Megapost: How to Build an Asian Skincare Routine (without Breaking Your Face or Your Wallet)

I’m really sorry, guys. I should have done this a long time ago.

As a blogger, I find it really easy to get caught up in the specifics of product testing and forget to consider the bigger picture of what message I seem to be pushing. Then I get a rush of emails from readers who have gone and bought multiple products based on their inclusion in my current skincare routine, and I realize that I’ve messed up. I should have written a guide to building your own Asian skincare routine before I started raving about the products in mine.  Seriously, I’m sorry. Here it is, late, but better late than never.

Asian skincare routine building: Best practices

The reason I’m so alarmed by questions from readers who’ve copied my routine is that my routine is a routine that I developed for me. My past is littered with plenty of trials that ended up being errors and plenty of lackluster products left at the curb. While I absolutely believe that the products I like will work well for many other people who share my concerns, I’m not so sure about recommending my routine as a whole. It’s an example, not a template.

Full Korean skincare routine

Not everyone needs a skincare routine like this! I’m not actually sure anyone needs a skincare routine like this. I probably don’t need a skincare routine like this. But I like it.

Remember, the best thing about Asian skincare is its customizability. My routine works for me because every product in it (and that includes press samples I’ve accepted from Kbeauty shops) addresses my particular skin concerns (and fetishes…hello, propolis!). In order for Asian skincare to work equally well for you, you need your own unique combination of products. Following my routine when it isn’t right for you is probably just going to make your face mad at you, which will make you mad at me. I get shaky and uncomfortable when people get mad at me. Don’t put yourself in a position to get mad at me.

So what’s the first step in building an Asian skincare routine?

It’s knowing what changes you want to see in your skin.

Much like changing your diet or genetically engineering a new dinosaur species, developing a new skincare routine is first and foremost about solving a problem (or problems). Determine what skin issues you want to target. Do you have problems with acne? Dryness? Aging? Pigmentation? Your unique combination of concerns–and your sensitivities, if you know them–should drive your product selection. Keep track of the products you’ve used and their results (or lack thereof) so that you can get to know your skin better.

Once you’ve identified your goal(s), be like Zoolander at Derelicte. Pay no attention to the beautiful products that aren’t targeted for your skin concerns. Keep your eyes on the Prime Rib of Propecia, who allegorically (or metaphorically, or symbolically, I forget, bad English major! Bad! Bad!) represents your best skin.

One final note before we get down to business: Never introduce a whole bunch of products to your routine at once. Doing so means that if one of your new products doesn’t agree with your skin, you’ll have no idea which one it is. Add new products one at a time, and use them for at least a week or two before moving on to the next in order to give your skin time to react to anything it doesn’t like in the formulation.

Building an Asian skincare routine, step by step

Step 1: Sunscreen

When transitioning to an Asian-style skincare routine, I strongly believe it’s ideal to start with sunscreen. There are a couple of reasons why. One, sunscreen is literally the most important anti-aging product you can put on your face. No other anti-aging lotion or potion will do a thing for you if you don’t protect your face from UV radiation. And two, despite the importance of sunscreen, it is ridiculously difficult to find an affordable, accessible, and usable face sunscreen on the shelves of American drugstores. (Kiss my A-Sol, Neutrogena Ultra “Sheer” “Dry” Touch Sunscreen. You are made of stark white grease and lies.) So start, if you can, by grabbing a few Japanese sunscreens to try, ideally ones with the maximum protection of SPF 50+ and PA++++.

Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence 2015 sunscreen

I get nervous when I’m down to just one backup, so I always keep multiples on hand.

The sunscreen I use every day is Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++. It’s great for me, because my skin leans normal/balanced and the multiple hydrating layers and final moisturizing step in my morning routine keep the somewhat alcohol-heavy product from drying out my skin. But there’s no such thing as a universally perfect product! Many people with dry or dehydrated complexions shrivel up on contact with the Biore Watery Essence. If you’re one of those, you may want to start your search with a different sunscreen. I found Shiseido Senka Aging Care Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA++++ to be incredibly moisturizing, but with the same clear finish (no white cast!) as the Biore.

Step 2: Oil cleansing

Oil cleansing is the exception to the “introduce one new product at a time and wait at least a week before adding the next” rule. In fact, I’d suggest buying your first oil cleanser at the same time as your sunscreen. This is because when you wear sunscreen, you need a way to properly remove it at night. Habitually neglecting the nighttime cleanse can clog pores and lead to breakouts. On top of that, none of the other products you might add later on will deliver their full effects unless you’re applying them to a nice clean face. And many foaming cleansers don’t actually remove makeup and sunscreen well. Sunscreen is particularly stubborn. Many sunscreens are specifically formulated to adhere to your skin like a Secret Service agent to the President.

