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Your Ultimate Guide To Korean Skincare

From French pharmacy finds to Sephora hauls, here in the UK we love investing in beauty from faraway destinations. However, when it comes to skincare and makeup innovation, it’s Asia we turn to, in particular South Korea.

While for many in the UK skincare is simply a touch of micellar water and a bit of moisturiser, maybe even some eye cream or a serum, in Korea, taking care of your skin is a way of life and deeply embedded in the culture. Skincare routines are drilled into young girls (and boys) from a young age and glowing, radiant skin is a sign of health and something worth investing significant time and money in. In fact, according to the BBC, South Korean women spend twice as much of their income on beauty products and make-up than their American counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, South Korea is the market-leader when it comes to creating new game-changing ingredients, formulas and products, and by always being a few years ahead of the West, big skincare companies around the world look to Korea for inspiration when dreaming up new lotions and potions. BB creams, double cleansers and sheet masks are all K-Beauty trends that have now made their way into the mainstream beauty market (and into our bathroom cabinets).

The best Korean skincare brands

Thanks to selection of Korean products available online here in the UK (try Cult Beauty, Beauty Mart, Beauty and Seoul, and The Silk Rose), you can get a slice of the real deal at the click of the mouse.

So how do you go about investing in a new Korean inspired skincare-routine. We’ve broken it down for you…

The best Korean skincare products

First up, it's about getting the routine right. 7-step? 10-step? 15-step? The jury is out on how many steps are actually in a Korean skincare routine, however, one thing is for sure, there is a lot more than the classic cleanse, tone and moisturise we’re sold here in the UK. While it may sound intimidating at first, it’s important to point out that not every step is needed every morning or night, and some are only once or twice a week. Plus, it goes without saying that choosing to embark on such a routine is a time commitment (in the evenings it can be up to fifteen minutes), however Korean women see this is as a positive - they view skincare as a ritual to treasure and look forward to at the end of a busy day.

The daily Korean skincare-routine

These are the key steps to try...

Double Cleanse

Cleansing is possibly the most important stage of the process - without properly cleansed skin none of your other products will be able to work to their full potential. First up, you need to remove makeup, daily grime and SPF with an oil-based cleanser - massage into skin and wash off with warm water. Then go in with a water-based cleanser (foaming, milky or creamy cleansers all work a treat), for a deeper cleanse of the skin. FYI: double cleansing is only needed in the evening, in the morning you can just do the second step.

Try:

First cleanse:

Blossom Jeju Camellia Soombi Enriched Cleansing Oil, £60

Erborian Solid Cleansing Oil, £29

Second cleanse:

Whamisa Organic Flowers Foam Cleansing Cream, £23.50

LJH Tea Tree 30 Cleansing Foam, £25.90

Essence

Next up it’s an essence - not a word we are too familiar with in the Western world but surely one we are likely to see more of. Used post-cleanse, essences are all about giving your skin a hit of hydration and providing a helping hand for the layers that come after. Spritz over damp skin before going in with your serum of choice.

Try:

Blithe Vital Treatment Essence, £38

Su-Man Rehydrating Toning Essence, £38

##nKorean Serum

ICYMI: moisturisers don’t actually moisturise your skin (they can’t go deep enough) but simply act as a final protection layer. To target skin issues - whether that’s dryness, redness, oiliness or more - you need a super-concentrated serum. Choose the product based on your skin type and apply sparingly by pressing into the skin after spritzing your essence. Mix and match depending on how your skin feels that day, and don’t be afraid to layer more than one serum at a time just like the Koreans do.

Try:

To smooth and tighten skin: Mizon Peptide 500, £37.50

To brighten: Ling Hi-Vitamin C Serum, £80

To hydrate: Thank You Farmer True Water Deep Serum, £32

Eye cream

According to the Korean school of thought, the delicate eye area needs a separate cream. Apply by gently tapping using your smallest finger below the eyebrow and under the eye.

