I Tried the Korean 10 Step Beauty Routine… Sort Of

Way too many products...
Way too many products…

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on Korean beauty and skincare, you’ll know that I’ve been using various products, some for years. In fact, I started using some of them 10 years ago (when I moved to Korea). But I never actually did the whole “10 steps” that I’ve been hearing so much about recently. And interestingly, it was never recommended to be while I lived in Korea. Oh, certain products or types of products were and I was definitely urged to use more sunscreen (and stop tanning), but I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the 10 steps of their skincare routine or any particular number of steps for that matter. But I’m always up for something different… and a challenge.

Why do I say challenge?

Because I hate mornings and I’ve always been a bit lazy with my skincare. Oh, my regular routine has 3-4 steps – cleanser, toner, moisturizer and sunscreen… sometimes, I’m still bad about using sunscreen all the time. And I often use, but not in any regimented routine another “step” or two – either exfoliation, a peel-off mask or a sheet mask – once or twice a week. But 10 steps in a regimented, structured routine, never.

Luckily, I love trying new things and I was up for the challenge.

My research

The idea for the article – and trying to see if I could do a 10 step routine – came from The Little Book of Skin Care by Charlotte Cho, who in addition to writing the book, also runs Soko Glam and is a board certified esthetician. But I couldn’t just read about it – and try it myself – I’m too curious so I asked friends, both Korean and not, as well as some friendly ladies in a Facebook beauty group about their experiences. Huge thanks to all those that let me pick their brains about their routines!

The consensus was interesting. Almost no one did 10 steps but many did 6-8 steps, and for most, the number wasn’t important, the products they used was. And that’s an idea I’m sure most would agree with. Many varied the number of steps depending on the season or a particular skincare issue. I also found that everyone I spoke with liked the two-step cleansing (and recommended it as an essential step), spoke about tailoring the routine to suit your skin, and pretty much everyone used sunscreen (I know, I should use it more regularly too).

The other thing was those I spoke with all said that while they may not do 10 steps, they found their routine made a positive difference in their skin. So 10 wasn’t a magic number but there were lots of ladies recommended a multi-step Korean skincare routine.

It was time to try it for myself…

So what was a 10 step beauty routine like?

I tried a version for two weeks and while I customized it a bit to suit my needs and preferences… as well as incorporating as many of the products I already used/own, I found it was kind of fun in the evening to add in the extra steps. It’s actually easier than I thought as I already did a reduced version, and quicker than I expected. Now I’m certainly no expert but I did a bunch of reading and chatting with people prior to starting my new “routine” (see above) so I developed a slightly condensed version for the morning, while retaining most of the 10 steps in the evening (only a couple of evenings each week did I actually do 10).

Why the condensed version for my mornings? Some of the steps didn’t make sense in the morning. For example, I don’t need to remove makeup as I don’t wear it to bed (and I’d already removed it the night before). So my morning routine really wasn’t that much different from my everyday routine. Plus, I’m really lazy in the morning as I don’t like mornings so I was being realistic.

As for the evening routine, it took a lot less time that I expected and was quite relaxing, like having a mini facial, but that may be in part because of some of the products I chose.

Editor’s note: My routine or products may not be the right one for you and I didn’t use any of the more active treatments like AHA and BHA as I kind of feel those should be recommended by a professional. I designed my own routine based on my research and products I already used (mainly). If you want recommendations, both SokoGlam and Peach & Lily are good places to start.

My 10-Step Routine

The Face Shop Herb Day Cleansing Tissues
The Face Shop Herb Day Cleansing Tissues

Step 1: Eye Makeup Removal

Evening only. This was a step I always did as I pretty much only use waterproof mascara and it’s hard to take off gently. I’ve been using the same cleansing tissues for a decade since I moved to Korea because they work, they’re gentle and that’s all I want/need from. But I found that I didn’t need it with the cleansing oil.

