A Guide to Korean Beauty

A 10 step skincare routine? Challenge accepted.

09 Aug 2017

The Korean skincare regime has long served as yet another mystery from the orient – a beauty process so shrouded in complexity that many simply balk at the thought. Even though the lengthly process seems intimidating, it is actually the opposite - calming, soothing and very simple.

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"Thorough skincare is part of Korean culture and is encouraged during early childhood years, with Korean women believing that flawless and radiant skin is a sign of true beauty," explains Robyn Clifford, Product Director at Oh K. "This belief stems back centuries ago where women never exposed their skin to sunlight to achieve healthy and porcelain like skin. Skin complexion and flawlessness are of great importance in Korean tradition, with the belief that you can tell your fate and fortune by your skin,” continues Robyn. “Korean women dedicate a lot of time to their skincare regimes with a view that it is something to savour and enjoy”.

"Adopting a Korean-inspired skincare regime really helps to change your mindset of taking care of your skin as a chore into it being a pampering session you can look forward to!" - Charlotte Cho, co-Founder of Soko Glam

There is much to savour and enjoy, as their skincare regime is - wait for it - 10 steps. It may sound overwhelming, but the process makes sense. As someone who adheres to it, I can testify it works too; slowly, but very, very surely.

1. Oil cleanse:
The Koreans pioneered the double cleansing movement, which begins with an oil cleanser. Don't let the idea of washing your face with oil frighten you - it is the perfect first cleanse as it removes oil-based makeup, SPF & dirt that water is unable too. Don't freak out if you have oily or combination skin - it's my (educated) view that those skintypes benefit from an oil cleanser, provided it is followed by a water cleanser.
Camellia Soombi Enriched Cleansing Oil, £36,

2. Water cleanse:
The second step in your double cleanse method. Water-based cleansers break down water-based debris such as dirt and sweat, with some even capable of removing any remaining oil form your first cleanse. Be wary of foaming cleansers, as they can often be astringent. Opt for a gentle water or cream cleanser instead.
Dermalogy Real Flower Calendula Cleansing Water, £23,

3. Tone:
Toners in Korean skincare can be as vast or specialised are you would like - they are perfect for addressing specific skincare concerns. Never ones to over-exfoliate (you will rarely find strong acids in Korean products), Koreans favour a more gentle approach to renewing and resurfacing the skin. Instead their usual toners focus on soothing and hydrating the skin.
Pure Eco Bamboo Clear Water Fresh Toner, £14.50,

4. Essence:
These are fundamentally supercharged waters that prime and prep the skin for further absorption. It might seem the most frivolous of the steps, but it is the most important one if you ask any native Korean. By using an essence, you are creating a layer of pure hydration that allows the potent-heavy products that follow to be absorbed with greater effect.
Vital Treatment Essence, £38,

5. Ampoule:
Fundamentally a serum, this is a more dense, potent-heavy product that addresses skin damage - whether its plumping, brightening or protecting.
Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule, £30,

6. Sheet Masks:
The most iconic step in Asian skin regiments, sheet masks can do done daily but are usually only included twice a week. A mask you wear for about 20 minutes, sheet masks come in paper, cotton or bio-cellulose varieties and are capable of addressing specific concerns, such as acne, dehydration or aging.
Cucumber Sheet Mask, £6,

7. Eye cream:
The skin around your eyes is particularly delicate, so I always suggest opting for a gel or water-based formula (emollients can sometimes sting, clog the pores around the eyes and are unable to be applied to the even thinner skin on the eyelids). Use a tapping motion to apply to avoid stretching the skin.
Snail Repair Eye Cream, £18,

8. Emulsion:
This is a lighter-weight moisturiser that works to penetrate into the skin and hydrate at a deeper level. It's often a liquid or gel-cream consistency.
Water Drop Hydrating Moisturiser, £27,

9. Night Cream / Sleeping Pack:
This is the most emollient, or creamiest, product in your routine. You slather this on last because it's so thick that it could prevent the rest of your products from getting absorbed into the skin. While it moisturises on the spot, it also keeps you hydrated as you sleep because it's made with humectants: ingredients that hold and retain moisture.
Sleeping Mask Pack, £6.50,

10. SPF:
The Korean's practically invented SPF, that is how frequently it is used. Devoted to staying out of the sun, Korean's believe (and rightly so) that it is the most damaging environmental factor towards their skin. Koreans also champion a very pale complexion as a sign of utmost beauty, which SPF helps create. This step, understandably, can be skipped in the evenings when the sun is down, but it is not uncommon for their to always be a bottle of SPF on the desks of all office workers in Korea, constantly topping up in fear of UV rays.
Sun Project Water Sun Cream SPF50, £24,

Lip Balm:
Not part of the 10 steps, but nevertheless still included! Never ones to neglect any area of the face or body, Korean women apply lip balm religiously, even in the summer. When it comes in packaging as cute as this, how could they not?
Lip Balm Cherry Blossom, £5.50, !

What did I find?

I adopted the skincare routine as an experiment - could this really salve my troubled skin? The answer was yes. My previous routines had been focused on severe exfoliation, where I reached for acids every time I saw something I didn't like.

This routine was the antithesis of that, focusing on long-term health rather than immediate relief. My redness, irritation and eventually, problematic areas, subsided. I no longer broke out, no longer struggled with excessive oiliness and - perhaps most importantly - no longer rushed through my skincare routine.

The most suprising and beneficial aspect of adopting a 10-step regiment was how I began to enjoy the time that was forced upon me; I began to love the 20 minutes, morning and evening, that were dedicated to my skin. It became a sort of meditation, a point of relieve in my day where I wasn't troubled or distracted by anything else. It did a lot for my skin and even more so for (forgive me) my soul.

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Still unsure? Selfridges have launched a beautiful concession space championing all things K-Beauty, with staff on hand to advise and educate. There are over , while have an entire online space dedicated to the subject.


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