I tried a 10-step Korean skincare routine so you don’t have to

WORDS BY Evangeline Polymeneas

The recipe for glowing skin.

In the quest for good skin, I have tried everything. The classic three steps – cleanse, tone, moisturise. The soap and water. The double cleanse. I even jumped on the coconut oil train and my skin still hasn’t forgiven me for it. Not convinced? My boyfriend’s godmother once told me she uses dish soap to wash her face. Let’s just say when it was my sister’s turn to wash the dishes, the dish soap was nowhere to be found. 

I found out about the 10-step Korean skincare routine while trawling my YouTube suggested videos looking for some ASMR to put me to sleep. As always, WhispersRedASMR delivered the goods but this time, in more ways than one. She was testing a 10-step routine in a video and after looking at Emma’s glowing skin, I knew I had to try it. 

Itching for more skincare content? See what else we have tried in our Beauty section here.

The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged a shift towards natural beauty and staying indoors meant there wasn’t really a need for full-coverage foundation and cream contour. But without my makeup routine, my bare skin was begging for some extra attention. Considering Korea is world-renowned for its skincare and cosmetics, heads have been turning towards the K-beauty industry to give us solutions to skin concerns. 

While some brands have attempted to claim the routine as their own, Koreans have been using multi-step skincare routines since 700 BCE. You read that right. The Korean beauty industry has always prioritised the skin rather than reactionary products like makeup. This is because a clean and clear complexion is considered virtuous in Korea.

Its 10 steps have been organised to ensure every aspect of the skin’s needs are tackled, working towards a balanced routine and a poreless, spot-free complexion. Hello? What else are dreams made of? I knew I needed to try it. 

My skin before the routine

Full disclosure: I have combination, normal-to-oily skin and my problem area is my T-zone. I went on this journey wanting to brighten my skin and fix its texture. But most of all – after forgoing my makeup routine like most during this pandemic – I wanted my ‘me time’ back. Taking the time to relax and slather on some lush products sounded like bliss. 

The routine

I know what you’re thinking, 10 steps? You’ve got to be kidding. Well actually, it depends on the day. I completed this routine almost every night for a month straight. It was easy enough to add 10 minutes of time to my previous routine and was actually quite therapeutic. 

1. Balm or oil cleanser


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Purpose: To remove oil-based impurities like makeup, pollution and sunscreen. 

I don’t know about you, but this is always my favourite step. I hate the feeling of anything on my skin, especially makeup so getting to wash that off makes my day. If you’ve never used a balm or oil cleanser before, you are in for a real treat. Oil-based cleansers literally cause your full face to melt off by penetrating the makeup directly. If you wash your face well, not like Kylie Jenner, then you will feel reborn after this first step. 

I used: Tatcha One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil 

2. Water-based cleanser e.g. a foaming or gel cleanser (tip: if water is the first ingredient, you have got yourself a water-based cleanser)


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Purpose: To remove water-based impurities such as sweat and dirt, and remove anything the balm or oil cleanser might have missed. 

This is your sign to start double cleansing if you haven’t already. A water-based cleanser removes those residual pieces of dirt and grime and leaves your face ready for all the skincare goodness to come. 

I used: Chanel La Mousse Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream-to-Foam 

3. Exfoliant


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Purpose: To clean pores and remove dead skin.

Remember how I said this routine isn’t always 10 steps? Here is our first example. Exfoliating once or twice a week is effective, any more could be harmful. A good chemical exfoliant is perfect. Unlike scary physical exfoliants that literally scrub off dead skin, chemical exfoliants are a mild acid that helps to dissolve the bonds between the dead skin cells in order to remove them. Clinical research scientist turned digital creator, Hannah English, walked FJ writer Maggie through the different types of chemical exfoliants here.

I used: Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoilant 

4. Toner

Purpose: To remove your cleanser’s and exfoliator’s residue (if there is any) and restore the skin’s natural barrier. Toners also prep the skin to better absorb the next products. 

We’re halfway through the piece but I have a confession – I was a toner sceptic. Toner looks like water and feels like water, but it definitely isn’t water. Depending on the toner, it can contain a range of ingredients that gives the skin a boost of hydration while prepping your skin for any following products. Essentially, it’s skincare’s version of a primer.

