How to Follow a Korean Skincare (KSC) Routine

Updated on November 10, 2019
Rebekah McLean profile image

After a year abroad, Rebekah hopes to collect writing experience in her own country. She graduated with a B.A. in Writing in 2016.

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Song Hye Kyo, age 35Song JiHyo, age 36Ha Ji Won, age 39
Song Hye Kyo, age 35
Song Hye Kyo, age 35 | Source
Song JiHyo, age 36
Song JiHyo, age 36 | Source
Ha Ji Won, age 39
Ha Ji Won, age 39 | Source

How Korean Women Stay Ageless

It’s not just a rumor; Koreans really do know how to keep off the years. Just search the web for Korean celebrities and prepare to marvel at their ages. After living in Korea for a year, I can testify to the difference. Though Americans tend to underestimate my age, Koreans usually added about five years! When one first grader added over 20 years to my age, I had to do something.

I quickly found that the Korean skincare regimen takes dedication and some money. But with 7 to 12 steps and amazing products, how can it not work? Now, I know it already seems like too much. I mean, 7+ steps? But that’s why this article is for you. After reading what I have to say, you’ll know what each step is, why it helps your skin, and most importantly, shortcuts to save time and money.

The basic concept of a Korean skincare (KSC) routine is the order in which you apply products. Order does matter because it affects how well your skin absorbs and benefits from each product. Essentially, watery products come first, and then you work your way toward the thicker products. So here is a typical 12-step regimen in order from first to last:

Note: Skip to the end of the article for a simplified version.

Cleanse Your Skin

Step 1. Oil Cleanser

If you have oily skin, like I do, you’re probably thinking, NO! But don’t skip this step because it’s the best way to remove makeup. Gently massage the oil cleanser into your face and neck, then rinse with warm water. Your makeup will be gone.

Step 2. Water-Based Cleanser

Chase the oil cleanser with a water-based formula. Foam cleansers are especially nice. They remove other residue or excess oils. And of course, pat-dry, don’t rub. In KSC, it’s important to pat your face gently, with minimal pressure. Harsh rubbing and scrubbing accelerates aging.

Prepare Your Skin

Step 3. Exfoliator

I recommend exfoliation as a daily part of your skincare routine, but it certainly saves time and money to skip this step. However, exfoliating at least three times a week will result in better skin texture and overall skin health. Removing dead skin, allows the next steps to work better.

Step 4. Toner

Toner balances pH, evens texture, and removes dead skin cells. Plus, it prepares your skin for the next products by getting the skin ready to absorb them.


Step 5. Essence

Korean essence serves as a transition between toner and serum. It helps unleash the full power of serum. It can also have special functions such as pore shrinking or skin whitening. Lightly sweep essence over your face, avoiding the eyes.

Step 6. Serum

These gifts to human-kind treat specific skin problems, so this step is highly customizable. I’ve even heard of mixing different serums to get the most benefits. For example, if you have an acne serum and an anti-aging serum, you can blend them to treat both issues. (Note: “boosters,” “ampoules,” “skins,” etc., serve the same purpose as serums and fit into this step.)


Step 7. Masks

Masks offer an optional step for those days when you need extra help. Masks do take 15 to 20 minutes, but if you have the time, go for it! Treat yourself to a relaxing spa moment.

Step 8. Eye Cream

Eyes are the portals to your true age. Keeping them young is crucial. Ideally, apply it twice a day. Skin around the eyes is especially fragile, so deftly dabbing is the best way to apply eye cream. Try using your pinky or ring finger, since they are weaker fingers that provide a lighter touch.

Moisturize Again

Step 9. Moisturizer

Moisturizer falls under a plethora of names: gel, emulsion, cream, lotion . . . whatever it is, apply it two or more times a day. Moisturizer is the soul of KSC. It's the best weapon against wrinkles and how Koreans keep their faces smooth forever.

Step 10. Sleep Mask

The last step before bed is a sleep mask (sometimes called a sleeping pack) to provide extra moisture. It essentially locks in everything you just put on.

Protect and Refresh

Step 11. Sun Protection

In the morning, you will feel amazing! But how do you protect your fresh skin from the sun? You can find SPF in most Korean makeup products. BB Cream, which is an SPF lotion with skin coverage, is an excellent way to protect yourself and look fabulous at the same time. Personally, SPF bothers me because it’s linked to cancer, but wearing long sleeves, sunglasses, hats, and carrying umbrellas are other ways to protect yourself.

Step 12. Mist

To keep skin moist and fresh throughout the day, Koreans carry mist everywhere they go. Korean women are famous for their healthy, dewy look, reinforced by mist.

How to Simplify Korean Skincare

If there was a skincare map, I just gave you a Russia-sized amount of information. So let’s break this down. I’ve simplified it into "fewer” steps:

  1. Cleanse and Prep: cleansers, toner, and an optional exfoliator
  2. Nurture: essences, serums, and optional masks
  3. Moisturize: eye cream, moisturizers, optional sleep mask
  4. Protect: sunblock, prevention, optional mists

Take out all of the optional steps, and it gets easier.

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Essence
  4. Serum
  5. Eye cream
  6. Moisturizer
  7. Sun protection (the next morning)

It’s starting to look doable, right? This makes my basic pre-bed routine. It only takes about five minutes, and I can always add optional steps if my skin needs extra help. I’ve been following this routine for almost a year and my skin has never looked better in my adult life.

Product Purchasing Tips

The next question is where to get products without going broke. I wish I could shop from Missha or Cleo all the time, but that’s not an option on my budget. Brands such as Skinfood, Nature Republic, or Tony Moly are fairly affordable within Korea, but shipping to another country can hurt. There are sites that help out members, or provide free shipping on orders over a certain amount (such as Innisfree), and you can always shop sales. To avoid sounding overly promotional, I won't give details about specific websites. However, there are ways to save product and money.

Free Samples with Purchase!

Innisfree is one of many Korean beauty brands that provide ample free samples with every purchase.
Innisfree is one of many Korean beauty brands that provide ample free samples with every purchase.

Five Ways to Save

1. Switch products with natural substitutes

Instead of using Korean toner every time, use natural toners, such as witch hazel or apple cider vinegar, which have amazing benefits of their own. Plus, they are affordable and can be purchased in large quantities!

Swap essence with a light layer of coconut oil. Wait for it to soak into your skin before applying serum.

2. Thin some products

Perhaps thinning a moisturizer diminishes its impact on your skin, but it goes much further. Find another moisturizer with similar consistency and add it to the Korean product. Coconut oil, vitamin E oil, grape seed oil, etc. also work as great thinners for many products.

3. Toss the cotton pads

Cotton pads soak up a lot of product that could have been on your face. Dab the product onto your skin with your bare hands to ensure you use every drop.

4. Make your own exfoliators and masks

Do-It-Yourself face masks and scrubs are incredibly easy and inexpensive to make. With homemade masks, you can treat yourself as often as you like with no guilt about the price.

5. Make your own mists

You can DIY mists too! There is plenty of information about making your own mists out there. Stay hydrated throughout the day without spending $20+ on a Korean face mist.

You CAN Adopt Korean Skincare!

With KSC's growing popularity, almost anyone can access Korean beauty products these days. Once you learn how to create a personal routine that works for you, you'll find it easy, fun, and rewarding!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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