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The Ultimate Guide To K-Beauty: The 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine

Korea has always been globally known for its thriving music and entertainment industries, but these past few years, Korea has become a leader and driving force for the global beauty industry. They have developed innovative products, creating new categories that have found a permanent place in the skincare routines of countless.

K-Beauty has inspired many popular trends that are pushing the skincare industry forward as well as improving the skin of countless, such as the Seven Skin Method, achieving Glass Skin, and the infamous “10 step” (or even 12 steps, depending on how dedicated you are) Korean Skincare routine.

The Seven Skin method is a popular way to gently hydrate the skin. Essentially, the Seven Skin method champions layering on up to seven layers of toner to deeply hydrate the outer layers of skin. More layers of toner means that your skin absorbs the hydrating ingredients more. This popular method also paves the way for the user to get “glass skin”.

Glass skin is the general name for luminous, dewy skin that seems almost transparent. This effect is achieved by pairing many layers of hydration, like from the Seven Skins method or the “10 step” routine.

Some may find it too extensive and complicated to go through 10 steps for their morning and nighttime skincare routines, but ten steps is not an absolute rule at all. You can customize it to your own routine by incorporating the steps that you really need as you see fit.

We encourage you to try out products one at a time as you fit them into your current routine. If your routine works great for you at four steps, then we encourage you to stick with it! Everyone's skin is different and we want the best for your skin.

The "Ten Step" Korean Skincare Routine

The 10 Steps Are:

#1 Oil Cleansing

#2 Foam Cleansing

#3 Exfoliating

#4 Toner

#5 Essence

#6 Emulsion, Serum, or Treatments

#7 Sheet Mask

#8 Eye Cream

#9 Moisturizer

#10 Sunscreen

Step One: Removing makeup and impurities with an oil-based cleanser

Using an oil-based cleanser will help break down and melt away that outer layer of makeup, sweat, sebum, and dirt. It’s important to use an oil-based cleanser for this step, as the oil is what breaks down impurities you don’t want lingering on the skin. 

Cleansing oils work great, as do cleansing balms, to shed off that outer layer of debris that can collect over the day. Be sure to rub the oil or balm in your hands first before putting them on a dry face. Gently massage over all areas with makeup, being especially delicate around the eye area. If you are wearing mascara, make sure to gently massage it off your lashes. To fully remove makeup, we encourage that you massage your face from 30 seconds to 1 minute to fully melt off makeup, oil, sweat, and grime.


Step Two: Ensuring all impurities are removed with a gel, foam, or cream cleanser

Going back in with a second cleanse ensures a thorough wash to make sure your skin is really clean. Using a foam, gel, or cream cleanser, squeeze some into your palm, add water and work it into a lather, and apply it to your face. It’ll wash away any leftover gunk, and give you the clean skin that you need and deserve.

Using a low pH cleanser keeps your skin barrier strong as the natural pH of skin ranges between a 4 to 6. It’s in this range where the skin can really perform the best. Using too high of a pH cleanser can lead to irritation, sensitivity, and more breakouts.

CosRX Low PH Good Morning Gel CleanserCosRX Low pH Gel Cleanser

We love the CosRX Low pH Gel Cleanser because it's a gentle gel cleanser that cleanses without stripping the skin. 


Step Three: Exfoliate away the outer layer of skin, revealing new, bright skin underneath

Regular exfoliation is key to a good skincare routine. As your skin is constantly generating new skin cells, you want to also make sure dead skin cells are exfoliated away to reveal new skin underneath.

We highly recommend using either a physical or chemical exfoliant, depending on your skin needs. Physical exfoliants will physically scrub away any remaining debris using an abrasive source, such as sugar. Chemical exfoliants help break down the bonds between skin cells so dead skin can be removed more easily.

Skinfood Black Sugar Perfect Essential Scrub 2X

Skinfood has some great sugar scrubs that are our favorite physical exfoliators. For chemical exfoliation, we recommend using the Neogen peel pads for beginners or the any of the CosRX liquids for those looking for a more serious peel.

