How to Create a 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

Scroll through beauty content on Instagram or TikTok, and we can pretty much guarantee that a good chunk of it will be dedicated to, or at least inspired by, Korean skincare trends. Korean beauty—also known as K-beauty—refers to skincare products, trends, or routines developed primarily in (you guessed it) South Korea. While that might sound obscure, Korean beauty has permeated nearly every aspect of the skincare industry in the United States over the past 10 or so years. Sheet masking and double cleansing both originate from K-beauty practices, as does the well-known 10-step Korean skincare routine.

Of course, you don’t need to have a shelf full of imported Asian skincare products and skincare tools to reap the benefits of a K-beauty routine. Here, we’ll go over what, exactly, the classic 10-step Korean skincare routine includes and how it’s done. We’ll also teach you how to cultivate a Korean-inspired face care routine with your favorite Kiehl’s products. Read on to get started.

How to Do The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

If you haven’t already heard about the 10-step Korean skincare routine, you may be surprised to learn that Koreans are serious about their skincare, and it shows in their skincare routines. I’d only used a few Korean skincare products in the past but heard great things about Korean skincare brands. I was excited to explore a Korean skincare routine and try Korean skincare products from brands known for their innovative formulas.

In recent years, Korean beauty, or K-Beauty, has become somewhat of a global phenomenon, and it is no joke. Seoul, South Korea, is a beauty mecca, bustling with facialists, spas, retail beauty stores, skin clinics, and cosmetic surgeons. With so many skincare lines and products, I didn’t know where to begin. So I started researching and learning about the philosophy that is behind the Korean skincare routine.

This post contains affiliate links, and any purchases made through these links will result in a commission for me at no extra cost to you. Please read my Disclosure for additional information.

The Philosophy

The Korean skincare philosophy stems from the fact that you should protect your skin first instead of treating issues and concerns that arise with time. Hydration is a main focus in their skincare routines. This will allow the skin to glow from the inside out, and as a result, fewer color cosmetics will be required.

The Korean skincare routine is known for its double-cleanse methods and layered treatment applications. Korean skincare aficionados will recognize the technique of patting products into your skin. While we may have been taught that we should rub our skincare into our skin, Koreans have learned that patting may increase absorption and ultimately improve hydration.

You’ll find many Korean products using ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else, and they are innovative with their formulations. They often are the originators of trends and new developments in skincare. They personalize their skincare routines based on skin type and skin goals and, as you’ll soon see, will use as many products as necessary.

NOTE: You don’t have to build a skincare routine with 10 steps when starting with Korean skincare. You can work your way up to a more complicated regimen, keep it streamlined with a few basic products, or add a few Korean favorites into your current skincare routine.

Let’s take a look at a complete 10-step Korean skincare routine.

The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

Step #1: Oil-Based Cleanser

Step #2: Water-Based Cleanser

Step #3: Exfoliator

Step #4: Toner

Step #5: Essence

Step #6: Serum or Ampoule

Step #7: Sheet Mask

Step #8: Eye Cream

Step #9: Moisturizer

Step #10: Sunscreen

The 10-step Korean skincare routine categorizes 10 different skincare products that are to be applied in a specific order for maximum effectiveness and absorption into your skin.

I purchased a product from each of the 10 step categories and am happy to report that I’ve found some incredible products and most at very affordable prices. And…I purchased them all on Amazon!

Choose Products Based on Your Skin Type

Before purchasing Korean skincare products, be sure to determine your skin type and base your purchases on your skin’s needs. My skin is combination, and while it can get oily (especially in the summer), it can also become rather dry (in the winter), so you’ll see I tried a mix of products. Many of the products I tried are super hydrating, as I’ve been using them this winter.

Just remember that nothing is written in stone. A 10-step routine is simply an outline of all of your options for a skincare routine. You need to listen to your skin, and depending on your skin issues and concerns, you can tweak the routine to make it work for you.

NOTE: I rarely apply all 10 products at once. I only apply SPF in the morning. I use an oil-based cleanser only in the evenings, exfoliate a few times a week, and apply a sheet mask once a week.

