How to create your own Korean skincare routine

It’s no secret now that I love Korean skincare. What better to accompany product recommendations on this blog than to share a Korean skincare routine that you can try on your own. Many have created these routines with 10 steps – I am going to give it to you in 8 – how lucky are you? 8 may still seem excessive, but you can customise it to your preference and include only essentials.

Step one: Oil cleanser (PM only)

Oil cleansers are great at removing the day’s SPF and make-up, and are therefore pretty essential! All you have to do in this step is apply 1 – 2 pumps of your favourite oil cleanser onto dry skin. Once you’ve massaged your face with the oil, add a few drops of water to your face to emulsify it. Then, rinse or wipe off (I like to use a muslin cloth or reusable cotton pads). Use this one in the evening.

It’s crazy, but my favourite oil cleanser is not actually made by a Korean brand. It’s the Bare Minerals’ Smoothness Hydrating Cleansing Oil. The smell of this alone is enough for me to re-purchase – it’s like one of those deeply heavenly botanical smells. It is a great cleanser too.

Step two: Water-based cleanser

After removing the oil cleanser, use a water-based cleanser. This is to keep your skin clean! You can apply it to dry or wet skin, depending on your preference and the type of cleanser you’re using. Massage for a minute, then rinse. You can do this step in the morning and evening, or just the evening after the oil cleanser.

I wouldn’t say I really have a favourite cleanser. I mostly use CeraVe as it’s very affordable and has a simple formula. The one I am currently using is the SA Smoothing Cleanser.

Step three: Exfoliator (PM only)

Exfoliators do the job of getting rid of the dead cells and build-up on the surface and inside your skin. Use a physical or chemical exfoliant 1 – 2 times per week (or as directed by the skincare product). The reason that I suggest to leave exfoliation until the evening is because some chemical exfoliants can cause increased skin sensitivity if exposed to the sun. To be on the safe side, exfoliate at night and make sure to include SPF in your routine the following morning.

The types of chemical exfoliants you can find are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), poly hydroxy acids (PHAs), and flower / fruit enzymes. AHAs are ideal for those with more dry / normal skin types, and works only on the surface of the skin, while BHAs are more suited to oily / combination skin types, due to their ability to penetrate the skin’s surface and clear your pores and oil glands. PHAs and natural acids from fruits and flowers are more gentle and can be a great option for those with sensitive skin.

I have used all of the above at one time or another, except for PHAs. I started off using fruit enzymes – the High-Potency Night-A-Mins Resurfacing Cream by Origins. This one was great to start me off on my chemical exfoliant journey as it’s super gentle and does the job well. My current favourite BHA is the COSRX Original Clear Pad that I talked about in this post.

Step four: Toner / essence

The reason I have grouped these together as an either / or is because I don’t often use both. You absolutely can if you want to, and most 10-step Korean skincare users do, but I usually always prefer the increased viscosity of an essence. Toners and essences are great for prepping the skin, adding hydration, and including any active ingredients (think niacinamide, vitamin C). Your toner can also be your exfoliator.

I talked about my favourite essence in this previous post. Beauty of Joseon’s Ginseng Essence Water is also an absolute knockout to add to your Korean skincare routine.

Step five: Serum

Serums can be used for a range of different things. They are typically applied to address any skincare concerns you may have (anti-ageing, pore control, reducing hyperpigmentation) or to tackle your skincare condition if you have one (acne, dehydration). My serums are usually targeted at hydrating my parched skin.

A favourite serum of mine has to be the Beplain Bamboo Hydrating Ampoule. A real low for me in my life was when Versed discontinued their On the Rise Firming Serum. That truly was the holy grail serum for me. The glow she gave…

Step six: Moisturiser

Even oily skin gals need to use a moisturiser. The best texture for a moisturiser for someone with oily skin is a gel, while those with more dry skin should opt for a heavier, creamer consistency. The purpose of this step is to lock in all the hydration and beneficial ingredients you’ve just added to your skin. It also works to protect your skin barrier.

The best gel moisturisers I have used and loved are (1) Purito’s Deep Sea Pure Water Cream, (2) Bonajour’s Green Tea Water Bomb, and (3) the Etude House Soon Jung Hydro Barrier Cream. The first I prefer to use in the winter months as it does have a slight cream texture while remaining light, and the second I will use in the summer. The Soon Jung Hydro Barrier Cream is a classic that I reach for anytime.

Step seven: SPF (AM only)

An absolute essential in a Korean skincare routine – SPF. Sunscreen is there to protect your skin from UV damage and free radials roaming about, creating unwanted havoc and pre-mature wrinkles. You want to make sure you are using a broad spectrum (UVA & UVB), and preferably a non-nano SPF. Non-nano just means that the particles aren’t entering your bloodstream. You can find mineral / physical or chemical sunscreens on the market. I prefer mineral, due to the effect that chemical sunscreens have on the environment and your hormonal health – but that’s a conversation for another day.

The best mineral sunscreen I have found, that leaves very minimal white-cast, is the Biossance Squalene & Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen – SPF 30. Biossance have since removed this product from the market after reports of skin irritation (though I never had any trouble with it). I have just ordered the Versed Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen – SPF 35, so we will see how this one compares.

Step eight: Lip balm

It may not be for everyone, but this step is paramount for me. After brushing my teeth in the morning, I apply Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm. In the PM, I cannot go to bed without lathering Laneige’s Lip Sleeping Mask on. This may be an unpopular opinion, but mint choco is the best flavour (you won’t be able to change my mind).

So, there you have it. An 8-step Korean skincare routine for you to try at home. Keep in mind that all the products I have mentioned are best suited to my skin type / condition (oily, acne-prone & dehydrated). Get online, or to a K-beauty shop, and test and try as many products as you like to cultivate your own killer regime.


Kait x

Cover photo by Brian Phetmeuangmay