Korean Beauty for Dummies


The K Beauty craze has been lingering for a few years now as beauty and skincare products originating from Korea have gained widespread popularity and prestige. Top beauty stores such as Sephora and ULTA have stocked their shelves with dozens of K Beauty products to feed the frenzy.

Korean skincare techniques have been passed down for generations. The cultural and beauty standards of Korea value health, hydration and a preferred lack of pigment—a stark contrast to our sun-kissed aspirations here on the Western hemisphere. It’s common knowledge that too much time in the sun can do serious damage. While the bronzed-goddess look may be appealing in the short term, it makes sense that beauty lovers are gravitating towards more gentle products that infuse the skin with protective, age-defying ingredients.

The combination of a highly saturated market and increased consumer knowledge has caused a high demand for products that include natural fusions rather than a cocktail of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce. Some of the key elements in K Beauty are rice, galactomyces, snail mucin (yes, SNAIL!), volcanic clay, red ginseng, pearl, tremella mushroom, royal honey bamboo, cactus, and birch, just to name a few.

With endless products and info out there, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin. The typical skin regiment consists of three steps: exfoliate, cleanse and moisturize. However, the Korean beauty mantra truly is more-is-more—adding on an additional seven steps. The primary focal point of K Beauty are the 10 Steps. But fear not—you don’t have to obsess over a tedious routine to reap the benefits of “glass skin.”

Whether you’re already an avid K Beauty user or a total rookie, I’ve broken down the basics—along with some affordable products you can score as you begin your journey to flawless skin.


  1. Oil-Based Cleanser
    The first of the two-step cleanser regimen is an oil-based cleanser. It ensures complete makeup removal, as well as ridding your skin of oil-based impurities—most notably pollution and any SPF that may be lingering on your skin from daytime. Living in a city such as NYC unfortunately includes heavily polluted air and toxins—which is why this step is super important.

  2. Water-Based Cleanser
    The second step of the double cleansing routine is a water-based cleanser. While two cleansing steps may seem tedious, it is highly recommended by dermatologists and aestheticians alike. Two major causes of breakouts are dirt and sweat, which have naturally accumulated on your skin after a long day. The water-based cleanser gets rid of those pesky pollutants that your oil cleanser might have missed.

  3. Toner
    Toner serves as the base for the rest of the routine. It rids the skin of residue from the previous two steps, allowing for a blank slate. It also ensures that your skin will readily absorb the proceeding steps that follow.

  4. Essence
    Small but mighty. Essences are pretty light weight, but packed with nutrients, along with anti-aging, hydrating and complexion-enhancing elements.

  5. Personalized Treatments
    This is where things get personal—you can have fun and experiment with your routine. Treatments include face oils, serums, ampoules. Depending on your particular skin type or concerns, treatments are infused with ingredients that target specific issues—acne, redness, hyper-pigmentation, fine lines, and the like. You can really get to know your skin and figure out what works best for you.

  6. Serum
    Chock-full of ingredients that help the skin absorb moisture (hyaluronic-acid, botanical herbs), these minimize the appearance of pores. And much like essences, you can pick and chose serums based upon your specific needs.

  7. Sheet Masks
    Ah, face masks. They’ve been all the rage recently due to both accessibility and affordability. You can find them at any beauty retailer, major e-commerce sites like Amazon, and even your local Urban Outfitters (where they cost you three bucks a pop). This is one of the key aspects of K-Beauty…the “soul” at the root of it all. Sheet masks come in a vast variety—the options are truly endless. Sheet masks are usually placed on the face for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, give or take. The prolonged exposure allows your skin to really absorb all the following steps.

  8. Moisturizer
    This one’s a no-brainer. Moisturizer is one of the most important steps of the routine, leading to a truly smooth, soft complexion. You don’t need much—a light layer applied to the face and neck will do the trick. Some ingredients to look out for are green tea, bamboo, snail mucin, and hyaluronic acid.

  9.  Eye Cream
    Dark circles and puffiness are nearly unavoidable, especially for sleep-deprived students… or after a night of partying ;) Eye cream kicks those circles and puff in the butt, and serves as an avoidance for crow’s feet. The proper way to apply eye cream is a light tap with a pinky (don’t rub!), and do your best to stay away from the water-line to avoid irritation. Key ingredients to keep your eyes out for? Lily, ginseng, and honey.

  10. Sunscreen
    Last but not least, SPF is of utmost importance. It protects your skin from harmful UV Rays and will ensure flawless, wrinkle-free skin for years to come. This should be applied in the morning and throughout the day as needed. Titanium & Zinc oxide are key ingredients to keep in mind.


Obviously you don’t have to obsess over the ten steps and can simplify the routine for both morning and night. Here are the most important steps to focus on, ensuring you reap the benefits of K-Beauty without too much fuss.


1. Wash
Even though you may be fresh-faced after a (hopefully) good night’s rest, it’s important to start off with a clean complexion. Cleanser isn’t necessary- just a gentle splash of water will do.

2. Toner
Using a bit of toner is sure to get rid of any remaining dirt or oil in your skin. It also serves as a “sponge” for your face—allowing it to soak up the remaining steps and provide a smooth base for makeup.

3. Essence or Serum
As previously mentioned, essences can be personalized to combat specific issues of concern. They typically come in small vials, which strip away some complexity. Serum is another option, which focuses on specific concerns as well.

4. Moisturizer & SPF
The final step for your AM routine should be moisturizer and SPF. Many moisturizers contain SPF, so you can kill two birds with one stone. This serves as finishing touch before you apply makeup to your face.


1. Makeup Remover
Take off your makeup from the day with a gentle makeup remover.

2. Cleanser
Water-based is best, but you can do Oil as well—unless you’re feeling ambitious and want to do a double-cleanse (as suggested in the 10 steps).

3. Exfoliator
Scrub off those dead cells and focus on the areas of visible pores, such as forehead, nose or cheeks.

4. Toner
Korean toners don’t contain any alcohol, which means your skin is absorbing more natural-based ingredients.

5. Eye Cream
Apply some eye cream—remember… tap, DON’T RUB, and use your pinky.

6. Moisturizer
The final step. Before hitting the hay, apply moisture to your face and neck.

And of course, a face mask is always a plus!


1. DR JART+ Mask Heroes Face Savers- $36- Sephora 2. Glow Studio Hydrated Glow K-Beauty Routine Kit- $13.79- Target 3. Glow Recipe Korean Beauty 2-Set - $78- Glow Recipe  4. Saturday Skin Saturday Squeak Set- $29- Sephora 5. Julep Korean Skincare Made Simple Double Cleanse & Boost Set- $49- ULTA 6. Celavi Essence Face Sheet 12 Pack- $9.50- Amazon 7. The Rice Shop Rice Water Cleanser & Moisturizer 2 Pack- $13.20- Amazon

1. DR JART+ Mask Heroes Face Savers- $36- Sephora
2. Glow Studio Hydrated Glow K-Beauty Routine Kit- $13.79- Target
3. Glow Recipe Korean Beauty 2-Set - $78- Glow Recipe
4. Saturday Skin Saturday Squeak Set- $29- Sephora
5. Julep Korean Skincare Made Simple Double Cleanse & Boost Set- $49- ULTA
6. Celavi Essence Face Sheet 12 Pack- $9.50- Amazon
7. The Rice Shop Rice Water Cleanser & Moisturizer 2 Pack- $13.20- Amazon