Six years ago (wow, six whole years), one of my first blog posts was about cosmetic products for sensitive skin. After living in Asia for several years, I was introduced to the world of Korean beauty aka. K-Beauty. Korean skincare is extremely affordable and since it is a lucrative business, Korean companies really invest a lot in the latest cutting-edge technology. Thanks to companies like Soko Glam, Memebox, and Peach & Lily, we can finally access K-Beauty in the U.S. In this post, I’ll talk about the 8-step Korean skincare process and also share my favorite products (full disclosure: it’s not all Korean brands). Major thanks to my friend, Ingrid, who is a fellow cosmetics lover and introduced me to many of the non-Korean products.
Before I forget, here’s my referral link for Soko Glam. You get 20% off your first order and I get a $10 credit if you order anything. I have a serious K-Beauty addiction so anything that you can do to help feed it would be appreciated!
I have really sensitive skin and used to use Shiseido exclusively. My skincare routine was becoming too expensive and I had been on it for years. I heard it’s good to change up your products because your skin gets “used to” cosmetics when you use them for a long duration of time. This is when I started experimenting more with Korean beauty brands.
Koreans have a CRAZY 8-step routine:
Step 1: Solid, Oil-based cleanser
Step 2: Water-based cleanser
Step 3: Toner
Step 4: Essence
Step 5: Serum
Step 6: Eye Cream
Step 7: Face Cream
Step 8: Masks/Sleeping Packs
– Sunscreen during the day
I probably do 7-8 of these steps daily, depending on my skincare needs. I’ll share the products that I really love and add a * to products that I can’t live without.
Step 1: Solid, Oil-based Cleanser
Koreans believe in double-cleansing. They first use an oil-based cleanser to take off make-up, sunscreen, etc. and then a water-based cleanser to remove any other impurities. When I first heard it, I thought it was a little excessive and may dry out my skin. Once I tried it, I was a believer. The oil-based cleanser actually nourishes my skin, not dries it out, and I use a gentle foam cleanser. My skin feels SO clean after double-cleansing and it’s finally ready to absorb Korean cosmetic good-ness.
I use a muslin cloth to wash off the oil-based cleanser. The Eve Lom ones are probably the most famous: http://www.sephora.com/3-muslin-cloths-P381435
1. Clinque Take the Day Off Balm*
– This product is fantastic and is a solid that melts when you start rubbing it into your face. It really removes make-up and sunscreen well.
2. The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser*
– This is the ultimate holy grail in cleansers. It’s really expensive so I definitely do not use this daily. This is like a special occasion cleanser. I usually massage into my face, rinse my Eve Lom muslin cloth in extremely hot water, and then let it sit on my face like mini aromatherapy.
3. Banila Co Clean It Zero Classic
– This is the most famous oil-based cleanser in Korea. The pink one is the original formula and they came out with a blue one, purity (https://sokoglam.com/products/banila-co-clean-it-zero-purity), which is for sensitive skin. It’s less of a solid compared to Clinique and Organic Pharmacy.
4. Erborian Solid Cleansing Oil
– I haven’t personally used this one, but I do like the brand Erborian and trust them. I have friends who use this product and like it. I mostly end up using the Clinique one because I like it and I pick it up in Duty Free Shopping when I travel.
Step 2: Water-based cleanser
1. Neogen Real Fresh Foam Cleanser*
– I love Neogen’s foam cleanser. It’s actually foams up when you pump it out and is super gentle. If you have sensitive skin, I recommend the green tea one: https://sokoglam.com/products/neogen-real-fresh-foaming-cleanser. Sometimes the cranberry is sold out so I use the green tea one.
2. Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
– I love this gel cleanser. It’s also really gentle. I actually love Fresh’s line, but it’s more expensive and so I tend to only buy if there’s a sale.
Step 3: Toner
Toner is supposed to help balance out the pH level in your skin. This is honestly where I think the 8-step Korean process goes a little overboard since you’re supposed to use essence afterward. I personally think it’s a little too much, so I stick more with the essence.
1. May Coop Raw Sauce*
– May Coop Raw Sauce is a toner + essence in one. I’m a big fan of cutting down a step so I use this in my nightly routine. The consistency is thicker, almost sap-like, but it’s not terribly sticky. I really like how this feels on my skin and with the thicker consistency, I feel like it’s actually being absorbed. The first couple of times, my skin actually tingled while using it. To the point where I thought it might be too harsh for my face. But after a couple of uses, my skin adapted and it doesn’t sting anymore.
