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Tired of Hearing About Korean Beauty? See If This Will Change Your Mind
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!
I love the Korean focus on healthy natural skin. So much western “skincare” and make up is about covering skin rather than helping it to reach its full potential. I also admire the way that skincare is seen as just another part of a healthy lifestyle. Great introduction to whole scene :-)
I’m satisfied with the information that you provide for me and thanks for this because sometimes people face this problem.
please share these types of information.
Ive been using k beauty products for the last year. When the covid pandemic started I figured it was time to take a break from makeup and just try it out. I was seeing dark circles under my eyes, faint lines on my forehead, I suffered from mild acne and very dull tired looking skin. I had spent redicuious amounts of money on skin care creams and was not seeing any results. I was going to hit 40 and was feeling it. So I started with a basic regime and within 3 months I am not joking when I say I was seeing a huge difference. Now, I get complimented all the time on my skin and how youthful it looks. A lot of people say i look like I’m in my 20s. My skin has had a serious glow-up. I rarely put on a full face of make up and cannot recommend it enough. I also use LED masks for a maximum benefit. Love Love love it!!!!
You are providing here some very helpful and informative information about beauty care. Thank you so much for your post.
I love this
Korean skincare is THE BEST.
Thank you so much for this! I’ve heard so much about ten step routines and different products and it can be overwhelming at times. Appreciate you breaking it down – looks like Korean skincare is here to stay!
Hi Alana!. I am glad to see your post here. Your post is really informative and useful for anyone who read this. I like your explanation here. Thanks for the information.
From which age one can start korean skin care steps ?
My skin does not respond well to almost all products. Yet the k-beauty skin care products are a hit! I’ve always had issues with acne, even now at 21 years old. But using the 10 step routine has cleared my face up completely! I only get hormonal breakouts and my forehead doesn’t look like the rocky mountains! Btw, to anyone questioning the snail mucin: just buy it. Its AMAAAZZIIING! My skin feels so soft!
HMMM..I HEARD THAT ALSO…THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL BUT YES, VERY VERY SUPERFICIAL…SO DISSAPOINTED.
Thanks for sharing your skincare routine and hope that I will not miss anything. I am sure I will get an amazing skin after some time with this routine.
Try the led light facial mask, my husband had Rosácea and it help a lot. Look for a profesional beauty care that uses the led mask and try it.
I was in Korea last year, so they changed my daily routine… AMAZING !!!! 10 steps take no more than 9 minutes, the products are light and effective for few $ , its worth’s . Also I bought the real 7+1 led facial mask it makes wonders , dont buy the imitation ones they can burn your face. When I returned from Korea all my friends asked what I did, I got in touch with Korean manufacturers and been selling led masks so double feature beautiful skin and money into my pocket .
Hi, Ale! I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. Based on what you described, I would classify this as a reaction, not purging.
So happy to hear that you experienced great results!
I switched over to this regime 2 years ago. I’ve always had problem skin including adult acne. I now get compliments on my skin without makeup.
Maybe I am the only one who just can’t use Korean products. Every one of them that I tried, I flared up bad. Really bad. Acne, eczema, rosacea and all the works. Is that purging then forget it, cause it took me months after just using their products within a week to get my skin better.
You could try facial oils such as marula oil. Maybe it could help a bit.
I am a fellow Alana, who uses Korean product and US products too all at one time. I put Tony Moly whitening cream on my cheeks under my make up for roasacea right now, then use shape tape over it. Until at least until I find something that works as well that’s cruelty free. I also use a South Korean black charcoal soap that looks like a piece of Sushi called Where is Pore? On my nose only. It works, all my blackhead areas are cleared up. Tony Moly products are South Korean too and do work well, also very cute packages! But a company that has animals on the packages shouldn’t animal test that’s the only drawback I see. I did not do skin care at all prior to age 28. No one told me to or even thought it was needed in my world or family. I wore drug store make up then barely even removed it fully.
When I got into YouTube I started skin care and now I use a ton of things but only if they work.
Out of everything I tried a few do work- Philisophy, The Ordinary, Tony Moly, Clinique. I have little money in general so I make things last too. I am 43 now and look no older than anyone else my age in spite of no skin care for over half my life. I have been wearing 70 SPF sunblock on my entire body and face for 25 years however. I have rosacea on both cheeks and what I use covers it completely- Tony Moly whitening pandas dream cream, mixed with Clinique moisture Surge. Then sunblock. Then make up Urban Decay Naked skin foundation with Tarte Shape Tape over it. I would love something to prevent rosacea in the first place but meds for it have side effects I cannot abide and I’m ok to cover it I guess.
Thank you vale for your honesty…I for one really appreciate it….Because you lived in korea…..And know first hand I believe you….Thank you again…..
I appreciate you sharing your insight and perspective!
The statement ‘Korean consumers are focused on prevention and getting to the root of skin problems.’ is totally false. I lived in Korea long enough to be able to say what is really going on there. It’s all a run for money, and making people believe they are worthless without all those fancy treatments. Getting to the root of skin problems is looking at diet and lifestyle in the first place, but in Korea, getting to the root is finding a way to make you spend money on specific skincare products. A country full of superficial people. Is that what people outside Korea want to become? Go ahead!
Hi, Sam! I definitely think there are options available for you out there :) I recommend doing research online about Korean skincare brands and products specifically for sensitive skin. Consumer reviews and recommendations are particularly helpful.
Hi, Bronwyn! In this case, I recommend reading reviews online or visiting your local Sephora/Ulta/Target to see what they offer and speaking to their beauty consultants. Read the product labels and look for formulas that are made for dry and sensitive skin types. Since you say your skin is dehydrated and flaking, I recommend looking for a moisturizer, serum, or facial mask made with hyaluronic acid. It’ll plump your skin to eliminate the appearance of wrinkles, too! Aloe, jojoba oil, and avocado oil are also great ingredients for the state of your skin. I hope this helps!