From essences to sheet masks, Korean beauty products and trends are taking over the American beauty market. Everyone is talking about the 10-step routine that is popular among the skin-centric women of Seoul. But it’s a total exaggeration. The first thing I learned when taking on this experiment: A week on a Korean skincare regimen does not mean a 10-step process every day.
“It’s a misconception that you’re supposed to be doing all 10 steps every single day,” Charlotte Cho, the board certified esthetician behind Soko Glam and author of The Little Book of Skincare, tells SELF. “It’s more about the different variety of products that can be used, depending on your skin concerns and skin type.” For women who are coming from a two or three-step routine, this type of 10-step commitment will likely dwindle down to five. As a skincare fanatic (and a beauty editor who must try everything), I did about seven to all ten steps each day. I really wanted to indulge in this experiment.
“It’s the lifestyle and mindset behind skin that’s really getting people interested in Korean skincare rituals,” says Cho. And if you’re one of those that are intrigued by the lengthy routine, see what my week on a Korean skincare regimen was like—step by step and mask by mask.
Step One: Oil Cleanser
Purpose: Applied to dry skin, an oil cleanser removes makeup and any other oil-based product debris like sunscreen and pollution particles.
My Experience: I recently got on the oil-cleansing bandwagon thanks to my week with coconut oil. But this time I swapped out my DIY oil cleanser for Banila Clean It Zero ($21, sokoglam.com). The texture and smell of the product was so soft and pleasant—I almost forgot that it needed to be rinsed off. Every night during the week, I removed my daily foundation and mascara combo with this oil. I didn’t use it to remove stubborn heavy eye make up though. For that, I used a cotton round soaked in makeup remover.
Step Two: Foam Cleanser
Purpose: “Believe it or not, after one cleanse, you’re still going to have stuff left over,” says Cho. This water-based cleanser is applied to wet skin and removes impurities like sweat and dirt. After double cleansing (first with oil then with foam) not a hint of grime will be left to hinder your skin’s health.
My Experience: Though I often remove my makeup with coconut oil, I’d never really double cleansed before. The oil alone always felt like enough. However, I really enjoyed the second cleansing step, especially after a long day running around the city or the office. After washing away the foam, it felt like my skin was completely cleared of any bad particles, leaving a clean slate to work with for the rest of the regimen. I tried the Neogen Dermalogy Cranberry Real Fresh Foam Cleanser ($19, sokoglam.com), which has actual cranberry fruit particles in it.
I thought I would slack on this two-step process, but surprisingly I ended up double cleansing every night. I might even adopt this habit for my day-to-day.
Step Three: Exfoliator
Purpose: Exfoliation not only cleans out clogged pores, but it also sloughs off dead skin cells. When you remove this dull layer of cells, brighter skin is revealed. This step is not recommended for daily use. If you have sensitive skin, you’ll only want to exfoliate once a week. If you have a tougher complexion, you can do it more regularly (about three times a week).
My Experience: I’m all for lazy exfoliating options like wipes instead of scrubs, which is why Cho’s recommendation of Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine ($27, sokoglam.com) was perfect for me. I could easily exfoliate away, while watching The Bachelor on my couch. The double-sided wipes were packed with red wine (which you could seriously smell, but in a non-alcoholic stench) and lactic acid. The gauze side was bumpier allowing you to really feel as though your sloughing away any gunk clogging up your pores. Then the quilted side gave you a gentle finish to the process. I did this three times during the seven-day trial.
I had a breakout under my jawline that I was really hoping would clear up with my new exfoliation routine. And while the bumps definitely decreased in size, the discoloration never completely faded.
Step Four: Toner
Purpose: “After you cleanse so many times, your skin is in a fragile state,” explains Cho. “So you want to really hydrate it.” She also explains that toner acts as a way to prep the skin, so it’ll absorb the following treatments better.
My Experience: Toner was always a skincare step I skipped. It was after talking to Cho that I really came to appreciate this part of the routine, especially when partaking in such extensive cleansing. I tried Whamisa Organic Flowers Deep Rich Essence Toner ($40, glowrecipe.com). At the beginning of the week, I used a cotton round to pat the product into my skin because the consistency is very runny. But by day five, I was just pouring the liquid into my palms. Once I realized that it wasn’t just water (which is how it seemed at first) I didn’t want to waste any of the product that would soak into the cotton.
Step Five: Essence
Purpose: The essence is really the heart of Korean skincare, a step that is credited to their culture. Cho claims it’s of the most important parts of the routine. “It’s a treatment product similar to serums, boosters, or ampoules; but it’s more watery in consistency then the rest of those products, so it comes out like a toner.”
My Experience: My primary question: Why not just use a toner and a serum in place of this essence step? It seemed obsolete to me. Yes, it was nice to splash my face with the Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence ($49, misshaus.com). But it felt like the results I was attempting to gain from using an essence could have been achieved with the typical toner-serum combo. Although I didn’t really understand it’s purpose, I continued to use essence every night hoping it’s significance would wow me by the end of the week.
Step Six: Serum, Boosters, or Ampoule Treatments
Purpose: Cho explains that this is not a necessary step for everyone. “If you don’t have brown spots or pigmentation, you don’t really need to use [a treatment],” she says.
