I tried a 10-step Korean skin-care routine, and it actually made a difference for my skin - here's what it's like
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- K-Beauty's canonical skincare routine, the 10-step Korean skincare routine, is known and practiced world over for a reason.
- The process includes 10 products meticulously grouped to cleanse, balance, and protect the skin for a flawless complexion.
- Soko Glam, the Sephora for K-Beauty, offers curated 10-step routines by skin type for $199, as well as 1:1 Skin Consultations with personalized recommendations.
- I tried the 10-step routine to see what it's like in real life, and though there are drawbacks (like price and storage) my skin has rarely looked so bright, clear, or youthful. Find the products I tried below.
Since BB cream landed in the US in 2011, the fascination with skincare-first K-Beauty products has evolved into a full-blown stateside obsession.And though K-Beauty includes more than just skincare products, those are the ones that drive the most fervent fascination and loyalty.
Like cult-favorite French pharmacy products, K-beauty products prioritize the skin itself - the first defense - over reactionary products like makeup. Formulas are meticulously designed to target specific skincare concerns, are meant to be used in a specific order, and are packed with natural and inventive ingredients meant to boost the skin's elasticity, luminosity, and hydration - with common sense insurance like sun protection forming a non-negotiable pillar of each beauty routine.
Most famous of the K-beauty regimens is the 10-step Korean skincare routine, designed to doggedly address each concern in a methodical, perfectly balanced routine for a flawless complexion.
What's in the 10-step Korean skincare routine?
- Makeup remover and oil cleanser: removes makeup and draws out other oil-based impurities (sebum, SPF, and pollution grime).
- Water-based cleanser: dissolves the water-based impurities (dirt and sweat) that an oil cleanser may not pick up.
- Exfoliator: physical and chemical exfoliation that cleans pores, sloughs away dead skin cells, and helps other products absorb better and work more efficiently.
- Toner: removes leftover residue from cleansers, repairs the skin's natural barrier, and helps prep the skin to better absorb the following moisturizers.
- Essence: lightweight liquids packed with a concentrated blend of hydrating, anti-aging, complexion-enhancing ingredients.
- Treatments: boosters, serums, and ampoules designed to directly treat specific skin concerns like acne, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.
- Sheet Masks: concentrated versions of an essence designed in sheet form so that, with prolonged contact, the skin fully absorbs the nutrients and moisture.
- Eye Cream: hydrates and prevents dark circles, puffiness, and crow's feet.
- Moisturizer: seals in moisture to plump up skin and smooth fine lines.
- Sun protection: protects the skin from short and longterm damage from UV rays.
To see how it works in person, and whether the seemingly outrageous 10 steps really are worth the time commitment, hype, or cost, I tried out the 10-Step Routine myself through the Sephora of K-Beauty, Soko Glam - which offers four curated 10-step routines for common skin types, as well as tailored recommendations.
First, I took Soko Glam's free 1:1 Skin Consultation, which is where you sign up for a slot online and a company Skin Expert calls to discuss your current skincare routine, skin type, and skincare concerns. After, the Skin Expert sent me an email with a personalized product list curated for me, plus detailed instructions on which products to begin with, which products to phase in later, and how often to use each. (The box of products should also come with instructions for how to order each product, though each should also have this information on the bottle). You can continue to contact your Skin Expert for questions and concerns, too, and you'll retain the same Skin Expert to ensure holistic feedback.
In person, the 10-step Korean skincare routine is less intense than I imagined, and I ended up completely loving the ritual. I was already using a makeup remover, face wash, toner, moisturizer, eye cream, and sunscreen with intermittent (though admittedly random) face masks, and adjusting to the 10-Step routine was relatively painless. Knowing that someone else with expertise designed the plan for me, though, was what made getting a set of products the most appealing. I didn't have to do the legwork, but I felt confident they would combine well and ultimately work towards my skin goals.
All in all, it takes me about 15 minutes to complete the 10-step routine when I'm not supposed to be using a sheet mask (two to three times per week), and I've scheduled sheet masks for evenings where a little self-care sounds appealing. However, sheet masks get expensive, and I'll probably administer them less frequently and swap in less expensive alternatives in the future.
The major cons to the practice are that the bottles are plentiful - they take up shelf space and are not easy to travel with, something that became an issue for me as a frequent flyer that wanted to maintain a consistent routine. However, you can easily winnow products (there's also a 5-step routine, $115) or transfer some of the contents into travel-friendly bottles. Secondly, it's expensive at $199- and while, when broken down, you're not spending that much per product, you are buying them all at once, and you may need to replace them around the same time later. Lastly, you may not want to dedicate 15 minutes of the day to skin care.
The major pros are that with such an involved routine there's virtually no way your skin will not improve. I followed the routine dutifully, and I saw pretty fantastic improvements in my skin across the board: fewer breakouts, more even tone, a legitimate "glow" that was luminous rather than oily, and noticeably smaller pores. The 10-Step routine was a good intro to K-Beauty with the burden of research outsourced to an expert, and I discovered new Holy Grail products I definitely wouldn't have on my own. Most unexpected, though, was the benefit of creating a ritual of self-care. I genuinely look forward to the process - which makes me more consistent and my results more reliable - and, even if I don't re-up on each product in the future (and I probably won't, given the cost), I will continue to set aside the time each morning and night to invest in my skin. It feels good, and it's a nice way to begin and end each day.
If you're looking into creating a routine for yourself, you can take a skin quiz on Soko Glam (if you're unsure what your type is) and buy the 10-step routine the site has curated for your specific skin type. If you want something more personalized, you should sign up for a 1:1 Skin Consultation. Appointments are released on a weekly basis, with registration opening at 2 p.m. ET on the Thursday prior. Otherwise, email email@example.com to see what consultation you can receive there.
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