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The Real Korean Beauty Routine

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I think there are lots of misunderstandings about Korean skin care regime. Many of us religiously follow so-called “10-step” skin care or “5-layer” skin care routine. Instead, Korean skin care routine should be a flexible one. Everyone has different skin types, and different skin conditions. Some days, my skin feels dull, so I use exfoliating products and brightening masks, and some days when my skin gets red and sensitive, I skip my CosRX AHA/BHA clarifying toner, and move on to the soothing masks or sleeping masks.

You know your skin the best, so your routine should be built by you, not by blindly following skin care gurus. But many Korean beauty newbies don’t know where to start. So I have prepared this article. I will try to give you clear answers for some confusing quesions you may have, avoiding to use fancy organic chemistry terms, for your easier understanding.

Skin Care 


Q. What is necessary and what is optional?

I think the core of the Korean skin care regime is cleanser, toner, moisturizers, and sunscreen. Out of these products, I think sunscreen is the most important step, since UV is the major source of skin-aging. A cleanser is definitely an essential step of skincare, so are toner and moisturizers. To summarize, it’s cleanse, prep, moisutize, and protection. The term “Moisturizer” refers to a very broad category in cosmetic – serum, essence, amopule, eye cream, emulsion and cream. We DO NOT NEED To use all the moisturizers every day and night. If you have oily skin, you can skip the cream or emulsion and directly move on to sunscreen. If you have dry skin, you may use multiple serum and essence for your purposes and may add oil on the last step, after the cream. Optional but useful products are exfoliators, sleeping masks, and oil-based cleansers. Exfoliators can be useful for dull skin with excessive keratin layer or flaky skin. If you use heavy makeup, you probably want to do dual-step or triple-step cleansing with oil-based cleanser, cleansing water and foam cleanser. Masks are always useful for quick quenching, so I consider it as a necessary item as well, and some consider blackhead removal patches  essential of their skincare routine.



Q. What’s the general order of the skincare routine?

There is a golden rule on this issue – FROM WATERY TO OILY, LIGHT TO THICK, TRANSPARENT TO WHITE. In other words, you should build your routine from less viscous product to the heavy and rich products. Generally, toners and serums contains more water and water-soluble active ingredients. Emulsions and creams contain oilier, a.k.a lipid soluble ingredients. If you use thick cream before the serum, it will repel the watery products and you cannot benefit from the all products. So, general order is toner- serum- emulsion- and cream. But as I said before, if your emulsion is a clear one, and considerably waterier than your serum, you should use your emulsion before the serum. Eye cream is a tricky issue, so if your eye cream has creamy and buttery texture, use it after the serum and if not, use it before the serum.

 Watery to Thick


Q How do I use the first essence? When do I use it?

I think First Essence is always a headache. Many people don’t know when to use this product, since all cosmetic companies recommend to use the first essences before the toner, right after cleansing. Well, the answer is Yes and No. It totally depends on what kind of toner you use. The golden rule still applies – check out the viscosity. If you use watery typewipe off toners such as CosRX AHA/BHA clarifying toner, or Etude House’s Wonder Pore Freshner, using first essence before these toners will not be a very smart idea. So, if you use toners that need cotton pad, use the first essence after the toner. If you use viscous toner such as Etude House’s Moistfull Collagen Toner or Skinfood’s Black Pomegranate Toner, you can use the first essence before them.

First Essence 

Q. Do I really have to use oil cleanser, cleansing water and cleansing foam all the time?

ABSOLUTELY NO. It depends on how you did your makeup. If you have heavy makeup on that needs serious cleansing, yes, probably you want to use oil-based cleanser such as Clean It Zero. But you don’t have to do this for light makeup, such as BB Cream and lip tint. You can simply wipe off the lips with lip and eye remover or your cleansing water, and simply using cleansing foam after is totally enough. Nowadays, there are lots of smart products, such as micellar water or pad cleansers. Micellar water is generally made with bi-phase (water and oil) in a bottle, and you shake it  before you use. It contains both water based cleanser and oil, so it removes makeup very effectively without irritation. Etude House introduced Micellar Cleansing water last year but we currently do not have it. If you want to try the magical moment of micellar cleansing, try Garnier’s Skin Active Micellar Cleansing Water. They are very affordable and effective. You can make your cleansing routine shorter.


Q. What’s the difference between essence, serum and ampoule?

Unfortunately, there is no clear distinction among them. Actually, serum used to be more frequently used in French/European cosmetics and Essence was a common term for Japanese/Korean products. But now, generally (but not always) essence refers to the products with watery or gel texture that contain concentrated active ingredients. On the other hands, serum refers to the products that are semi-transparent and a bit more viscous products than essence. Well, it’s not 100% accurate
for lots of products. So again, the golden rule, tests out the viscosity. Use waterier one first, if you use multiple essence and serum. Ampoule is a relatively a new term for products with the most concentrated active ingredient. Generally, ampoule is advised to be used right after the toner.

 Essence Ampoule Serum

Q When do I use masks?

You may use them whenever you want, as long as your skin is thoroughly cleansed. But to the get the maximum benefit from your expensive masks, I suggest you exfoliate the skin beforehand, followed by toner AND SERUM then use the mask. (well, this doesn’t apply to the $1 daily mask, because you cannot exfoliate your skin everyday.) Many companies suggest to use toner before the mask, but in my experience, using serum as well is much more effective than just prepping your
skin with just toner. Since mask constantly provides moisture and active ingredients through the chemiosmosis, serum can penetrate on your skin along with essence in the mask, since they are both water soluble. If your serum is completely white and contains lots of oil, of course you should not do this. Again, remember the golden rule. Water should come before the oil :).


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