Why A Multitudinous Korean Skincare Regimen (Like, 17 Products) Is Worth Your Time And Money

A day routine may have anywhere between five and seven key products. A night routine -- and this is where most people balk -- can be between six and ten products.
Publish date:
July 30, 2014
shoppables, skincare, Korean Skincare, skincare routines

I'm doing something I never thought I would do: I've started going outside naked. I hold my head high with a confidence previously unimaginable, admiring the smoothness reflected back to me in mirrored surfaces and smiling at passersby. Ahh, the freedom of no longer feeling the need to wear foundation.

It wasn't easy. It took work. My skin was previously a wasteland of severe dryness and irritation with a sprinkling of spots and discoloration. Sure, I looked OK with makeup on, but I yearned for a carefree "I'll be down in 10 minutes!" zest for life instead of the "I'll meet you there in an hour" life I was living.

It's not that I don't love makeup -- I absolutely do. I've been a makeup artist for well over a decade. It still delights and excites me. I was just tired of being a slave to it. What I was doing was not working for me, so I decided to make some big changes.

"Your skin looks great these days! What are you doing?" It's a question I've gotten from several friends and colleagues since I started my new skincare journey: a Korean skincare routine. When I would launch into an excited explanation of everything, I would inevitably get a dismissive, "Oh god, I don't have the time or patience for any of that. Can't you just tell me a lotion to buy or something?"

The Korean approach to skincare is much like a workout approach: it's about overall health and sometimes to look better naked. The North American skincare approach is akin to slapping on some Spanx and hoping no one notices what lies beneath. While the main core of the North America approach seems to be the barest of minimum all-in-one products and makeup, the Korean way has a heavy focus on perfecting the skin and eradicating flaws and skin troubles. The byproduct of actively addressing the overall health, just like at the gym, is you end up looking better naked, and by naked I, of course, mean makeup-less.

A typical Korean skincare routine is split into day and night. A day routine may have anywhere between five and seven key products. A night routine -- and this is where most people balk -- can be between six and ten products. Now, don't break out your best Edna Krabapple "HA" just yet. Each product has a very specific job and can do very specific things for you.

Since the skincare lineup has so many components, it's insanely customizable. Think of it like seeing a team of highly trained specialists all the same time, instead of one jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none general practitioner with a shoddy record. And, believe it or not, you can find solace and take pleasure in the act of it all.

Here's a breakdown of my daytime routine: I start with a gentle cleanser, followed by a treatment essence. Then I apply my toner; after patting that in, my serum follows; then a few drops of vitamin C serum. Next is an emulsion mixed with a few drops of argan oil. All of that is then topped with a cream. The most important finishing step is a liberal application of fast-absorbing broad-spectrum sunscreen.

These steps result in an incredibly smooth canvas should I choose to wear makeup that day. Taking the time to do this for myself in the morning is one part meditative, one part mental cup of coffee. I get to relax in the ritual, but also gear up for everything ahead of me. It's like that Rocky training montage, only for my face.

The nighttime routine is where I really find myself blissed out, ready to unpack the day in front of my mirror. I start with a double cleansing: first an oil-based cleanser to delicately remove all traces of makeup and sunscreen, followed by my regular foam cleanser to remove the oil. Next up is my treatment essence, toner, chemical exfoliant, serum, face oil, emulsion, and finally, my night cream.

That's just the very basic version. Three or four days a week, I add the extra steps of a sheet mask and a sleeping pack to complete the grouping. Each step is applied carefully, with a mixture of gentle effleurage techniques and patting that I find extremely soothing. With the application of each product, I'm able to sit and unbraid the tangle of that day's events in my mind while erasing the day's wear on my face. The results are both mentally and visually rewarding.

In as little as a week, you can see unmistakable results, and, in my case, allowing myself that time to mentally unwind resulted in a better night's sleep. It makes sense when you compare it to the hurried face-scrubbing and slapdash application of a single cream I used do before rushing into bed to just lay there and curse myself for not falling asleep fast enough. My skin looked like crap, and I felt like crap.

Since making the switch to a Korean regimen, leaving the house without makeup is no longer an exercise in humiliation or obsessively imagining everyone on the subway was staring at whatever eruption was currently chillin' on my face. I no longer have eruptions or flakes. Mt. Vesuvius and the tundra have been replaced with a smooth, clear brilliance that I didn't know was possible.

I used to have a thousand excuses why I didn't have time to really care for skin, but now I spend my time trying to convince others they not only have the time, but that they deserve it.