Korean Skincare Innovation

4.5 min read

Why has Korean skincare suddenly picked up pace? And more importantly, what are the products to use?

By Christopher Prince

There’s always something particularly profound when you discover a Holy Grail beauty product. But what about an entire country full of beauty innovation, untouched by the Western world (so far)? The Far East produces some of the most covetable beauty swag, but it’s now the East Asian territory of South Korea that has entered the spotlight. Its inhabitants in that far off region are said to have beautifully clear skin thanks to a slew of at-home regimens, estheticians, clinics and spas that is proving South Korea is the new (at least to the Western world) destination for beauty.

10-Step Korean Skincare Regimen 

/1. Cleanse
There are two types of cleansers to use, oil-based and foam-based. Oil-based cleansers work best for melting away makeup through massaging the face. Whilst a non-drying foaming cleanser removes any remaining debris from the skin. 

/2. Tone
A toner balances pH levels and preps the skin prior to absorbing products. Opt for alcohol-free toners to prevent drying, and apply either with the hands or a soft cotton pad.

/3. Essence
A new wave of Korean essences are water-based as opposed to the more traditional thick serums that are typically used later in skincare regimens. The aim is to sweep upwards across the cheeks and forehead post toning.

/4. Serum
Much of what makes Korean skincare regimens unique are the mix-and-match, bespoke products that target specific areas of the face. This step allows for interchangeable serums, whether water-based for anti ageing, oil for hydration or lotion after the initial serum step. Here you can practice facial yoga to circulate the blood stream.

/5. Mask
Exfoliating masks are typically used twice a week in order to restore the skin cells and brighten the complexion. Korean masks are treated on a one-time usage, for days when the skin is feeling dehydrated or dull. The most popular mask is a sheet mask or a gel mask. 

/6. Eye Cream
Eye creams should be applied twice daily as opposed to the Western practice of once in the evening. The key is to dab and pat rather than rub across the delicate eye area.

/7. Moisturise/Sleep Mask
Seal all of the steps prior with a whipped moisturiser. Or opt for a new Korean innovation by donning a sleep mask (however frightening you may look in bed). 

/8. Sun Care
Before submitting your skin to daylight sweep on an SPF or a trusty cushion compact that will provide protection as well as a light coverage.

/9. Mist
In order to re-activate all of your hard work applying numerous layers of skin-elevating products, the key is to mist throughout the day wherever you go. Keep a purse-friendly travel size mist with you at all times.

/10. Facial

And last but not least, the facial. Absolutely essential for Korean women who take weekly ‘maintenance facials’, this process is usually carried out by a professional consultant.

Affectionately known as K-beauty, American retailers have started picking up pace, stocking Korean beauty products in bigger quantities more than ever before. The outlook from how Korean women view skin care differently from their western counterparts differs dramatically with the biggest concern being hyperpigmentation. Many Korean women want to achieve skin translucency, where flawless skin is a must. Because of this dedication, prices for procedures and consultations stay relatively low.

One Korean skincare obsessive is Sheryll Donerson, who runs a beauty and lifestyle blog named The Wanderlust Project. Donerson moved to Yongin, South Korea in April 2012 to teach, and is now located in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If you visit her blog you’ll notice a standalone section for Korean beauty where she provides an in-depth tried-and-tested mantra for everything she uses. But what is it about Korean skincare that has created such an avid following? “Personally, I think Korean skincare is better. It’s at least 10 to 15 years ahead of U.S. cosmetics in terms of technology, and the prices are just much more affordable for a much better formulated product,” says Donerson.

Cost is a defining factor in whether we choose to use a product or not. If it isn’t viable to purchase over a longer period of time we simply won’t use it. Particularly for women in the Middle East, protecting and preventing sun damage to the skin is paramount. Much of what is marketed by Korean skincare is a demand for tailor-made products that work with the skin in its natural state, rather than providing a quick fix. “My favorite Korean skincare products are the su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, the Amore Pacific Treatment Enzyme Peel, the COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid, and the HERA Hyaluronic Filler Ampoule,” says Donerson.

- COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid | Amore Pacific Treatment Enzyme Peel | HERA Hyaluronic Filler Ampoule | su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick -

– COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid | Amore Pacific Treatment Enzyme Peel | HERA Hyaluronic Filler Ampoule | su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick –

But it isn’t just about the products. Korean women are noted for having a strict beauty regime, which is something Donerson has tried to emulate. “In the morning, my routine is quite simple. I wash my face with a foaming cleanser. I’m currently using an array of cleansers, but my favorite remains the su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick. I apply a toner, my vitamin C serum, wait about 5/10 minutes, and then apply the HERA Hyaluronic Filler Ampoule and my moisturiser of choice. I then apply my sunscreen and the rest of my makeup.” And for night? “For my nighttime routine, I double-cleanse. I first remove my makeup with a balm cleanser and then wash with a foaming cleanser. I then apply either a BHA or AHA product, and wait for about 20 minutes. After that, I apply a hydrating toner from Missha or Hada Labo, then my HERA ampoule, my moisturiser (currently using the HERA Aquabolic Moisturising Emulsion), then some of my fermented argan oil from su:m37.”

Donerson, “typically shops at w2beauty.com and wishtrend.com” for all of her Korean cosmetics, but there’s a place to visit for budding Korean beauty enthusiasts in the Middle East, namely thebbcreamgirl.com which ships to all emirates in the UAE. For those searching for inspiration take a look at the r/asianbeauty reddit forum, 50 Shades of Snail, The Beauty Wolf, and Skincare and Tonics to get a heads up before South Korea hits the mainstream.