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The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Step-by-Step Guide

10 Step Korean Skincare Routine

Time for the West to move over! Asian skin care is taking over the beauty industry.

K-beauty brands have become more popular all over the world because of their quality ingredients and their super cute packaging. 

Along with the K-pop invasion, Korean culture has influenced the beauty industry so much. K-beauty paved the way for the (tedious but effective!) 10-step Korean Skincare Routine.

Table of Contents

The Hype Around the Korean Skin Care Routine

Korean women are known for their meticulous K-beauty routines because Korean culture places so much emphasis on organic ingredients and natural beauty.

They want their skin to look good even without any makeup.

Even men are not averse to using Korean skincare products. It’s normal to see men in Korea wearing makeup without being bullied for looking feminine.

According to Euromonitor International, Korean men spend four times more money on cosmetics than Danish women do!

In general, Koreans value their skin health more than using makeup to cover up imperfections.

For them, prevention is the best step towards having a good appearance.

And that’s what K-beauty and the Korean skin care routine are all about!


This word is the Korean interpretation of the sound your skin makes when your fingers tap it lightly.

BUT it’s only supposed to make that sound when it’s hydrated and moisturized.

Chok-chok is the main goal of the 10-step Korean skin care routine.

Korean women want to achieve a healthy, hydrated, and dewy appearance. They don’t care much for matte products that make you look too made up.

This is why their beauty routine involves layering on moisture after moisture.

Fear not about your skin drowning because it will drown in goodness!


Step 1: Oil Cleanser

Step 1

Step 1 in the 10 step Korean skincare routine is removing oil-based dirt using an oil cleanser.

This may confuse those with oily skin. Why would you add more oil and grease to your face right? But trust us, the best Korean cleansing oils are going to do wonders for your skin.

What It Is

“Like dissolves like.”

Remember this nifty chemistry concept? This is the whole idea behind the effectivity of an oil-based cleanser. While foam cleansers can remove sweat and dirt, they aren’t as effective in removing sunscreen, sebum, and waterproof makeup.

This is where an oil-based cleanser comes in. They react with oil-based impurities on the skin and effectively remove them without effort.

What It Does

An oil-based cleanser helps eliminate skin impurities without drying the skin and skips the need to tug on the skin to remove makeup. You don’t need makeup wipes anymore or harsh soaps if you have an oil cleanser. The oil will dissolve even the most stubborn waterproof mascara!

Aside from dissolving oil-based impurities, an oil-based cleanser helps soften the skin. It adds the first layer of moisture to this routine.

All skin types can use oil cleansers. They may be made up of oil, but they are designed to not leave any oily residue on the face. This preps the skin for the second round of cleansing.

How to Apply

You apply an oil-based cleanser on a dry face, but it’s good to use a little bit of water after to emulsify the product.

Don’t panic when it leaves you with a gross-looking face. Mascara, foundation, eye shadow, and everything else will be mixed up in a milky mixture. It may look odd but it’ll make washing everything off much easier.

Step 2: Foam or Cream Cleanser

Step 2

You have to do the Korean double cleanse method if you want to make sure everything unwanted gets removed. 

After taking care of the oil-based impurities, it’s time to get rid of the water-based ones with a Korean foam cleanser.

What It Is

Foam cleansers are designed to create a foamy lather (hence the name) and help you get a squeaky clean face. Cream cleansers, on the other hand, are thicker and contain moisturizing ingredients. They help get rid of dirt without losing your skin’s natural oils.

Foam cleansers are ideal for people with oily skin while cream cleansers are best for those with dry and sensitive skin.

You can choose which one suits you better, but it’s important to know this step must not be skipped. This is true even if you’re not following the 10-step Korean skincare routine.

Dermatologists recommend double cleansing to make sure no impurities remain on the skin before you apply other skincare products.

What It Does

A water-based cleanser reacts with water-based impurities such as sweat and removes anything that might have been missed by the oil cleanser.

It ensures the skin is ready for the next steps by giving you a clean canvas to work on.

