I’ve reached that glorious age where I still suffer from breakouts, but I can also pull the skin up at my temples, look in the mirror and wonder how many pennies I’d have to save to afford a face lift. (Just kidding! Kind of! Not really!) For some reason, I had fabulous skin when I was a teenager and it was when I reached my mid-20s that I started to be plagued by hormonal breakouts.
To say I’ve tried everything to combat my skin woes would not be an understatement. After many years of prescriptions, drugstore products, high-end skincare lines and everything in between, I gave up and started a simple routine of washing my face with manuka honey in the morning and coconut oil at night.
This worked better than the eleventy-billion products I used to employ, but things weren’t quite right. I had dark circles under my eyes, I still had occasional breakouts, and my skin always seemed to be both dry and oily at the same time. My esthetician recommended a pricey moisturizer and even using that twice a day didn’t tame the dryness and irritation. But I just sort of felt like, welp, I guess this is the way things are! This is my skin!
And then I started hearing about Korean skincare and, specifically, the 10-step skincare routine. All those steps seemed completely ridic, especially after paring my routine down to honey, coconut oil and moisturizer. But I was intrigued and I decided to give it a try. Here’s a rundown of how it works:
Steps 1 & 2: Double Cleansing
First, I remove my eye makeup. Then I cleanse with an oil-based cleanser, followed with a water-based cleanser. I promise you, this is so worth it—I think the oil-based cleanser is my favorite part of the routine. Double-cleansing makes sure every last bit of makeup and dirt is removed. (In the morning, you can use the water-based cleanser alone.)
Step 3: Exfoliate
This step is only done 2-3 times a week, depending on your skin’s needs. I’ve found that as I got into the groove of my new routine, I needed to exfoliate much less.
Step 4: Toner
I always thought of toner as a way to get those last few traces of makeup off of my face, but Korean toners are meant to balance the skin’s pH before proceeding with the rest of your routine.
Step 5: Essence
This step is the one that was completely new to me. Essence?! The theory behind it is that by hydrating the skin with an essence, it can better absorb treatments in the next step.
Step 6: Treatments
And here’s where you attack all those skin problems! There are treatments for just about every skin issue you could possibly have and you can mix and match them to get the best results. I use one treatment to tackle enlarged pores and another to tame irritation.
Step 7: Eye Cream
Under my eyes is the first place where I started to see signs of aging—and signs of sleep deprivation thanks to the ever-present dark circles. I’ve tried so many eye creams before and the one below is the only one that’s actually given me results. Miracles are possible, y’all.
Step 8: Moisturizer
Now it’s time to seal all that good stuff in! Pre-Korean skincare, I always felt like my moisturizer would have my face feeling hydrated for an hour or so after applying it, and then it would be back to dryness and that tight, itchy feeling. My Korean moisturizer works and for the first time, I have skin that’s actually dewy, not dull and dried out or oily and shiny.
Step 9: Sun Protection
Slather on that SPF! An important part of the Korean skincare routine is protecting your skin from sun damage. It’s so much easier to keep that damage from happening in the first place than having to fix it later, right? (Obviously, you can skip this at night!)
Step 10: Masks & Sleep Packs
Like exfoliation, this is only done on an as-needed basis. I do sheet masks once or twice a week, but with cold weather here, I’ve started using a sleep pack nightly. It’s basically a very thick moisturizer that’s applied before bedtime.
That’s a lot of work! Is it really worth it?
YES! My skin was better than it had been on my stripped down honey/coconut oil routine, but switching to the more complicated 10-step Korean skincare routine made it even better. The fine lines on my forehead and under my eyes faded, along with my dark circles; breakouts were fewer and the ones I did get cleared up quickly; I didn’t have dry, flaking skin on my cheeks, jawline and nose anymore. I even found that some of my acne scars were less visible—I don’t think this is permanent, but I attribute this to having plumper skin thanks to the hydrating essence and moisturizer.
And let me just add: it’s really not as labor-intensive as it seems. I think it’s added maybe 10 minutes to my bedtime routine and 5 minutes, if that, in the morning. I’ve found myself actually looking forward to it every evening—it’s one of the rare moments of me-time I get in the day.
But how was it life-changing?
After I had my daughter, I had trouble justifying putting time, money and effort into myself and I kind of fell into a slump. My clothes didn’t fit right anymore, I rarely had time to do my makeup or even dry my hair in the morning and I totally became the mom-in-yoga-pants stereotype. I just didn’t feel good about myself. Changing up my skincare routine was the catalyst for other changes—I bought new clothes for myself, I started waking up a little earlier so I’d have time to get ready in the morning, and I started eating better.
Where can you buy Korean skincare products?
If you’re already a frequent shopper on Amazon and Sephora, you’ll be happy to know that both carry Korean skincare and cosmetic brands. My favorite places to order from are Peach and Lily, which offers new customers $10 off their first order of $50 or more, and Soko Glam, where you can get 10% off as a new customer. Their prices are often more reasonable than those on Amazon, they both have helpful product reviews, and they have an impressive lineup of brands.28