If you’ve been around me in the last 8 or 9 months you’ve likely heard me say the following:
I want to talk to you about Korean skin care the way other people want to talk to you about Jesus.
And I do. I’m downright Pentecostal when it comes to this shit. Part of this is my being a product whore. Certifiably. But more of it is that my skin is incredibly difficult to deal with and reacts to everything from stress to the weather to sleep. Enter Soko Glam.
Soko Glam is a website much like Sephora or Ulta except that they only carry Korean beauty products that they personally curate. So someone on the team, led by Charlotte Cho, has tried each product and believes in it. I came across Soko Glam through my work and tried a product on a whim. And then another. And then another.
The Ten Step Skin Care Routine
“Ten steps?!” I heard you when you gasped up there. But believe me — no one is lazier than I when it comes to skin care. So it’s not ten steps twice a day every day. I generally hit all ten steps on Sunday night as my way to wind down the weekend. Throughout the week I do what is needed. I’ll go through a little about my skin, what the ten steps are and when I do them, and which products I use for them. Not all of my products are Korean — I also use some stuff from Lush that is tried and true.
While nearing 40 I’m not wrinkling yet. Instead my issues are breakouts (because my skin has not gotten the memo that I’m 40). I get them randomly for the most part. Except from my period. Then I get a few lovely, cystic pimples on my neck/under my jaw. They are incredibly painful and make me miserable.
In addition to breakouts I also have some rosacea on my right cheek. It’s not horrible, but I have to be mindful of it.
My under eye area is often a bit puffy.
Lastly, my skin is not usually dry but in the winter it’s always kind of flaky.
The Ten Step Routine
I only go through the full ten steps on Sunday evenings. I’m putting the whole thing here as well as when I do it. You’ll find your rhythm as you discover how your skin reacts and what products do what for you.
- Remove & Cleanse: The first step is to get your skin as naked as possible in order to allow products to do their best work by getting into your pores. A cotton pad with makeup remover works well (or a makeup removing wipe) but believe it or not, this won’t remove everything. That’s where the oil cleanser comes in. Yes. Oil + Cleanser. I freaked out when I read about this and put off using mine for a while. But, the oil removes impurities like makeup. And you’re going to get it all off your skin.
- Cleanse Again: The second step requires using a water-based cleanser to remove any residual oil cleanser as well as whatever it has attached to it (in my case: black eyeliner. My go to cosmetic). On the days I don’t wear makeup (most days), I only do this at night and skip step #1. I do not do this in the morning.
- Exfoliate: In the third step the real work begins. Your skin doesn’t have much on it so you can start doing two things: cleaning out your pores and removing dead skin cells. Experts recommend doing this step twice a week. I’m at twice a week in the winter because of the dry air but in the spring and summer I was at once every 7-10 days.
- Toner: Toners soften skin and balance Ph to prep skin for the products that are coming next. Hydration is at the core of Korean skin care and this is a way to start rehydrating after exfoliating. I use toner twice a day, every day. In the morning it’s my first step. In the evening I do it after using my water-based cleanser. Some people tap it on with their hands but I use a cotton pad.
- Essence: An essence is a toner/serum mashup that targets hydration, repair, and turnover. It keeps skin fresh. I use this every night, sliding it onto my face and then patting it in.
- Serums, Treatments, & Ampoules: In the sixth step the goal is to target your specific issues. For me? Acne. You’ll use your targeted products to deal with whatever your skin-related gripes are. Dark spots, acne, fine lines… here’s where you give that some attention.
- Sheet Mask: Step 7 can be done as many as few nights as you wish and is where you use one of those awesome two part masks and chill out for 15-20 minutes. There are paper sheet masks and hydrogel sheet masks. Both types of sheet mask help with a variety of skin issues. I’m going to be honest, I have yet to try a sheet mask because I have a mask in my arsenal that I simply adore. I do this once or twice a week at night — usually if I’ve noticed my skin is getting unhappy or if I know I’m either feeling stressy or walking into something stressy the next day.
- Eye Cream: The skin around the eyes wrinkles first for a reason: it’s thin and delicate and needs a lot of hydration. I do this every night and every morning. The morning is because my eyes are so puffy sometimes.
- Moisturize: The penultimate step is to moisturize. If you think you don’t need to moisturize, you’re wrong. If you think you can’t moisturize because your skin is oily, you’re wrong. I have oily, breakout ready skin so I use a water based lotion. Look for water-based gels and lotions if you’re worried about breakouts. I finish my routine every evening with this step, once or twice a week using a sleeping pack for added anti-aging.
- SPF: I cannot stress enough how much people need to use SPF. I don’t do this at night because I use a cushion foundation with SPF 50 or a straight SPF if I’m not wearing makeup. The sun is a deadly weapon, friends, and as good as we look tan, it’s just not good. Not good at all. All seasons, every day, do yourself a favor and use SPF. Also, if you have a history of skin cancer in your family start going for an annual, full body derm check — skin cancer is quick, often doesn’t have noticeable symptoms until it is too late, and is deadly.
