Four Korean Skincare Products to Massively Simplify Your Routine

Skincare in Korea has always been a bit of an art form, meticulously crafted over centuries to achieve that flawless, dewy glow that’s the envy of beauty enthusiasts worldwide. As a Korean-American born and raised in California, I got my first real taste of Korean skincare when I stepped off the plane at Incheon Airport for the very first time. As I clutched my suitcase, I noticed skincare shops dotted the terminals, followed me underground in subway stations, and were on every corner once I emerged on the streets of Seoul.

Despite my Korean heritage, I experienced significant culture shock as I navigated the stark realities of my newfound Korean corporate life at Samsung and was “essence-shamed” for the first time by my coworkers (they were in shock that I didn’t know what an essence was). Thankfully, my coworkers took me under their wing to show me the ropes. It all started with a humidifier on my desk. Then my taste became a more refined palate, as I developed a passion for all things Korean beauty: pimple patches, cushion compacts, snail mucin serums, double cleansing, and more. It was addicting because it worked—my glistening, acne-free skin received compliments over brunch, where I proudly displayed my no-makeup, makeup look.

In 2014, I first shared this multi-step process on ELLE.com, coining it officially as the “Korean 10-step skincare routine.” While it wasn’t meant to be taken so literally (not many can really commit to 10 steps every morning and night!), the Korean 10-step routine was a moment of education and a revelation for Americans to finally step up our skincare game. It served as an a-ha moment—perhaps removing your makeup should be as thoughtful as how much time and effort it took you to put it on. Or maybe skincare is actually something we can delight in, instead of thinking of it as a chore?

korean skincare

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For all these reasons, it became more than a passing beauty trend–it went viral! People who were guilty of hitting the sack after a hasty swipe of a makeup wipe were challenged to cleanse (twice!), exfoliate, tone, apply 3-4 treatment steps, including a sheet mask, and finish it off with either a night cream, your favorite sunscreen, or a sleeping mask. But it was no surprise that with all that care and hydration, they saw glowing results, which fueled the Korean beauty obsession that swept the world.

Fast-forward 10 years later, and Korean beauty exports continue to experience record-breaking success–$8.5 billion in 2023, according to Korea’s Ministry Food and Drug Saftey, with no signs of stopping. Search phrases like “Korean skincare” continue to boomerang off Google and TikTok charts as people search and discover what makes Korean skincare techniques and products so special.

Now that I am a busy mom of two, I’m excited to share that my personal routine aligns with Korea’s more minimalist approach as the market has become flooded with more multi-tasking innovations. So here I am, a decade later, to share a more updated and simplified take on the classic Korean skincare routine, to save you time (and coin), without sacrificing results.

Oil cleanser is still the MVP.

Living Cleansing Balm

Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm

An award-winning cleansing balm that is known for its luxurious sorbet-like texture and bright marigold natural coloring from antioxidant-rich seaberries.

Daily-C Balancing Cleansing Balm

Daily-C Balancing Cleansing Balm

Infused with Vitabrid’s patented and stabilized vitamin C, this cleansing balm brightens and cleanses in one swoop.

On Sale

Heartleaf Pore Control Cleansing Oil

ANUA Heartleaf Pore Control Cleansing Oil

Now 11% Off

A lightweight, silky, pore-clearing oil that leaves no residue on the skin after a complete breakdown of impurities on the skin, leaving it soft and clean.

Let’s start with the double cleanse, the holy grail cleansing routine that I still believe is the most important step in your routine. It’s important to dissolve your makeup, sunscreen, and grime with an oil-based cleanser. Remember cleansing will prevent breakouts and prevent signs of premature aging like wrinkles and loss of elasticity—there are so many impurities that are not seen with the naked eye.

Discover the benefits of a 2-in-1 cleansing toner.

Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner

ACWELL Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner

This toner went viral for its gentle and calming cleanse. It’s the equivalent of dousing your skin with licorice extract (one of my personal favorite natural brighteners!)

Living Sea Cleansing Tonic

Then I Met You Living Sea Cleansing Tonic

This supercharged micellar water is made with 86 percent deep sea water from Korea. It contains natural minerals and hydrating nutrients that you don’t have to wash off and doesn’t leave a film on your skin.

On Sale

Beauty Water

SON&PARK Beauty Water

Now 17% Off

This is the go-to cleansing and toning elixir for makeup artist duo Son and Park, who tend to Korea’s most coveted K-pop and K-drama stars. This Beauty Water gently cleans, exfoliates, and tones—all at once.

Here’s a perfect opportunity to multi-task. Instead of your traditional foaming or water-based cleansing step, after the oil cleanse, use an entirely new skincare category born in Korea: a cleansing toner—a cleanser and toner in one. Perfect for those who love the simplicity of micellar waters, but also want to prep and pH balance your skin for the rest of your skincare routine. You can generously sprinkle the liquid-y toner on a cotton round, then swipe any remaining impurities, leaving your skin clean and deeply hydrated. This is an opportunity to avoid that skin-stripping, water-based cleanser, and be on your best behavior with your skin barrier.

Try an all-in-one essence.

Bean Essence

MIXSOON Bean Essence

This TikTok viral bean essence has a more viscous consistency than the watery essences’ out there, but for good reason. It’s deeply hydrating and with a little bit of massaging into the skin, it can even roll away dead skin cells for a gentle but effective physical exfoliation.

The Giving Essence

Then I Met You The Giving Essence

This formula is the perfect marriage of a traditional fermented essence with an optimal 5% niacinamide. It’s a single dose of essence and a serum in one. With just a few taps into the skin, you’ll start to see your glowiest skin imaginable.

Incorporating an essence into your routine will allow your skin to absorb the deep hydration it needs. The key here is to find a fermented essence that does more than hydrate, whether it is brightening with an extra serum dosage of niacinamide or can double as an exfoliator by massaging it into your skin.

Day or night—make your moisturizer work for you.

Pure Artemisia Calming Water Cream

Hanyul Pure Artemisia Calming Water Cream

This high-powered, lightweight Artemisia cream will soothe the most sensitive of skin types and give your face a bouncy, glass-skin finish.

Day-Light Protection Airy Sunscreen SPF 50

DERMALOGY by NEOGENLAB Day-Light Protection Airy Sunscreen SPF 50

This is the most invisible, lightweight Korean sunscreen you will use. It will not break out your skin (yes, even those with oily skin) and has a non-greasy finish.

Essence Light Sunscreen SPF 50

Then I Met You Essence Light Sunscreen SPF 50

Are you craving a dewy, glowy finish and maximum SPF 50 protection? Try this creamy sunscreen and moisturizer combo. It wears well on all skin tones.

In just four steps, you’re already at the end of your routine, so make it count! If you want a moisturizer that aligns with the season, choose one with the right balance of humectants, occlusives, and emollients to prevent your skin from losing moisture throughout the day. If you’re headed out for the day, look for an emollient SPF that doubles as a moisturizer and can give you that dewy, glowy finish.

In truth, Korean skincare was never about the number of steps in your routine; it’s about the philosophy of caring for your skin and arming yourself with the knowledge and dedication you’d give to any other aspect of your health. Simplifying your routine doesn’t mean you’re skimping on the care—it means you’re finding the sweet spot of efficiency and effectiveness while embracing the best of what Korean skincare has to offer.

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