How to Apply

Add water to the product and bring it to a lather. Massage it across the face in circular motions, avoiding the eye area. Afterwards, rinse with lukewarm water.

Step 3: Toner

Step 3

While most experts agree applying toner is the next step in the routine, many would suggest exfoliating first. 

However, because exfoliating should not be a daily thing, let’s stick to this as the third step.

You need to get yourself a Korean toner for this!

What It Is

Toners are quick-absorbing products that normalize the skin’s pH. While toners and astringents of yesteryears were designed to strip the skin of moisture, Korean brands’ toners are highly hydrating instead.

What It Does

A toner is a substance that helps bring back the pH balance of the skin after cleansing. Getting rid of impurities, especially if you do it twice in a row, changes the pH of the skin which makes it vulnerable to breakouts.

This is why you need to apply a toner. It not only keeps the pH level in check. It also hydrates the skin and conditions it to absorb the next round of products you’re going to apply more efficiently.

How to Apply

Toners can be applied in two ways, depending on the kind of toner you have. It can be applied using cotton pads or using fingers.

Using the former will help eliminate extra dirt. But if you’ve  double cleansed, you can opt to just gently tap it on the skin.

Quick note: It is after applying toner that you can apply any pimple patches, if needed. 

Step 4: Essence

Step 4

We aren’t halfway yet with the 10-step Korean skin care routine, but we’ve arrived at what’s called the heart of Korean skincare. 

While toners help hydrate the skin and prepare it for the next step, a Korean essence takes it to the next level and goes deeper to lock moisture in.

What It Is

An essence is a watery substance that repairs the skin while hydrating it. It feels creamier than toners and has more active ingredients that help the skin prepare for the hydration that is to come.

Essences are a hybrid mix of toners and serums.

Toners are designed to be quick-drying while essences are designed to keep the skin feeling moisturized. It penetrates deeper into areas where the toner did not reach, in order to aid in absorption of the subsequent products.

What It Does

Essences increase cell turnover, which means it sheds off dead skin cells to reveal new ones. This results in glowing skin and a brighter complexion.

Essences are also packed with anti-aging and moisturizing ingredients, which makes it a welcome addition to skin care routines even if you don’t follow the 10-step suggestion.

How to Apply

When applying an essence, don’t use a cotton pad because this wastes the product by getting it absorbed into the pad. Instead, pour the desired amount onto your fingers, rub them lightly, and gently pat the product into the skin.

This way of application helps the skin absorb the product better and maximize its benefits.

Bye-bye dead skin cells!

Step 5: Emulsion

Step 5

We’ve prepped the skin for product absorption twice, but as they say, third time’s the charm.

What It Is

An emulsion is a lightweight, non-sticky moisturizer that hydrates the skin. Its water-based properties make it excellent for those with oily skin.

So what’s the difference between an emulsion and a moisturizer? The former has a thinner, lighter formula. Unlike a moisturizer, they are absorbed by the skin faster.

What It Does

Emulsions help the skin absorb other products and keep the skin from losing surface moisture. They are formulated in a way that makes them more easily absorbed compared to heavy moisturizers, while containing active ingredients.

How to Apply

Emulsions are applied like creams. Dispense enough amounts into your fingers and apply to the face in upward circular motions. Afterwards, gently pat the product into the skin.

Step 6: Ampoule or Serum

Step 6

At step 6 of the 10-step Korean skin care routine, here come the treatment products!

After all that prepping, we finally get to target specific skin problems. This is done through ampoules and serums. You can just take your pick, but you could also use both.

Difference Between Ampoule and Serum

Step 6

Serums are concentrated formulas of Korean skin care goodness. They have high amounts of active ingredients that target specific skin concerns like wrinkles and dark spots.

Serums are able to penetrate the skin deeper, providing it with nutrients. They are very potent products that must not be skipped.

Ampoules, on the other hand, are more concentrated than serums. They are the booster version and are better left to those days when you’re having more intense skin problems.

Ampoules usually come in bottles with droppers. You can also read through our article on the differences between Essences vs. Serums vs. Ampoules for more information.