Luckily, hunting down a good emulsifying cleansing oil or balm isn’t usually as much of a challenge as finding a good sunscreen. Just grab a bunch of samples or jump right into a full size of whatever strikes your fancy. I prefer cleansing sherbets, which feel luxurious and deliver all the makeup-dissolving power of cleansing oils without any of the drippy mess. I used Banila Co. Clean It Zero for months, and I would have posted a positive review of it already if Kerry at Skin and Tonics hadn’t already given the definitive Clean It Zero rave review. You’ll find oil cleansing options at every price point and that fit just about every aesthetic. And if you want to stick with the local drugstore for this cleansing step, a few Western brands make cleansing oils now. Garnier’s cleansing oil was my first. Cold cream will also work for the sunscreen/makeup removal step of your double cleanse.

Step 3: Second cleanser pH check

Do you really need to replace your foaming cleanser? It depends on two factors. Okay, it depends on three, but the third factor is whether you care about optimizing your routine. For the purposes of this guide, I’m just assuming that you do.

The first factor to evaluate is whether your cleanser makes your skin feel dry, tight, or in any way uncomfortable after you wash your face. If it does, then it’s time to seek out a cleanser that won’t strip your skin of all its necessary lipids. The second factor is the actual pH of your cleanser, which you can sometimes find out by Googling, other times by emailing the manufacturer (and I personally think that if they won’t tell you, that’s just unbearably shady), or by getting a cheap pack of litmus strips and testing it out yourself. Is it higher than 5.5 or 6? If so, get off this path of harsh cleansing and sadly diminished moisture barriers and pick something milder. If it’s 9 or above, let me know so that I can buy a Mass for your poor acid mantle.

Unfortunately, most cleansers today are still formulated at quite a high pH. Even COSRX hasn’t come out with a gentle, low-pH cleanser (yet).

There aren’t all that many mild, low-pH foaming cleansers in the Asian skincare market, but there are some, and the ones I’ve tried are nice. If you’re feeling fancy, Missha’s Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Visible Deep Cleanser is pretty enjoyable. These days, though, I primarily use the blander and more economical Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam. If your skin is too sensitive to handle even a mild foaming cleanser, look into milk cleansers instead.

If you don’t feel the need to go the Asian route for a mere face wash, CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser is at an appropriate pH. I’ve used it. It’s fine. Neutrogena’s Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser in the foaming variety is okay, too.

I hope you’re still with me, because the best is yet to come.

Double cleansing with Hada Labo cleansing foam and Botanic Farm cleansing sherbet

I know cleansing and double cleansing are boring and tedious. That’s why I spice mine up with a variety of “cute” headbands. I may start collecting K-brands’ logo headbands, actually.

Steps 4 – Infinity: Treatment products!

Okay, you’ve got the boring, basic, hygiene-oriented steps out of the way. What’s next?


Now it’s time to tackle the infinite variety of treatment, hydration, and moisturization steps that the Asian skincare industry has to offer. Below, I’ll talk about acids, toners, first essences, essences, serums, ampoules, and creams: the meat of the famously customizable Asian skincare routine. I’m presenting them in the order in which you’d use them in your routine, more or less, but from this point on, there’s no universal reason to add these steps into your routine in any particular order. Listen to your skin and follow your gut. If your primary concern is moisturization (as in, dry skin that gets too little, or oily skin that always seems to get too much), you may want to skip ahead to creams before deciding whether you need anything else. If you want to tackle textural or pigmentation issues caused by aging, acne, or UV damage, on the other hand, maybe check out heavy hitters like acids or serums and ampoules first. Do what you want. Don’t feel obligated to have one of each type, and don’t feel limited to just one of each type. There are no rules. It’s all about your needs. Go wild! But one product at a time, obviously.


If you have serious skincare goals, then you’re going to need serious actives to achieve them. Besides retinoids, which I hesitate to recommend because I’m not super comfortable even with the idea of using them myself, the most serious actives available without a prescription are L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and AHA and BHA chemical exfoliants. But, and I can’t stress this enough, not everyone needs acids in their routine. Consider L-AA, AHA, and/or BHA if you’re struggling with the following issues:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles (L-AA, AHA)
  • Enlarged pores and/or sebaceous filaments, which most people know as “blackheads” (BHA)
  • Breakouts (BHA, AHA)
  • Sun damage, unwanted tanning (L-AA, AHA)
  • Hyperpigmentation caused by acne (L-AA, AHA)

Feel free to skip acids if none of the above are concerns. Due to the recommended wait times after application of each acid product and to the photosensitizing nature of some acids (AHAs), they can be more trouble than they’re worth if you don’t feel you need them.

COSRX chemical exfoliants

I’m really not foreseeing any way that COSRX won’t be making my AHA and BHA of choice for some time to come.

If, on the other hand, you decide that you do need some acids in your routine, be discriminating. Just because a product says “AHA,” “BHA,” or “Vitamin C” on the label doesn’t mean it’s formulated effectively. You probably know that I love COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid and COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, but there are a few other options you could try. Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum is well known, and Wishtrend-exclusive (I think) brand Chica y Chico makes a BHA cream, Beta Salic 2.0.

