When you scan the shelves of Sephora, Target, or any drugstore, you may notice a display of colorful sheet masks and whimsical lip balms inspired by (or imported from) the beauty trends of South Korea. K-beauty has taken the Western world by storm in the last few years.
What is K-beauty?
Charlotte Cho, the founder of Korean beauty retailer Soko Glam, writes that the K-beauty philosophy is that “skincare should be enjoyable and that it’s an investment in [your] overall well-being.” Aside from its skin-first ideology and memorable packaging, K-beauty is known for its regimented 10-step routine that, yes, requires 10 different products, many of which you use both morning and night.
The 10 steps, in the order you should apply them, are as follows: Oil cleanser, water-based cleanser, exfoliator, toner, essence, treatments (boosters, serums, or ampoules), sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, and sunscreen, the last of which is the only one that’s an obvious skip in your bedtime routine. But you don’t have to follow all of the steps to enjoy adding some K-beauty into your life. Remember: This is an “investment” in you, and you get to decide what is right for your skin.
K-beauty also focuses on using gentle ingredients—after all, if these products weren’t gentle, 10 steps would undoubtedly be too much for anyone. Instead, each product is formulated for a specific purpose, such as a serums that use vitamin C to brighten the skin.
Ready to give Korean skincare a try? Let these products introduce you to K-beauty’s 10 steps—with three bonus ones just because.
1. For an oil-based cleanser: Mamonde Petal Spa Oil to Foam Cleanser
To start your K-beauty routine, you’ll want an oil cleanser, which uses the like-dissolves-like principle to remove makeup, rather than the soap-like suds of foaming cleansers that Americans gravitate toward. This one from Mamonde is a fan favorite. The oil-to-foam cleanser claims to remove any makeup and dirt without drying out the skin using soapberry extract.
One Soko Glam reviewer writes: “I love how the oil melts the makeup off, and then the foam lifts any remaining dirt and grime. It smells beautiful, and leaves my skin soft.”
2. For a water-based cleanser: Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser
A common K-beauty technique (that’s not so common in Western routines) is to double-cleanse your skin, by following the oil-based cleanser with a water-based one. As mentioned, the oil breaks up the makeup, and the water-based cleanser rinses off any leftover dirt, oil, and impurities. For this step, reviewers point to the Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser, which uses fermented green tea to brighten, calm, and hydrate the skin.
Says one Soko Glam reviewer: “I love this. It works like a charm. Doesn’t leave my face feeling tight after washing and my skin feels really clean and soft.”
3. For an exfoliator: Skinfood Black Sugar Mask
You only want to exfoliate your face once or twice a week to avoid damaging your skin. For that step, consider the mega-popular Skinfood Black Sugar Mask. When you massage the mask into your skin, the sugar grains physically exfoliate dead skin cells before dissolving and rinsing away. The mask also uses shea butter and lanolin to give it a silky smooth feel that won’t dry your skin out.
One happy Amazon reviewer writes: “This mask is unreal. Use as directed, because it works best when you do some preliminary exfoliating, rubbing the product into the skin and then letting it sit for 10 minutes. Wash off and your skin will literally feel like the supple dream skin you pray for every night.”
4. For a toner: Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner
After cleansing and exfoliating, go in with a toner if you want to balance your skin’s oil levels—but if you have dry skin, this step is not essential. The Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner claims to hydrate and calm sensitive skin using amino acids while also balancing the skin’s pH levels with plant extracts.
An Amazon reviewer raves: “I’m in love with this toner! I have combination-sensitive skin and even the mildest toners sometimes leave a stinging/burning sensation on my face. This is super gentle to my face and I love it! I use this twice a day, morning and night, after washing. I put a few drops on my palm and pat it on my face. It feels so refreshing!”
5. For an “essence”: Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence Intensive Moist
While you may already be familiar with cleansers, exfoliators, and toners, an essence may be a brand-new product to you. These liquid treatments commonly include ingredients like rice extract, hyaluronic acid, yeast, and birch juice to restore hydration and promote anti-aging. This one from Missha contains yeast extract from Himilayan purple barley and claims to plump the skin and improve texture and tone.
One Amazon reviewer keeps coming back: “I have been using the Missha Time Revolution Essence for about four years and find it to be an essential part of my skincare routine. I stopped using it for a few months once when I ran out and noticed a definite difference in the texture and brightness of my skin.”
6. For a treatment serum: Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum
In K-beauty, there are serums for targeting many different skin qualms: hyperpigmentation, acne, dryness, dullness… the list goes on. One popular treatment that combines a number of skin goals is the Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum. It use niacinamide, which it claims brightens skin and squelches inflammation, asian mountain yam extract to reduce skin flaking, madecassoside (a plant extract) to stimulate collagen production, a hyaluronic acid complex to hydrate and retain moisture, and a peptide complex to fill in fine lines and wrinkles for smoother skin. (Jury’s out on whether there’s anything this serum can’t do.)