How to Apply

Because serums and ampoules are designed to target specific skin concerns, they don’t always have to be applied to the whole face. They can be used to simply spot correct specific areas of concern.

While a skin-refining serum can be applied as much as twice daily, ampoules should be applied less regularly. You can do it once or twice a week at most.

Step 7: Sheet Mask

Step 7

By now, you may be getting bored of all that patting and blending. It’s time for Korean sheet masks!

They’re the most popular step in any Korean skin care routine.

What It Is

A sheet mask is basically a cloth soaked in serum. It provides additional moisture and nourishment to the skin. Remember the layers of moisture I promised earlier? This is another addition to that.

Sheet masks are a pack of skin-loving ingredients concentrated in a sheet. It should not be confused with facial masks, which come  in a paste.

What It Does

A sheet mask maximizes nourishment to the skin. There are many varieties you can choose from,  depending on your target problem.

The main task of the sheet is to prevent moisture from evaporating easily. It makes sure your skin fully absorbs the products contained in the sheet masks and everything else that came before it.

As a result, you get skin that is extra-hydrated and more luminous.

How to Apply

Sheet masks come in individual packets, so all you need to do is open them and apply to your face for 15 to 30 minutes. This is the longest step in the routine, which is why it’s a relief to know you don’t need to do this every day.

Sheet masks are highly flexible skincare products for when you’re feeling extra tired or running late.  Since they contain concentrated ingredients, you can use a sheet mask to forgo all the other Korean skin care steps for the day. 

Sheet masks may be used in replacement  of serums. You can use it daily if you choose this option.

Personally, I recommend choosing a serum because that step is faster, but if you feel more luxurious with a sheet mask on every night, then go for it.

You are not supposed to rinse off after using face masks. Your skin might feel extra wet and icky after this step, but washing it off defeats the purpose of the whole routine.

Step 8: Eye Cream

Step 8

We’ve treated and moisturized the whole face, but the eye area need extra help by using a Korean eye cream.

Being the thinnest and most vulnerable part of the face, the skin around our eyes deserves more attention.

What It Is

Eye creams are thick formulas specially designed for the skin around the eyes. Some people like to see an eye cream as repackaged ordinary moisturizers  sold at higher prices.

However, eye creams (the good ones, at least) offer much more than just moisture. An eye cream can repair signs of aging and help reduce the appearance of dark circles and fine lines.

What It Does

Overall, an eye cream is designed to hydrate because the thin skin around the eyes does not contain sebaceous glands. This is why eye creams tend to be thick.

An eye cream can generally protect and repair the skin around the eyes, but different ones are designed for specific purposes. Some target dark circles while others focus on fine lines.

How to Apply

Use your smallest finger (since it’s the weakest) when applying eye cream to avoid tugging on the skin. For some, their ring finger might also work better for eye cream.

Gently tap the eye cream under the eyes. Remember not to rub the eye cream or tug at your eye.

Step 9: Moisturizer

Step 9

Because the 10-step Korean skin care routine promises extra hydration, of course we have to add in another moisturizer into the mix.

What It Is

Moisturizers are basically emollients that lubricate the skin. There are also oil-free moisturizers that have humectants. In general, they prevent water evaporation from the skin by forming a coating on the skin’s surface.

Moisturizers vary in terms of consistency. Choose one that matches your skin type. More emollient formulas are good for dry-skinned people while oil-free ones are best for those with oily skin.

What It Does

Remember the task of the sheet in sheet masks? Moisturizers do the same thing but without you looking like a burglar the whole day.

Moisturizers help seal the moisture in to avoid it from evaporating. For what reason would serums and essences be applied if they are not locked appropriately?

Like serums, moisturizers also smooth away fine lines to maintain oil balance in the skin. They help the skin repair itself and stay healthy.

How to Apply

Place enough amount on clean fingertips. Depending on the thickness and absorbency of the cream, you can use as much or as little as you want. Apply it in upward circular motions all over the face.