2. Son & Park Beauty Water
– If you are looking for a toner, the Son & Park Beauty Water always gets stellar reviews. I’ve never used it myself.
Step 4: Essence
Essence helps prepare your skin so it can absorb the next step, serum. I do believe in this step and wait about 5 minutes before applying serum afterward.
1. Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence
– Have you heard of the brand SK-II? It’s the holy grail of essence and uses an ingredient from sake called pitera. I’ve used SK-II before, but I didn’t really see a huge difference, especially for how expensive it is. It’s like $230 for a bottle! Missha’s essence is a great, cheaper alternative to SK-II. It’s a liquid so I just pour some on my hands and then directly pat onto my face. I prefer this over using a cotton pad because I feel like the cotton pad just soaks up all the liquid and it gets wasted.
I switch between Missha and May Coop Raw Sauce, usually based on who is having a sale!
Step 5: Serum
I feel like serums are quite key for targeting certain areas, whether it be brightening, hydration, etc.
1. Klairs Rich Moist Serum*
– I use different serums based on the climate. Since right now is summertime, I’m using a more lightweight, gel one. I like this Klairs one that absorbs quickly and feels cool on my skin. If your skin is dry and needs hydration, I wouldn’t recommend this particular one.
I tried the Klairs Vitamin C serum (https://sokoglam.com/products/klairs-freshly-juiced-vitamin-c) and I didn’t like it. Vitamin C is supposed to help brighten your skin and combat dark spots. But I like my serums to be hydrating and this wasn’t at all. After one bottle, I didn’t notice a difference in my skin so I dropped it.
2. Caudelie Vinosource S.O.S. Thirst Quenching Serum*
– This is another great lightweight serum. It doesn’t feel greasy when I apply and gets absorbed quickly. It’s more of a lotion compared to the Klairs one. Major thanks to Amy for introducing it to me.
3. Trish McEvoy Beauty Booster Serum*
– It’s really unfortunate that this serum is SO expensive, because it’s one of the best I’ve tried. It’s currently out of my price range so I’m not using it. But I had a small sample before and really really loved it. It’s more of an oil base but not TOO oily and very hydrating and silky feeling. This is a luxury purchase.
If you feel like your skin in on the dryer side, you should go for a more oil-based serum. I’d recommend Clarins Double Serum. It’s a water and oil-based serum in one.
I tried the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate and just found it too oily and didn’t like it.
Step 6: Eye Cream
I really have issues with eye creams. The first issue is that they tend to be really expensive. My second issue is that they tend to be too rich and oily so it causes me to break out. The area around your eye is so delicate. The last thing you want is to break out.
1. StriVectin Intensive Eye Concentrate for Wrinkles*
– I really like this eye cream. Even though is it pricier, you really only need to use a small amount each night so one tube lasts a long time. The consistency is really smooth. It hydrates without being too oily and it doesn’t cause me to break out.
Step 7: Face Cream
I go through a lot of face cream. I think that’s the area where I like to try new products the most and so I always feel more adventurous with my face cream. I also change my face cream based on the weather and go for more hydrating ones in the winter.
1. Shiseido Ibuki Refining Moisturizer Enriched
– I used this for years and actually really like this cream. It’s hydrating but not too heavy. I only stopped using it because I felt like my skin was getting used to it and needed a change.
2. Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Face Cream*
– I really love this cream. It smells absolutely heavenly and is nourishing without being heavy.
3. Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream*
– When I lived the coldest winter of my life in Beijing, my face was a mess. The weather is so harsh there. No matter how much face lotion I applied (don’t even remember what I used back then), my face was always dry. My mother saved me by bringing me a jar of Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. It was the only thing that could cure my skin ailment. I cannot rave about this product enough if you need a truly hydrating cream.
4. Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream
– Snail mucin is a miracle product in Korea and they’re always hailing how it really moisturizes your skin and helps heal it. I’m using the Missha cream currently and it’s nice for the summertime. It’s not a heavy or oily cream and almost gel-like. While the thought of using snail mucin might gross you out, they did a great job adding a nice scent to the cream… so you almost forget what you’re putting on your face.
