Ruth Griffin: Is Korea the key to perfect skin?
We put the 10-step K beauty skincare trend on trial
The Korean Skincare Routine - or K Beauty - has been creating a buzz in the global beauty industry in recent years. The near mythical 10-step skincare regime that Korean women have been practising for years has put our measly three-step regime (cleanse, tone, moisturise) to shame.
The Korean obsession with good skin dates back centuries - dermatological concerns have been documented as far back as 700 BC - to the era when noble-people never worked in the sun, and therefore possessed and treasured porcelain, smooth skin. This long history of skin health is now married with state-of-the-art Korean skincare technologies to produce some of the most interesting skin techniques, products and regimes available.
With modern-day Korean women famous for their utterly flawless complexions, beauty buffs around the world have been poking around their bathroom cabinets looking for their skin secrets. And this poking around has unearthed some pretty gruesome beauty ingredients such as snail slime masks and creams.
But is it really worth the hassle of using 10 separate skincare steps every day in the hopes of improving your skin? I tried out the full K Beauty regimen and assessed its usefulness for the women of Ireland. Here, I've picked the steps to keep and the ones to skip to create a streamlined Celtic beauty regimen - let's call it a C Beauty!
Step 1 Oil Cleanser
Oil cleansers are used as the first step in K Beauty regimes, in order to break down oil-based residue from make-up, pollution, and sunscreen. Massage the oil onto a damp face and rinse off with warm water — I use a hot face towel.
VERDICT: I am absolutely on board with this step as I already use an oil cleanser. I know it seems counter intuitive to use oil to cleanse your skin, but as long as you then follow Step 2 and use a foaming cleanser with water afterwards, you’ll see amazing results. I only use this at night as my skin is relatively clean in the morning and doesn’t need such a deep cleanse.
TRY: Kinvara Absolute Cleansing Oil, €19.95, healthfood shops nationwide.
Step 2 Foaming Cleanser
A cornerstone of the K Beauty regime is to follow a two-part cleansing routine. Use a foaming cleanser and again rinse off with warm (not hot) water. This removes any residual oil from Step 1 as well as impurities from the skin.
VERDICT: Again, I’m in total agreement. I don’t use cleanser and cotton wool as I find it too time-consuming — I never feel my skin is fully clean until I’ve washed it anyway.
TRY: My favourite foam cleanser is the SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser, €38, skinceuticals.co.uk
Step 3 Exfoliation
Korean beauty buffs are religious about exfoliation and skin polishing for a smooth complexion, but they only use the most gentle of products. Korean ladies would be appalled at using a grainy, rough exfoliator or a Clarisonic. The key to K Beauty techniques is all about gentle and regular exfoliation. This is a step that you don’t have to do every day.
VERDICT: I’m not so sure about this one. I would only exfoliate once a fortnight. I agree with the K Beauty philosophy of only using the most gentle of exfoliators and I never use the grainy rough ones.
TRY: I love Le Mieux Vita-C Clear Skin Pads, €55, but I would only use them twice a month. neelus-salon.com
Step 4 Toner
Toner is used to prep the skin for the hydrating products to follow.
VERDICT: Skip. I’m not loving this step at all. My skin is normal/dry and can be sensitive, and toners just make my skin feel tight and pulled.
TRY: Some experts swear by Pixi Glow Tonic, €23.50 from Marks & Spencer, but personally I would replace it with a generic brand rosewater or witch-hazel and dab on with cotton wool. Available from pharmacies nationwide, from €3.50.
Step 5 Essence
At the heart of the 10-Step Korean Skincare Regime is the use of an essence. We don’t really use these products in Ireland but they are beginning to appear on the market here thanks to the K Beauty trend. An essence is essentially a hybrid of a toner and a serum and is to be massaged all over the face.
VERDICT: Skip! I just do not understand this step. I have tried a few different versions of essences, from a few different brands, but for me they have a very unpleasant texture and make my skin feel tacky and quite sticky but not hydrated. Focus on buying a really good quality serum (see step 6) instead.
TRY: If you’re willing to try this step, Lancôme’s Energie de Vie Pearly Lotion, €37, is available from department stores nationwide.
Step 6 Serum/Booster
Serums are concentrated skin boosters used to target specific skin issues such as acne, pigmentation, deep lines and scarring. I love a serum with hyaluronic acid as it injects serious hydration deep into the skin.
VERDICT: Definitely include this step. A serum or booster will help target your particular skin concern. Alter your serum to address your specific skin issue and you should see a difference in your complexion after six weeks.
TRY: I’ve recently discovered this lovely serum that’s brilliant for skin brightening. Thisworks Energy Bank Skin Glow Serum, €41, thisworks.com
Step 7 Sheet Mask
These sheets may look like a prop from a 1970s horror flick but they are packed full of hydrating properties.
VERDICT: Ah here! Officially a step too far for me. Who has time for this? I actually like the masks, they are like a drink for your skin, but I would try and do this once a fortnight at most. Definitely not a daily part of my skincare routine.
TRY: Masker Aide Hydrating Sheet Mask in Weather Warrior, €7, Marks & Spencer
Step 8 Eye Cream
The skin around our eyes is much thinner and delicate and ages much faster than the rest of our face, so the K Beauty regime is religious in applying eye cream twice daily. The Korean application method is vital: they dab and dot the cream around their eyes very gently with their ring finger, no dragging.
VERDICT: I agree with this step. Women 25+ should include eye cream into their regime, and women over the age of 35 should invest in a really good quality eye cream.
TRY: I love Dermalogica Intensive Eye Repair, €49.50, dermalogica.ie
Step 9 Moisturiser
The final layer of moisturising hydration is applied all over the face and neck. Try to leave this soak in for a few minutes before applying the final step.
VERDICT: Everyone should be using a moisturiser twice daily. If you only have one step in your skincare regime, let this be it!
TRY: I realise it’s eye-wateringly expensive at €440, but I’ve been using La Prairie’s Cellular Radiance Emulsion for a month, and if your budget can stretch to this, it’s worth it. Another effective option is Dermalogica Intensive Moisture Balance, €61, dermalogica.ie
Step 10 Night Mask/ SPF
In night-time K Beauty routines, the final step is a beauty sleep mask that you apply all over your other products and let soak in overnight for a dewy deep hydration. In the morning K Beauty routine, the final step is the application of SPF 50.
VERDICT: I’ve used Shiseido’s Ibuki Beauty Sleeping Mask, €45, and it is excellent — my skin was dewy and glowy in the morning — but I would do this once a week tops, definitely not every night. The SPF use in the morning I am fully on board with.
TRY: La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF50,€20 from pharmacies nationwide. I especially recommend this for teenagers.
The K Beauty rules
• Use of up to 17 steps in the daily skincare routine.
• Two-step, water-based cleansing.
• Use of gentle, good quality products.
• Gentle application of skincare products — strictly no dragging, pulling or tugging at the skin.
• Layering of multiple skincare products to penetrate deep into the skin.
• Use of massage, pressure point application and facial yoga exercises when applying creams.
• K Beauty buffs see their skincare routine as relaxed downtime as opposed to a rushed chore.
• No strict rules — you can apply a 10-step regime or as few as four. The minimum regime would include cleansing, toning, moisturising and SPF.
• Always alter your products to suit your skin type (dry, oily, normal, combination, problem skin, acne).
• Routine can be altered for morning and night (with more steps usually incorporated at night).