As far as L-ascorbic acid vitamin C goes, the C20 and C21.5 vitamin C serums (made by a sister company to COSRX, how about that!) are among the most famous. I like both. Formulated with 20% L-AA, C20 contains more stabilizing and anti-aging ingredients, but also has alcohol and may feel a bit sticky on the skin, while C21.5 is watery, totally non-sticky, alcohol-free, and 21.5% vitamin C, but lacks the stabilizers and additional anti-agers. There may be other vitamin C serums that I haven’t heard of, too.

C20 vitamin C serum

I was in love with C20 after a week of use. It’s just that good.

Once you’ve chosen your acids, take your time introducing them to your skin. Overexfoliation is unpretty and uncomfortable, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of babying to repair the moisture barrier damage that it can cause. Add one acid at a time and gradually work up from once-every-third-day use to once-daily use. Reduce usage if you notice any irritation or discomfort. Take time to learn and build your skin’s tolerance.

You’re making progress, and so is your skin! Now it’s time to turn to arguably the most skincaretaining part of the Asian beauty routine: toners, first essences, regular essences, serums, and ampoules! Below, I’ll explain the main points about each step. The rest is up to you. Start with one thing that you think will be most helpful, use it for a while, gauge the results, and decide after that whether you need more (and then more, and more, and more!).


Most Asian toners are nothing like your bracingly astringent Sea Breeze memories. Asian toners aren’t meant to dry up the last drop of oil or moisture on your skin and force it into a state of cowed submission (that always backfires later on). Instead, they’re meant to soften your skin and prepare it appropriately to receive the full benefits of whatever skincare products you apply afterwards.

There are two major classes of Asian toner. When applied with a cotton pad, both types can be used to remove any residue remaining after cleansing or exfoliation, but that’s not their primary function, and they can be sprayed or patted on with hands instead.

pH-adjusting toners, like COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner and Mizon AHA BHA Daily Clean Toner, are formulated to bring the skin’s pH back down to an acidic state after cleansing so that acids can do more during their brief window of effectiveness. Since I already use a low-pH cleanser, I don’t feel the need for a pH-adjusting toner, but they can be very useful if you’re still using a high-pH cleanser for some reason.

Hydrating toners from Korea and Japan

“Believe in a Bottle”? Yeah, I’m starting to believe.

Hydrating/prepping toners, like my Dear by Enprani Softfull Booskin, Skinfood Black Sugar Perfect First Serum, and Hada Labo Gokujyun Super Hyaluronic Acid Lotion (which, honestly, I think of as more of an essence due to its texture) are meant to lightly hydrate skin and make it optimally receptive for any non-acid treatment steps that follow. They may also contain moderate amounts of actives to treat specific skin issues. The Skinfood, for example, contains several melanin-inhibitory ingredients to help brighten skin. The more neutral pH and inclusion of nourishing ingredients in these toners make them unsuitable for use before acids.

I personally didn’t use toners until recently. Since they tend to have the lowest concentration of actives and beneficial ingredients out of all the Asian skincare treatment steps, they never interested me much. I’m appreciating their lightness and absorption-speeding capabilities now that it’s summer and I can’t stand feeling anything heavy or sticky on my face, though.

First essences

First essences are a special and very specific category. Like toners, they’re watery products that soften skin and help other products sink in better. Unlike a run-of-the-mill toner, however, first essences are characterized by a high amount of some kind of ferment extract or filtrate, usually yeast (galactomyces or saccharomyces, typically) and the inclusion of niacinamide and other melanin-inhibiting agents. The melanin-inhibiting ingredients help brighten and even out skin tone, while the ferments supposedly preserve suppleness and delay wrinkles by moisturizing and delivering antioxidants to the skin. Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence is a first essence, as you might have guessed. So is the famous SK-II Facial Treatment Essence and, less obviously, COSRX Galactomyces 95 White Power (uuuuuugh) Essence.

I used Missha’s original recipe FTE for a long time and then switched to COSRX Horrible Product Name Essence immediately after, but these days, I don’t really have a strong feeling one way or the other about first essences. If you’re intrigued by the ferment concept and prioritize getting an even glow, then they may be worth looking into, but they’re by no means a necessity. Should you want to check out the first essence scene, many of the major brands make them, and lots of the lesser known ones do, too.


In terms of real skin benefits, regular essences, like my Tosowoong Propolis Natural Pure Essence and the controversial Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence, are a step up from toners and first essences. While still quite hydrating and fast-absorbing, regular essences tend to be a bit thicker, ranging from a viscous liquid (one of my favorites of this type is A.True Real Black Tea True Active Essence) to a light gel texture. They usually deliver a higher dose of actives, antioxidants, and other helpful ingredients to skin.

Because essences still aren’t as intensive as serums and ampoules, I didn’t pay much attention to them until recently, either. Summer changed my mind just like it did about toners. When I’m already uncomfortably hot and sweaty, the last thing I want to feel on my face is layer after layer of heavy serum. There’s a reason we don’t wear wool turtlenecks in June. Essences are like the cotton T-shirts of Asian skincare. My point is that as you consider essences and other treatment steps, take weather and comfort into account alongside your skincare goals. You can (and probably will) change your lineup quite a bit as time passes and you develop ingredient awareness, so go with what will be most usable now.