Step 8: Masks/Sleeping Packs
I’ve read online how some people use a face mask daily. I honestly thing that’s really excessive and that your skin can’t even absorb that much. Your face is not a sponge; there are limitations. I do think that masks can be a huge help and I usually use it once a week. If I’m spending a lot of time outdoors and getting a lot of sun exposure, I’ll bump it up to twice a week. Sometimes, instead of using a mask, I’ll use a sleeping pack/mask. It’s basically a cream that you apply a thick layer on your face, don’t rub in, and then you sleep with it on.
1. Leaders Aqua Ringer Skin Mask*
– This is the best face mask I’ve ever used in my life. I’ve tried SO many face masks and none of them hydrate my skin as well as this one does. Just FYI, it is a little slimy and definitely very cooling. I buy these in Asia and this is what the box looks like in Asia because I can’t find it in the U.S. It’s not clear to me if this is the exact same product or not: http://www.ulta.com/aquaringer-treatment-mask?productId=xlsImpprod14631109
2. Manefit Green Tea Pore Care Sheet Mask*
– I really love Soko Glam because the owner, Charlotte Cho, is a licensed esthetician. She worked with Manefit to create the ultimate sheet mask. They even launched this on the site without disclosing that it was a special partnership with Soko Glam/Charlotte. They wanted to launch and get customers honest opinions. People loved it and so do I. What I like about this mask is that it’s gel instead of fabric. So the mask really sticks on your face and doesn’t shift around. In addition, there’s actual green tea pieces in it, which are incredibly soothing and cooling. While it’s not as hydrating at the Leaders mask, I use this mask when I’ve gotten a lot of sun exposure to cool down.
3. Laneige Water Sleeping Mask*
– Laneige Water Sleeping Mask is the holy grail for Korean Air flight attendants. It’s well-known in the industry that they use it. I like this sleeping mask because it’s gel-based and not too heavy. I’m pretty upset because Target used to sell Laneige and stopped a few months ago. I guess the distribution deal didn’t work out. At least Sephora still has it!
4. Innisfree Green Tea Sleeping Pack
– I bought this in Korea, but Innisfree is finally launching a U.S. store in NY next year and with an updated e-commerce site. It’ll be awesome because right now if you buy on their website, it ships from Korea and you have to pay exorbitant shipping costs. Totally not worth it at all, considering the product itself is less than $20. This is another light-weight sleeping pack that has these small white “moisture” beads inside. You rub it into your face and the moisture beads dissolve and hydrate your face.
5. Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Sleeping Mask
– This a great product because it’s cheaper than the night cream but offers the same benefits.
1. Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine*
– If you only buy one K-Beauty product, buy this one!!! I cannot even begin to tell you what a life-changing product this is. It’s the absolute best!!! Basically, it’s a pack of 30 exfoliating pads. It’s in the shape of a cotton pad but there’s a little pocket for you to fit two of your fingers inside. One side of the pad is rougher and is the exfoliating side. The other side is softer and used after you exfoliate to rub in and pat in the solution. The wine one actually smells like grape candy too! At first I was worried that the “bio-peel” would be harsh on my skin, but it isn’t at all! It’s surprisingly gentle– way gentler than St. Ive’s Apricot Scrub. Because you don’t really need to exfoliate more than once a week, one pack lasts a long time. On days that I exfoliate, I like to supplement with a face mask.
If the wine one is sold out, I will buy the green tea one, which is for sensitive skin.
2. Skin Food Black Sugar Mask
– So I haven’t personally used this sugar scrub mask, but it gets written up in a lot of K-Beauty product reviews so I trust it’s really good.
1. Neogen Day-Light Protection Sun Screen
– As you can probably already tell, I’m a big fan of Neogen. I like this sunscreen because it’s doesn’t leave my face oily and has a nice lemongrass scent. Also, I found that the Shiseido sunscreens actually make your face “whiter” and I hate it. So I don’t recommend Shiseido for sunscreen.
2. Missha Waterproof Sun Milk*
– I was EXTREMELY loyal to my Neogen sunscreen and bought it for my sisters too. One of my sisters though had an allergic reaction to the Neogen one, which I found really strange because I’m usually the one with the uber sensitive skin. She ended up buying the Missha one and now I’m a converter. This sunscreen is very light-weight and actually mattifying! The Neogen one seems greasy in comparison (it’s really not greasy). So as soon as I’m done with my next bottle of Neogen, I’m switching over to Missha.
Do you have any favorite cosmetic products? Feel free to comment below! I love learning about new things to try!