The Magic & Method of Korean Skincare


So excited about this post! Korean skincare is having a big moment for the last several months.  There are several articles, blogs, and websites in English BUT not so many that I can’t put in my two cents:

Growing up, I remember Korean women had the most beautiful skin – stunning, really. Naturally glowing, dewy, flawless, ethereal…  Naively,  I assumed this was pure genetics.  That somehow Korean women skipped the flawed skin genes plaguing the rest of the world and came out of the primordial ooze with picture-perfect skin.


It wasn’t until this summer that -finally!- I got to read English articles written about Korean skincare and got a glimpse into the world of toners, essences, ampoules and lotions. I was intrigued and enthralled! Finally, the secrets of ethereal Korean skin were within my grasp…

… I was expecting to read about a single product, a magic ingredient, or a new ZZ cream that would create that superhuman skin.  But instead I found out that it’s a whole different philosophy of tender loving care, nurturing the best out of your skin, and yes, religiously apply a dozen or so products each morning and night.

But the more that I read about the dozen or so products, the more I became confused and worried.  My skin is troubled, to say the least, and highly reactive, so the most benign ingredients or products can create painful cystic acne or irritated rosacea.  I was worried that apply a dozen or so products would make matters worst.  But I read on, and thought that the whole TLC method of your skin was crazy enough to work.  After almost 20 years of waging battle on acne, simultaneously oily and dry skin, rosacea, enlarged pores, etc… I decided to lay down the arms and take a gentler approach to a peace settlement.

So I dove in, researched about the Moisture Barrier (which you can read here), and bought my first set of Korean skincare products.  And I swear, after just 2 days, you could almost here my pores do a collective sigh of relief.  While not without its bumps in the road, overall my skin is loving Korean skincare products!  For the first time since I was 14 my skin is calm and happy, and I have had no new acne flareups and even my rosacea is at bay.

Courtesy of, here’s a quick run-down of the Magic and Method of Korean skincare:

The Magic:

  • Innovation: Traditionally, Korean culture has always placed great importance on serious skincare.  Now, newly invigorated with a one billion dollar market for BB creams alone(!) the beauty industry in Korea has the money and the desire to research, develop, and innovate.  The Korean beauty industry is now at the forefront of new innovations and processes, thought by many to be a full decade ahead of everyone else!
  • Natural Ingredients: Based on a long history of traditional Asian skincare, the Korean Beauty industry still favors natural ingredients to treat skin and to stay away from harsh chemicals that strip away at the moisture barrier. Green tea, bamboo sap, honey, fermented yeast, and even snail mucin and bee venom!
  • High Quality and Highly Affordable: Traditionally, Koreans have always been serious about their skincare. They’re knowledgeable, experienced, and well-informed.  They know what they want but they don’t want to pay a lot for it! And in a highly competitive beauty industry with savvy shoppers, the companies are forced to give their customers what they want: high quality products and highly affordable prices!

The Method:

