Two years ago, I decided to take the biggest trip I’d ever been on for an entire three weeks. First, I went to Italy with a boy I’d known for less than six months (spoiler: we end up engaged). With a belly full of carbonara and cobblestone-worn feet, I said goodbye to Rome (and James) and flew to Thailand to meet three friends, Lauren, Emily and Dianna. And after daily massages and ocean swims, we left the elephants and headed to Korea.
It was like my version of Eat, Pray, Love.
Except mine was more like Eat, Swim, Skincare.
It was like my version of Eat, Pray, Love. Except mine was more like Eat, Swim, Skincare.
My friend Emily had a friend who showed us around. When we asked where to go for skincare, she recruited two other friends and they took us shopping. Up until this point, I’d never found shopping particularly enlightening. Fun? Yes. But enlightening? It’s not like we were solving world hunger.
But that’s probably because I’d never gone shopping with three Korean women—all with fantastic glowy skin—showing me the ins and outs of the Korean skincare steps and which exact products to buy.
Americans have such dry skin. They don’t prep it, the Korean women told me. I nodded, thinking about the one lotion I put on in the morning and the one cream I wore at night. I was a one-trick-skincare pony.
Was there even another way? The answer, I’d learn from my new Korean friends, was yes. A six- to 10-step way to be precise.
(No wonder my skin was always so dang flaky. You see? Enlightening.)
They decided to show us the six-step process because we were new and they were kind.
Get With the Lingo
The first thing I needed was to get with the Korean skincare lingo. The hardest thing to wrap my head around was the serums.
Basically, there are two types of serums: essences and ampules.
(That’s pronounced am-pyool, not am-pyoo-lay as I was calling it before I was woke.)
You’ll want both.
When to Use What
The next thing in my Korean skincare education was learning the order of events.
Note: Before you follow your Korean skincare steps, wash your face with your preferred cleanser, and then—and this is important, they said—don’t dry your face with a towel. Simply air dry.
(Now I know what you’re thinking. And no, I don’t follow this step, either.)
- Toner. Put a few drops in the palm of your hands and apply directly to your face. No cotton pads needed.
- Essence. Apply your first serum. This one has a lighter texture.
- Ampule. Apply your second serum. This one has a thicker, “stickier” texture. (I also like this one.)
- Gel Cream. Put on your first cream (nighttime only).
- Cream or SPF moisturizer. Put on your second cream (nighttime only) or your SPF moisturizer (daytime only).
- Eye cream. Gently pat on around the eyes. (Our Korean friends hadn’t reached a verdict yet on their favorite eye cream product, so I’m still on the hunt!)
The Korean Skincare Products Recommended by Real Korean Women
Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner, $15.19
This stuff is seriously amazing. It rehydrates my skin after it’s been washed and preps it to absorb. If you want plump skin, get this.
Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum, $22
(This is your essence.)
COSRX Propolis Light Ampule, $19.26
COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, $17.70
Even though this is labeled as an essence, sometimes I like to use it in place of an ampule. It’s got a slightly “stickier” consistency that’s more like an ampule than an essence in my opinion. And the bottle lasts forever.
Innisfree Orchid Gel Cream, $21.40
Dr. Jart Ceramidin Cream, $30
COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF50, $15
I’m obsessed with this daily moisturizer with SPF. It goes on smoothly without leaving a white cast or being greasy, and makeup goes over it easy-peasy. Plus, it’s SPF 50.
Does Korean Skincare Really Work?
My skin isn’t flaking anymore because it’s finally well-hydrated. My makeup goes on more smoothly and looks much nicer as a result. And just the other day, someone at work thought I was 27.
Six Korean skincare steps sounds like a lot, but it’s worth it for all the benefits.
p.s. Did I mention someone thought I was 27?