I’ll admit, I always hated using toner. It dried out my skin and it stung. But then I found out that most of the toners I had used contained alcohol. I made the switch and never looked back. 

I used: Kylie Skin Vanilla Milk Toner

5. Essence


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Purpose: Essence is an intense injection of hydration, anti-aging benefits and complexion-enhancing ingredients in liquid form.

Despite being a self-proclaimed skincare junkie, I will admit, I had no idea what essence was until I was introduced to this routine. But now, it’s one of my favourite steps. While toner prepares the surface of your skin for the upcoming products, essence creates the pathway for the rest of your routine to reach the important parts of your skin. Lost? Follow me, baby skincare fanatic. Picture it like this, you’ve spent the last four steps cleansing your face and now it’s time to add to it. But you want these products to hit deep. The essence will connect the surface of your skin and its deepest layer, so when you go through the next steps, they work even better. 

I used: Tatcha The Essence 

6. Serum


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Purpose: To target specific skin concerns.

This step will look different for everyone, depending on what you want out of your skincare routine. Are you trying to combat acne? Hydrating your skin is your number one priority? Hyperpigmentation causing you stress? Slow the signs of aging? This is your chance to grab a serum that tackles each problem and use it here. 

I used: The Ordinary Buffet and The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid

7. Sheet mask


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Purpose: A prolonged essence in sheet mask form that sits on the face and because of the prolonged contact, absorbs and hydrates the skin.

This is another step that can be done once a week. A sheet mask is great for a Sunday night, a treat before you start another week. It should be done when you have a bit more time on your hands to really live the self-care fantasy. Need help navigating the treacherous waters that are sheet masks? Read this

I used: Go-To Transforming Sheet Mask

8. Eye cream


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Purpose: Prevents dark circles, crow’s feet, wrinkles and de-puffs the eye area.

Are you over 20? Then it might be time to invest in a good quality eye cream. You’ll thank me when you’re 50. Quick tip: the skin around your eyes is the most delicate, so use your ring finger to apply eye cream because it is your weakest finger. 

I used: The Ordinary Caffeine Solution

9. Moisturiser 

Purpose: This is a bit obvious isn’t it? It moisturises the skin. Moisturising the skin seals the previous products in and acts to smooth fine lines on the surface of the skin. While your essences, serums, sheet masks and eye creams work beneath the surface, your moisturiser seals them in and gets working up top. 

Arguably this is the most important step. No matter what skin type you are, moisturising is vital. Especially, if you have double cleansed and exfoliated as you need to bring moisture back into the surface of your skin. 

I used: CeraVe Daily Moisturising Lotion

10. And then either a thicker night cream or sleeping mask or an SPF


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Purpose: SPF provides a layer of protection from UV rays and a night cream is used to restore collagen in the skin and improve blood circulation during your sleep. 

Depending on the time of day, you’ll either be reaching for SPF or a night cream for this step. I adopted this routine for my nights, so slathering on a thick moisturiser instantly transports me to bedtime. SPF is essential every day. If If you need a quick reminder why, read this

I used: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair

Drumroll, please

The results are in. Does my skin look and feel better after a month of routinely applying more or less 10 products to my face every night? To find out, I grabbed the magnified mirror that I keep under my sink and stared at my face for so long that I swear I didn’t know who I was looking at. 

My skin definitely looks a lot dewier and glow-y. No doubt. I think it’s because I completed the routine at night rather than in the morning. If I practised this 10-step routine in the morning, I feel as though my face would be oily throughout the day and if I wore makeup, it would slip right off. Doing it at night allowed the hydrating, brightening and pore-refining goodness to soak in and leave my skin dewy in the morning. 

Will I keep it up? Definitely. I can’t swear I will do it in its entirety every single night, but I will give it my best go. If you aren’t someone who removes their makeup after a long night out, this routine might not be for you straight away. Try slowly introducing some of these products and see if they stick. Everyone’s skin is different and finding out what is right for you takes some time. 

Needing some product inspo? Head here.

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