Step #1: Oil-Based Cleanser

Oil-based cleansers can do an excellent job of removing makeup, dirt, oil, SPF, and pollution from the day, so using them at night is ideal. They break down makeup, sunscreen, and other products once they are emulsified with water. The best oil-based cleansers, often called cleansing balms, will rinse clean without leaving a layer of residue or oil on your face. I use oil-based cleansers in the evening only to removed dirt and makeup from the day.

I’ve been on the double cleansing bandwagon for a while now, so starting the skincare routine with an oil cleanse was a no-brainer for me. In fact, my absolute favorite Korean oil-based cleansing balm, Heimish All Clean Balm, was already in my skincare routine.

This cleansing balm doesn’t strip the skin but emulsifies easily and removes all traces of makeup and dirt. The scent is a citrus, herbal blend and one of my favorite scents of all the products in my skincare routine.

If you prefer, you can use a cleansing oil as your Step #1 oil cleanse. Cleansing oils are similar to cleansing balms but are already in liquid form. They usually come in a pump bottle and don’t need to be scooped out of a tub and massaged into your skin as much as the typical cleansing balm.

Some cleansing oils like Rice Water Bright Rich Cleansing Light Oil are lightweight and don’t have a heavy, greasy feel, making them ideal for combination or oily skin types.

Related Posts: Heimish All Clean Balm and Foams Review, Drugstore Skincare: Cleansing Balms

Step #2: Water-Based Cleanser

A water-based cleanse is Step #2. The oil-based cleanser may have left some water-based impurities on your skin, such as dirt and sweat, so that’s where this second cleanse comes in. This cleanse will help get rid of any residual makeup and oil that might otherwise lead to breakouts. I use a water-based cleanser both morning and night.

For fans of Heimish All Clean Balm mentioned above, did you know that Heimish makes two water-based cleansing foams? All Clean White Clay Foam cleanser contains oil-absorbing natural Amazon white clay, perfect for oily and acne-prone skin types. This Korean foaming cleanser smells just like the Heimish All Clean Balm cleansing balm. All Clean Balm and All Clean White Clay Foam are my favorite Korean double cleansing duo.

If you have sensitive skin, Heimish All Clean Green Foam cleanser is a mild pH-balanced moisturizing cleanser formulated for sensitive skin.

Missha Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Visible Deep Cleanser is a water-based cleanser that starts as a gel but once applied to your skin, it foams up with its O2 Carrier Complex, Swiss Alpine Herb Extract, and other botanical extracts. You massage the bubbles into your skin and rinse.

This is a very interesting cleanser. I’m not one for foaming cleansers since they tend to strip your skin, but not this cleanser. It’s formulated with a pH of 5.5, which is ideal for protecting the skin’s barrier. It really does foam up on its own, which is fun to witness every time I use this cleanser.

When you massage the bubbles in, it turns into a white creamy foaming cleansing, a little reminiscent of a thin layer of shaving cream. The foam dies down after a few seconds, and it rinses clean without drying out my skin. Please note that this cleanser has a mild fresh fragrance.

Step #3: Exfoliator

Exfoliation is the next step in our 10-step Korean skincare routine. Whether you choose chemical or physical exfoliation, removing dead skin cells will reveal brighter, smoother skin that radiates clarity. It will also help your other skincare products be more effective, allowing them to absorb more deeply.

I make sure to incorporate exfoliation into my skincare routine a few times a week, whether I am following the 10-step Korean skincare routine or another skincare routine.

Wish Formula 200 Bubble Peeling Pad uses a dual peeling system: a patented fermented peeling solution and a peeling pad to reveal brighter, fresher skin. The peeling pad is drenched in actives such as Vitamin C, lactic acid, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and a fermented extract complex, plus nutrient-rich extracts of celery, cabbage, tomato, broccoli, turnip, and carrot.

The box comes with 4 individually wrapped bubble peeling pads (4 exfoliating treatments). Bubbles seem to be a running theme in this skincare routine! You pour the liquid peeling base into the larger white package alongside the dry peeling pad and squeeze to mix the two to activate bubbles. You then massage it over your entire face for about 2 minutes.

