Do you want to start your skincare journey, but feel overwhelmed by the endless articles and product recommendations online? We're here to help. This guide will equip you with everything you need to start a simple, trustworthy, and buildable skincare routine for all your different skin goals.
The Right Mindset
First on the to-do list when you start a new routine/product, is to have realistic expectations for both products and yourself.
- Go gentle on yourself, and your skin. Keep in mind that photo retouching nowadays aims to recreate “realistic” skin texture. Celebrate your little skin victories towards your personal goal, never compare. In terms of trying new products, always patch test, and start slow.
- Some products are NOT going to work right away, and some are. For example: a brightening serum will fade hyperpigmentation over time vs. a simple hydrating toner that diminishes dry/tightness on the skin upon application.
- Everyone’s skin is different. Listen to what your skin is telling you instead of blindly following trends.
The Basic 5 Steps
Why so little you ask? We know that you’re probably sick and tired of the typical 50 step K-beauty routine that you can find on the internet. (Imagine how tired we are) So we’ve boiled down the routine to just 5 steps: Cleanse, Tone, Treat, Moisturize, Protect.
When you’re just starting out on K-skincare, these are some good principles to follow:
- Korean skincare products are designed to be layered, therefore they’re usually a lot thinner in texture compared to western skincare. Apply thin, watery products first before thicker, more emollient ones
- Gentle products, steady results. A healthy skin barrier is your best bet at defending whatever external stressors the environment has to throw at you. Korean products are often formulated with focus on clean, natural ingredients and a lower percentage of potentially sensitizing active ingredients.
- Before experimenting, find a base routine that have your back: a cleanser and moisturizer that won’t break you out, and only try ONE new product at a time
- Get familiarized with a few key ingredients your skin likes, and try to be conscious of where they land on the ingredient list. Generally speaking, the earlier they get mentioned, the higher the concentration. (If you want to know more about ingredient concentrations, read our debunk here)
Step 1: Cleanse
AM: Cleanse with a splash of water or a mild, gentle cleanser.
Over-cleansing in the morning only washes off your own protective natural oils.
PM: Double Cleanse with an oil and water based cleanser.
By the end of the day, everything on your face has melded together with your own natural oils. Emulsify waterproof makeup, sunscreens, and pollutants trapped in your own sebum with an oil based cleanser. Depending on your skin type and products used in the AM, you can use a cleansing water or go straight to your gentle foaming cleanser instead.
How do I know if my cleanser is gentle enough?
If your face feels tight, or “squeaky clean” after cleansing, it means the cleanser is stripping too much of your own natural oils away and potentially disrupting your skin barrier.
Oil Based Cleanser
- I'm From Fig Cleansing Balm
- ROUND LAB 1025 Dokdo Cleansing Oil
- iUNIK Calendula Complete Cleansing Oil
Step 2: Tone
Rebalance your skin’s pH after cleansing.
Healthy skin is naturally acidic (4 ~ 6), and cleansers are more alkaline. Using a toner is the easiest way of restoring our skin’s natural pH levels
We recommend any acidic hydrating toners with water-retaining and soothing ingredients (Hyaluronic Acid, Centella Asiatica).
- ISNTREE Green Tea Fresh Toner
- Etude House Soon Jung Cica Relief Toner
- PURITO Centella Unscented Toner
Step 3: Treat
Exfoliators / Masks / Essences / Ampoules / SerumsThese products will do all the heavy lifting in your skincare routine. They are usually formulated with active ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin C, etc., and designed to target your specific concerns.
Step 4: Moisturize
AM: Light-weight moisturizers.
During the daytime, use thinner products and the layering technique to achieve desired hydration, prevent pilling if you want makeup on top.
PM: High humectants and emollients.
For nighttime, make sure to incorporate humectants & essential emollients to hydrate & moisturize. Go to sleep like a little slug and wake up with glowing skin!
Moisturizer formulations come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The most important ingredient categories to look for in a moisturizer, are humectants (water-retaining ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid), emollients (moisturizing ingredients like oils, shea butter, and oatmeal), and occlusives (water-repelling ingredients to prevent moisture loss like petrolatum, silicones, and waxes).
By keeping your skin hydrated, moisturizers are a preventative step to a wide range of issues that can come with moisture loss, such as premature aging and acne; without proper moisturization, your skin will attempt to take the matter into its own hands by producing extra sebum that can eventually break you out.
Choose a moisturizer that fits your skin concern to increase the effectiveness of your routine. Got oily skin? Work with your natural oils and pick a thinner, gel-like formula with a focus on humectants to draw moisture to your skin. Got dry but somehow acne prone skin? Try 2-3 simple moisturizers with short ingredient lists, and see what emollients and occlusives that you skin reacts the best to.
- Etude House Soon Jung 2x Barrier Intensive Cream
- COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream
- Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream
Step 5: Protect
You made it to the last step!
After all that effort you make to nourish your skin, it is extremely important that you protect your skin from the damaging effects of UVA/UVB rays. In fact, if there is 1 thing we hope you can take away from this blog, this is it!
Whether you’re working from home, running quick errands or enjoying the outdoors, you’re exposed to different levels of UVA/UVB rays that cause premature aging, hyperpigmentation, skin cancer and can diminish your overall skin health in general.
Without getting into the nitty gritty of sunscreen testing and how they make up these SPF numbers, SPF indicates UVB protection and “PA++++” indicates UVA. You can think of UVB as the “burning rays” and UVA as the “aging rays”. It’s essential that we have protection from both.
There are two main categories of sunscreens, physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens employ active mineral filters such as titanium and zinc oxide to physically block and deflect damaging rays. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand, uses organic (carbon-based) compounds that react to sun rays and convert them into heat. There are also combo sunscreens that are formulated with both physical and chemical filters.
Before you go…
We’d like to thank you for making it this far and hearing our rambles. In an age of over-information, we hope this article helped in clearing up some of your questions and made you feel a little more informed about where you’re headed with your skincare goals.
2 people commented
I appreciate the breakdown of each step and that they included recommendations….all the way up until the very last one, sun protection, which was even mentioned as being the MOST important step. Other than that this article was very helpful!
Love it ❤️