By Maarya Sheikh.

 In K-pop, image is everything. That’s why every K-pop star seems to have that flawless dewy complexion, commonly known as “glass skin” in the skincare community. K-pop’s popularity has made Korean skincare an international sensation - and for good reason! The typical Korean skincare routine can be anywhere from 5 to 10 steps, and the goal is hydration and rejuvenation for the skin. Here are some K-beauty fundamentals to know if you want the radiant, youthful complexion of a K-pop star. 

Gently does it

K-beauty has a simple philosophy: be gentle on your skin. Gone are the days when we would punish our acne-prone skin with harsh alcohol face washes and exfoliants like walnut shell scrubs. Sure, they might give your face that squeaky-clean feeling at first, but they can make things worse in the long run.

Physical exfoliants cause micro-tears in the skin’s surface making it more sensitive and blemish-prone, while alcohol strips our skin of moisture causing it to overcompensate with more sebum. To treat acne, try a fragrance-free salicylic acid cleanser and a wet konjac sponge for a gentler scrub.

Double cleanse to remove makeup

Makeup is fun, but it’s not our skin’s favorite thing. Remembering to wash it off before bed might be the single best thing you can do to prevent acne (even if it’s boring). Makeup-melting balms, cleansing milk or micellar water go on first to break down your makeup. After that, cleanse with a gentle foaming face wash, massaging it into your skin for at least a full minute. Voila, your pores can breathe again! 

The AHA moment

Alpha and beta hydroxy acids — AHA/BHAs — are a game-changer for getting youthful, bouncy skin. They even out skin tone and texture, fade lines and acne scars, and give your face that baby skin softness. AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid tends to be stronger, while BHAs like salicylic and beta hydroxy acid is gentler in comparison.

Exfoliants work by gently removing the top layers of dead skin and letting your skin regenerate. This is not a step that needs to be done daily, and it’s best to use them at night before bed. 

Hello, hydration!

Every step of Korean skincare emphasizes moisture, from hydrating cleansers and toners to yummy sheet masks. Having combination-oily skin myself, it was a challenge finding moisturizers that don’t feel greasy, and I’m tempted to skip it entirely during the humid months. Bad idea. Contrary to what most of us think, oily skin needs consistent moisturizing just as dry skin does.

My favorite ingredients are hyaluronic acid and squalane, because they work with all skin types to replenish your skin’s natural hydration. Follow them up with a thick, buttery moisturizer to seal the deal.

The order is important

With so many products, you might be wondering what the hell goes on your face first? Does it even matter? Skincare aficionados say YES. The correct order and time between steps ensures maximum absorption and effectiveness of each product.

Using a hydrating toner after cleansing preps it to absorb the goodness of everything that follows. With essences, serums and face oils start with the lightest (water-based) to thickest (oil-based). You know how if you put oil in water, it floats to the top? Use that to remember that oil goes on top of your watery serums!

Your routine should look something like this:

AM: wash, toner, essences or serums, moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup.
PM: double cleanse, exfoliate, tone, essences, or serums (or sheet mask!) > moisturizer. 

Sun protection is key

Sunlight gives us that mood-boosting Vitamin D and sunkissed glow, but long term exposure to UV rays causes premature aging, spots, and even skin cancer. It’s important to get outdoors daily, but make sure to put on sunscreen with at least SPF 30. This is especially important if you have Vitamin C serums, retinoids, or exfoliants in your skincare routine since they sensitize the skin and increase chances of sunburn.


There is no one size fits all routine

It can be overwhelming (and expensive) to follow the exact routines or get the same products as every skincare guru out there. Your skin is unique, and it’s important to get recommendations from people with similar skin types and concerns as you. Always research before buying; a holy grail product for one might be useless for another! Once you know what your skin needs are, you’ll be ready to get your glow on like a K-pop star.

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