Korean 10-Step Skincare: The Answer to Glowing Skin

jun ji hyun

Koreans are famous for their obsession with skincare. It’s no coincidence that BB cream and snail secretion masks developed here – this is a population which demands the latest and best in skincare trends. Many Koreans eat certain foods that they believe to boost collagen production and glowing skin, and sun avoidance is a way of life here. So it should hardly come as a surprise to learn that the daily Korean skincare regimen varies in between 10 and 17 products. Compare that to the simple cleanser and moisturizer combination that so many of us use, and you’ll understand why Korean women are known for their clear and youthful skin!

The “Korean 10-step skincare system” has become kind of a buzz phrase, but it’s important to remember that people may not be talking about the same steps at all, and it might not even be exactly 10 steps. Everyone’s skin is different, so while one person’s regimen might include an exfoliant, another person’s might not. Furthermore, even the most diehard 10-step follower will admit that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you apply night cream before or after eye cream (just as long as you do apply both). The key thing to take home from the 10-step system is that it’s worth it to spend a little more time removing every last trace of makeup, massaging your face to boost circulation, and moisturizing to ensure that you’ll wake up in the morning with a glowing complexion.

By and large, these products, in this basic order, are the reality of skincare for many Koreans. So let’s assume it’s night time and you’re getting ready for bed. Following the 10-step skincare system, what do you do?


Memebox Korean Beauty Starter Kit (Truly a starter set since it is four pieces so it’s a good way to ease your skin into a larger, longer, routine! Also, we swear by Skinfood’s Black Sugar Cleansing Oil!)

1. Makeup Remover

In Korea, cleansing the skin is a two-step process, which sounds strange until you think back on all those times you washed your face, only to look in the mirror to find makeup residue in your pores or around your eyes. So with this method, you use two separate cleansers; the first is only for removing makeup. If you have normal to oily skin, you may use a towelette to gently remove all the makeup from your face, lips, and eyes. Every Korean makeup brand will have towelettes packed with good-for-your-skin ingredients such as green tea, aloe, or lavender. They smell great and feel refreshing! But if you have dry or sensitive skin, stay away from the towelettes, since they may be irritating. Instead, gently massage a cleansing oil into your skin with your fingers.


It’s Skin Brightening Cleansing Oil


Skinfood Fresh Celery Cleansing Tissue

2. Cleanser

If you’re like us, you might be guilty of using face cleanser for about three seconds before rinsing it off with water. Koreans advise taking more time with this step. Gently massage the cleanser into your skin using circular motions, for a minute or as long as it takes to boost circulation (and of course, properly cleanse your skin). Oily-skinned people might want to look into foam cleansers, while dry-skinned folks should find a non-foaming version made with cream or oil.


Missha Super Aqua Refreshing Cleansing Foam


Missha Near Skin Extra Renew Cleansing Cream

3. Exfoliator

Folks with sensitive skin, please skip this step! But if you suffer from oily skin or noticeably clogged pores, you can use a gentle exfoliant once a week on the parts of your face that need it, such as your T-zone or lips. Many of you may have heard of Skinfood’s Black Sugar Wash-Off Mask, which is still a bestseller to this day.


Skinfood Black Sugar Wash-Off Mask

4. Toner/Refresher

When you wash your face, your skin may feel squeaky clean, but that’s actually not its ideal state. Many cleansers (especially soap-based ones) are alkaline, whereas the pH balance of the oils on your skin is slightly acidic. Some cleansers are milder than others, but there are many that strip your face of its surface oils and throw off your skin’s pH. The role of toner is to bring your skin’s pH level back down. That’s why they often contain slightly acidic substances such as witch hazel or vinegar. Toners have gained a bad reputation for being overly drying, but there’s a huge variety of toners to be found. Whatever your skin type, you’ll be able to find one suitable for you.


It’s Skin Aloe Relaxing Toner

5. Essence

The distinction between the role of essence and serum (the next step in the series) is confusing even to many Koreans, so we’re not going to throw down the gauntlet and declare definitively what that difference may be. Essence is generally seen as a thin, hydrating liquid meant to prep the skin for all the treatment to follow (and boy, will there ever be a lot of treatment)! Essences are not one size fits all; there are different essences for moisturizing, brightening, clarifying, and so on. Some people swear by essence, while others see it as too similar to serums and therefore skip it.  If you do choose to use it, gently pat it into the skin for a lightly moisturizing and refreshing experience.


TeaTree 90 Essence

6. Serum

This is the stronger, more concentrated version of essence. Basically, as with essence, serums do different things depending on the kind you get. Whether your skincare concerns are about evening your skin tone, firming your skin, or moisturizing, there will be a serum out there for you. Missha’s Time Revolution Night Repair, for example, is famous for its anti-aging properties.


Missha’s Time Revolution Night Repair Ampoule

7. Masks

Koreans swear by masks; you’ll even be able to find them in convenience stores and other unexpected places. Your typical mask will be a paper sheet that’s loaded with helpful ingredients – as always, just find the one that your skin needs. Leave it on your skin for as long as the package says (usually 10 to 15 minutes). When you remove the mask, your skin will be glowing so much, you’ll feel bad that you’re just going to bed, rather than heading outside so everyone can see your face! Like exfoliator, this is not a regular step; you might do it just twice a week.


Missha Pure Source Green Tea Sheet Mask

8. Eye Cream

Sure, we may take the time to explain essences and emulsions, but we’re pretty sure you know what eye cream is! The skin under your eyes is very thin, so pat on your eye cream gently. Make sure you hit both the inner and outer corners, which is where fine lines tend to develop.


Missha Geumsul Vitalizing Eye Cream (We haven’t tried this one, but we really love the face cream in the same line… so this is probably good too!)

9. Emulsion

Like essence and serum, you can think of emulsion and cream as two products that do the same thing in different concentrations. An emulsion is basically a lightweight, watery moisturizer. Massage this gently into your skin and allow it to absorb a bit before moving to the next step.


Skinfood Peach Sake Emulsion

10. Cream

The single best way to get a glowing complexion is to use a proper face cream at night. If you rely only on emulsion, no matter how moisturizing it feels when you’ve applied it, you’re more likely than not to wake up to dry skin. A thick, rich face cream will lock in the moisture overnight.


Etude House Moistfull Super Collagen Cream

11. Everything Else

The fun doesn’t end after ten simple steps! After you wake up in the morning, you’ll definitely want to condense last night’s routine to suit your busy schedule. You obviously won’t need makeup remover, and you might be able to set aside that heavy cream as well. But you will definitely need to use a proper sunscreen before going outside, and you should freshen up your skin throughout the day with liberal doses of face mist. You really can’t skip either step: As we all know, sun avoidance is the number-one key to youthful skin, and face mist will provide a nice dose of moisture throughout the day. Use an aerosol version if you need to maintain your makeup, but a plastic bottle like the one below can deliver heavier forms of moisture, such as oil or honey.


Skinfood Royal Honey Mist

That’s all from us! We’ll close off with a second simple (hey, it’s only five pieces, after all) skincare set from Memebox. This one contains toner, face cream, cleansing tissues, face mask, and even a hand cream.


Memebox “Nature for Your Skin” Kit