Serums and ampoules

Technically, serums and ampoules are two different things. Serums are thicker and more viscous than essences and generally offer a higher concentration of actives, while ampoules are even more concentrated and often meant to be mixed in small amounts with other skincare steps, like my Leejiham Vita Propolis Ampoule. But the terms are so often used interchangeably that I just treat them interchangeably. A good serum/ampoule product is often a critical step in an effective skincare routine, and every Asian skincare company ever offers a wide variety of such products for customers to pick and choose from.

Korean serums and ampoules

My preciouses, every single one.

Though I’m glad I’ve chosen to stick to light-textured products like Mizon Placenta 45 Ampoule and Shara Shara Honey Bomb All In One Ampoule in my morning routine, I do still want the additional moisture and nourishment that the thicker Banila Co. Miss Flower & Mr. Honey Amazing Wonderful Heavenly Essence Oil provides, so I use that at night, when it’s cooler and I don’t mind being a bit layered up.

Emulsions and creams

Finally, we come to the last stage of the lengthy and wonderful Asian skincare routine. Emulsions and creams will probably be the most familiar product types to Asian skincare novices, since they’re pretty much classical moisturizers. Their primary functions are to add some more hydration to the skin and to lock it in with occlusive ingredients, preventing Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL).

Emulsions are thinner. In texture, they can resemble either a typical Western lotion, or a richer but still runny Asian essence. In general, they’re a lighter moisturizing step than creams and targeted at normal-to-oily complexions. In practice, however, let’s just say I’ve met a few emulsions, like Laneige White Plus Renew Emulsion, that actually made me oilier than most creams. Creams will be thicker but aren’t always creamy. Sometimes they’re quite watery, more hydrating than occlusive, silicone-based instead of oil-based, and known as gel creams. Others, like Mizon Returning Starfish Cream, are delightfully weird and indescribable. I prefer creams to emulsions because they seal things in better. People with very dry skin may choose to layer both!

Some emulsions and creams also deliver actives like niacinamide and adenosine. For me, ingredients like these are just a bonus, as the rest of my routine already contains the actives I want in several steps. If you’re planning a shorter, more streamlined routine, however, you may want to pay close attention to them so that you can get the most skincare bang for your buck.

And that’s it–the fundamental steps of the Asian skincare routine (okay, the acids are really more of a Western thing, but they are catching on) laid out to make your journey to your own ideal routine easier. If you’re still with me, I applaud your dedication. I’m sure you’ll be rewarded!

Yeah okay, you freak. But how am I supposed to TRY all this stuff to figure out what I really need?

Oh yeah. Actually trying stuff out.

If you don’t live in a pretty diverse area with a well established Asian community, it might seem like getting your hands on enough different products to try would be impossible. And how are you supposed to afford full sizes of a whole bunch of different things that might all turn out to be losers?

I have two words for you.

First word: INTERNET.

Second word: SAMPLES.

Samples are a huge thing, and they’re remarkably easy to get online. Sites like RoseRoseShop and TesterKorea sell them, often in packs of ten. Innisfree sells big, recloseable sample sizes of many of their popular items, and just about every brand out there offers trial sizes and travel kits. Online shops like Jolse (especially Jolse) hand samples out so generously that you’ll end up building a sizable sample stash after just a few orders. Hell, I found a 25-pack of samples of the incredible Su:m37 White Award Bubble Detox Mask on Amazon.

What I’m saying is that once you find your feet in the Asian skincare landscape, you’ll be in a position to try just about anything, no matter how far you are from the nearest Koreatown.

How far along are you in building an Asian skincare routine? Tell me what you’ve got going on in the comments!


85 responses to “Megapost: How to Build an Asian Skincare Routine (without Breaking Your Face or Your Wallet)

  1. Your posts just keep getting better! I admit I was guilty of trying ALL THE K-STUFFS at once (very bad for rosacea! Bad red panda!) but thankfully it was all Benton snail bee and I had no problems. I only started using Korean products a few months ago after becoming more aware of them through my beauty product swap groups on Facebook; lots of girls were Memebox subscribers with a lot of k-beauty/skincare stashes to sell or swap. I had my very first foray into k-beauty around a year ago though when I looked up bb creams for super pale pandas like me. Lots of people were recommending skin79 Hot Orange. I can’t believe how well it covers bad rosacea flares! I do prefer Missha Signature bb in #13 for non flare days as it’s lighter in consistency.

    So I’ve built a basic routine, borrowed and stolen from Skin and Tonics, Snow White and the Asian Pear, the Wanderlust Project, the Beauty Wolf and you:

    Cleanse with Konjac sponge and Hada Labo gokujyun foam
    Hada Labo gokujyun toner
    COSRX Galactomyces first essence
    Benton Snail bee skin
    Balance (Western brand) wrinkle freeze serum with 4% Syn-ake
    Benton snail bee essence
    Benton snail bee lotion (I’m seeing a theme here…)
    Sevendrops Alaska water eye cream
    Hada Labo SPF 50 UV Gel

    At night and on cold days (or dry skin days) I use Benton steam cream over my lotion.