The Face Shop Real Blend Calming Cleansing Oil in Lavender
The Face Shop Real Blend Calming Cleansing Oil in Lavender

Step 2: Oil Cleanser

Evening only. This was a brand new step for me but one that several friends recommended (as did pretty much every article I read). Interestingly, it ended up being one of my favourite steps as it’s like a mini-facial massage. You add it to a dry face and massage it in with a little water to emulsify it. The product I choose – The Face Shop’s Calming Cleansing Oil – had lavender which is a scent that I find very relaxing. And best of all, it removes waterproof mascara.

I was a bit nervous at first using an oil on my face as I was worried I might break out but there were no issues. I’ll definitely continue using it.

The Face Shop Herb Day Cleansing Foam in Lemon
The Face Shop Herb Day Cleansing Foam in Lemon

Step 3: Foam/Lotion Cleanser

Morning & evening. I’ve been using The Face Shop Herb Day Cleansing Foam in lemon for a little more than a year as it gives a nice clean without being drying. The tangy scent is perfect in the morning as it helps me wake up so it pulls double duty.

Unfortunately, the lemon scent’s propensity to wake me up counteracted the relaxing effects of the oil cleanser so I traded a chamomile lotion cleanser for the evening as it’s also a relaxing scent.

Skin Food Black Sugar Mask
Skin Food Black Sugar Mask

Step 4: Exfoliate

Twice a week in the evening. I love this step and Skin Food Black Sugar Mask is the best scrub I’ve ever tried. This is a product I’ve used for about a decade and it’s a gentle yet effective scrub (despite the fact that it’s called a mask, it’s a scrub) that leaves my skin feeling smooth. During this experiment I upped my scrub use from once a week to twice a week and while it didn’t do any harm, I think I’ll go back to once a week and use a peel-off mask the other day.

The Face Shop Arsainte Eco-Therapy Tonic with Essential
The Face Shop Arsainte Eco-Therapy Tonic with Essential

Step 5: Toner with Essence

Morning & evening. This is another product I’ve used for years, since a sample of the toner and moisturizer (see below) were given to me when I lived in Korea. It’s gentle and balancing. It’s also one of the few steps I never skip as I love the way it makes my skin feel – no more tightness on my cheeks.

Skin Food Peach Sake Pore Serum
Skin Food Peach Sake Pore Serum

Step 6: Serum

Morning & evening. This is a new product that I bought for this experiment after it was recommended to me. One of my skincare concerns is that I have slighter larger pores in my T-zone, especially my nose, and a friend recommended this might help minimize them.

It’s too soon to probably tell but I think it’s working. I’m going to keep using it until the bottle is empty and re-evaluate then but so far, I like the results.

The Face Shop Bio-Cell Firming Face Mask
The Face Shop Bio-Cell Firming Face Mask

Step 7: Sheet Mask

Twice a week in the evening. Okay, I’ve been using sheet masks for years and have tried several different ones. I tend to use them more in the winter as Canadian winters can be very drying to skin but I love them. They’re like a mini facial and there’s literally one for everyone. I’ve even tried a mask a day for seven days (too much).

The mask in the photo above is one of my new favs but it’s also a bit different (see photo below) then ones I’d used before. Ususally, I just open the package, unfold the mask and put it on. But with the Bio-Cell Firming Face Mask, there’s extra layers to remove because the mask is much thinner than the cotton ones I’m familiar with.

Using the Bio-Cell mask was a little different than previous sheet masks I've used
Using the Bio-Cell mask was a little different than previous sheet masks I’ve used

The slight difficulty in putting it on aside, I liked how much moisture it seemed to add to my face and there was enough essence left in the package to use for the next 5 days, morning and night.

Laneige Water Bank Eye Gel
Laneige Water Bank Eye Gel

Step 8: Eye Cream

Morning & evening. This is another new product/step as I’d never used an eye cream beyond samples. But after being lectured by a couple of people about fine lines and getting older… I added one that came recommended for the experiment.

