The 10-step Korean Skin Care Routine | What is it? Myths and Truths

korean skin care routine

Beauty trends nowadays are almost as fast-paced as stock market values. We see the emergence of routines, miracle products, skin therapies, regimes and even their disappearance all within the blink of an eye. In part, the reason for this is our never-ending pursuit of flawless skin. Amidst the wave of ‘new’ skincare culture, one particular routine that is taking the aesthetic world by storm is the “10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine”.

It is all everyone seems to be talking about. If a while ago, you were feeling proud for having washed and moisturised your face in the morning in the name of skincare, today, followers of this routine are likely to put you to shame.

What is K-Beauty?

Initially gaining fame in Seoul, South Korea, this extensive but essential skincare routine is a part of the beauty empire known as “K-Beauty”. It is said that Koreans are world-renowned for their perfect skin, aesthetics and korean skin care routine in general.

What is unique about the korean skin care routine?

Often jokingly called the “home of plastic surgery”, the country has churned out miraculous solutions to achieve the best skin results possible. This has helped keep the country on the map for skincare. However, rarely can we distinguish between the myths and truths surrounding this routine. So, to what extent can it be trusted? And what is the actual routine?

About the korean skin care routine

The routine is product heavy, with particular emphasis given to the following criteria: 

  • Brightening because it is considered the ultimate sign of healthy skin. 
  • Sun protection, because according to Korean experts, the sun is the skin’s biggest nemesis and can cause irreversible damage at times.
  • Cleansing and replenishing, because it is believed that the skin requires products to replenish its pH balance and other vital oils and essences for beauty-enhancing purposes.

The 10-step korean skincare routine

This routine is pretty much the same in the morning and nighttime (yes, it’s twice a day, but Koreans are known to believe that if you desire something, you should be ready to put in the time for it). It is as follows:

1. First cleanse

 Similar to any regular skincare routine, this 10-step routine also starts with cleansing the skin of any dirt and debris that inevitably accumulate on the surface. This helps with the circulation of oxygen through your skin, which is required for increased skin cell regeneration. The first cleanse is done with an oil-based cleanser that removes heavier debris.

2. Second cleanse

In this routine, the process of cleansing involves two steps. The second step of cleaning consists of using a water-based cleanser that leaves the skin feeling light and clean.

3. Exfoliation

This is not a mandatory step, especially for those with sensitive skin. Exfoliating is the best way to eliminate dead skin cells and freeing the pores in your skin. This routine uses products with ingredients rooted in Asian skincare and medicine. Research says that removing the outermost skin layer, referred to as non-nucleated skin, is integral to maintaining your skin’s health. Without this form of desquamation (peeling/removing skin), any routine is only half successful.

4. Toner

This step helps maintain the pH balance of your skin, and more importantly, it provides hydration. For example, think of your skin as a sponge. Just as a dry sponge finds it hard to absorb liquids, similarly, your skin, when dry, rarely absorbs effectively. Therefore, according to Korean skincare, this step prepares the skin for the steps that follow in the routine.

5. Essence

This step is sometimes specific to Korean skincare because it is a hybrid product that crosses over toner and serum. It hydrates the skin and helps it regenerate with the help of hyaluronic acid and glycerine. One of the techniques native to this skincare routine is the method of application. Instead of the usual rubbing, Korean skincare swears by tapping and lightly slapping the skin to stimulate the skin to absorb the product effectively.

6. Ampoules and serum

This is the treatment heavy stage of the Korean skincare routine, packed with active ingredients that are meant to nourish the skin. Ampoules are more potent than a serum and can sometimes be replaced with another similar treatment product in the routine. But this is an important stage in the routine for which the previous stages prepare the skin.

7. Sheet Masks

Sheet masks are serums in a different avatar. You leave on the mask for 20 minutes as it nourishes and refreshes the skin with its active ingredients. They are customised for different skin types with specific components. This is an exciting part of the routine as sheet masks include snail mucin and bee venom. While this may sound gross, snail mucus is good for nourishing the skin, while bee venom helps trigger collagen production. You need to ensure you are not allergic to these ingredients prior to use.

8. Eye cream

This is a vital part of the routine that is specific to the eye. The area surrounding our eyes has fragile skin under which sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands) don’t usually exist. This means that without natural oils to keep the skin elastic and supple, it is vulnerable to dryness and elastosis (losing its elasticity). This can then cause crow’s feet and wrinkles.

9. Moisturiser

This stage is a part of every skincare routine, no matter what part of the world! Korean skincare prioritises moisturising of the skin and believes that this, along with sun protection, is the best way to keep your skin healthy on a day-to-day basis.

10. Sun protection

Korean skin experts and locals would have you believe that the sun is their biggest enemy and causes the most damage. This may be why Korean skincare routines always involve a sunscreen form with a high SPF value. Although they are correct, other western practices show that the sun isn’t the sole reason for skin damage, dispelling one of the rare myths.

Speculation and myths

In totality, Korean skincare has become a widely proclaimed and accepted one. This is partly because it consists of stages that are individually accepted by skincare specialists. One of the speculations about the routine is the safety of the more exotic ingredients used in the products.

However, the Korean skincare industry places high quality above all else, and in almost all cases, the ingredients are tested and approved for application.

The silver lining

This is just an introductory look at the vast world of Korean skincare routines. There is a whole world to explore with their various products, regimes and advice. Just make sure you are not allergic to any ingredients used!


1. Is ten steps too many?

The main question that is repeatedly asked is, “aren’t these too many products for the skin?” and this has experts divided.

Although most dermatologists agree that overly subjecting the skin to products may put it under duress, others firmly believe that sticking to basics always ends up doing well for the skin. From a look at the momentum, it seems to be gaining in America and rapidly worldwide, it looks like one that might stay around for a while.

2. What should I be careful of when following this routine?

Before starting a new skincare routine, always consult with a doctor. Conduct a patch test to ensure that you don’t have any allergic reaction to any products.

3. How do I know this is a suitable regime for my skin?

Only a dermatologist can give you this information after proper skin analysis.

4. When should I visit a doctor?

You should consult with a doctor before beginning this routine. Also, if you have any kind of adverse reactions or side effects, stop using the products and visit a doctor. A dermatologist can help you choose the right products for your skin type.

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Chaitra K

I’m a Skin Care Enthusiast from Bangalore, a writer here @CureSkin teamed up with Expert Dermatologists to spread awareness on the right kind of skin and hair care for men and women. Inspiring people to explore the skin and hair care that suits their need and help them look and feel beautiful is my full-time job. Skin & hair problems affect every person's self-esteem and confidence. Hence I love helping people by giving them the best information about skin and hair health with my writing, driven by the BEST Dermatologists.