Try:

Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream, £18

Benton Fermentation Eye Cream, £21.95

Korean Moisturiser

The penultimate layer before your SPF/makeup is moisturiser. You can use the same product for day and night or a different one if you fancy - you might prefer a more lightweight option under makeup, and a richer formula for evening.

Try:

Su Man Velvet Skin Moisturising Cream, £85

LJH Probiotics Sleeping Cream, £35

Korean SPF products

While a whole myriad of products claim to either prevent signs of ageing, the only thing guaranteed to slow down the aesthetic ageing process is wearing a wide spectrum SPF every single day. Yep, even here in grey England. While suncreams of the past were white, thick and greasy, the formulas have come on leaps and bounds, in particular in Korea where people have a religious like attitude to SPF. Apply every morning to your face, neck and decolletage.

Try:

Thank You Farmer Sun Project Light Sun Essence SPF50, £27

Missha All-Around Safe Block Essence Sun SPF45 , £11

The weekly Korean skincare-routine

Alongside a dedicated daily routine, the Korean skincare regime includes additional treatments on a weekly (or twice weekly) basis. These are the ones worth investing in...

Sheet Masks

One of Korea’s most successful beauty exports, you've probably seen a sheet mask selfie on Instagram. Essentially a cotton mask infused with a cocktail of skin boosting ingredients, leaving the mask on your face for up to half an hour helps to penetrate the ingredients deep into the skin. They are not the easiest to apply (and you may scare your housemates), but they work a dream when it comes to hydrating the skin. Some Korean women would apply a face mask daily but realistically it’s probably better to aim to do one once or twice a week.

Try:

Tony Moly I'm Real Moisturising Aloe Sheet Mask, £6

Maskorea Too Many Late Nights 3-Step Mask, £7.99

Sleep Masks

Make the most of those precious hours of kip with a mask that will work while you get your shut eye. In Korea, the phenomenon that is sleep masks (or sleep packs) are super popular. Rich and reparative overnight treatments, they deeply hydrate whilst also protecting your face from the dehydrating atmosphere.

Try:

TonyMoly Panda's Dream White Sleeping Pack, £14,50

Mizon Snail Wrinkle Care Sleeping Pack - Night Cream, £21

Exfoliation

Once or twice a week, Koreans exfoliate their skin post-cleanser to buff away dead skin cells and increase the skin renewal process. Not only will it leave your complexion both clearer and brighter, it will maximise the potential of the products you put on after.

Try:

Su Man Exfoliating Facial Polish, £40

Ling Triple Action Exfoliator, £42

Korean skincare for acne

If you are suffering from acne or spots it’s best to stick to a simple skincare routine. Instead of embarking on the full Korean routine it would be better to take a streamlined approach and picking products that suit you. Double cleansing is still important to remove makeup and grime, just choose cleansers without comedogenic ingredients that might block pores. Follow up with a serum that balances oil production without stripping the skin- we love It’s Skin Power 10 Effector Skin Serum. Once a week use a sheet mask that targets blemishes like Tony Moly’s I’m Real Mask.

Korean skincare for dry skin

A multi-step skincare regime is perfect for complexions that tend to fall on the drier end of the spectrum: simply make sure to layer a heavier, more nourishing moisturiser such as Belif's The True Cream Aqua Bomb over a hydrating serum before finishing off with your essence, and consider using a sheet mask (whether an all-over mask or one targeted for the under-eyes) up to twice a week.

If you’re a fan of ‘baking’ or ‘sandbagging’ your makeup (a setting technique which originated in the drag community), you might consider trying Jamsu. It was first created by a Japanese vlogger, but has been adopted by K-beauty fans, and involves applying talc (yes, that talc) to your face, then plunging it into a basin of cold water for 30 seconds. Strange as it might sound, it supposedly gives skin a matte finish and provides a smooth canvas for your make-up. The jury’s out…