K-beauty has become a huge thing, but what is it exactly? And how does Korean skincare differ from other kinds of skincare? My friend April is from South Korea, but she has been living in New York City for many years, so I thought she would be the person to tell us about what’s trending right now in the world of K-beauty, as well as the differences between Korean and Western skincare. Here’s everything you need to know – are you ready?
April: Although Korean skincare has only gained international recognition in recent years, the Korean beauty industry has long been at the forefront of innovation and product development. Korean consumers are quite discerning and demand high quality and functionality, so the beauty industry is constantly under pressure to develop new products with new, effective ingredients.
Currently, natural ingredient products are popular, but if, for example, it is a product with citrus fruit, it’s not just any citrus fruit, but typically the very best organically grown fruit that can be found. The same goes for clay masks, which are also popular right now. The clay is typically from a volcano on Jeju Island, which is known for having the best clay with a high mineral content.
Regarding skincare routines, I have heard of over 16 different steps. However, I think this is mostly a marketing trick so beauty brands can sell more products. But having said that, there is no doubt that the typical Korean woman probably spends significantly more time on beauty routines than Americans and Europeans do.
Below you will find the main categories of Korean skincare. Within the categories, there are several subcategories, or steps, if you will, but it is very individual how many products one uses and how many steps are included in a typical Korean beauty routine. If you only include 1-2 steps within each category, that is perfectly fine. However, the order is important, as, for example, the toner prepares the skin to absorb the serum, and the cream then seals everything in.
Cleansing – Wash and Clean
Cleansing is one of the areas where we stand out in Korea, as cleansing always includes 2, and often 3 steps in Korean skin care. First, I use a special cleanser to remove makeup from eyes and lips. Then I use an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup and dirt from the rest of the face and neck. Finally, I use a foaming cleanser, typically water-based, which forms lots of foam. I rinse with water, and if I have time, I let the skin air dry to avoid the mechanical stress from the towel. If time is short, I gently dab my face dry.
Prep – Toner & Mist
After cleansing, I use a mist spray that I spray all over my face. The mist should be allowed to air dry, so sometimes I skip this step if I don’t have time.
Then I use toner, which I apply with a cotton pad. The toner prepares the skin to absorb the more functional products that follow in the next step.
Functionality – Care and Nourishment
After the toner, I use essence, serum, or an ampoule. All three products aim to nourish the skin, and especially serum or ampoule is very concentrated, and among the most expensive products included in my skincare routine. You can get serums and ampoules with different properties such as anti-aging or moisturizing, and I try not to mix products with different properties on the same day. Instead, I would use anti-aging serum one day, and moisturizing serum the next day. It is important that serum or ampoule is used right after toner has been applied, but before applying cream.
Encapsulation and Protection – Creams
First, I apply eye cream, which I gently dab into the skin around the eyes, and then I apply face cream. Face cream is important because it encapsulates the essence/serum/ampoule, so that the nutrients can work properly. If it is cold outside, I use a face oil over the cream, or mix a little oil into the cream itself before applying it to my face. Face oil provides additional protection against drying out and cold, and is mainly something I use in the winter months.
I have seen sheet masks described in several places as one of the steps in the Korean skincare routine, but I think most people use sheet masks separately. The effect from the mask usually kicks in 3-4 hours after wearing the mask, so if I am going out in the evening, I will put on a sheet mask in the afternoon, and then my skin looks radiant and beautiful when I later apply makeup. If you apply makeup immediately after wearing the mask, the mask residue can mix with the makeup and form clumps, so this is not recommended.
My friend April in New York City
April is originally from Seoul, but she has lived in New York City for the past 19 years, so she can rightfully call herself a true New Yorker. However, she has not forgotten her love for Korean cuisine, and if there is anyone who knows what’s happening on the Korean side of New York’s restaurant scene, it’s her. We have known each other since 2017, and together we have eaten our way through many of New York’s restaurants. Our dinners often end with drinks afterwards, and it’s usually whisky or bourbon into the early hours.
April is also on Instagram: @mimipje