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South Korea is world-renowned as being the global centre of innovations in cosmetics and skincare, and rightly so. The new trends set by the Korean industry has been followed and duplicated in every corner of the globe, with consumers on a mission to replicate the highly sought after glowy, glassy, dewy skin using numerous serums, oils, liquid formulas, and we can’t forget the sheet masks, jelly masks, aloe toners and essences. The Koren skincare market is valued at almost 13 billion USD and still growing. So why are we so obsessed with it?
Skincare is much more than a fad, it’s a part of life for women in South Korea. The intricate 10 step skincare routines use products filled with natural botanicals, encouraging glowing youthful skin. To give you an idea of a typical routine, I tried it out for a few weeks – take note, if you want to try this, you will need to set aside a good 20-30 minutes to allow each product to sink into your skin. I’ve opted to do this mainly in the evenings, because who really has time at 7 am?
Oil cleanser, followed by a foam/cream cleanser
double cleaning is big in K-skincare. Different types of cleanser will remove all leftover product, makeup, dirt, oil and pollutants from your skin. Oil cleansers are particularly effective at removing makeup, so this always goes first. Then, a foaming cleanser or cream cleanser will ensure everything has been removed and is ready for the next step.
toners are especially important for balancing the PH levels in your skin. When we think of toner, we normally think of an astringent used to remove even more from our skin. You can also include active ingredients like AHA and BHA in your toners if you’d like more intense results against ageing, acne damage and fine lines. Typically, Korean toners are packed full of botanical ingredients that address similar concerns. You can apply them with your hands and pat into the skin or apply with a cotton ball or pad.
Rather than relying on one thick cream to do all the work, Koreans believe that layering products allow the skin to breathe and avoids clogging the pores. So, if you think of your toner as the first layer of moisture, think of an essence as the second. These products are typically also thinner in texture, and some even feel watery. They penetrate the skin at a deeper level and aid with the absorption of the products to come.
The emulsion layer is often thicker than the previous layers, starting to build the richness and sheen we are going for in the final result. Much like the prior layers, these products are often packed with botanical extracts and other power-packed ingredients
Ampoule and serums are basically the same things – they are targeted treatments with a higher concentration of ingredients with a smaller molecular structure. This allows them to permeate the skins layers deeper to deliver a higher concentration of moisture. The beauty of serums if they come in so many different formulas, there is something for every skin concern. Serums for oily skin, dry skin, congested skin, mature skin, – you will find something to suit you.
Undoubtedly the most popular part of the k-skincare line-up, sheet masks are essentially cotton masks drenched in serum that are applied to the skin to soak in. It’s not something I have religiously done every evening, purely because I don’t have time, but I will do this once a week. Like serums, they come in a variety of formulas for every skin type. Once you take off your mask, remember to wait for 10 minutes or so before continuing, and use any excess serum that has pooled at the bottom to apply to your décolletage.
Eye cream is designed to moisturize the ultra-thin skin around your eyes where crow’s feet and fine lines are bound to appear. However, if you use eye cream regularly before they show up, you’ll see a marked difference. Using the ring finger is the best way as it uses the correct amount of pressure rather than your pointer finger, which is bound to push harder since it’s used more often. The skin around the eyes really is that sensitive! It also dries out easily, so layering your eye cream in cold months is not a bad idea either.
After all these layers, a thick layer of cream must sound a little crazy. More moisture, still? Maybe not for everyone, but in the traditional Korean beauty 10-step routine, you use a cream – also known as an occlusive layer – to seal in all the layers.
Most of us were taught as kids that we had to wear sunscreen when we went to the beach. Unfortunately, we weren’t taught that we should also wear sunscreen pretty much every day (yes, UV rays can reach you inside too). Asian sunscreens also have a major advantage over most US-produced ones: the PA system. Originally developed in Japan, it’s a rating system a lot like SPF. The difference is that products scored with it protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.
The 10-step routine aged 11? When you grow up in the Korean beauty culture it’s perfectly normal – and it’s not “a vanity thing”, apparently. Women from Korea remember going to see their family facialist from as young as 4 years old, and it is deeply rooted in Korean wellbeing culture and is considered as important as exercise and eating well. The tradition of Korean skincare dates back centuries. In Ancient Chosun era, they used ornaments and coloured them to show their social position class and religious symbols.
People in Ancient Chosun era glorified fair skin. People in Manchu applied some lard to their bodies, and it prevented them from frostbite and softened their skin. Preventing frostbite by adding lard in winter was the origin of Korean cosmetics.
Fast forward to 2020, we have come a long way from using lard. Today, the Korean cosmetics industry is setting the pace for global beauty, driving the most growth and adopting new influences while keeping the product quality high and constantly researching for new, innovative products.
Another big benefit of K skincare: they’re known for using some bizarre ingredients that you’ve probably never heard of, such as snail mucus or donkey milk. I know, I know — you may be thinking, “excuse me?” But these ingredients actually work wonders on your skin, leaving it smoother and brighter. And on top of everything else, their products are just plain fun. Whether it’s adorable packaging or a clever name, Korean beauty companies know how to put together a fun beauty product that delivers major benefits, with ingredients you don’t need to research for hours on google.
Undoubtedly the best part of K-skincare? The low price points. Sheet masks for around 50p, toners for under £5, to essences and serums for under £10, it is an accessible and affordable – even brands on the higher-end of the scale are typically far more affordable than premium Western brands. With sites popping up dedicated to Korean bringing skincare to the rest of the world, it is becoming easier to try these products than ever – without breaking the bank.
With hundreds of brands, thousands of products, not to mention the western brand alternatives trying to catch up, there are products out there for every skin type, tone, texture and concern. Korean skincare is upping the game and all the other brands should take note. Clean, perfectly prepped and moisturised skin is healthy skin, and if you don’t believe me – take a trip to Seoul and look at how perfect their skin is. This stuff works.