My Experience: Since redness is a major issue of mine, I was all in on this serum step. It’s also one that I’m used to completing on a regular basis. For this week, I used Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Soombi Essence Serum ($64, sokoglam.com), which feels a lot like a gel but spreads easily. It left a smooth layer over the skin similar to how a cream would without any stickiness or grease. It also gave a dewy effect that didn’t look wet or sweaty, just faint enough to look healthy. I’m crediting the serum combined with the moisturizer for my skin feeling so smooth in the mornings.
Step Seven: Mask
Purpose: The purpose of your mask depends on what your skin needs. Cho recommends a hydrating mask like Skinfood Hydro Fitting Snail Mask Sheet ($13, sokoglam.com). But you can also choose one for brightening that may be packed with Vitamin C. This is not an every-night step, you really only need to do it twice a week. In fact, Cho explains that you can swap a sheet mask for a serum or essence to cut time off your routine. “The mask contains those treatment products already,” she explains.
My Experience: One thing I was dying to include during this experimental week was the Blithe Patting Splash Mask ($48, glowrecipe.com). The watery texture tricked me into thinking the product would just run down my face, which wouldn’t give it any time to sink in or have a noticeable effect. But damn Daniel, that was not the case! I tried it twice, both times in the shower since I didn’t want to ‘splash’ all over my clothes or bathroom counter. I poured a cap full of the Green Tea mask thinking I was in for a nice calming green tea treatment. But after patting onto my skin, I could really feel the active ingredients against my skin. It was clear this product is a seriously potent mix of ingredients (and that explains why it only takes 15 seconds to work). The first time, I got too close to my eyes, and I couldn’t even open them because of the stinging. By my second attempt, I learned my lesson.
For the sheet mask, I tried Amorepacific Moisture Bound Intensive Serum Masque, ($90, us.amorepacific.com). It was much thicker than most sheet masks I’ve used, but that meant it stayed on easily. And although it wasn’t dripping in serum like most, the tight seal made my skin feel tighter and plumper after removing. I also tried Skinfood Hydro Fitting Snail Mask Sheet ($13, sokoglam.com), which was incredibly moisturizing and plumping. Although this was packed with wet serum, it didn’t drip and absorbed fairly quickly.
Step Eight: Eye Cream
Purpose: Depending on the eye cream you choose, this could focus on everything from fine lines to dark circles. Basically, if you have any under-eye concerns, there’s a cream for it.
My Experience: In a light patting motion, I applied Erborian Gineng Infusion Total Eye ($36, usa.erborian.com) every night. This particular eye product was a creamy texture that absorbed quickly. So I didn’t have to do any rough rubbing to get the cream to sink in. “When you’re pulling and tugging at the area, it causes premature wrinkles,” explains Cho. During my regular routine, I’ll apply an eye cream about two times a week. But I saw my dark circles and puffiness diminish by using this every night. I also applied it during the day a couple times, and this product was great to wear under makeup without smearing my concealer.
Step Nine: Face Cream
Purpose: This step is simply to lock in skin’s moisture. And I’m telling you, next to daily SPF, skin hydration is key for supple, younger-looking skin at all ages.
My Experience: Even if you complete the most basic skincare routine, moisturizer should be worn day and night. I switched over to Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb ($38, sephora.com) for this particular experiment. I looked forward to applying this cream every night. It felt like it was doing its duty, sealing in all the other skincare while providing hydration. Waking up ever morning, my skin didn’t feel greasy or sticky.
For my day cream I used Erborian Bamboo Crème Frapee Skin Reviving Fresh Gel ($43, sephora.com), which I actually used before my week with Korean skincare. I loved the sheen this left on my skin underneath my makeup or barefaced. And it was so light it mixed well with the SPF.
Step Ten: SPF
Purpose: “We’re pretty obsessed about SPF,” says Cho. It seems self-explanatory, but we can never stress enough how important sun protection is on a daily basis. Cho claims that it’s applying SPF regularly that’s the biggest differentiator in the Korean regimen.
My Experience: I made my own little two-step SPF program. I started with the Neogen Day-Light Protection Sun Screen ($30, sokoglam.com), which I applied after my moisturizer every morning. And I finished everything off with the Amorepacific Color Control Cushion Compact Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($60, us.amorepacific.com). This bouncy compact filled with tinted moisturizer not only provided SPF coverage, but it also gave me a glowing complexion without that cakey makeup feel. A cushion compact seemed like the best place to end since it’s a makeup innovation that’s also fresh out of Korean beauty culture.
I have to say, during my seven-day experiment, only one night felt like work. The other six nights, it was a nice way to unwind while chatting with my roommates or catching up on The Affair. “Western culture’s skincare routine is more of a chore almost,” claims Cho. “You just put on whatever you have in the bathroom.” But she explains that with a Korean-skin mindset, it’s all about pampering and taking care of yourself. By the end of my vigorous week, my skin felt smoother. My red, blotchy inflammation calmed down and my under-eye bags were almost non-existent. I was so confident in my skin, I didn’t wear makeup the following week. Will I do all ten steps again? Probably not. Using a toner, essence, AND serum seemed redundant. But double cleansing is the way forward for my city lifestyle.
The post I Tried A 10-Step Korean Skincare Regimen For A Week, And Here Are The Results appeared first on SELF.