The sponge has a fiber side to apply the ingredients and a soft side to pat the ingredients into your skin. This formula stung my face slightly, and my skin became a little red, but the irritation went away in a few minutes. I have sensitive skin, so I attribute the irritation to the formula’s potent acids and vitamin C.

After rinsing, my face was noticeable, more radiant, and bright. I really like the sponges and save them to be used a few more times before throwing them out. This product may be a little much for sensitive skin. For non-sensitive skin types, you can use it once or twice a week to brighten your skin.

Step #4: Toner

The toner step of this routine ensures that your skin’s barrier is protected and supported. It also removes any residual product from earlier steps in your skincare routine, such as cleansers or exfoliators. It moisturizes and preps your skin for important upcoming treatment steps.

Secret Key Aloe Soothing Moist Toner is loaded with soothing ingredients and is ideal for stressed skin or skin that has been overexposed to the sun’s harmful rays.

There are 13 botanical extracts in this toner. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories are abundant, including green tea extract, aloe vera extract, purslane extract, sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid), and snail secretion filtrate.

Wait, what? Snail secretion filtrate? As in snail slime? Yes, you read correctly. This is the first product (but not the last) in this Korean skincare routine that includes this favorite K-Beauty ingredient. Snail slime is all the rage due to its ability to repair, hydrate, and for its nutrient-rich ingredients. More on that later.

This toner is clear and has a subtle green tea scent, so you wouldn’t even know snail secretion filtrate is in there. This is a nicely hydrating and non-irritating toner.

Another soothing and moisturizing toner is Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner, enriched with Centella Asiatica extract and Copper Tripeptide-1 for their anti-inflammatory and healing benefits. This toner is a little richer than other watery toners and almost feels like an essence, the next step in our 10 step routine.

Step #5: Essence

The essence, a category of skincare unto itself that comes to us from Korea, is similar in consistency to a toner yet is used to apply more active ingredients to the skin than toners do. Think hyaluronic and other acids, glycerin, or rice extract. Essences will also balance the pH of the skin.

Another thing that sets an essence apart is that you do not apply with a cotton pad, as you would a toner. Essences are meant to be gently patted into the skin with your fingers/hands. They tend to work best for those with drier skin, as they will add an additional layer of moisture to the skin.

I’ve really been enjoying the essences that I’ve been using from Korean skincare brands and alternate between two. The first is Purito Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence. This essence is gentle, and the consistency falls right between a watery toner and a light serum.

It contains 92% galactomyces ferment filtrate to control oil production, improve elasticity, and brighten the skin and 5% niacinamide to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brighten the skin, and calm inflammation. It is weightless and moisturizing.

The second essence I’ve been alternating with the Purito essence is COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. Yes, more snail mucin!! This essence is clear, and I don’t detect any fragrance, so its texture is the only thing that differentiates it from other essences.

Its thin gel-like sticky texture is not my favorite, but the high concentration of snail secretion filtrate is moisturizing, soothing, and improves elasticity. It can even help with acne scars. Plus, I’ve noticed an improvement in the appearance of pores. I have a feeling that the large 3.38 oz bottle will last a long time.

Related Post: The Benefits of Adding Niacinamide to Your Skincare Routine

Step #6: Ampoule or Serum

A serum or ampoule (highly concentrated serum) comes next. This is where we get to the meaty part of the routine. A serum or ampoule will usually be the step of your skincare routine that contains some of the most active ingredients in your skincare routine. This is the step where you will treat your skin based on your skincare issues, such as age-related concerns ranging from fine lines and wrinkles to hyperpigmentation or discoloration.

Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule contains 10 different kinds of probiotics plus the fruits of purple carrots, plum cabbage, eggplant, beetroot, and blueberry. I’ve been testing Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule for this skincare routine and a drugstore skincare dupe for Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair. It is similar in look and feel to the luxury Estee Lauder product. While the results may not be quite as immediate as Advanced Night Repair, it is an effective and affordable alternative.