My morning routine is pretty light: toner, essence, treatment, eye cream, moisturizer, spf. My evening routine is only ten steps once a week.
My Go To Products
Here’s what I’m loving and where you can find it. I’m at war with Amazon at the moment (and they have horrible labor practices) so you won’t find any Amazon links here. Many of these are Soko Glam Best of Beauty Award Winners — products that Charlotte and her team and, more importantly, customers absolutely love.
- Oil Based Cleanser: Right now I’m still using my the first oil-based cleanser I tried, Banila Co Clean It Zero (Classic). I may order the Resveratrol version next time
- Water Based Cleanser: Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser is light and good for skin that freaks out (sensitive skin, if you will). These Neogen Real Fresh Foal Cleansers come in different versions based on skincare needs.
- Exfoliator: Dark Angels by Lush has been my go to exfoliating product for years. It’s a bit messy and can be hard to rinse off but it works. The charcoal and black sugar are great for acne prone people like me.
- Toner: Son and Park’s Beauty Water is phenomenal. I got a free, small bottle as a sample with my first Soko Glam order and then reordered it recently as a large bottle. I don’t. I use it for makeup removal pre step one. Another option, especially if you’re spending nights out or find that your skin needs refreshers during the day is the Tony Moly Pocket Bunny Sleek Mist. I keep this one in my travel toiletry bag because the big bottle of Son & Park is too huge for my frequent road trips to NYC.
- Essence: I use a few different products for this step, depending on what’s going on. When my skin is behaving, I use Benton’s Snail Bee* High Content Skin. It is classified as a toner but I read somewhere that people loved it and used it as an essence, so that’s what I do too. When my skin is not behaving I use the CosRx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid**.
- Serums, Treatments, & Ampoules: For this step, I put on some super emo music, yearn for the skin I had in late high school, college, and my twenties, and sigh while dabbing on zit cream. Currently, I’m fighting the unending battle with either Zit Zapper from Perfectly Posh. I also love Clinique’s Acne Solutions spot healing gel but the closest thing I can find on their site (I haven’t used it in a while I guess) is this.
- (Sheet) Mask: Another time I fight acne, it’s during the mask phase. I use In The Clear, a clay mask from Perfectly Posh. I may move away from this because while it feels invigorating I kind of hate the mess of washing off two mask like products during my Sunday night routine (Dark Angels takes forever to rinse).
- Eye Cream: I’m new to eye cream but am noticing a difference. I’ve been using the same one since working Korean products into my routine: Skinfood’s Royal Honey Eye Cream.
- Moisturizer: I have only ever used one moisturizer and I don’t see myself changing it any time soon. Dramatically Different (Clinique) Moisturizing Gel is one of those little yellow wonders everyone you’ve known since middle school has raved about. There are lotion and cream versions for those whose skin can handle it. Once or twice a week I swap this out for the Magic Food Golden Mushroom Sleeping Pack by Tony Moly. It’s intense and in the morning my face is insanely smooth.
- SPF: My foundationk has SPF 50 in it. But I don’t always wear makeup so when I don’t I rely on Neutrogena.
Two Important Notes
I started these out at footnotes but they’re not afterthoughts. They’re valid things to consider when thinking about anything you put on your skin.
* Bee venom is used in a ton of Korean beauty products. I am allergic to wasps. You should talk to your doctor before trying any product that contains something that could put you in the hospital and follow their advice. While the general rule is that people who allergic to bee venom are rarely allergic to wasp venom and vice versa if you have either allergy you know you steer clear of all things that sting. Be careful and know what is in a product before you use it.
I am not a doctor. If you have a bee allergy or a wasp allergy or any other allergy, give your derm or GP a call and chat about how and whether to risk it.
**Many products intended to fight acne and/or brighten skin use AHA. This used to only be found in Rx level skin care but low levels are used in many products available without a prescription. You should understand the risks of AHA before putting it on your skin. First, it makes your skin MUCH more sensitive to the sun, including making you more likely to burn. This is especially risky for people who have genetic or other risk factors for skin cancers like melanoma.
These products should only be used at night. Many companies advise putting sunscreen on if you use them during the day. But I’m with the ones who say they are night time products. You don’t want to risk cancer or sunburns — which age your skin.
The CosRX Whitehead Power brings a LOT of stuff to the surface so using it at night is also the best bet. When I wake up the morning after using it I’ve got all kinds of things brewing and ready to be extracted. I wouldn’t want those popping up during the day.
While many people swear that soap and water work fine, I have seen a visible difference in my skin since starting the ten step routine. It doesn’t take me all that long, except on Sunday nights when I enjoy it as a way to wind down. Have you jumped aboard the K-Beauty train? What are your favorite Korean skin care products?