Spotlight on Korean Skincare: Steps 1-5

Most of us have heard of, if we haven’t tried, CC and BB creams. The concept of multi-benefit lotions, foundations and concealers have taken the American beauty market by storm. An innovation that hails from Korea, these creams have ushered in an awareness of and interest in Korean skincare that has the beauty obsessed in a state of awe and inspiration; awe of the 10- to 17-step, twice daily, routine and inspired by the flawless skin Korean women tout as a result of their strict regimens. In fact, some American women who were first converted to Korean skincare after their own trips to Korea claim that our wash-and-go routines feel barbaric by comparison.

The biggest fashion publications and blogs (think Vogue, Elle and Into The Gloss) have tapped Korean beauty experts to suggest Korean products to use and explain the skincare process. As daunting as it seems, women who’ve tried it say it takes approximately 15 minutes away from their evenings and mornings. They also say their acne is improved, their skin glows and their beauty routines are forever changed.

The first thing to note about a Korean regimen is that the process is malleable. While what’s considered a basic routine will run anywhere from 7 to 10 steps a more intense routine will bring it up to 17. And there is room for you to treat your specific skin issues whether it’s an oily T-zone or allover dryness.

The second noteworthy item is that gentle products and application is the name of the game. No cleansing scrub brushes, wash cloths or other tools. Most of the work is done with the gentle massaging motions of your fingertips, waiting at least a minute between steps to let products absorb into the skin.

And finally, when it comes to getting these products stateside without waiting weeks for delivery, there are two prime e-tailers we turn to that offer exclusive Asian/Korean skincare brands, SokoGlam! and Peach and Lilly. Scope out these sites and find a wealth of products in the categories you need, many of them addressing specific skin issues for a tailored routine.

Ready for the essentials? Here we go.

Step 1 Cleanse:The first step is always to cleanse. The Koreans use oil-based cleansers to remove makeup; something Americans are just now getting used to.

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Natural Coconut Cleansing Oil

As a secondary step, some women do a second cleanse that involves a foam-based cleanser after their oil-based makeup removal.

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Tea Tree Balancing Foaming Cleanser

Step 2 Exfoliate: After you’ve done the cursory work of removing makeup and the first layer of impurities in your skin, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty, literally. An exfoliating product removes dead skin, for suppleness and softness.

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Skin Food Black Sugar Mask Wash Off

Step 3 Refresh and Tone: The term toner and refesher is synonymous for the same type of product in the Korean beauty market. Many American beauty experts say toning is optional. For the Korean woman it’s a key step. And Korean “toners” are formulated differently. They prep the skin for the next steps, removing the last vestige of dirt and oil and opening skin up to receive your hydrating efforts. This is the only part of the routine something (a cotton pad) other than your fingers can be used.

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Missha Pore Correcting Toner

Step 4 Essential Essence: This is a liquid product that, for now, is unique to Korean skincare. An essence is meant to renew cell turnover and aid in skin firmness. You spray it on and then pat it in with your fingers.

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Mineral Treatment Essence

Step 5 Serum Ampoules: Referred to as ampoules or serums, there are plenty to pick from. This is where you can tailor your routine to your skincare goals. You can layer on serums that treat different issues like dryness or dark spots. How many serums you use can really increase the number of steps.

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Missha Time Revolution Immortal Youth Serum

Stay tuned for steps 6-17 over the next few days!

About the Author

Marisa has penned articles and features in over a dozen online and print publications. She's worked as fashion critic and creative director for, been the managing editor for Caribbean-based Ocean Style Magazine, and worked with Set Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication based in Zurich, as a contributing editor. Based in New York, she is a freelance fashion and cultural copywriter, editor and reporter. You can find out more at her site and follow her on Twitter @mraswan.