Related Posts: Drugstore Skincare Dupes for Best Selling Luxury Skincare Products, Tula Skincare Review

Step #7: Sheet Mask

Sheet masks, central to the Korean skincare routine, are the next step. Sheet masks are used to deliver active ingredients in the form of an essence to the skin with the help of a sheet applied to your face for a short period of time. You can wear a sheet mask for a few to several minutes, allowing you to sit still since moving around with the sheet on your face doesn’t work too well.

Leaders Media Amino Moisture Mask contains 17 amino acids to soothe, moisturize, and protect the skin. It also contains mineral water, rich in minerals, and hyaluronic acid. The mask is best for those with dry skin.

Talk about hydration. I used this mask in the evening, and after allowing it to sink into my skin for 10 minutes, I patted in the residual essence on my skin and finished my skincare routine. I woke in the morning to plump and radiant skin.

Step #8: Eye Cream

The skin around your eyes gets its own step in this Korean skincare routine. The skin around the eyes can be sensitive and thinner than other areas of your face, so a gentle eye cream that addresses specific issues is ideal. Eye creams are formulated to address various issues, including dark circles, bags, puffiness, wrinkles, and fine lines.

Benton Fermentation Eye Cream has some all-star active ingredients in its formula. It contains galactomyces ferment filtrate plus bifida ferment lysate for repairing and brightening the skin. Hyaluronic acid moisturizes, aloe barbadensis leaf extract soothes, and Ceramide NP supports the skin’s barrier while improving moisture retention. Beta-glucans and adenosine plump, firm, and smooth the eye area.

I’ve been enjoying this eye cream for its light and non-irritating formula. It’s super gentle, and even though you need only a small amount, the tube is a generous 1.05 oz size and very reasonably priced.

If you are a fan of snail mucin, Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream is formulated with 80% snail mucin extract, plus peptides to target the signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines.

Related Post: Do You Really Need An Eye Cream?

Step #9: Moisturizer

We are getting near the end, I promise! Next, to seal in all of the previous treatments, we apply a moisturizer. Moisturizers take the shape of many different forms in Korean skincare, and you can choose the form best suited to your skin type. Whether you want glass skin or a matte finish, there is a Korean moisturizer for you.

A sleeping mask, or sleeping pack, is more intensive than a regular moisturizer and can replace your regular moisturizer once or twice a week. Sleeping masks are formulated to provide the benefits of a face mask but in the form of a night cream. Great for dry skin, they can provide extra moisture and repair for dry or dehydrated skin.

Gels or emulsions are great options for oily skin, which are similar to watery lotions. A water-based emulsion will provide the moisture yet not the weight of a heavier cream.

This winter, I’ve been using Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream. This gentle cream is the real deal when it comes to providing moisture. Great for sensitive and dry skin, it reduces redness and improves hydration with shea butter, ceramide 3, and lipidure. It’s also vegan and free of dyes and fragrances.

For combination and oily skin, Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb is a best-selling Korean moisturizer that is oil-free and comes in a very lightweight gel-cream formula. For dry and dull skin, Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb is a cushiony cream that gives your skin a burst of moisture with comfrey leaf, oat extract, and panthenol (pro-vitamin B5).

Step #10: Sunscreen

We’ve made it to the last step of this 10-step routine! Sunscreen is a necessary step to any skincare routine. Wearing sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays every single day regardless of whether the sun is out or not. I gravitate toward sunscreens that are mineral-based and contain titanium dioxide and or zinc oxide.

The drawback to mineral sunscreens is that they can leave a white cast on your face, especially on darker skin tones. Some mineral sunscreens are tinted, which helps a little. I found a mineral sunscreen that I absolutely love from the Korean brand Etude House.

Etude House Sunprise Mild Airy Finish Sun Milk SPF50+ / PA+++ is a thin formula that works well for my pale skin and doesn’t leave a white cast. The best part about this sunscreen is that it leaves a non-sticky matte finish and doesn’t interfere with makeup and other skincare products. Please note that there is a scent that smells somewhat medical, but it dissipates after application.

