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If you’ve gone skincare shopping lately, chances are you’ve seen some Korean Beauty, or K-Beauty, products in the aisles. And it’s no surprise: the stuff is a global phenomenon, and it’s known for being ultra-effective, super interesting, and … really complicated.
But what exactly makes K-beauty different? What does it involve? And is it more effective than other beauty products or routines?
Here’s what we know about the routine and the ingredients involved.
K-beauty originated in Seoul, South Korea, where the skincare scene all about using technological developments and the latest cutting-edge trends to maintain a youthful, innocent glow.
That’s why it gained steam in the international markets in the early 2000s, and why it’s currently at the forefront in the global beauty industry.
Lately, it’s made it all the way to the US, where larger beauty stores have full k-beauty sections and department stores - even Costco! - offer full 10-step Korean beauty regimens. So what’s the fuss all about and what should you look for if you’re interested in trying K-beauty?
One of the most important elements of Korean beauty is the regimen itself.
Above all else, Korean beauty values diligence and consistency. Its ten-step regimens are all about indulgence and layering tons of clarifying, toning, and hydrating products to achieve beautiful, glowing skin.
An average nighttime Korean routine includes:
The skin around the eye area is generally much thinner and more delicate than other areas of the face. The idea, then, is to cleanse this skin and remove dirt or makeup without tugging, pulling, and potentially damaging the area.
This is not an exclusively K-beauty concept - pretty much everybody knows about double cleansing at this point! But it is an integral part of the Korean beauty regimens.
Double cleansing, as the name suggests, is cleansing with two face washes to ensure a deep and thorough clean.
This starts with an oil-based cleanser that’s used to dissolve oil and grime. It’s then followed by gentle foam or cream cleanser, like Bright Side, that’s meant to neutralize pollution and get rid of impurities from deep within the pores.
Overall, the double cleanse tackles congestion, cleanses pores and provides a totally fresh canvas for any active ingredients to follow.
This is not a daily recommendation in K-beauty. Instead, it’s usually only once a week or even once a month. That said, regular exfoliation with a gentle exfoliant is important for removing impurities, improving skin texture, and regulating oil production on the skin.
Here’s the thing: skin has a natural pH that is slightly acidic. Maintaining this pH is important for keeping in nutrients and moisture while blocking toxins and pollution.
This can be disrupted by cleansing and water - but it’s restored with a toner. On top of that, toner can really get rid of any last little bits of makeup or debris that are left on the face, perfectly prepping the skin for the steps to follow.
So the first four steps are pretty standard, but the essence is something that’s unique to K-beauty and at the core of Korean routines.
It’s essentially a light version of a serum that contains lots of actives to hydrate and aid in cell turnover. It will also prep the skin for the next five products.
Have a favorite serum, ampoule, lip make, or hydrating treatment? This is the time to slather it on and clarify, brighten, or hydrate the skin.
Traditionally, K-beauty is all about highly active, results-focused products - and it really focuses on the ingredients list below.
This is another once-a-week thing, but sheet masks are a great addition to hydrate the skin and infuse deep moisture, helping you achieve the famous Korean “glass-skin” glow.
Wearing an effective eye cream can help reduce the look of dark circles, improve concealer application, and tackle fine lines and wrinkles.
We recommend an eye cream like All In, which includes hydrating, brightening, and K-beauty approved ingredients like:
Finally, top it off with an ultra-hydrating face mask that you don’t wash off or - if you’re doing an AM routine - a lightweight and hydrating day cream. This will not only add additional moisture but also lock in all the actives used in the previous eight steps.
For the morning time, make sure that you finish it off with a light and effective SPF. This will prevent sun damage, protect against free radical damage, and decrease the signs of aging.
Now, up to this point, you may feel like none of this is exactly groundbreaking information. And it’s not! All of these steps can be part of any beauty routine, even though most of us don’t incorporate all ten of them.
The differentiating factor, besides the number of steps here, is the actual ingredients in the essences, serums, and cleansers.
Here are 10 top ingredients that you’re likely to see across K-beauty lines.
This is probably one of the most controversial and hyped up Korean beauty ingredients on the list. Derived from the snail, mucin is actually full of nutrients, including:
Overall, this combination of ingredients makes snail mucin known for its hydrating and regenerative powers, along with its ability to soothe acne, reduce hyperpigmentation, and provide long-lasting, deep skin moisture.
Another ancient Asian beauty remedy, ginseng is a potent antioxidant that can protect pores from free radical damage and promote a brighter, healthier glow.
This makes it a powerful anti-aging and brightening ingredient that you’ll find in everything from toners to masks and brightening serums.
Honey has been a staple in the K-beauty industry for years. It’s chock full of antibacterial properties and it’s known to detox, hydrate, and deeply soothe skin.
Want to take it one step further? Royal honeyis considered the best. It’s aged through a 60-day fermentation process that leaves it with less water and more active ingredients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
A powerful humectant that naturally occurs in our own tissues, hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. This makes it one of the most effective hydrating ingredients - which is why they pack it into so many K-beauty products to combat sagging, dryness, and wrinkles.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that reduces signs of aging, repairs damaged skin, accelerates collagen synthesis, and corrects hyperpigmentation.
You'll find it in Eight Saints products as Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP). This is the most stable form of vitamin C - it will never oxidize or decrease in effectiveness with time. It easily penetrates the skin, unlike ascorbic acid, which is not easily absorbed.
Above all, this form of vitamin C is a powerful acne fighter and an anti-aging powerhouse - which is why it’s so popular in Korean beauty.
Otherwise known as “bee glue,” propolis is a gooey, resin-like substance that naturally seals the walls of honeycombs and discourages bacterial growth.
On the skin, it aids in cell renewal, soothes irritation, fights blemishes, and decreases inflammation. On top of that, it provides antioxidant benefits and fights the signs of aging and photodamage.
Ideal for sensitive skin, aloe vera soothes, cools, and calms the skin. It’s known to prevent redness, calm breakouts, and hydrate with its high water content.
Tea tree oil has been around forever - and it’s certainly high on the K-beauty list. That said, tea tree water is something new, and it’s becoming increasingly prevalent across K-beauty lines.
The perks? It offers tea tree’s anti-inflammatory and soothing properties in water form, making it the perfect ingredient to refresh, soothe, and clarify the skin.
Derived from the lotus flower, lotus extract is full of natural antibiotics and flavonoids, which are known to be highly anti-inflammatory.
Mushrooms, in general, are big in K-beauty - but truffles, in particular, are especially prized. They’re full of glow-boosting vitamin B, which helps restore skin’s radiance and luminosity. They also contain ceramides, amino acids, and fatty acids that make it particularly effective at tackling wrinkles, hydrating skin, and more.
Overall, K-beauty is all about the comprehensive regimen and the suite of powerful active ingredients.
If you want to, you can incorporate the consistency and the active ingredients of K-beauty into your existing routine for a comprehensive, powerful skincare regimen.
Get everything you need to start your own K-beauty worthy routine here!