    Once a week (starting super slow) I use COSRX Horrible Name AHA essence. It stinks, and I avoid it if I have any flarey bits going on. But it’s a real game changer. I have only had ONE flare since starting a Korean routine, and I think that was stress-and-perspiration related (very long day in a hospital ward, super hot, constantly sanitising my hands with alcohol and wiping my forehead to get sweat out of my eyes. LOVELY.)

    I’ve got some hauls coming which I’m very excited about: COSRX BHA, their little silk finger balls for exfoliation (I’d like to see if I can deal with my nose and chin SFs!), Mizon snail eye cream, Mizon snail intensive ampoule, Innisfree green tea seed serum samples, and a few other bits. The COSRX ceramides honey cream is the one I hope will be my biggest HG – reddit user and fellow FB skin/hair forum user Firefox-followed-by-numbers-I-can’t-remember is a big fan of ceramides for rosacea.

    I’ve only had one product so far which was a big fat NOPE for me, and that was Missha Long Name Ampoule, (COSRX Galactomyces was better for me) but my best friend is getting into Korean skincare so she’s going to have that bottle to try.

    I’m desperate to try sheet masks, and have found a couple to try which are coming in my haul. Laneige Water Sleeping Pack is next on my list!

    Sorry for the long comment!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ahahaha, I know Firefox 😀 She’s one of the most knowledgeable folks around, especially about rosacea.

      You’ve got an impressively solid routine! So many really reliable products. Well done.

      Which sheet masks do you have coming? I love love love them of course, even more than hydrogels right now!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi there, wow what a informative and overwhelming blog;) I’m turning 4-0 (I can’t say it aloud yet). I am always long for a good affordable skin care regimen. What I’m using is ok, but my skin is changing and I need help! I am blessed with younger looking skin, however, in the past few months I’ve noticed loss of elasticity in my skin. It is really bothering me. That and turning the age I am is making me super depressed:( I am Caucasian, a little sun damaged (I too loved the tanning beds), small amount of blackheads, enlarged pores, and starting to have some wrinkles between my eyes and in my creases when I smile. I know this is a it of info, and I don’t expect you to solve all my problems, but do you have any advice to something I can start with? I appreciate it!


    • Oh, and I did the TRY ALL THE THINGS AT ONCE!! thing as well. My first real AB purchases were a bunch of things from the Laneige Bright Plus Renew line, because they had just launched at Target and I was afraid of ordering from Korean sites back then. I’m lucky my face didn’t explode, but ultimately that line was such a pricey letdown for me 😢 Laneige and I are not meant to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Extra bit: (!)

    I got some Biore Watery essence just now in the mail! Very excited. It feels lovely and I think it will replace Hada Labo uv gel, which is just a tiny bit too much on the heavy side for me after all my hydrating layers. I can still feel Hada Labo on my skin now, an hour after application, whereas the Biore that I tested on my décolleté is totally undetectable!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yay! That sunscreen is just amazing!

      You’ve just reminded me that I have a bottle of the Watery Gel coming to me in the morning. I impulse bought it when it popped up in my Amazon recommendations. I’m super curious to compare the two!

      (And I also find the Hada Labo sunscreen just a touch too heavy unless I have almost no products on underneath. Pity.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I need to get the hang of remembering everything I meant to say. Fail panda.

    In the evenings I double cleanse. I use Banila Co. Clean it Zero Purity. The fragrance free option is always the one I pick in facial skincare if I can, after years of using Lush products I my face and trying to ignore fragrance sensitivity.

    I cleaned my face with bar soap for years, too. *sounds of crying pandas and tiny snails running (very slowly, obviously!) into hiding*

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great post (per usual!) ^^ I love skincare and I love having a monstrous regime tbh, when I was in primary school, instead of trying on my mum’s heels or lipstick I was begging her for a cleanser!! I’m 19 now but I’ve had a pretty solid skincare routine since the start of high school and started expanding it with Asian products about 2-3 years ago. I currently use:

    Kanebo Allie sunscreen
    Innisfree Volcanic Pore Cleansing Foam
    SkinFood Lettuce Cucumber Toner
    The Face Shop Whitening Lotion
    The Face Shop Pore Serum
    SkinFood Lettuce Cucumber Watery Cream
    Innisfree Green Tea Seed Moisture Cream
    Innisfree Ecoscience Eye Cream

    Supplemented with this stuff 1-3 times a week:
    The Face Shop Aqua Drop Sleeping Pack
    Innisfree Green Tea Seed Oil
    The Face Shop Black Sugar Scrub
    Biore Pore strips (but hope to try out your COSRX blackhead liquid soon!)
    Innisfree Super Volcanic Clay Mask
    Sheet Masks (usually Innisfree because the fit is best for my face, sometimes Etude House)

    …that took a long time to type out! It gets hard to explain to my friends how I maintain a nice complexion and how a proper skincare routine can be fun and enjoyable!! =_= I haven’t found ‘holy grail’ products for all of the steps yet though so I’m still shopping around and experimenting (which is pretty easy because my skin is not sensitive).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, I wish I’d been knowledgeable about skincare and had such a good regimen when I was your age, instead of using tanning beds and thinking soap was okay for my face :/ I bet you’re pretty inspiring to your friends!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Have you tried Missha Sun Milk? I currently use it and love how lightweight it is. I’m curious how it compares to Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence?


