You may have heard a thing or two about the 10-step skincare routine, which has become a hot topic in the beauty industry as of late. It’s actually the 10-step Korean skincare routine, as the trend began in South Korea, the unofficial skincare capital of the world.
To say Korean beauty (AKA K-beauty) has been catching on in the United States would be a major understatement. You can order tons of top-rated South Korean beauty products on Amazon, and Sephora even has a K-beauty section now. Anyway, while Americans have been late to the 10-step skincare game, I predict many valuable aspects of the routine will stick for good.
Before I go over each step, bear in mind that your skincare routine will be slightly different in the morning than in the evening. This is because you’ll wear sunscreen during the day, and at night, you’ll be removing it along with your makeup.
Step 1: Oil-Based Makeup Remover
The first step, which is to use an oil-based makeup remover, is Part 1 of the somewhat controversial double-cleanse. The idea behind double-cleansing is that Part 1 removes makeup and sunscreen, and Part 2 actually cleanses your skin. You can get oil-based makeup removers (often called cleansing balms) almost anywhere and at every price point. What I love about washing with oils is that you can rub them directly onto your eyes without stinging, which is crucial for removing mascara.
Step 2: Water-Based Cleanser
Do you ever wash off your makeup at night and then still wake up in the morning with raccoon eyes or smudges on your pillow? This is basically the reasoning behind Part 2 of the double-cleanse. After using an oil-based product, a water-based cleanser will get rid of everything else that’s left on your skin.
Step 3: Exfoliator
Believe it or not, you can totally exfoliate your skin every day without irritating it. The idea is to use a gentle exfoliant—which means no apricot scrubs, sorry—to clean your pores and remove dead skin. You can either physically exfoliate (using a clean face cloth or a product with very fine granules) or chemically exfoliate with AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids). If the mention of chemicals sounds too scary for your skin, I promise, it’s not. AHAs and BHAs are naturally occurring acids, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid, and using them regularly can give you truly incredible skin.
Step 4: Toner
Toners are meant to balance pH while getting rid of any residue from cleansers and exfoliants. This step is almost like an intermission. After removing what you don’t want on your skin (makeup, sunscreen, dead skin, etc.), it preps your face for soaking up what you do want on it, which you’ll apply next.
Step 5: Essence
An essence is a lightweight yet highly concentrated product that hydrates the skin and boosts your complexion. You’re more likely to find essences in Korean skincare lines than from U.S.-based brands, but they’re easy to find online.
Step 6: Serum or Ampoule
Serums and ampoules are kind of like essences, except their purpose is more about treating specific skin problems. Dry skin, fine lines, acne, hyperpigmentation—you name it. There’s a serum or ampoule that can help solve your skin woes. Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid are popular ingredients in serums and ampoules because of their unmatched hydrating and brightening capabilities. If you’re not sure what kind to get, I recommend starting there.
Step 7: Sheet Mask
Sheet masks are having a moment right now, and for good reason. But they’ve actually been a go-to in the K-beauty world for quite some time. Most sheet masks are formulated to soothe and moisturize the skin, there are tons of variations in terms of ingredients.
Step 8: Eye Cream
I used to not really believe in eye cream. I thought that if your regular moisturizer didn’t irritate your eye area, you could just use that. And I still stand by this. However, I recently started using a Vitamin C eye cream, and I hate to say it, but the skin around my eyes is totally brighter than it was a month ago.
Step 9: Moisturizer
I probably don’t need to tell you what a moisturizer does or why you should use one. Whether you prefer a lightweight lotion, a thick cream, or something in between, you really can’t skip moisturizing your skin twice a day.
Step 10: Sunscreen
The final step of the 10-step Korean skincare routine is sunscreen. If you want to take care of your skin, wearing an SPF every day is really non-negotiable. Yes, even in the winter.
If you think you could never (or would never) implement 10 different products into your skincare routine, remember that you don’t have to do every step every time. Also, the whole process won’t take you very long—you can probably do it in less time than it takes you to read this article. Lastly, you really don’t have to use 10 different products. Use what works for you and forget about what doesn’t.
Theresa Holland is a freelance writer and lifestyle blogger specializing in wellness, beauty, relationships, and personal finance. Her work has appeared on Verywell Health, The Spruce, TripSavvy, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, and The Financial Diet. Theresa lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son.