Part of my job involves staying on top of the latest skincare, makeup, and beauty trends.
I need to anticipate what consumers are looking for and stay hip!
And, my goal is to provide you with honest, accurate info about what goes on your skin.
So, let’s talk about a hot topic that has made a big splash in the industry: Korean skincare and beauty (K-Beauty).
I know, I know – it’s everywhere, and people won’t stop talking about it.
Before you groan and exit out of this post, I want to let you know that K-Beauty doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming!
In fact, it’s fun, easily accessible, and here to stay.
If you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, you will!
One of the reasons for this surge in popularity is that Koreans are masters at caring for their skin, and we’ve started to take notice
They are dedicated.
So, why is K-Beauty such a big deal? Are Korean products superior to ours, or is it all hype? What the heck is a 10-step skincare routine? Is this something that’s even relevant to your life?
Keep on reading to find out!
Obviously, I’m not Korean.
I haven’t been there, either.
“Well then, Alana, what makes you qualified to talk about K-Beauty?”
I’m glad you asked!
As a licensed esthetician for over 14 years, I have a pretty extensive background of skincare knowledge and experience.
I’ve worked with hundreds of product lines, done thorough research, and spoke to other estheticians to provide you with all the correct details.
So, let’s get going!
As a whole, Korean culture is urban, sophisticated, and conservative.
An emphasis is placed on doing your best and being your best self, whether you’re at work, school, or doing extracurricular activities.
This involves appearances, too — caring about looks is important.
People are very fashion-forward, and always looking for the next big thing.
Trendspotting is easy because when it hits, everyone’s participating!
Now, as for skincare…
Starting at a young age, kids are taught proper techniques, like exfoliating, moisturizing, and using SPF, so it becomes second nature to them when they grow up.
And, it’s not just for girls!
Boys are as equally invested in their skincare routine (as you can see from the stat above).
There are plenty of men’s products available – even some specifically designed for those serving in the military!
In Korea, good skincare is available to everyone.
Shops are everywhere; you can find them on most corners and even in subway stations.
I wish we had that kind of convenience!
They approach skincare differently, too.
Korean consumers are focused on prevention and getting to the root of skin problems.
They use products consistently rather than just once and wanting immediate results.
This means applying SPF 30+ and moisturizer before fine lines and dark spots appear – not just covering them with makeup and hoping for the best.
They believe that with time and effort, you can be in control of your skin — you don’t have to react to the way it’s acting.
I wholeheartedly believe that we should approach skincare that way here in the U.S.!
As you might know, one of my mottos is prevention is easier than treatment.
It saves time (and money) to maintain your skin’s health and appearance, rather than scrambling to fix problems as they arise.
The Korean Spa (K-Spa)
Essential to K-Beauty, K-Spas (jimjilbang) are very different than traditional American spas.
Here, “spa days” can get pretty pricey and are usually reserved for special occasions.
We think of fluffy robes, dark, quiet rooms, and cucumbers on our eyes.
This is not the case with K-Spas.
First of all, they’re affordable, and many are open 24/7 so anyone can use them!
Many people go with their families or a group of friends to get clean and just hang out together.
K-Spas are really an all-day affair; you don’t schedule an appointment and then leave when it’s done.
You can nap, read, watch TV, and even eat at the restaurants inside!
Disclaimer: K-Spas do involve nudity for showering and the various treatments, so if you’re interested in going to one, keep that in mind. Don’t worry, though — there are separate rooms for men and women, and lounging clothes are provided for co-ed areas.
Below are some highlights of the K-Spa experience:
Before entering, you’ll shower first.
There are pools and hot tubs of temperatures ranging from icy cold to piping hot, each with a certain purpose (i.e. increasing circulation or relaxing muscles).
They may be filled with mineral or herbal treatments that are beneficial to the skin, like Epsom salts or lavender oil.
Jets are strategically placed to relieve tension and joint pain.
Body Scrubs and Treatments
You can request a body scrub for some serious exfoliation.
If your skin is on the sensitive side, be sure to mention this beforehand.
You’ll be scrubbed from head to toe by an employee in underwear (don’t worry, it’s not sexy), usually with an Italy Towel.
You can see dead skin cells coming off in little gray balls.
Most will finish with a shampoo and a quick head and neck massage.
Your body will have an all-over shine that you didn’t know was possible!
Each sauna or room has different benefits, such as promoting resting, healing, and rejuvenation.
The recommended use is from 10-20 minutes.
Below are the different types of saunas or rooms offered at K-Spas and what they do:
- Himalayan salt: includes minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium to improve the respiratory system and circulation. Is relaxing and helps with skin conditions.
- Clay: helps with relaxation and detoxification.
- Jade: improves overall health, promotes stress relief, and is good for arthritis.
- Ice: firms and tightens the skin and closes pores.
- Bulgama: AKA the “hot sweat room,” this is like a pizza oven – but for your skin. It’s above 200 degrees to loosen muscles and remove toxins.
If you’re interested in going to a K-Spa, you can find them online and read their reviews.
How’s K-Beauty Different?
Here are some other ways that K-Beauty stands out from the crowd:
- Effective and affordable formulas. In Korea, skincare isn’t a luxury. There are widespread demands for it and people are picky! They know what they want from their skincare, and they’re not going to pay a fortune for it. Companies sell the best products at reasonable prices for this reason. There are even sheet masks for $1!
- Research goes into offering the best ingredients. Generally, Korean consumers have sensitive skin, so companies strive to offer the most effective and gentle ingredients. They do this through research and listening to opinions and feedback.
