The Korean 10-Step Skincare Regimen

The Korean Secret to Beautiful Skin

DrLindaHonet_HeadShotSouth Korean women have always been connoisseurs of skincare. Throughout the thousands of years of Korea’s ancient and unique history, its women have been well known in the Far East for their beautiful skin. Today, not only are Korean beauty bloggers and Korean skincare websites igniting the western world, but the innovative and technologically-advanced formulations of South Korea are also leading the current cosmeceutical world market. Even more remarkably, Korean skincare has also been a pioneer in the “natural’ market. It has always been about lassoing the rejuvenative and healing powers of Mother Nature. From green tea to snail mucus (yes, snail mucus) to seaweed to Songyi mushroom to propolis, it has been reaping the benefits of natural and organic ingredients in skincare for decades. But not until just recently has Korean skincare made such a huge impact on the Western market, where it no longer is a mystery or a hidden secret.

I have been witness to natural skincare since I was a very young child. If you recall, I blogged about my own mother and her skincare ritual (here in “I am a Skincare Junkie”). And Senada and I have made references to Korean skincare in past blogs as well (like here in “A Glimpse into Innovations in Skincare”). Beautiful, well-cared skin has always been the focus of South Korean women. Even my grandmother, who passed away at 103 years of age, focused on taking care of her skin, though she never ever wore one stitch of makeup her entire life. She often hounded me about avoiding the sun, moisturizing, and always, always removing all my makeup every, single night. So why the sudden buzz and obsession about Korean skincare? The proof is in the pudding. South Korean women really do have beautiful, luminous skin. Good skin comes from good skincare. And truly beautiful, glowing, head-turning skin comes from exquisite, diligent skincare.

So it probably comes to no surprise that this endeavor to attain beautiful, glowing, healthy skin is a multi-step, rather time-consuming process. Truth be told, it can be a daunting task at first, but the benefits reaped, even if the process is modified for practicality’s sake, are enormous. In its most detailed and elaborate version, it is a ten-step regimen. Ten steps? Are you shocked? Appalled? And you may exclaim, “Who has the time?” Well, actually, I do, dear blog reader. I, more or less, do these ten steps because I make the time. I make my skin a top priority, I may replace certain steps with my own customized selection for my skin type and need, but I essentially do them all. Here is my take on it.

The 10-Step Korean Skincare Regimen
Step 1: Makeup Removal
This can be a micellar cleanser with eye makeup remover, or a cleansing cloth like one by Neutrogena, or any number of cleansers that can thoroughly remove your makeup. The new trend is one that is oil-based, like Tatcha Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil (I like this one a lot) or Simple Hydrating Cleansing Oil. I also use Lancome Bi-Facil Eye Makeup Remover, which has been my favorite for decades and has the ability to remove even the most stubborn bullet-proof eye makeup.

Step 2: Cleanse
Any gentle facial cleanser is perfect for this step. However, this cleanser should be water-based and easily rinsed with splashes of water. My favorite is Restorsea Reviving Cleanser. It has a glorious natural scent of white tea, is hypoallergenic, sudses gloriously, rinses clean, but is non-stripping. I also often recommend Philosophy’s Purity Made Simple because of the ease in which it can remove makeup and its extra-gentle formula.

Step 3: Exfoliation
This part is optional in the sense that you may be actually doing this step and not know it. Many things can count for exfoliation, like using a Clarisonic or getting a glycolic acid peel or microdermabrasion in the office. Also, skincare products like Replenix Clarifying Brightening Polish or a glycolic acid cleanser is ideal for this step. This step brightens by gently removing the outer dead skin layers and revealing the youthful, brighter layers beneath. The key is to not overdo. Daily use of a Clarisonic or a glycolic acid cleanser is fine, but physical exfoliators like a scrub with granules or an in-office treatment may need to be reserved for only weekly to monthly use, depending on the skin type or skincare treatment modality. I have to admit that I switch up this step constantly, depending on my mood, how much time I can spare, or the current state of my skin.

Step 4: Toning
Most dermatologists will balk at this skin-refreshing step, because it really doesn’t serve a therapeutic purpose, except that it just feels good and is refreshing on the skin. There are multitudes of toners on the market. Some can be a little stripping as they may provide a transient “tightening” effect, others may provide some hydrating benefit, and still others are great as “aroma therapy.” As a rule, I don’t really feel the need to tone my skin, but if you like a toner, go for it. It may not help much, but it usually won’t hurt.

