The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Korean Skincare

Alicia Yoon | April 28, 2016

Four products, four steps

“How do I get dewy, glowing skin without doing a 27-step Korean skincare routine?”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked this question since launching my Korean skincare company, Peach and Lily, in 2012. In my experience, many people equate Korean skincare with long, regimented routines, but it’s less about the number of steps and more about tailoring them to meet the specific needs of the skin they’re treating. It’s this level of curation that makes Korean skincare special — and I will admit, it’s a more involved process than the typical ones you’ll find stateside.

The Korean approach to skincare is not so different from, say, exercise — it requires a level of discipline and consistency that’s meant to eventually pay off. Just as you wouldn’t expect a new body after an hour at the gym, you won’t necessarily notice changes in your skin overnight. But the long-game is key here, because when people reference the signature “glowing skin” associated with these longer routines, they’re simply referring to healthy, hydrated skin. It’s that simple. And just like with exercise, that road will vary from person to person.

Take me, for instance. Because I have eczema and dry, sensitive skin, I’ve found that my skin needs around 15 steps — which I’ve gotten down to a science — to beat the odds and get that glow. That’s not meant to intimidate you but rather to prove that it’s possible for everyone to get there.

Here are three essential things to know about the Korean approach so you can figure out where your skin fits into the puzzle while keeping the process short, without buying products you don’t need.

1. Cleansing is everything.

My favorite dermatologist in Korea always told me that more than half of our skincare issues stem from improper cleansing. So if you only adopt one thing from the Korean approach today, make it your cleansing routine.

Cleansing should be a two-step process.

Use an oil-based cleanser to gently coax out all oil-based impurities from within your pores (like SPF, makeup and sebum). Oil is drawn to oil!

Follow up with a water-based cleanser (like foaming wash or non-foaming powder) that’s formulated to be non-drying and preferably has a pH of ~5.5. This will leave your skin feeling clean without that weird “squeaky” feeling.

Note: the order is important. Using a water-based cleanser first might push oils deeper into your skin. The main point is to remove all the impurities, but to do so gently and without stripping the skin dry. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to be vigilant about the ingredients in your face wash.

Some prefer to combine the two steps and use cleansing water. If you do too, make sure it’s true micellar cleansing water, which acts as a dual oil and water-based cleanser.

2. Use essences to hydrate.

Dehydrated skin can lead to accelerated signs of aging, more sensitized skin, excess sebum production and a weakened skin barrier (meaning you become more vulnerable to breakouts).

While you may be reaching for your water bottle right now — that’s not exactly when I mean. Drinking water definitely benefits your skin, but the only way to hydrate skin directly is to apply essences.

Essences are the glue that hold a skincare routine together. An essence is formulated to drench the skin, thus prepping it to more effectively absorb the serums and ampoules that follow.

I see a huge difference when I use an essence vs. when I don’t. When I trained as an esthetician in Korean beauty school, my teacher shared an analogy that always stayed with me: Your skin is like a sponge. When dehydrated, the skin barrier, like a sponge, becomes brittle and more prone to breakouts. When hydrated, not only is the skin barrier stronger, but like a plump sponge, liquids (serums) absorb easily.

You’re born with a skin type – dry, normal, oily, combo – but the state of it day-to-day is largely within your control.

My go-to: Cremorlab Mineral Treatment Essence

3. Antioxidants are the unsung hero of protection.

Preventative skincare is so much more fun than damage repair. Everyone’s favorite preventative measure? Sun protection.

And it’s true, SPF is really important! But SPF does not provide an impenetrable layer. In fact, it’s more like a vulnerable fort. When free radicals inevitably make their way in, antioxidants are like the foot soldiers behind the fort walls. They attack unwanted toxins and keep your skin in tip-top shape.

Regardless of season, antioxidant-rich serums like this one or this one should always be the partner-in-crime to your SPF protection.

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So, to recap: you get dewy, glowing skin without a 27-step Korean skincare routine but using the following: an oil-based cleanser, a water-based cleanser, a hydrating essence, and finally, a serum packed with antioxidants.

That’s only four steps! And if they’re applied with consistency, just like with everything else, you’ll see results. Hydrated, healthy skin.The real root of a natural glow.

Follow Alicia Yoon on Instagram; follow her skincare website Peach and Lily on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook; photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.

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  • Dee

    I’ve never heard of essence before but clearly you know what you’re doing. I also like the oil based cleanser first approach. One thing I do is make sure I spend time cleaning my face. Love these additional tips on Korean beauty skin care. Thanks. xxoo

  • Cinamaron

    When I first got into KBeauty I thought I needed a many-step routine but quickly came to find out that my skin just couldn’t deal with that many layers of product. Things wouldn’t absorb well and I’d just end up looking greasy. Right now my routine only has five steps counting both cleansers- cleansing oil, foaming wash, first essence, serum, and night moisturizer. I will occasionally add a sleeping pack or sheet mask too. In the morning I just do a first essence, emulsion, and then sunscreen. The biggest thing that has helped my skin was finding the right products instead of just layering on as many as possible!

  • Caitlin_DD

    Tangent, can we get the deets on that bracelet?

  • I’ve been wanting to try that Bioderma makeup remover. Great tips!

    Diana | thechicdiary.com/blog

  • Meow HK

    Thank you for the great tips! https://mshksite.wordpress.com/

  • Ellina

    Thank you for the tips! I have a problematic skin which I had no idea how to take care of until I found Caroline Hirons’ blog. Now I double cleanse, tone, apply essence, eye cream, serum, moisturise, spf. And while it’s mind numbingly boring, it totally pays off.

  • Madison C

    do you do an oil cleanser followed by foaming cleanser both morning and night?

    • Nico

      I’d like to know this too!!

    • ★miki

      No, typically you would do the double cleansing method in the evening to remove sunscreen, makeup, sebum, dirt, and pollution that has accumulated during the day. Not to say that you can’t, but depending on your skin type, it might be overkill as well as time consuming. I only do it at nighttime because I have nothing in my night routine that requires heavy duty cleansing in the morning, all of it is just skincare like essences and lotion

  • Lorien

    Why are the products so much cheaper on Amazon. The snail repair is $13 compared to $38 on peach and Lilly.

    • ★miki

      They’re even cheaper on Ebay. Sites that are targeted to the American audience for kbeauty porudcts, have their prices jacked up tremendously. Kbeauty products are actually so freaking cheap and affordable, most people just buy them from ebay sellers in Korea instead. Do any item search in ebay and you’ll see much the prices differ

  • Vanessa

    Details on what products are shown in the thumbnail and main picture?

  • Marie

    I’ve always kinda loved having a skin routine, especially since I got into korean skin care. I always feel so clean and soft~

  • Kimberly

    Can you re-link the foaming wash? The foaming and non-foaming go to the same product.

  • Zoë

    Can we hear about your 15 steps though?!

  • Dudzicsu

    For lazy there is one miracle for removing make up: Glov hydro demaquillage. the best. Just add water.