- The design of the packaging matters. K-Beauty products have a lot of competition, so they have to grab consumers’ attention. They do this with an aesthetically pleasing design for an enjoyable user experience. There are pandas, anime, flowers…you name it! There is a range of oh-so-cute to sophisticated and refined elegance. I actually designed my 4-in-1 Cleansing Sponge and Clear Collagen Peel-Off Masque with K-Beauty packaging in mind!
- Brand loyalty? What’s that? There are so many options out there! U.S. and European skincare brands are available in Korea, too. Consumers rotate products and brands and use a variety of them; you won’t find products from just one skincare line in their bathroom. There’s more emphasis on the new rather than the classics. Companies have to quickly create new products to keep up with consumers – or they’ll just go to the competition. The result is innovative products that try to stay one step ahead of what consumers want.
Koreans have skin goals in mind, and gosh darn it, they’re going to find products that will help them achieve their ideal look!
Below are their priorities:
- The way skin looks and feels is of the utmost importance. And it’s a comprehensive approach!
- Dewiness is favored. In America, we’re afraid of oily skin, and most products are designed for a matte look. Not in Korea! Dewy, firm skin is the most desired beauty trait. There’s even a phrase for it: chok chok. Now, there’s a difference between oily and dewy. When you’re dewy, you glow. This is accomplished by hydrating with facial mists, moisturizers, and humidifiers throughout the day.
- Brightening, yes! Bleaching, no. Again, glowing is the goal. This includes a bright, smooth, and even skin tone with minimal imperfections. Many K-Beauty products are labeled “whitening,” but this actually means “brightening.” These are typically safe for all skin tones and don’t contain actual bleach.
- Makeup takes a back seat. Sad but true: Makeup is a band-aid for longer-lasting conditions, like acne. It’s not treatment; just a temporary fix. In Korea, a smooth, clean canvas that’s prepped for makeup application is the way to go. They can go with minimal makeup and still look #flawless. The no-makeup makeup look is very popular!
The Routine of All Routines
Now, let’s get to the heart of K-Beauty: the 10-step skincare routine.
When we Americans hear about this, we’re flabbergasted.
The general reaction is, “What?? 10 steps?? How does anyone have time for that? That can’t all be necessary.”
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: You’re not going to use 10 skincare products at once. (It’ll be about 6).
And it only takes 5-10 minutes!
Each product in the routine has a specific purpose for your skin’s needs.
While you’ll use some daily, others will only be used monthly, during a certain season, or when traveling.
It’s really about using the right products for your skin type in the right order: from lightest to heaviest.
You don’t have to use K-Beauty brands, either – you can use what you already know and love.
(Then again, you can use this as an excuse for a shopping spree.)
By the way, this is just a general guideline!
What works for someone else may not work for you.
Everyone’s skin is different, and there’s never really going to be a “one size fits all.”
Step 1: Makeup Remover and Oil Cleanser
As I mentioned before, we don’t have to be scared of oil! In this case, it’s not going to clog your pores or make you feel greasy. When you use makeup remover or an oil cleanse, it breaks down makeup and sunscreen so it can easily be taken off.
Step 2: Water-based Cleanser
That double cleanse, tho! It gets rid of anything still hanging around on your skin. A water-based cleanser will be a gel, creamy, or foamy.
Step 3: Exfoliation
Exfoliating 2-3 times a week sloughs off dead skin cells, improves skin texture, and helps with the absorption of your other products. You can use a physical exfoliator, like a sugar scrub, or a chemical one, which has lactic or glycolic acid (not as harsh as it sounds!).
Step 4: Toner
In Korea, toner is also known as refresher, skin softener, activating serum, or just “skin.” It preps your face for whatever’s next and keeps skin smooth and protected. They’re packed with humectants, such as glycerin and ceramides, for a max hydration factor.
Step 5: Essence
This step was created in Korea, and many people consider it the focal point of the routine. An essence is more watery than a serum, and it contains active ingredients to reduce signs of aging, hydrate, firm, brighten, and even skin tone.
Step 6: Serum (AKA Ampoules or Boosters)
Serums are designed with a high concentration of excellent ingredients to target specific skin concerns, such as reducing dark spots and increase plumping. Your skin easily absorbs them and they provide a nice boost of lightweight moisture.
Step 7: Sheet Mask
In K-Beauty, sheet masks are all the rage. EVERYONE uses them. They’re an affordable alternative to fancy, expensive facials. Most are made out of microfiber or hydrogel to lock in moisture and nutrients like vitamin C. Many sheet masks (and other skincare products) made with snail mucin are trending. Seriously. Are you brave enough to try?
Step 8: Eye Cream
Eye creams deliver a high concentration of nourishing ingredients to the delicate eye area, where signs of aging first become noticeable. Formulas focus on anti-aging, hydration, and combating damage. Since the skin is so thin, you’ll want something that is gentle, non-irritating, and not heavy or greasy.
Step 9: Moisturizer
My personal theory is that moisturizer is the most important part of your routine! It’s probably the thickest formula you have, so it’ll go on last. Your skin will soak up its goodness all night long!
Step 10: Sunscreen
Sunscreen is the thickest formula, so it’s the last step. (Obviously, you won’t need to use it at night.) If you’ve ever read my blog, you probably know how I feel about sunscreen. Please, just use it!
I think it’s safe to say that Korean skincare and beauty has officially made its way over to the states.
A quick Google search for “K-Beauty” will give you thousands of different products and places to purchase; it’s everywhere!
You’ve probably tuned it out because you’ve heard so much about it, but I encourage you to give K-Beauty a chance!
When it comes to skin, Koreans know what they’re talking about.
I think we can all learn something and incorporate the parts we like into our own skincare routines.
If you’re feeling brave, try the 10-step routine for a week and see how you like it!
Lovelies, what are your thoughts on K-Beauty? Have you tried any products? Will you be using the 10-step routine? Share with us in the comments!