Are you ready to dive into the magical world of Korean skincare? From "glass skin" to double cleansing to newer trends like "cream skin"—innovative Korean skincare movements have revolutionized beauty routines worldwide. For Alicia Yoon, a licensed esthetician and founder & CEO of the best-selling K-beauty brand Peach & Lily, the way she views skincare is all about longterm results and "achieving your healthiest skin. " Using the analogy of food, Yoon notes that just as we strive to eat a balanced meal full of the right vitamins and nutrients, a good skincare routine involves finding the right mix of products and ingredients that work for you and your skin type.
While there's no right or wrong when it comes to finding a daily regimen, Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC who frequently travels to Korea to discover the country's latest cosmetic innovations, recommends the popularized 10-step Korean skincare routine. "It outlines possible steps to consider, including: an oil cleanser, a foam/cream cleanser, exfoliator, toner, essence, serum or ampoule, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, thicker night cream or SPF, " Dr. Chang lays out, but don't feel overwhelmed. "This 10-step routine is a guideline, not a rule. "
Do take note, there are several non-negotiable steps for Yoon and Chang, who both said thoroughly cleansing is a must, as well as properly hydrating and putting on SPF. Additionally, Yoon emphasizes the importance of incorporating antioxidant-rich products to help protect your skin, while Chang notes that she "always recommends using some sort of 'active' skincare, whether it be in the form of an essence, serum, or ampoule, to protect, repair, or prevent aging in the skin. "
So whether you have acne-prone skin, looking for powerful anti-aging benefits, hoping to fade dark spots, reduce pores, soothe sensitive skin, or you're just searching for the next breakthrough super star ingredient, ahead are the best Korean skincare products that experts and dermatologists swear by.
Power Calm Hydrating Gel Cleanser
"In Korea, a lot of dermatologists will say half of your skin concerns will actually disappear if you just get your cleansing routine right, " says Yoon. Of course, she's partial, but that's why she recommends starting any skincare routine with her own sulfate-free, low PH hydrating cleanser that's made with deionized water as well as peach, camellia, chamomile, and centella asiatica extracts. According to Yoon, it's "powerfully calming" and "won't disrupt your skin barrier. "
Living Cleansing Balm
Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC, recommends this oil-based balm cleanser which she notes is "great for your double cleansing routine, removing oils, impurities, and makeup from the surface of your skin. " Containing a mixture of fatty acid- rich sea buckthorn oil, olive oil, persimmon extract and vitamin E, Chang particularly likes that the cleanser has "anti-aging and skin brightening antioxidants. "
Treatment Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder
We did emphasize just how important cleansing is, right? Dr. Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, a dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center in NYC recommends this exfoliating option from renowned Korean beauty conglomerate Amore Pacific. It works as a powder-to-foam formula that uses papaya and green-tea-derived enzymes that will boost dull skin. Dr. Bae particularly "loves how portable this is, in addition to its effectiveness at cleansing. "
Acne spot dots are helpful, especially if you get hormonal acne or stress breakouts every now and then. "They're small, round and discrete, so you can easily wear them during the day, or stick them on while you're sleeping at night, " says Yoon, adding "and they really work!"
One Step Original Clear Pad
A facial toner pad is an easy way to start off the morning skincare routine. Dr. Chang recommends this COSRX one because it "promotes exfoliation using betaine salicylate and willow bark water, " adding that "the active ingredients help dissolve dead skin cells and de-clog pores. " Plus, it contains tea tree leaf oil, which Chang says will help fight inflammation and reduce those pesky breakouts.
I'm Real Red Wine Mask Sheet
Looking for a quick K-beauty pick me up? Try this easy and affordable face mask that's perfect for giving yourself 15 minutes of self-care time. "It immediately refreshes my skin and helps the overall appearance by diminishing redness and smoothing the texture, " one reviewer wrote.
AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
If you have acne-prone skin or you're looking to stop blackheads and whiteheads from forming on your face, Dr. Chang recommends this clarifying toner with mild AHA and BHA that will "help gently exfoliate and renew the skin surface. " Spray it onto a cotton ball or pad and swipe it across your skin after cleansing.
Miracle Seed Essence
This essence, formulated with hydrating lotus seeds, is highly-rated on Sephora. "A total game changer, " wrote on reviewer. If you're following the 10-step Korean skincare routine, pat this essence on after your toner, and let it sink in before moving on to serums and creams.
Cream Skin Toner & Moisturizer
According to Dr. Chang, "cream skin" is the new emerging K-beauty trend that's going to be everywhere in 2020. "Cream skin actually refers to a type of skincare product, which is a hybrid of a toner and lotion, to achieve more hydrated, luminous skin, " she explains. Bonus, this two-in-one combo helps simplify your routine, without sacrificing important steps.