Another Korean mineral sunscreen option is Benton Mineral Sun Cream SPF50+/PA++++. It has the highest level of UV protection by Korean standards and is formulated with minerals filters of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

It is loaded with skin-loving actives like brightening niacinamide and dipotassium glycyrrhizate from the licorice plant. Antioxidant Camellia sinensis leaf (green tea) extract protects skin from damaging free radicals and helps calm inflammation. It also contains tea tree leaf extract, an antimicrobial that has anti-acne benefits.

Related Post: The Best Drugstore Mineral Sunscreens

Final Thoughts on The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

If you made it to the end of this, thanks for hanging in there and reading about a 10 product skincare routine! If 10 steps are too many for you, and I expect they might be for most, you can always give the 5-Step Korean skincare routine a try and narrow it down to a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, and SPF. You can switch out the SPF at night for a mask or essence.

I am so happy to learn about Korean beauty and its amazing range of skincare products. What’s so great is that many Korean skin care products are reasonably priced and can easily be found on Amazon. I’m particularly enjoying the essences that I purchased for this routine. Do you use Korean skincare products? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Your Ultimate Guide to the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

If you’re quite familiar with Korean beauty and any aspect that’s related to it, I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous 10-step Korean skincare routine. But if you haven't, just keep reading so that you'll be equipped with the basic what's and how's of the 10-step Korean skincare routine that's taking the world by storm.

Korean women take pride in their skin by religiously and meticulously using certain products that they know will work for their specific needs. The 10-step Korean skincare routine is a bit more extensive than what you’re probably used to, which may seem daunting at first. But this doesn't mean they do all ten steps twice a day, every day. Some products enter the rotation for a specific purpose whether it be during the day, at night, depending on the season, or immediate skin concern.

Achieving good skin means knowing the right products for you as every skin is different. It is more than just the number of products you use — it's using the right products and applying them in the right order. May this serve as a guideline as you start planning on creating a routine that’s best for you.

1. Oil-based Cleanser

Also known as the first step in the double cleansing process, oil-based cleansers can thoroughly remove makeup and break down excess oil, silicone, and sunscreen. Trust me when I say this first step absolutely makes a big difference - your toner would pick up lesser dirt or close to none at all (this would be evident if you're using a cotton pad with your toner) because the oil cleanser already took out most of the dirt. Apply it on dry face directly with your fingers, using gentle, upward circular motions. You can use the Heimish All Clean Balm or Banila Clean it Zero line, both a sorbet soft balm that transforms into silky oil on the skin that effortlessly dissolves dirt and makeup. One thing that newbies mistakenly do during oil cleansing is that they don't emulsify the product - I've seen videos of bloggers just wiping the oil cleansers with tissues, which I think is absolutely a no-no. The right thing to do after applying the oil cleanser to your dry face is to add a bit of water and gently massage again to emulsify the product. You're doing it correctly if it turns milky. Lastly, rinse with lukewarm water, and you're done with the first step!

2. Water-based Cleanser

This is the second part of the double cleansing process, and yup, cleansing your face twice isn't just a Korean practice but recommended by dermatologists and aestheticians, too! It helps to thoroughly remove water-based impurities and other gunk on your face that the oil cleanse missed. I personally love the Neogen Real Fresh Foam in Green Tea. It's perfect for sensitive skin types, made with green tea extracts to fight off free radicals, leaving the skin soft and moisturized. Another great choice is the cult-favorite Cosrx Low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser, a gentle cleanser for all skin types that leaves your skin smooth without stripping your skin’s moisture.