For more information on Korean Exfoliators and the differences between physical and chemical exfoliation,check out our Guide to Korean Exfoliators here.

Step Four: Prime the skin with a layer of hydrating toner

Toners are an essential part of any skincare routine. It provides a light layer of hydration to the face and helps further balance the pH value of the skin. Both these steps help prime your skin to better absorb the rest of your skincare routine.

In the world of Korean Beauty and Asian Beauty in general, toners have a very different meaning than the astringent toners marketed in the US. In an American routine, toners often contain alcohol or other drying ingredients meant to get rid of any debris left post a one step cleanse. This is not needed in a Korean skincare routine, as there are two cleansing steps in addition to an exfoliation step to ensure the skin is clean.

For Asian and Korean toners, we recommend taking some product into the palm of your hand, warming it, and patting it into the skin. Repeat as many times as necessary, even up to seven! 

Haruharu WONDER Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner

Step Five: Further prime the skin with essence

Korean skincare is huge on layering because hydrated skin betters the skin’s ability to absorb ingredients. Essences can also contain brightening and anti-aging ingredients, such as rice extract or bird’s nest. 

Neogen Real Ferment Micro EssenceNeogen Real Ferment Micro Essence

Step Six: Hydrate or treat with emulsion, serum, ampoules, or actives

Depending on the products you’re using, this step can be another hydration step, or the step where you use the product that will do the heavy lifting in terms of your skin concern(s). If you are layering different actives, make sure that they pair well together with the rest of the products in your time and that they do not cancel each other out. 

Pyunkang Yul Moisture AmpoulePyunkang Yul Moisture Ampoule


Step Seven: Seal in all the goodness with a sheet mask

Sheet masks are a great way to seal in all the goodness previously applied during your routine so far. Thanks to the Korean skincare movement, there is now a vast variety of sheet masks with different sheet fabrics and skin benefits, that have found a permanent place in many of our beauty routines.

Korean beauty brands are known for the vast variety of sheet masks that they offer, but our favorite Korean sheet masks are from Mediheal.

It’s also a great way to relax and de-stress from the day. 

MEDIHEAL N.M.F Intensive Hydrating Mask


Step Eight: Eye cream for your delicate eye area!

The skin around your eyes is the thinnest on the body, making it a vulnerable area to show signs of aging early. Eye cream is typically formulated to be a bit more hydrating than moisturizers to ensure this area is hydrated.

Skinfood Royal Honey Essential Eye CreamSkinfood Royal Honey Essential Eye Cream

Step Nine: The Final Hydration Step - Moisturizer

The bread and butter of any skincare routine, moisturizer helps seal in all the moisture and actives you've previously applied and to deliver a final punch of hydration to make your previous layers work harder. The more hydrated your skin barrier is, the better it functions.

Generally, we recommend to use a texture that agrees with your skin type. Heavier, richer creams will work better for those with drier skin, and those with more oily or combination skins may find that a gel texture can help hydrate without clogging pores and causing further breakouts.

Mamonde Rose Water Gel CreamMamonde Rose Water Gel Cream

Overnight masks are also great for this step. One our lazy days, an overnight mask is all we like to use at night. CosRX makes a great one made from honey that works beautifully to hydrate overnight.

CosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight MaskCosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask

Step Ten: Protect against hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and UV damage with sunscreen

A critical step in any skincare routine, no matter how many steps there are. Sunscreen protects the skin against harmful UVA/UVB rays in addition to help preventing the formation of dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and aging of the skin. 


Neogen Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF50 PA+++Neogen Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF50 PA+++

Again, even if the 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine is too involved for you, use it as a guide to help decide which products you include in your routine that work the best for your skin. If hydration is the main concern for you, it may be beneficial to add in an additional hydrating layer if your current routine isn't cutting it.

If anti-aging or brightening is the main concern, make sure you are using a heavy hitting serum or that your moisturizer has ingredients to help with correct skin concern.

YMMV with skincare, so it's up to you to test what works best for your skin. Let us know your results and how many products you use in your skincare routine!