Scroll through beauty content on Instagram or TikTok, and we can pretty much guarantee that a good chunk of it will be dedicated to, or at least inspired by, Korean skincare trends. Korean beauty—also known as K-beauty—refers to skincare products, trends, or routines developed primarily in (you guessed it) South Korea. While that might sound obscure, Korean beauty has permeated nearly every aspect of the skincare industry in the United States over the past 10 or so years. Sheet masking and double cleansing both originate from K-beauty practices, as does the well-known 10-step Korean skincare routine.
Of course, you don’t need to have a shelf full of imported Asian skincare products and skincare tools to reap the benefits of a K-beauty routine. Here, we’ll go over what, exactly, the classic 10-step Korean skincare routine includes and how it’s done. We’ll also teach you how to cultivate a Korean-inspired face care routine with your favorite Kiehl’s products. Read on to get started.
What Is The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine
Before we dive into the specifics, we thought it would be helpful to review the basics of Korean beauty and the 10-step Korean skincare routine. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Korean beauty first started making waves stateside, but it was sometime in the mid-2010s. Between 2016 and 2018, the K-beauty market grew by 300% in the United States.I Today, the industry is worth more than $10.2 billion globally, and a Google search for “Korean skincare routine” yields more than 15 million results. Suffice to say, K-beauty is pretty popular.
In general, key Korean skincare steps include cleansing, exfoliating, hydrating, and protecting your skin with ample amounts of broad-spectrum sunscreen. Sheet masks, essences, and overnight skincare treatments are also associated with Korean skincare. That being said, each routine is different (they’re not always exactly 10 steps), and it’s essential to choose products formulated for your skin’s unique needs. For example, if you have dry skin, you’ll want to focus on hydration; if you’re blemish-prone, sticking to non-comedogenic ingredients should be a priority.
Your Ultimate 10-Step Routine
To help you figure out which steps to follow (and when), we’ve put together a 10-step routine that can easily be tweaked according to your skin type and personal preferences. Keep reading to learn how to create your K-beauty-inspired routine for radiant, healthy-looking skin.
Oil Cleanse To Remove Surface Dirt and Oil
Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil
Double cleansing is a defining feature of a typical Korean skincare routine. To begin, reach for an oil-based cleanser, like Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil. Dispense a few drops into your palms, then massage the luxurious, lavender-scented cleansing oil over your dry face. Upon adding water, the silky formula emulsifies to create a light foam that melts away dirt, excess oil, and makeup, leaving your skin feeling soft and supple. It’s non-comedogenic and can be used to remove both facial makeup and waterproof eye makeup.
Complete Your Double Cleanse Routine
After rinsing off your cleansing oil, cleanse your face once more, this time with a light, foaming face wash. Try Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash, which contains hydrating glycerin and soothing calendula extract. The mild formula helps remove impurities without stripping the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and revitalized. Be sure to use lukewarm or cool water to wash your face (hot water can over-dry your skin), and rinse thoroughly when you’re done to ensure there’s no residue left behind.
Immediately Apply Your Go-To Toner
Next up in your K-beauty routine is toner. Look for a mild, non-drying formula, such as Rare Earth Pore Refining Tonic. This milky toner with mineral-rich Amazonian white clay and allantoin helps re-balance skin’s natural moisture levels while mattifying shiny, oily-prone areas like the T-zone. When used consistently, it also helps diminish the appearance of enlarged pores to reveal smoother, healthier-looking skin.
Layer On an Antioxidant-Rich Essence
Essences are a K-beauty staple and a must-have in your 10-step routine (at least, if you’re aiming to stick to tradition). We recommend reaching for an essence formulated with skin-friendly antioxidants, such as Ferulic Brew Rejuvenating Facial Essence. This fast-absorbing formula with ferulic acid and olive-derived squalane helps remove dull surface skin and boosts radiance. It also helps protect against damaging free radicals that can contribute to early signs of aging. You don’t need a cotton pad or cloth to apply it; just dispense a small amount of the liquid into your palms and press it onto your skin.
Mask To Address Areas of Concern
At this point in your usual routine, you’d probably go on to apply your serum. However, the best Korean skincare routines typically include another step between toner and serum: masking—specifically, with a sheet mask. If you don’t feel like breaking out an entire sheet mask every night, try target-treating only your problem areas with Line-Minimizing Targeted Triangle Patch Masks three times per week.
These unique, triangle-shaped patches adhere to the skin easily and help visibly smooth and plump aging skin. They’re clinically-demonstrated to help improve the appearance of a wide range of facial lines and wrinkles, including crow’s feet, nasolabial folds, and stubborn forehead wrinkles.* Apply the miniature masks to areas of concern after toning and leave them on for approximately 30 minutes. Once the time’s up, pat the remaining serum onto your face and neck and proceed to the next step in your routine.
*Based on expert grading in an eight-week clinical study with three times per week usage (24 applications).
Smooth On Your Favorite Serum
In your Korean skincare routine, order matters. Generally, you’ll want to layer your products according to weight—lighter products first and heavier products later. As such, serum will usually fall somewhere in the middle of your routine.
Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum
We recommend applying a hydrating serum, like Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum. This potent formula for all skin types absorbs quickly and helps defend against aging environmental stressors, such as air pollution and sun exposure. It’s clinically-demonstrated to double skin’s strength while boosting radiance and improving skin texture to give way to firmer, more youthful-looking skin.*
*Results based on a clinical study of 58 subjects tested in urban and polluted environments. Strength Index = Composite, average score of clinically graded parameters after using the product for four weeks vs. one week of use.
Hydrate Your Under-Eye Area
To keep your skin looking (and feeling) its best, eye cream is a must. There are countless different formulas you can choose from, depending on your concerns. For daytime, though, we recommend sticking to a hydrating eye cream that can be layered under your makeup, like our cult-classic Avocado Eye Cream. This rich, creamy treatment with avocado oil absorbs easily and provides lasting, all-day hydration. It’s dermatologist and ophthalmologist-tested for safety and can be used daily to reveal smoother, brighter-looking eyes with continued use.
Moisturize Your Face and Neck
While your eye cream soaks in, nourish the rest of your skin with a lightweight, hydrating moisturizer, such as Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream. The calendula-infused formula provides a burst of refreshing hydration that leaves your skin feeling soft and moisturized for up to 24 hours. Over time, this gentle moisturizer helps reduce visible redness and evens the look of skin tone and texture, helping to reveal a fresher, more radiant appearance. Apply a generous amount to your face and neck and let the water-light formula sink into your skin before continuing on to your next step.
Apply a Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen
Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+
Sunscreen is a cornerstone of any skincare routine, but it’s especially revered in Asian beauty circles—probably because sun exposure is responsible for around 80% of all facial skin aging (seriously). During the daytime, keep your skin protected from damaging rays with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, like Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. The non-greasy formula protects from both UVA and UVB rays and offers antioxidant defense from damaging environmental stressors, like pollution. It’s suitable for all skin types, but for those who prefer mineral sunscreen, we also have Super Fluid Daily UV Mineral Defense.
Be sure to apply your SPF at least 15 minutes before going outside (and follow other precautions, like avoiding direct sunlight at midday) for lasting UV protection.
Treat Your Skin To an Overnight Hydrating Mask
While it’s not necessary for nightly usage, you can bolster your nighttime skincare routine with a hydrating sleep mask, like Ultra Facial Overnight Hydrating Mask. This ultra-nourishing face mask, which contains shea butter and desert plant extract, helps replenish the skin’s natural water reserves for long-lasting hydration. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used once to twice weekly to reveal supple, healthy-looking skin.