This Korean Beauty Glass Skin Routine Has Never Steered Me Wrong

As someone with oily skin, I always opted for skin care products with specified mattifying and oil control properties. That is until I came across the K-beauty phenomenon that is ‘glass skin’ (pioneered by Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon), which refers to a dewy light reflective glow that, as the name suggests, resembles glass. I began to come out of my fear of looking too ‘oily’ and embraced the idea of an impossibly glowy complexion that isn’t due to oiliness but rather a very hydrated dermis. With my newfound obsession with a glass skin care routine came an introduction to Korean skin care products, which now take up most of my beauty cabinet.

K-beauty is steeped in rich Korean history and traditions that stem from the natural and herbal remedies used within the country and neighboring areas for various bodily ailments and skin care issues. For example, centella asiatica (also known as gotu kola), found in many K-beauty products, is a medicinal plant found in parts of Asia and has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years as a way to treat surface skin issues like wounds, burns, and psoriasis. In addition to pioneering ancient ingredients, K-beauty is also responsible for a number of skin care trends and hacks including oil cleansing (washing your face with an oil-based cleanser) and using an essence (a product somewhere between a serum and a toner). “Korean skin care is a wellness practice, and considers how skin is related to the whole body as well as considering how the skin works as an ecosystem,” says Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon to TZR.

The traditional 10-step Korean skin care routine became popular when Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho coined it back in 2014 in an Elle interview and shortly thereafter to Into The Gloss. Back in college I was super fascinated by the complexity of having a long robust skin care routine and so I adapted one for myself, but it turned out to be disastrous — which is inevitable in skin care if you don’t do your research. I overloaded my routine with useless buzzy products I saw trending on the internet and ended up with a routine that included a sugar face scrub, an acid-based toner, an abrasive cleanser, a facial steamer, a drying face mask, and an ineffective moisturizer, to name a few products.

A few years later, with a substantial amount of research under my belt and an increased appreciation for the gentle and holistic origins of the 10-step skin care routine, my regime is now just as many steps as it was in college (some days and nights), but much more effective. It includes K-beauty staple products and practices that are as authentic as they are effective. “Rather than a specific ingredient, I think [K-beauty] is more about the approach and the practice,” says Yoon. “In my opinion, what sets apart the Korean approach to skin care is the focus on the holistic health of skin and body, versus on ‘perfection’ of the skin.”

Annie Blay

Below see the K-beauty skin care routine I currently use when I want to achieve the ultimate glass skin glow.

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Step 1: Oil Cleanser

I was apprehensive of oil cleansers for a while because already having oily, acne-prone skin I could only imagine that massaging an oil into my skin for a minute would end up in clogged pores and disaster. Little did I know it would only take the right cleanser to get me hooked on the K-beauty practice. Incorporating oil cleansing as the first step in my nighttime routine has helped significantly with reducing excess oil, and improving my skin’s overall texture.

Step 2: Water-Based Cleanser

Before adapting K-beauty practices into my skin care routine I’d always opt for a foaming cleanser, some of which would leave my skin dry. Switching to gentle water-based cleansers like this pick from Naturium has truly made the difference in my moisture barrier. My skin still feels clean but also super supple and hydrated, making the next steps of my routine sink in seamlessly.

Step 3: Exfoliator

Giving up abrasive physical exfoliators for more effective chemical ones was one of the best switches I made in my skin care journey. However, every once in a while I still want the satisfying feeling a physical exfoliant provides and the global K-beauty catalog is full of products that strike the perfect balance of physical and chemical exfoliators, like this rice mask from SkinFood. I get the gentle scrub factor from the small grains which slough off dead skin cells, while the rice bran water helps to brighten skin.

Step 4: Toner

If you would’ve told me a few years ago that I didn’t have to apply a toner with a cotton pad, I’d be shocked. But that’s also because I used to assume all toners were astringent — meant to purify pores with a strong alcoholic scent and drying effect. Little did I know that there was a whole world of hydrating K-beauty toners that I could pump into my hand and pat directly into my face, and that would help all my other serums and creams absorb and perform better.

Step 5: Essence

Truthfully, sometimes I’m still confused on what exactly an essence is (somewhere between a serum and a toner), but I stopped asking questions once I came across this cult-favorite essence from Cosrx. Like most other people, I was originally put off by the mention of snail mucin, but once I got passed that, I was met with one of the most hydrating products I’ve ever used. It sinks into the skin, leaving it plump with a dewy glow.

Step 6: Serums

This product needs no introduction, nor explanation as to why it’s great. Any skin care fanatic has surely come into contact with this light, hydrating serum. What I will say is, no matter how many hyaluronic acid serums I go through (and as a beauty editor it’s a lot) I always come back to this one every time.