Glass Skin Refining Serum
Trying to achieve that perfect "glass skin" that's been trending in the Korean beauty world? This refining serum gets you one step closer with a combination of ingredients like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and peach extract. "Whenever I use this serum, people always ask me what highlighter I'm wearing, " says Erin Stovall, associate beauty editor at O, The Oprah Magazine. "They're usually shocked to learn that it's actually a skincare product that's responsible for my glow and not a shimmery cosmetic! It shines through my tinted moisturizer, making my skin look smoother and more radiant. "
First Care Activating Serum
Dr. Bae loves Sulwhasoo's range of beauty options, "especially their activating serum, " noting that this premium Korean skincare brand makes "great products that are also cosmetically elegant. " This lightweight serum is perfect for putting on first thing post-cleanse and toner, as the JAUM Balancing Complex™ (a proprietary blend of five Korean herbs) will help prep your skin for the rest of your routine.
Vita Lightbeam Essential Mask EX
Help your skin get it's daily dose of vitamin C with this mask, recommended by Dr. Chang. "The hydrating sheet mask loaded with antioxidants like vitamins C and E to help repair, revitalize, and brighten the skin, " says Chang. "Vitamin C has been shown to fight harmful free radicals, protect the skin from sun damage and environmental pollution, lighten brown spots, and stimulate collagen. "
Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream
If you love matcha green tea, good news—Yoon says the superfood ingredient is also great for skincare. "Matcha's actually one of the world's richest sources of antioxidants, " she emphasizes, explaining why it's the star ingredient in this moisturizer. "Antioxidants have to be in the picture. " Lightweight enough for all skin types, Yoon says it's particularly great for sensitive skin.
The True Cream Aqua Bomb Aloe Vera
"I fell in love with the brand's original Aqua Bomb cream years ago and was super excited when I got my hands on this new version, " Stovall says about this popular line of products from the Korean brand belif. "The addition of soothing aloe makes my skin look plump and refreshed!"
Water Sleeping Mask
Over 150, 000 Sephora shoppers have favorited this water sleeping mask from the popular Korean brand Laneige. Dr. Chang notes that "it contains hydrating ingredients, like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and beta glucan, as well as hydro ionized mineral water to deliver high doses of moisture and minerals to the skin. " Plus, it does all the work while you're sound asleep.
My Watermelon Glow Vanity Set
This skincare set is the perfect way to sample Glow Recipe's best-selling products all in one. Comprised of the radiance-boosting Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, the hydrating Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist, and the soothing Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream, it's a great intro into the cruelty-free, fruit-friendly K-beauty brand.
Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Eye Cream
It's pricey, but this powerful eye cream—formulated with Korean red ginseng —might be worth the splurge. According to Dr. Chang, "Panax ginseng is an antioxidant that has been found to have skin hydrating and anti-aging properties, including increasing collagen and improving wrinkles. " Plus, as Dr. Chang points out, this eye cream also contains caffeine, which helps reduce swelling.
Volufiline15 Eye Essence
Yoon highly recommends this eye essence from the Korean mega spa to the stars, Eco Your Skin. "It's a hero product, " gushes Yoon. One of the key ingredients in this product—volufiline—helps plump up the skin, reduce crow's feet and wrinkles. Plus, the silky texture makes it a great primer before putting on your makeup.
Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30
"The Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment is great for anyone dealing with red or irritated skin, including those with rosacea, " explains Dr. Chang. "It contains centella asiatica complex which helps protect the skin from stress, reduce redness, and even out skin tone. " Chang recommends you use it after cleansing and moisturizing, before applying your makeup.
Brightening up Sun Cream SPF 50+/PA+++
Don't forget, sunscreen is skincare! In the K-beauty world, Chang is seeing more "combination sunscreens"—products that don't just deliver the SPF you need, but also come packed with skincare benefits. For example, Chang recommends this Dr. G option because "it's loaded with active ingredients, including hydrating hyaluronic acid, calming centella asiatica, and protective green tea and witch hazel. "
Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50+/PA+++
Another multi-functional SPF option, this antioxidant rich, moisturizing sunscreen comes recommended by Dr. Bae who loves the smooth consistency and easy to use formula that works especially well under makeup.
Repair Essence Mist
"The other product that I actually love using throughout the day is a mist, " Yoon says, recommending this Troxederm option that "she's absolutely obsessed with. " Yoon first heard about this viral mist from dermatologists in Korea, who would frequently use this product to help calm skin down after irritating treatments. The main ingredient in this product—troxerutin—is exploding in popularity among the Korean skincare world, per Yoon.
Color Control Cushion Compact Broad Spectrum SPF 50+
Just like "combination sunscreens" do double duty, K-beauty is also popularizing makeup that has skincare benefits as well. If you're looking for a little extra coverage during the day, Chang recommends this light coverage cushion foundation that not only provides SPF 50+ sun protection, but also contains botanicals that help hydrate, brighten and protect your skin.