Step 10: Sun Protection (For Morning Use)

Step 10

Last but not least, slather on some UV protection with a Korean sunscreen.

What It Is

There’s not much explanation needed for this step, but it’s essential to understand the importance of sun protection.

A sunscreen is a chemical mixture of ingredients that either blocks or absorbs UV rays to protect the skin. There are two general categories of sunscreens: physical and chemical.

Physical sunscreens block the rays, while chemical ones absorb UV rays before they can get into the skin. The former can cause less irritation to sensitive skin, but both kinds are effective and safe for everyday use.

NOTE: Physical sunscreens are still made of chemicals. They are still inorganic compounds.

What It Does

SPF blocks out the sun’s harmful UV rays to protect the skin. This protects you from premature skin aging and a whole range of skin diseases.

SPF helps protect the skin from the sun’s rays, which can cause skin cells to die or be damaged. Those with fair complexions especially need it since they’re more vulnerable to skin cancer.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, we should be wearing an SPF level of at least 30 every day. This SPF blocks out 97 percent of UVB rays. It is important to remember, however, that no amount of SPF can block the sun’s rays totally.

How to Apply

SPF should be applied and reapplied regularly (about every 2 hours). It is important to put sunscreen on the face, but don’t neglect the rest of your body.

Korean skin care is not concerned only about the face although this 10-step routine focuses on that. Every exposed area of the skin should be protected, so do yourself a favor and buy a lotion that has at least SPF 30.

Ingredients to look for

For physical sunscreens, the most common ingredients would be titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. For chemical ones, look for oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone.

Step 10: Sleeping Mask (For Evening Use)

Step 10

Obviously, you wouldn’t apply sunscreen before going to bed. Instead, you should use a sleeping mask in lieu of the sunscreen.

What It Is

Sleeping masks are designed to moisturize the skin and lock in moisture throughout the night. Because sleep is when the body easily absorbs beauty products, it is important to keep everything in check.

What It Does

Sleeping masks treat the skin on a deeper level as you sleep. They are gentler on the skin in the long run.

Unlike the sleeping masks of before, there are new ones on the market that do not cause any mess. They are easily absorbed into the skin.

How to Apply

Apply your sleeping mask 20 to 30 minutes before going to bed just to make sure you don’t stain your pillows. Apply it like you would any ordinary moisturizer—in upward circular motions.

Not Too Strict

The 10-step Korean skincare routine can be too much for most people.

It’s hard enough to wash your face once in the evening. Add in 9 more steps in there, and it becomes downright exhausting!

The Korean skin care routine becomes especially cumbersome when you’re travelling because of the amount of products you need to carry with you.

The good news is you don’t have to follow the skin care regimen to the bone to achieve that K-Beauty, glass skin look.

You can cut it short to five steps if you want!

  • The important thing to remember with any skin care regimen is to keep the skin clean before any product application.
  • Don’t skip moisturizing and never ever forget the sunscreen!
  • The rule of thumb is to apply skin care products from the thinnest to the thickest consistency. This helps the skin absorption process.


Whether you’re going for the chok-chok look or just a healthy complexion minus the dewiness, check the label for any irritants that might not sit well with your skin.

Don’t just mindlessly slather on whatever product you find as you might encounter bad reactions after doing the Korean skin care routine.

Now, what are you waiting for? Try out any of our recommendations above and have a headstart on your Korean skincare journey!



August 17, 2021 – Improved article formatting, reviewed and updated overall content, updated article title

July 16, 2021 – Made minor updates to article links

July 13, 2021 – Reviewed and updated article links

Paola Diaz
Paola Diaz

Hi, I'm Paola! A skin care enthusiast and nature lover. Creating content that promotes proper skin treatment and keeping a healthy glow is my way of sharing with the world how healthy skin can go a long way. I’m a firm believer of natural beauty that radiates inside all of us. All we need is the right kind of nourishment that inspires our wellness from inside out. So it’s really not about physical beauty alone – it’s the beautiful life we can create for ourselves when we connect with our own nature and see there is beauty that shines from every one of us.