Step 7: Sheet Mask

I’ve always been a bit of a sheet mask skeptic, thinking they’re really only meant for skin care ‘vibes’ and not actual results. I still don’t reach for sheet masks often (I’m more of a clay mask girl myself), but when I do it’s usually a K-beauty one — plus, when I’m doing a complete 10-step routine a sheet mask just rounds out the experience. This cotton mask from Innisfree actually isn’t just for vibes. The light weight sheet, when placed on a clean and hydrated face, delivers ceramides deep into the skin — for which your moisture barrier will thank you.

Step 8: Moisturizer

With the large amount of moisturizers I accumulate and rotate through it’s rare that I’ll consistently use one for months at a time, but lo and behold I’m reaching the bottom of the new Laneige Water Bank Cream Moisturizer because I’ve been using it nonstop for months. From the texture and light scent to the way it just melts into my skin leaving it baby soft, and the fun packaging, I truly can’t get enough of this cream.

Step 9: Eye Cream

Some will tell you that an eye cream is unnecessary, but if you’re really about the skin care life you’ll have a solid one (or two) in your rotation. I always opt for eye products that contain caffeine to help with my dark circles and the gel from Klairs does just that.

Step 10: Sunscreen

Last but certainly not least is sunscreen. I only use SPF in the day time but that doesn’t undermine its importance — everyone should be wearing sunscreen everyday. My SPF level of choice is 50 courtesy of NEOGEN. It’s lightweight, doesn’t leave me feeling greasy, and arguably most importantly (at least to me), it doesn’t leave a white cast.

In the daytime, this routine is usually eight steps for me (no oil cleanse or sheet mask) and at night it tends to be nine steps (no SPF). Though it may seem long and tasking, it really isn’t — and in fact one of the things I love so much about the 10-step Korean skin care routine is how in-depth it is, allowing me to take my time and pamper myself a bit whether before I start my day and as a way to unwind after a long one.

Even if you don’t implement all 10 steps, even just adding one or two K-beauty products is sure to elevate your skin care game and boost your glow.

I Followed a K-Beauty Skin-Care Routine For a Month — and Let's Just Say I'm a Fan

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The beauty market is now so robust, you could try an entirely new skin-care product every day and still never run out of options. But where building out a regimented routine is concerned, looking to the 10 steps used in Korean beauty remains an intriguing, albeit intimidating, idea. I may be one of the few beauty writer's who's held out trying the trend for this long, but I finally decided to engage in the hyped-up quest for "glass skin."

In the middle of a breakout flare-up after a short stint of almost clear skin, I decided to test the infamously lengthy 10-step routine day and night for a full month, using products from Glow Recipe, Peach & Lily, Peach Slices, AHC, The Crème Shop, and more. While I do use the word, "routine," I've actually come to think of K-beauty as more of a philosophy or lifestyle. Truly, diving into this abundance of product on a daily basis created a different relationship between me and my skin.

My interpretation is that it's not so much about the 10 steps. To my understanding — and understandably — many people end up trashing the steps they deem unnecessary for their personal needs. Instead, it's about the commitment to nurture your skin, feed it moisture rather than strip it away (as people with semioily to oily skin like myself have been taught to do), and be kinder to it with gentler products.

If you're curious to see how my month-long K-beauty experiment went, I'm outlining the 10 steps I followed, the products I used, and my progress report along the way ahead. Should you try this at home, I'm willing to bet you'll end up with at least a few products you'll want to keep using. And, if you're anything like me, maybe you'll adopt a bit more discipline than you had before, too.

10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine

The cornerstone of K-beauty is the 10-step Korean skin care routine. While 10 steps may seem like a lot (do you really need to add seven more steps to your skin care routine?), layering the right products in the right order can make a world of difference in the look and feel of your skin. Here’s our guide to following a multi-step Korean skin care routine using Eminence Organics classics.

The Korean Skin Care Routine

A 10-step routine boils down to skin care basics: Cleanse, prep, treat and protect. The beauty of a multi-step routine is that you can mix and match depending on your skin’s needs. The products you choose (and steps you follow) are entirely up to you. These are the skin care steps we recommend to get the most out of your 10-step Korean skin care routine.

Skin Care Steps

Cleanse

A multi-step Korean skin care routine includes (of course) multiple cleansing steps. In addition to a daily double cleanse, you should add an exfoliant to your skin care routine two to three times per week to encourage healthy skin cell turnover and brighten your complexion.

1. Oil Cleanser

The first step of a Korean skin care routine is cleanse your face - twice. Double cleansing ensures you remove every last spec of makeup and dirt from your complexion before continuing with the rest of the products in your routine.

To double cleanse, first use a cleansing oil or balm to remove makeup, excess oil and other impurities. Like attracts like and an oil-based cleanser like our Stone Crop Cleansing Oil will lift oil-based cosmetics and other pollutants from your skin gently and effortlessly.