    • I would also be very interested in this comparison, as I started my AB journey with the Missha sun milk but recently bought the Biore Essence based on the glowing review here, and the fact that I’m way too impatient to allow the sun milk to dry properly every morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So I’m extremely new to the AB game. I’d been hearing about it for a long time but didn’t really pay attention until this year, after starting a PC skincare routine and realizing that my skin can look so much better than it ever has by using the right products.

    So anyway, I’m super guilty of reading this blog and a few others and buying things that don’t work for my oily/combo/acneic/PIH skin because they were raved about by people with other skin types. :/ (Damn that Mizon Snail Ampoule!). I’m also guilty of trying all the things at once. I thought I’d done that with my PC products but I’m realizing now that I ordered a few samples at a time and that worked so much better. Siiiggghhh. Now I’m just trying to work on the breakouts/PIH I got from thinking that coconut oil would make a fab oil cleanser/not using my Clarisonic/Mizon Ampoule gave me.

    So anyway, I’m slowly working on my regime. FYI the Biore Watery Essence is pretty heavy feeling on my oily skin + makes my makeup oxidize. Thanks a lot, Crazy Snail Lady!

    Lol I kid, I kid. All of this my fault for deliberately not buying the items that people with similar skin types like just because I love your blog and am also an idiot.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll preface my routine by saying that I have combo skin that veers on the oily side, and I also have extremely sensitive skin that is prone to redness and breakouts if irritated. Additionally, I’m in my 30s so have aging to think about. As such, my routine is rather long. 😉

    Oil cleanser: I’d been using Banila Zero for a long time and like it fine, but I’ve just started testing Whamisa’s Organic Flowers Cleansing Oil. You introduced me to the brand, and I love the pretty flowers on the bottles. So far, I’m loving the oil. My skin doesn’t mind botanical extracts, and I like that there’s no mineral oil or paragons.

    Foam cleanser: I’d been using Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick but have been underwhelmed. More recently, I’ve started using LJH’s Tea Tree 30 Cleansing Foam and it’s wonderful for my skin (and the pH is 5.5!). I might give my unopened box of Su:m37 to a lucky person.

    Next I use the lovely named A-Sol. Totally a HG product for me! 😛

    Then Benton’s Snail Bee Skin (toner).

    Currently testing which I like better–Missha’s Long Name First Essence vs. Cosrx’s First Essence–by applying one to each half of my face. Too early to tell which is the winner.

    Other potions and lotions, which vary depending on time of day, weather, and how my skin is feeling: Missha Long Name Ampoule (usually only at night), LJH 90 Tea Tree Ampoule (another HG for me!), IOSE Bulgarian Rose Serum, LJH Vita Propolis Ampoule (a HG product that gets mixed into serums, creams, BB creams), Benton Snail Bee Essence, Benton Aloe Propolis Gel, Missha Aqua Cell Snail Treatment (another HG for me), Dr. Jart Snail Time Returning Serum, and if I feel like an emulsion, one from Su:m37, such as the Softening Emulsion (or whatever it’s called) or the Essence or Treatment from the White Award Line. Note: I don’t use all of these at once. My staples are the Tea Tree Ampoule, Vita Propolis Ampoule, and Missha Snail Treatment.

    Eyes: Whamisa Eye Essence (smells like Fruity Pebbles, yum, and another beautiful bottle) + some eye mineral cream I bought from one of those stalls in the mall–you know, the ones where the clerks grab you by the wrist, force you to sit in their chair, then apply things that seem to perform miracles and persuade you that you should by them? I am gullible, I don’t like confrontation, so I caved. The eye stuff is actually pretty nice, but out of principle I won’t buy from them again.

    Moisturizers: For the morning, I use a snail cream, either Benton Steam Cream, Dr. Jart Time Returning Cream, or Missha Aqua Cell Snail Cream. At night, I use LJH Vita Propolis Cream and adore it. My skin luxuriates in putting that stuff on, and it smells so good. For a night mask, I’m currently using the LJH Probiotics Cream which controls sebum (thanks to the addition of plankton!) but also moisturizes. I’ve also just reordered Dr. Jart Firming Mask, which is one of my favorite sleeping masks.

    For SPF, I currently using Missha Sun Milk Mild. I just ordered a Missha overall sunblock for my body. My preferred BB cream is Dr. Jart Gold Label, but I also use the Hera Cushion and find it to be the best of the cushion’s I’ve tried (IOPE broke me out, and the CC Cushions are too pancake-y for my liking).