  • TLC: the focus of Korean skincare is to give your skin L-O-V-E. Rather than treatment when skin already becomes damaged, Koreans focus on prevention of skin problems instead.  Naturally luminous and dewy skin is the objective, and Koreans are taught from a young age that through proper prevention and TLC, they can be in control of their skin and achieve the best results!
  • Skincare vs. Makeup: Instead of just applying makeup over the problem, Koreans focus on skincare products to get at the root of the problem instead. This is completely different from the U.S. where the makeup industry is much larger than the skincare industry!
  • Layer, layer, and yes – more layers! Ok, so this is where things get a little complicated, and exciting! Twice a day, Koreans religiously layer on their products to clean, prep, renew, treat, hydrate, and protect.  They follow very specific steps, and in general go from lightest to heaviest:
  1. CLEAN: It’s important to use a gentle cleanser (preferably with a pH around 5.0) that removes dirt without stripping the skin of essential oils. At night you do a two-step cleansing method that’s gentle removes all traces of makeup and dirt.  First an oil-based cleanser is massaged into the skin to dissolve makeup, dirt, and excess sebum. Second, you use a gentle water-based cleanser to remove all the traces away.  The objective is to get clean pores and smoother skin!  No abrasives or brushing is required.  The focus here is on gentle and patient cleaning and washing.
  2. PREP: It’s important to use a gentle and hydrating toner that is also slightly acidic (preferably with a pH around 4.0) to moisturize, maintain the acid mantle, and prep the skin for rest of the products!
  3. RENEW: Ok, so this is where things get a little confusing to those new to Korean Skincare.  This is the all-crucial essence step, that works at a cellular level to target any problem skin (wrinkles, fine lines, dull, uneven skin tone, etc…). Think of it almost like a watery serum, stuffed with antioxidants and other good stuff that you want to have first contact with your skin.  Trust the process and purchase a good quality Korean essence.  It will make a difference for your skin!
  4. TREAT: This is where it gets really fun with serums and ampoules to target all your skin’s problems and to prevent any additional problems.  Acne, fine lines, wrinkles, whatever your heart desires!  Just make sure you use gentle, quality products.  You’re trying to nurture your skin for the long haul, not shock it into submission for the short term only to end up with worst problems later.
  5. HYDRATE: You can use an emulsion during the day, or a heavier cream at night.  Or if you’re like me with dry yet oily skin, you may find that the more moisture you use, the less problems you have with excess oil.  Lather it on, you’re nurturing your skin!
  6. PROTECT: During the day use a sunscreen with a high SPF. This is absolutely crucial because not only will it keep your skin looking young and healthy, but also because some of the products you use may make you more sensitive to UV rays.  Aim for a broad spectrum sunscreen around SPF 50.  If you have particularly sensitive skin, you may want to finish your skincare regime with a finishing cream.  Almost like a makeup primer (but better for your skin), this type of cream will seal in your face with a breathable coat of protection to help the products to work properly and keep dirt, dust, and makeup out of your pores.
  • So if you’re not over-whelmed by the amount of products already, you can also include weekly scrubs, sheet masks, sleeping masks, etc… to nurture your skin even more!

At first, the amount of products may seem insane, but there is definitely a method to all this madness! Each product is meant to be gentle, hydrating, and beneficial to your skin, and when you layer it on like this, it does a really affective job of creating happy, healthy skin.  In the U.S. we love everything fast, one-size-fits-all, one magic pill, and then be done with it.  But in terms of skincare, this approach just results in overly harsh products that cause serious damage.  If you want your skin to love you back, you need to forget this quickie method of skincare and instead show your skin some love by embracing the methodical, patient, TLC approach!

And trust me, your skin will love you back.  Normally it takes a full month for your new skin cells to rejuvenate, so it may take a little while to see results. Or it may be quicker!  I could see visible improvements within a week! And now that I see the result I’m hooked – I love spending time in my bathroom (much to my boyfriend’s chagrin), patiently patting in one product after another and watch in amazement as my acne fades away and my rosacea heals a little more every day.

Now this doesn’t mean that you need to throw away or ignore products readily available in the U.S.  I still use some American products (see my future reviews!), but now I’m vigilant about checking Beautypedia on AND to make sure I’m not using any products that have irritants or ingredients that cause acne.  When shopping the aisles, don’t assume that “non-comodogenic” actually means that it won’t cause acne, because TRUST ME, this is not a guarantee!  Do your research on Beautypedia and aim only for products that get a BEST or GOOD grade for sensitive skin.  Also, look up to avoid any products that get more than irritant/acne factor of “1.”

But don’t be afraid to try Korean products!  Many of them you can find the ingredients on other people’s reviews and on cosdna.  I’ve found several that I’m already in love with and already planning on when to reorder them. Check out the information on my favorite websites (so far!),, and for more information.  Also, I will be including a shopping guide in a later post with my favorite Korean companies and products.

Hope this helps!


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