One Ulta reviewer writes: “I didn’t expect much out of this, but it really blew my mind. I absolutely love this product and what it has done for my skin. Because of it, I have gone on to try more products from this line, and for the first time since I started to break out in cystic acne, my skin is looking like it did before. I usually have a lot of texture on my face, and it’s almost gone now. If you’re wanting to try this, go for it.”
7. For a spa-like sheet mask: Tonymoly Face Masks
When you want to treat your skin to something extra, look no further than a sheet mask. These serum-soaked cloths pack a pleasant punch when placed over the face for 20 to 30 minutes, once or twice a week (or more, if it’s your thing). No matter what type of skin you have or what it needs, you can find a mask for you in Tonymoly’s line, which features ones for brightening, clarifying, “luminating,” moisturizing, soothing, and more.
Writes an Amazon reviewer: “I swear by this brand and tell everyone about it… love these face masks. I used to buy the whole variety pack of them but my favorite by far is the red wine for pores. I use them twice a week.”
8. For an eye cream: Saturday Skin Wide Awake Brightening Eye Cream
The eye area is the most delicate on your face because the skin is thinner. It’s also an area that, when taken care of, can make a huge difference in your overall appearance. The Saturday Skin Wide Awake Brightening Eye Cream may have people fooled into thinking you get your recommended eight hours of sleep every night. The cream claims to improve hydration using avocado protein extract and to boost the skin’s antioxidants, which help to fight against free radical damage, with date seed extract.
One Sephora reviewer raves: “I don’t usually write reviews, but this is the only product I’ve used that has significantly decreased the dark circles under my eyes. My eye makeup goes so nicely and I enjoy the mild cooling sensation when I apply this cream. I am so happy that I found this eye cream.”
9. For a moisturizer: Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb
Moisturizers act as an essential barrier between your skin and harmful bacteria, fungus, viruses, and other microorganisms. For one that hydrates your skin and acts as a shield, reviewers love the Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb, which claims to retain your skin’s moisture levels using glycerin and ceramide 3.
One Sephora reviewer thinks it’s magical: “This is the most amazing moisturizer ever. It is worth every penny. I have sometimes oily, always acne-prone skin and it doesn’t cause me to break out at all. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was made of unicorn breath.”
10. For a sunscreen: Neogen Dermalogy Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50 PA+++
We all know the importance of sunscreen, even if your makeup contains SPF. This one from Neogen Dermalogy feels non-greasy, lightweight, and moisturizing with rose and raspberry extracts, and protects with SPF 50.
One Amazon reviewer gushes: “This sunscreen is everything I’ve ever wanted and more, I’m obsessed! The creamy formula blends beautifully into the skin, without leaving a white cast. It’s hydrating without being greasy and feels lightweight on the skin. The natural citrusy scent is divine, no sunscreen smell and no synthetic fragrance. I have dry skin, so I use this as my last step in my morning routine (after my serum and moisturizer), but if you had really oily skin, I think you could get away with using this product as your moisturizer and sunscreen in one. It wears beautifully alone or under makeup. The best part? It doesn’t cause breakouts or clog my pores.”
11. For a lip treatment: Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask
This one isn’t part of the 10 steps, but after doing all of this work on your skin, you don’t want to leave your lips behind! This super-popular overnight lip mask uses hyaluronic acid and minerals to lock in moisture and a mix of vitamin C and antioxidants to soothe and soften.
One Sephora reviewer writes: “Do not take it lightly when I say this will be the best chapstick you ever use. Nasty winter lips? This will erase that in two nights. Cracked lips? Three nights. Bad breakup leaving you crying with puffy under-eyes and even puffier lips? One night. This stuff is magic and if this cost even [twice as much], I would still buy it.”
12. For an acne treatment: CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patch
Got pesky pimples popping up? Reviewers swear by hydrocolloid patches, which extract impurities while acting as a protective barrier over the individual blemish you apply them to. Pop a patch on after washing your face and replace it when the spot appears white, which indicates that it has absorbed oils.
One Amazon reviewer writes: “These things have gotten rid of so many blemishes for me! I had two really big pimples, one on my chest and one on my shoulder, so I put these patches on them and it pulled so much stuff out of those pimples that the area where it’s white is actually thicker than the rest of the patch. These patches are a miracle! Gotta love finding inexpensive and super effective acne solutions!”
13. For a hand lotion: Tonymoly Peach Hand Cream
This hand cream quickly became a favorite of Reviewed’s kitchen and cooking editor, Cassidy. She gushes about the cream’s rich, moisturizing consistency that can be attributed to shea butter, and the sweet peach scent, thanks to peach extract. Plus, the packaging is too cute.
One Ulta reviewer agrees: “This is the best hand cream I have ever used, it smells amazing, is super moisturizing and the packaging is so cute. The texture is so creamy and soft and melts on to your hands like butter. I am getting my friend to buy this now!”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.