    I also use Cosrx BHA about 5 times a week (thanks to you, I converted from Paula’s Choice and am much more satisfied) and Mizon AHA about twice a week. I’ve ordered the Cosrx AHA and look forward to trying it. Finally, after reading the Wanderlust’s Project gushing review, I’ve placed an order for Biologique Recherché Lotion p50V (for sensitive skin).

    My favorite sheet mask at the moment is Klair’s, which is great for soothing irritated skin and is pretty cheap if purchased from Wishtrend (Sokoglam just started offering them at $2 a pop which is more expensive than Wishtrend but is nice as a back-up in an emergency). I also love the Whamisa masks thanks to you and the Memebox hydrogels. These are my top three for masks, but I have a stash of many others. LJH Tea Tree mask is pretty good for my skin too.

    Overall, at present, my favorite brands are Cosrx, LJH, Dr. Jart, and Whamisa. Of these, only Cosrx is reasonably priced… My Benton stuff comes from a set I ordered before I learned of their previous contamination fiasco. I’m happy with the Benton, but Cosrx seems to have dupes of the snail essence and the aloe gel, so I may try those next. (But I don’t hold the fiasco against them–I had bought a bottle of what turned out to be contaminated Mizon toner, so it can happen to any brand.) I actually caved and bought Whamisa’s body wash and body cream, and only one use in, I’m pretty happy with it, though this was a definite splurge.

    Even though my routine has lots of steps and products, I find it incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. Yup, I smile when I look at all my products and apply them. Best of all, they work, and I have the best skin of my life. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah, the two-week rule of introducing a new skincare product – probably one of the toughest rules to follow and that coming from someone who is generally okay with following rules.

    I started getting into Asian skincare products around March of this year and I’m quite thankful that I’ve read product recommendations from credible bloggers in this niche (You, Snow White and the Asian Pear, Fanserviced B, Skin and Tonics etc.) because it helped me skip that stage where you’re basically buying products just because they’re cute and quite new. That is not to say that those products aren’t beneficial in one way or the other, but it helped me narrow down my product list based on research you have all done for your posts.

    I’m still building my routine, but the products I’m currently using are:

    Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum
    Mizon Hyaluronic Acid Ampoule
    Scinic Honey AIO
    Mizon Snail Cream
    Mizon Snail Eye Cream
    Kojie San Sunblock PA 50+++ (soon to be replaced by Biore’s)

    On its way to my grubby hands are Hada Labo Foaming Wash, Hada Labo Light, Hada Labo Arbutin Milk, Evercos masks and I’m From Honey Mask.

    I’m trying hard not to have too many untested products on my basket, but I already have a CosRX Blackhead Power Liquid in there ready to be introduced after testing HL Light and HL Foaming Wash. I’m not making any promises though because as an everyday visitor of the AB subreddit and all these blogs, I’m very easily seduced by a sexy ingredient list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Honestly, this post is amazing. I definitely could have used this six months ago when I kind of haphazardly started buying almost anything that got a positive review from more than one blogger. Given that most of the bloggers I read don’t have very cranky, oily skin on top of living in a very humid, sub-tropical climate, my purchases were not the most well-thought out. Despite that, I’m really grateful for discovering Korean-based skincare routines when I did, as my enthusiasm to try all these pretty products finally accomplished the one thing that 15+ years of downright wretched skin never could: I’m actually consistently sticking with a skincare regimen. I’m pretty sure my friends laughed when I told them, but I actually celebrated when I hit 14 days of washing my face both morning and night. (Related, I want to thank you for writing that article on how you turned skincare into a self-care coping mechanism. It was infinitely relatable.)

    That said, I’ve learned a lot in the intervening time, both about my own skin and about the products I’m using. Right now I have an entire vanity of products, and I expect that only half of them are actually producing positive results. (See: all the gorgeous Hanyul products that just kind of exist within my routines because the packaging is so pretty and I love the scents.) I was pretty upset when I learned earlier this week that my Tatcha rice enzyme powder actually has an absurd pH and is probably doing more harm than good, because I’ve been using it for months. But I’d rather know than continue using it and upsetting my skin, especially now that I’m slowly introducing some COSRX products into my evening routine.

    In any case, thank you for this post. You’re one of my favorite bloggers, and I really appreciate all the time you invest in helping and reaching out to your readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Gorgeous post CSL!!!

    Do you ever sleep? LOL I see so many posts from you lately, I’m overwhelmed! 😉

    BTW I’d like to ask you about the Skinfood Black Sugar Perfect First Serum. I see that you use it as a toner. I’d like to know how would you rate it in terms of heaviness and stickiness. I love SF products and I might try this one too!

    Keep it up girl, your blog is awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks and haha–I don’t sleep as much as I should. But it’s not hard work at all. Blogging is so relaxing and fun for me 🙂

      The Skinfood BSPFS (sigh, long name again) is not at all heavy or sticky. It’s totally liquidy and sinks in very fast. You can also apply it with a cotton pad if you want it to be as light as possible.