3. Exfoliator

Don’t underestimate the power of exfoliation! Do this once or twice a week to help loosen clogged pores, slough off dead skin cells, brighten your complexion, and help other skin care products absorb and work better. You can use a physical exfoliator such as the Dear Klairs Gentle Black Sugar Facial Polish, a premium facial scrub that contains natural moisturizers including black sugar, shea butter, and cranberry oil. If you feel that physical exfoliation is too harsh for you, you may opt for chemical exfoliators that use ingredients such as AHAs or BHAs, for example, the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. Or if you feel like you need a product that is both a physical and chemical exfoliator, use the Neogen Bio Peel Gauze Peeling Pads. It features physical exfoliating pads soaked in tartaric acid (AHA) to chemically exfoliate and to promote clearer, smoother, and brighter skin.

4. Toner

An important step that preps your skin and repairs your skin barrier for better absorption of products that follow. In this step, hydrating toners such as the Dear Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner, which is commonly used with the 7 Skin Method, layers quite nicely and is quickly absorbed by the skin, making it plump and hydrated all day long. Another great choice for hydrating toner is the Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner, which was raved by beauty blogger Reneé (a.k.a Gothamista).

5. Essence

An essence is considered as the heart of the Korean Skincare routine. It helps to hydrate skin and increase cell turnover, which results to glowing skin! A few notable products worth a try are the Cosrx Advance Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence which is one of the star products of Cosrx and Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence which is said to be a dupe of the popular and high-end product SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. You simply pat the essence over your face until your skin locks in all the goodness, giving you that glowing skin.

6. Ampoules and Serums

Usually has a thicker consistency and is more concentrated than essences, ampoules and serums are used to target and treat very specific problems. They can help brighten the skin, fade sunspots, and smooth fine lines. A few notable serums are Dear Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop (also known as Dear Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum) that fades acne scars and brighten the skin and the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Activator Ampoule, a treatment for anti-aging that improves skin elasticity and protects the moisture barrier.

7. Sheet Masks

One of the most popular beauty products from Korea, a sheet mask is the go-to product when it comes to getting that dewy (or chok chok in Korean) skin. In just 15 to 20 minutes, with vast varieties to choose from, it can instantly leave your skin brighter, softer and hydrated to perfection. Use it twice a week or everyday! A few picks I love are the HelloSkin Jumiso sheet masks, that fits amazing on the face and filled with so much essence, and the Innisfree My Real Squee sheet masks.

8. Eye Cream

We often hear the saying, “your eyes are the windows to your soul” but in retrospect, it usually shows the threshold of your age! Those fine wrinkles around your eyes, dark circles tend to age you because the skin around the eyes is the thinnest and most sensitive skin around the face. Keep dark circles, puffiness, and fine lines at bay by religiously using your eye cream. Keep an eye out for the Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream which runs out quickly because it's not only effective but inexpensive, too.

9. Moisturizer

Hydration is the most important part of your nighttime skincare routine. Moisturizers come in different forms — creams, lotions, gels — best ones to use depends on your skin type. Some well-loved products are the Cosrx Oil-Free Ultra Moisturizing Lotion for oily to combination skin and the Dear Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream for dry and sensitive skin types. Usually the thickest formula in the routine which is why it comes last to take advantage of your skin’s restorative hours. When you’re feeling extra dry, you can easily swap this with a sleeping pack such as the Cosrx Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Sleeping pack or Laneige Water Sleeping Pack for deep hydration and healing.

10. Sunscreen

If a moisturizer is essential at night, a sunscreen is a must in the morning where you’re constantly exposed to the sun. Even if you're just seated indoors near a window, or stepping outside for just a few minutes, this is your first line of defense against skin damage brought about by the sun's rays. A step often missed or gets neglected altogether, but whenever you feel like doing so, remember this: prevention is always better than cure. If you’re new to this, you might want to try the best-selling Cosrx Aloe Soothing Sunscreen or the newest release from Klairs, the Dear Klairs Soft Airy UV Essence. Both of them contain SPF 50, does not smell like your typical sunscreen, does not leave a white cast, and gets easily absorbed by the skin too.

Once you’ve curated your routine, keep in mind that it is not always set in stone. It can change as our skin ages or as the weather changes. There is no one skincare routine that fits all and it must constantly be tweaked to your needs. Though the 10-step Korean skincare routine may take a little longer, trust me on this — the results are absolutely worth it in the long run.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

Leave a Comment