The Complete Beginner’s Guide to K-Beauty

Plus 12 Affordable Products to Start Your Own Korean Skincare Routine

One of the highlights of my summer was seeing Crazy Rich Asians. One of the funniest moments in the film was during a scene where the gaysian cousin (played by Nico Santos) is supervising the main character’s (played by Constance Wu) makeover. I laughed out loud when he said, “…and I would throw in a Korean snail face mask. Sweetie, your skin is so dry, it’s hurting my face.” Okay, maybe you had to be there. But as a fan and follower of Korean beauty, better known as K-beauty, this line was so funny, it hurt my face!

via YouTube

K-beauty is the is the latest beauty trend to hit my bathroom counter, littering it with a bevy of products touting a range of benefits. Most notably, glass skin or skin so clear and radiant, it appears to have a glass like finish. I’ve gotten so many more compliments and questions about my skincare routine, but whenever I start talking about K-beauty, people seem immediately intimidated. Sure, any skincare routine involving up to 10 steps and just as many products can seem time consuming and costly at first glance. But every minute and every dollar spent so far have been well worth how amazing my skin looks and feels everyday. So, I put together a complete guide detailing the full 10-step K-beauty routine, plus the 12 affordable products that I’m currently using and how I use them.

Before diving face first into K-beauty, I took the skin quiz at, which bills itself as “the most trusted source for Korean beauty products.” The skin quiz recommended products based on my age (25 – 34), gender (female), skin type (normal), skin concern (anti-aging/wrinkles, hello 31!) and how much time I was willing to devote to my routine (three, five or 10 steps). Then, it was time to go shopping!

Step One: Oil Cleanser

Double cleansing is the foundation of the K-beauty skincare routine and the real reason I think followers of it have such clear skin. It involves washing your face in two steps; first with an oil-based cleanser and then a water-based cleanser. I start with Etude House’s Real Art Moisture Cleansing Oil to draw out oil-based impurities such as sebum, SPF, and pollutants. I use my hands to smooth two to three pumps of oil on my face and neck. I like to let it sit on my skin for a few minutes while it dissolves the oil and makeup left at the end of the day.

via Soko Glam

Step Two: Water-Based Cleanser

After using the oil cleanser to remove the first layer of dirt and makeup, the water-based cleanser clears away any remaining water-based debris like sweat and dirt. I started with The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright Cleansing Foam and now, I use Skinfood’s Rice Brightening Cleansing Foam. The rice ingredient in both products removes impurities from clogged pores and gently exfoliates to buff the dullness out of skin. My skin feels so clean after double cleansing. The first few times I did the full routine, I seriously debated stopping there!

via Soko Glam

Step Three: Exfoliator

Once or twice a week, I use Skinfood’s Black Sugar Mask Wash Off Exfoliator to remove dead skin cells and prepare my skin to absorb the products to come.

via Soko Glam

Step Four: Toner 

I have to admit, I wasn’t keen on adding a toner to my beauty routine. I was expecting the harsh, drying astringent I used in high school. But K-beauty toners balance the skin’s pH levels so the skin stays hydrated. After shaking a quarter sized amount of Botanic Farm’s Avocado Honey Rich Toner into the palm of my hand and gently patting it into my skin, my face feels as hydrated as drinking a glass of water. If only I knew in high school what I know now! (This product is no longer available on, where I originally purchased it. I haven’t been able to find it for sale anywhere else online, but when I do, I’ll share an update!)

via Soko Glam

Step Five: Essence

If double cleansing is the foundation of K-beauty, then applying an essence is the “miracle step”. An essence is a concentrated formula that specifically targets wrinkles, fine lines and dull, uneven skin tones. It hydrates skin while aiding in cell repair and turnover. Like in step four, I shake a few drops of Missha’s Time Revolution The First Intensive Moist Treatment Essence into the palm of my hand and gently pat it into my skin. By this step, my skin looks bright and dewy. I totally understand how Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection.

via Soko Glam

Step Six: Treatments

These highly concentrated products, also known as boosters, serums and ampoules, are designed to address pressing skin issues. If you’ll allow me to brag for a moment, I don’t have any pressing skin issues. But, I am interested in trying Klairs’s Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum.

via Soko Glam

Step Seven: Sheet Mask

This is my favorite step of the entire routine. Once or twice a week, I take an extra 15 to 20 minutes to apply a sheet mask for extra nourishment and honestly, a little self-care. Sheet masks are saturated with treatments that address specific skin concerns, which is why I’m comfortable skipping step six. After applying the sheet mask, I set an alarm and spend the next 15-20 minutes doing a quiet activity like journaling or resting. Sheet masks can be purchased individually, but I prefer to buy them in bulk, like The Face Shop’s Facial Mask Sheets (15 Treatments) and treat myself to a new treatment every time. Even after penetrating my skin for 20 minutes, the masks are still dripping with product. I like to squeeze a little into my hand and pat a little extra onto my face and neck.

via Amazon

Step Eight: Eye Cream

The skin around the eyes is the most delicate area on the face and requires its own protection. I tap less than a fingernail full of Etude House’s Moistfull Collagen Eye Cream primarily underneath my eyes. It wasn’t until I started using this product that I paid close attention to the area around my eyes, so I honestly can’t tell whether any improvements have been made. Or when exactly those fine lines developed underneath my eyes.

via Soko Glam

Step Nine: Moisturizer

At night, applying a moisturizer is the final step of my K-beauty routine. I gently rub COSRX’s Ultimate Nourishing Rice Spa Overnight Mask all over my face and neck to lock in moisture and smooth away fine lines.  For daytime, I use Skinfood’s Avocado Rich Emulsion (an emulsion is a lightweight moisturizer) over my skin before moving on to the final step.

Step Ten: Sunscreen 

Applying sunscreen is the best and only proven way to prevent premature aging (and get skin like Gabrielle Union‘s). I rub a dime sized amount of Missha’s All Around Safe Block Essence Sun Milk over my moisturizer daily. What I like most about it is it absorbs quickly and without leaving a thick, white film on my skin, unlike other sunscreens I’ve tried. It also has a light, fresh scent that I really enjoy.

via Soko Glam

If you choose to try any of the products I recommend, I hope you love them as much as I do! But, just so you know, I may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Pricing and availability subject to change.

Leave a comment letting me know whether you’re already a K-beauty follower (and your product recommendations!) or you’re interested creating your own K-beauty routine (and any questions I can answer!). 


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