dark circles away.” SK-II’s Essential Power Eye Cream is formulated based on studies that show that under-eye bags begin to sag in your 20s, eyelid wrinkles start forming in your 30s, and crow’s feet in your 40s.
Step 7: Face Cream
For deep hydration of the skin, use one with SPF for day and one formulated to take advantage of your body’s restorative processes at night.
Step 8: Sunscreen (Day) or Sleeping Pack (Night)
Overnight masks or “sleeping packs,” as they are referred to in Korean skin care, offer a deeper, more effective level of hydration and nourishment, more than a cream can, says Burns-LaRiche.
“Your skin repairs itself overnight, and these overnight masks work with the natural process of your skin so you literally wake up looking refreshed.”
Adapted from the original story written by me and published in Audrey Magazine.