What Is The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine?

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I know what you’re thinking: the “10-step Korean skincare routine” sounds like something out of an old Marx Brothers film. Okay, fair enough, maybe I didn’t know what you were thinking. But it’s what I was thinking when I heard of this trendy custom a few years back. I love Groucho… he sure was something.

Comedy geniuses aside, I doubt that any of the Marx Brothers underwent a 10-step beauty routine, certainly not one originating in Asia. It wasn’t as common in the U.S. back then, or so I think, not even in Hollywood! But K-beauty has been gaining a lot of attention nowadays, and it’s receiving a lot of love from companies, celebs, influencers, and everyday users who have found the 10-step Korean routine to be beneficial.

Like any beauty routine, it is not for everyone – but let’s dive in and see what it’s about.

What Is The Korean Beauty 10-Step Skincare Routine?

The thought process or inner logic driving this specific skincare routine can be summed up in a single word – layering. The basic idea is to first cleanse the face (and neck, as some are careful to point out) of any pollutants, excess oils, or grime, and then apply the different products in a predetermined order. When combined, these products form the ultimate power in the universe! No wait, that’s the Death Star… These products form a way to keep the skin healthy and young.

It’s not mandatory to go through all 10 steps each and every night (or day). Some find that the abundance of products in the routine actually causes their face to break out, and that’s probably not what you’re going for. However gentle and refreshing some of these treatments might be – looking at you, essence – this Korean routine has its drawbacks. Not everyone can afford quality products, not everyone can allot the time, and not everyone is interested in a multi-step process such as this.

Also – and this is a bit of a pet peeve – names like “10-Step Korean Skincare Routine” make it sound so absolute. Despite K-beauty’s popularity in the U.S. and other areas of the world, not everyone in Korea follows this type of strict regimen. It has value in its approach and execution, and some people have found great success with it, but it is not some be-all and end-all of Korean beauty methods.

Two or three weeks after starting this skincare routine, many find they can zero in on the products and steps which are the most beneficial for them, and which feel right. Then they can focus on those steps, and cut back on (or altogether abandon) other steps which are less significant.

The most important steps are the first ones, which are the cleaning steps. After that, the face cream and eye cream are a popular choice. Once your face is clean and hydrated on a regular basis, you can add other steps if you want. The order of the different products makes sense, you just might not need them or want them all at once.

Step 1: Oil Cleanser

Womans hands pouring essential oil on cotton pad.

Woman using oil cleanser.

This is done to get any makeup or makeup residue off the skin. It also gets rid of excess sebum, and other impurities having to do with oil. Cleaning oil with oil may sound counterintuitive, but it works like a charm on most skin types and most circumstances or conditions of the skin.

Step 2: Foam Cleanser

Woman with hair in towel applying face wash exfoliator.

Woman cleansing her skin.

This step works to remove more water-based debris that would otherwise remain on our face. It is often a water-based cleanser, since oil and water don’t mix. By using both of these separately, you are ensuring that your skin’s surface is free of anything that might get in the way.

Step 3: Exfoliator

Removing dirt etc. from the surface is one thing – removing it from the deeper areas of the skin is another. An exfoliator cleans the lower portions after the cleansers take care of the surface, and this also helps the success of the products which come after it in the chain.

Step 4: Toner

This step basically cleans up after the cleaners, so to speak. It follows the cleansers and exfoliator in order to get any cleaning-product residue off the skin. Toner also works to reinforce the skin’s natural barrier, and to some, this may prove highly important for the later steps.

Step 5: Essence

Birds eye view of essential oil bottles and flowers.

Bottles of essence.

As previously mentioned, this is one of the lightest and most refreshing products on this list. It’s something I had never seriously used on a regular basis. I think that its job is a tad overrated (at least from what it said on the bottle), but it provides a clean and gentle feeling. Because it does, I feel that some people will find it to be an inseparable part of the beginning and end of their day.

Step 6: Serum

The serum you use is highly specific, and you may not require it at all (or only require it occasionally). Vitamin C serum is popular as a go-to, but you may be in need of something that is designated for your particular type of skin, or for whatever conditions your skin might have (acne, blemishes, irritation, etc.). Alternatives to ordinary serums are ampoules or boosters, which are also very subjective in nature, and which may not be necessary for some people.

Step 7: Mask

Two girls lying on bed wearing hair towels with face masks and cucumbers on eyes.

Girls wearing face mask.

A sheet mask is another step that is not a must, not every day anyway. This is usually one of those steps you can afford to skip. Although you may still want to apply a sheet mask once or maybe twice a week. Often, a sheet mask is a powerful mix of ingredients, so the 10 to 20 minutes you have it on your face helps the skin to absorb it all and keep it in there.

Step 8: Eye Cream

Woman applying moisturizing lotion to face.

Woman applying eye cream.

The eyes are the window to the soul, they say. Okay, but what about around the eyes? The window frame, as it were. Those eye-related areas are always giving people trouble, aren’t say? As we age and/or expose ourselves to the environment, there are cracks, lines, crow’s feet, dark circles, and other delightful signs which begin to present themselves more and more. Eye cream can help you combat those issues, but always be careful when applying. As gentle or natural as a cream may be, you don’t want it in your eye but around it.

Step 9: Face Cream

Face moisturizer. Taking care of the eyes is important, but it’s not the only part of the face that requires hydration. In the beginning, I mentioned the eye cream and face cream as being two of the more popular steps. This is true to a lot of people. Even those who are not into other products can agree that moisture is one of the most crucial things in almost any makeup routine.

Step 10: Sunscreen

SPF protection is yet another which is not a must, but it is one of the things which you cannot easily ignore. The sun’s rays are warm and wonderful. However, some of them may cause harm in the long term or burn your skin in the short term. Avoiding the UV rays of our nearest star is achieved efficiently with a protective product. By the way, anything over 40 SPF is usually unnecessary but speak to your GP or pharmacist if you want to be sure of what you need. As the song says: “everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”. 

Conclusion

Some critics and cynics are claiming that the whole idea of a “10-Step Korean beauty skincare routine” is a sales ploy concocted by the marketing departments of health, wellness, and cosmetics companies. Even if we grant that proposition, there is still a very real nugget of truth in it. Like I said, the order of the products does make sense, it’s just a question of what you actually need.

Many Koreans are choosing to embrace a more natural look, and are actually using less products than before. But honestly, it’s such a personal choice. You may start this routine and then find that it works perfectly for you. Whatever your regimen turns out to be, this 10-step routine is a different way to look at your day or night. It can be the stepping stone to newer and better ideas for self-improvement and beauty.

You know what? I take back what I said before. With those eyebrows and that mustache, Groucho Marx definitely had some kind of 10-step routine going on. And I think it is pretty safe to assume that his ‘straight man’ counterpart Margaret Dumont also had some kind of beauty regimen. Ah, that was the Golden Age of Hollywood!

Do you need to follow this routine religiously? No, but consistency counts. I would venture a guess and say that most people don’t constantly follow all 10 steps. But there is great potential there, so if this routine intrigues you then you should definitely consider trying it. Who knows – you may find your next favorite product lurking in one of those steps.

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