Step 5: Essence
Essence is a funny thing exclusive to Korean skincare, and I have to admit that I don’t get it entirely. But as I understand it, it is a concentrated formula that benefits wrinkles, dryness, dullness, and unevenness of skin. But an essence is not exactly the better-known “serum” of the Western Hemisphere, although it similarly may contain numerous botanicals, peptides, acids, and other active ingredients. I also understand it to be very hydrating, but extremely fluid and liquidy. Also the application of it is quite different than what the usual application of skincare product is as I know it. Ideally, it is tapped or patted onto the skin, and more than one layer (sometimes up to 7 layers in succession) is applied in this way. It is about building in many layers of hydration with the “patting in” of essence. I am currently trying Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence, and I rather like it. I actually think of my Citrix Vitamin Pro Collagen Brightening Serum as an essence of sorts. The only problem is that I am not really sold on that 7-layer “patting-in”, although Korean women swear by this essence thing as being an essential step. One layer of Citrix C is enough for me.

Step 6: Ampoule
An ampoule is a super-concentrated version of an essence and is a unique term devised by the Koreans. Put simply, we Westerners know them as serums. This step is where we apply the powerhouses of our skincare, the ones that deliver the potent, game-changing, rejuvenative benefits. I have several that I love and use daily. This part can be a multi-step process, and I believe it is an essential part of skin rejuvenation. In my opinion, this “ampoule” step can include such skincare wonders as Restorsea PRO Intensive 10X Treatment, DefenAge 8-in-1 Bioserum, SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, Replenix Power of Three Serum, or even a retinoid, just to name a few, and all of which I actually use every day. This is also the step that includes your topical prescription medications.

Step 7: Sheet Mask
The sheet mask is self-explanatory and can be done once or twice a week or more often if you feel your skin is dry, dull, or tired. It is widely and wildly popular lately and can be found at every price point at numerous online vendors and brick-and-mortar stores. Sheet masks can also be multi-taskers, but their main purpose is to restore deep hydration to your skin. If you want to read more about sheet masks, Senada blogged on them in “To Mask or Not to Mask” here.

Step 8: Eye Cream
Again, this one is self-explanatory. Eye creams are also an essential part of your daily skincare regimen. If you care about looking younger and having heathy skin, you must use an eye cream, one that is formulated specifically for the eye area. I am a huge current fan of two particular ones for my own eyes, namely SkinBetter Soothing Daily Treatment Cream Eye and Replenix Enriched Eye Repair, which I layer as part of my nighttime skincare ritual. And if I am really ambitious, I apply Restorsea PRO Firming Eye Serum as my very first layer for my eyes. Yup, that’s an ambitious 3-step eye regimen, reserved for special weekend nights when I have extra time.

Step 9: Moisturizer
This is another essential whether it is used for day or night. A facial moisturizer can be a straightforward single-tasker of hydrating the skin or one that also contains anti-aging ingredients or SPF. But the primary role of a moisturizer is, well, to moisturize. I have lots of favorites, but for details about different types of active ingredients that make a moisturizer a moisturizer and their mechanisms of action, read Senada’s blog about them in “Moisturizer Basics” here. My perennial moisturizer favorite is still Restorsea Rejuvenating Day Cream, but I have recently added SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore as a rich, emollient addition to my winter regimen. I also recommend Topix Elite UltraLite for perfect, light, sheer hydration for all skin types, but especially suited for oilier and acne-prone skin types. My favorite night creams include Restorsea Restoring Night Cream, which is super-emollient and powered by the same salmon-roe enzyme in all the Restorsea products and Replenix Restorative Nighttime Bio-Therapy, which is rich with ceramides and chock-full of antioxidants. I use both interchangeably, depending on my skin need that night.

Step 10: Sun Protection
Also self-explanatory, the sun-protection step means using a sunscreen that has a high enough SPF to prevent wrinkles, laxity, uneven pigmentation, and sun damage. My recommendation to my patients is an SPF of 45-50. Senada and I have blogged numerous times about this truly essential step. It is applied last before your makeup. Selecting the specific sunscreen brand or type is purely subjective, as long as the SPF is 45 or higher. Some are moisturizing. Others provide a matte finish. There are chemical sunscreens and there are ones that are mineral-based, which define what a physical sunscreen is. The bottom line is to make sure the SPF is 45 or higher. I use Avene Mineral Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+, which possesses a superior and lasting 8-hour hydration. I also love that it is mineral-based since I am applying it to my face every day.

Although the Korean 10-step Skincare Regimen may be overwhelming at first, if you are one of my patients, you may actually be doing many of these steps every day already. Botox, fillers, lasers, chemical peels, microdermabrasion and other in-office treatments are amazing ways to turn back the clock, but an essential partner to optimal skin rejuvenation is your everyday skincare regimen. Once the right products are selected for the specific skin type and need, a customized skincare regimen will improve the health of your skin in remarkable ways, giving you back the glow, luminosity, and resilience your skin once had.

Happy, Healthy Skin!

–Dr. H

Check out’s “Korean 10-Step Skin Care Routine” here.

The Korean 10-Step Skincare Regimen