There was a bit of a learning curve for me – you only need a very little bit of the eye cream for each eye – and yes, I read the instructions on how to massage it into my eye. I like how it feels but it’s too early to tell if it’s having any result. Like the serum, I’ll use the bottle and re-evaluate once it’s finished.

The Face Shop Arsainte Eco-Therapy Moisturuzer
The Face Shop Arsainte Eco-Therapy Moisturuzer

Step 9: Moisturize

Morning & evening but different creams. This is another product/step I’ve been using for years and one I love. I both love how it makes my skin feel and that it’s made from mostly natural ingredients. It’s light but moisturizing and is quite gentle on my slightly sensitive skin. And it’s one of the few steps I never skip.

I was given another, slightly heavier cream in the same line and for this experiment I used it in the evening. Heavier creams always make me slightly leery because when I was in my teens/20s, they would cause breakouts but so far I like the Arsainte Eco-Therapy Ultra Cream by The Face Shop. However, I’ll probably use it for a night cream solely moving forward.

Innisfree Eco Safety Daily Sunblock
Innisfree Eco Safety Daily Sunblock

Step 10a: Sunscreen

Morning only. I’m bad at using sunscreen all the time, in part because I don’t burn easily and in part because I work in an office and don’t get a lot of sunshine. That being said, I do use it more regularly in the summer or on days I’ll be outside. And yes, I know I should use it more regularly…

It took me ages to find a sunscreen that was light, didn’t clog my pores or make my face look grey (some of the heavier ones do and it’s not a good look). But I love the Innisfree Eco Safety Daily Sunblock – which comes in 35SPF and 50SPF.

The Face Shop Raspberry Roots Sleeping Mask
The Face Shop Raspberry Roots Sleeping Mask

Step 10b: Night Cream

Evening only. Honestly, this is one step I couldn’t get my head behind. Perhaps because I don’t have dry skin – even my cheeks are more normal than dry except perhaps in the winter – but I don’t see the need or benefit for putting a cream over top another cream.

That being said, I liked the product and will use it in place of my regular moisturizer at night until it’s finished. Afterwards, I won’t be continuing this step.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that I didn’t list any essences. That’s because I use the leftover essence from any sheet masks I use so I don’t buy a separate one.

It took me a bit to get used to not only all the steps but using them consistently – I actually used a spreadsheet at the beginning to organize. But once I did, it was surprisingly nice – kind of like having a mini facial each evening – and quick. If I didn’t count the 20-30 minutes that I would leave the sheet mask on, the routine only took about 10-15 minutes. And that’s leaving 30 seconds in between steps so each product had time to soak in… well, most of the time anyways.

Will I keep doing it all? No, not in such a regimented way. But then almost everyone I spoke to has tailored their routine to fit their skincare needs. But I’ll definitely keep using most of the products/steps, if in a more relaxed way. And I’m going to re-evaluate a couple of the newer products after I’ve used them longer to see if they really make a difference.

I’d actually love to meet with an esthetician who’s trained in Korean skincare to see what they would recommend I use and compare it with what I do use. But until that time, I’ll keep using my 4-7 “steps” and enjoy my dewy skin.

Should you use a multi-step (notice I said multi-step, not 10 step) Korean skincare routine? Probably, but only you can be the judge of that! But if you do/have, I love to hear about your experience in the comments!!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

3 thoughts on “I Tried the Korean 10 Step Beauty Routine… Sort Of

  • November 10, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I also don’t like to wear sunscreen, although I accept that I need it. What I do is buy moisturizers and foundations with SPF so I can skip that step.

    BTW, I spent 2 1/2 weeks in Korea this summer and I’m feeling pretty good. Maybe I should try writing for ATK again.

    • November 10, 2016 at 11:26 am

      You could always write an article about your trip to Korea… 🙂

      • November 10, 2016 at 11:50 am

        Yes. I could do several. We spent time in Seoul, went to the DMZ, took a road trip around the country, visited Jeju, lost our daughter and had to visit the police station, spent a night in a Hanok guesthouse, etc.

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