2. Gel/Cream Cleanser

Complete your double cleanse by washing your face a second time with a gel or cream cleanser. The purpose of a second cleanse is to sweep away impurities lingering on your skin’s surface and dive deeper into pores to clear congestion.

Gently massage a cleanser of your choice into your skin to clear away residual dirt and grime. Our pick: Stone Crop Gel Wash builds into a gentle lather that removes impurities without stripping your skin of necessary moisture.

3. Exfoliant

In addition to a daily double cleanse, you want to exfoliate your skin two to three times per week. Young skin cells naturally turn over every 25 days but as we age, this process slows. Exfoliating regularly encourages healthy skin cell turnover: It removes dead skin cells and clears the way for young, healthy cells to rise to the surface.

You can choose a physical or chemical exfoliant for this skin care step. We recommend combining two shakes of a powder exfoliant (like our Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant) to your secondary cleanser to combine two skin care steps in one.

Prep

Once you’ve thoroughly cleansed your skin, it’s time to prep it for the rest of your routine. This includes balancing and hydrating your skin with a toner then moisturizing and priming it with an essence. While these steps may seem similar, they have distinct purposes in a Korean skin care routine.

4. Toner

First, apply a toner. Eminence Organics Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar refers to toning as the “conditioning” step of your skin care routine. A toner removes lingering impurities, balances your complexion and provides a base layer of hydration.

We recommend using our Stone Crop Hydrating Mist which harnesses the healing powers of stone crop to deeply hydrate and brighten skin.

5. Essence

An essence is the backbone of the Korean 10-step skin care routine. Essences help maximize your skin’s moisture and hydration as well as improve the absorption of your other leave-on treatments. They also contain plenty of beneficial ingredients that plump the skin and protect it against the drying and aging effects of environmental stressors.

Our new Birch Water Purifying Essence contains purifying birch water, botanical collagen, snow mushroom and reishi mushroom to restore moisture levels, increase elasticity and improve barrier function. Simply warm a few drops of essence between your hands and gently press the product into your skin before moving on to the treatment steps of your routine.

Treat

Now that your skin has been prepped and primed, it’s ready to drink up the beneficial ingredients found in your favorite masks and serums. This is when you can really start to customize your skin care routine: These products contain a high concentration of active ingredients that target specific skin types and concerns.

6.Mask

Just like a serum, facial oil or concentrate, a mask delivers highly concentrated actives, vitamins and nutrients to the skin. The difference here is that face masks are occlusive; they create a physical barrier that locks in beneficial ingredients, helping the skin absorb them more efficiently.

Face masks provide a variety of benefits, from hydrating and moisturizing the skin to refining large pores and minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The type of mask (or masks, if you choose to layer or combine them) will depend on the skin concerns you hope to tackle. We suggest including a face mask in your skin care routine two to three times per week.

7. Serum, Oil Or Concentrate

Next up in your 10-step Korean skin care routine are your serums, oils and concentrates. These potent formulas contain a high concentration of active ingredients to target skin care concerns and neutralize the effects of environmental stressors. As with a face mask, the serum, oil or concentrate(s) you choose will depend on the skin concerns you seek to prevent or correct.

If you choose to apply more than one serum, oil or concentrate, be sure to layer in order of viscosity, from lightest to richest. Our picks: Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Serum, Facial Recovery Oil and Bamboo Firming Fluid.

Protect

After putting so much care into your complexion, it’s important to protect it from damage. This includes locking in hydration to fortify your skin’s moisture barrier and applying sun care to protect it from the drying effects of environmental stressors.

8. Moisturizer

Moisturizers create a barrier that helps lock in hydration and beneficial ingredients, as well as keep out harmful irritants. This step seals in the product layers before it, helping them to fully absorb and work their magic.

In a K-beauty routine, cream and gel moisturizers are applied using facial massage techniques that boost blood flow, stimulate the lymphatic system and enhance the skin’s strength and elasticity. For an effective massage, we recommend using a moisturizer with plenty of slip, like our Arctic Berry Peptide Radiance Cream.

9. Eye Cream

The skin around your eyes is thinner and more delicate, so it should be treated separately. Using your ring finger, gently smooth an eye cream of your choice across the brow and socket bone, moving from the inner to outer corner of your eye.

Our pick: The new Snow Mushroom Moisture Cloud Eye Cream. This fluffy eye cream contains super-hydrating snow mushroom and botanical peptides to smooth roughness, decrease puffiness and diminish the appearance of under eye bags.

10. Sun Care

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Sunscreen is a must in any and every skin care routine. UV rays can cause short and long term damage in the form of sunburn, dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles and, in the most serious cases, skin cancer.

Applying sun care daily is an essential step to keep your skin healthy and protected. You can achieve this with our Lilikoi Mineral Defense Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 or keep things separate with our Sun Defense Minerals.

What's the most important application for you in a 10-step Korean skin care routine? Let us know in the comments or share with us on social media.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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