  11. Stellar and thorough run-through on building a routine! You’re absolutely right with reiterating the fact that people need to find what’s suitable for their skin. It takes awhile to finally commit, and samples are one of your bffs, but even with all the hassle, it’s worth it (and fun to find new winner winner chicken dinners! ;D)

    Currently my routine is still developing. I was a well-acquainted user of DHC products (their catalogs will find you anywhere…) as a teen, thinking it’d be nice to finally stop my dry skin woes and help my acne (which it did to a degree), but that also meant buying whole skincare lines without really knowing me and straining my wallet like mad for only 3 or 4 products; Korean skincare has been an ongoing journey for the past two years as I’ve had more opportunities to better take care of myself – ultimately, I owe that to Skin and Tonics and The Wanderlust Project, because Kerry and Sheryll really changed the game for me.

    In haul news, I’m excitingly awaiting for my Cosrx BHA, A-Sol, Horrible Name Essence, and a whole lot more Cosrx, SUM, The Face Shop, and a boatload of sheet masks from Jolse and Wishtrend (your reviews along with Sheryll Renata’s helped me solidify my need for an approp. BHA; stress/hormonal-induced acne’s been getting worse!) The only active I’ve used for the past few months is C20, which is fantastic so far for my redness issues. However, I think it’s time to up the ante and dampen anything before Papule-city colonizes my face.

    Here’s a gander at my routine!

    AM Routine:
    1) DHC Olive Soap then Simple Micellar Water
    2) C20 (wait for 10-15 minutes aka go make breakfast lol)
    3) Hada Labdo Gokujun Lotion
    4) Shara Shara Honey Bomb All-in-One Ampoule
    5) Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
    6) Biore Aqua Watery Essence (I have the 2015 version waiting for me at homee BHA > AHA then my serum/ampoule party?

    When I first forayed into Kbeauty, I did base a lot of my product buys on S&T’s recommendations (I used/am still using Benton, Biore, and Hada Labdo lol.) Thankfully that impulse had nice results; however, what if none of it had worked? $$$ down the porcelain throne </3

    It's easy to forget how different we all are when you see a rave review. I'd love it if my skin just told me what it wanted or there was a one-size fits all kit delivered to your door when you hit puberty. Then again, it'd be much more boring too that way, so kudos on getting that across, Crazy Snail Lay-day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post, thank you 🙂

    Like many others I first came across Korean products because I am super pale and their bb creams just lend themselves perfectly. I have sensitive combination skin which is gradually becoming more balanced.

    Current routine:
    Innisfree apple juicy oil cleanser
    Innisfree apple juicy liquid foam (confirmed acidic through email enquiry)
    Cosrx aha/bha toner
    Cosrx snail 96 essence
    Shara shara honey bomb
    Organic maracuja oil
    Tony moly dual effect sleep pack

    I think the Tony moly pack is my favourite thing of all time!!

    After reading your post I think I need to reassess the acid toner and what it is adding to the routine

    Liked by 1 person

      • Worth an email, I sent an enquiry through their website, response took a few days but I got it 🙂

        I wouldn’t say it’s my perfect product, but it does the job and doesn’t seem to cause problems. I’m thinking of trying the innisfree tangerine pore foam next as my main gripe is the bottle, the spout and to get clogged quite easily


  13. Hi, I am just wondering, what is your understanding about pH? When you are talking about pHs, you make it sound like the lower the milder? Also about high pHs being harsh, if I should get rid of anything higher than 6, how would something with a neutral pH like water be harsh?

    Liked by 1 person

    • pH matters in two areas: foaming cleansers and chemical exfoliants. For chemical exfoliants (AHAs and BHAs), they must be at a low pH, ideally between 3 and 4, with less than 3 being potentially irritating and higher than 4 losing effectiveness).

      In foaming cleansers, the pH matters because a healthy acid mantle is naturally slightly acidic, in about the range of 4.5-6. Most cleansers are quite alkaline. The reason this matters with cleansers and not plain water is that alkaline cleansers are weakening your acid mantle at exactly the same time that the surfactants and other cleaning agents in the cleanser can bind to and strip away the lipids in the acid mantle. Those lipids are necessary to hold moisture into your skin and keep bacteria out. pH doesn’t matter for non-cleansing, non-exfoliating substances like water, lotion, etc. because there isn’t a mechanism for the excessive removal of lipids from the acid mantle involved.


  14. This is such a great Asian skincare primer! I’m going to bookmark it so when people ask me about the “Korean routine” I’ll point them to you! I was rather underwhelmed by Laneige too. I have the Bright Renew Emulsion and it doesn’t really do much but moisturize. And the Firming Sleeping Mask is SO heavily perfumed. I kind of feel that the bigger brands rest on their laurels a bit since they are sure to be able to get customers through marketing(?).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree about the bigger brands. I feel the same way about most Missha products. Completely underwhelming. They remind me of the overpriced and unimpressive Western department store brands.


  15. I’m at the stage where I finally have my routine all filled in (at least one product for every step,) my PocketDerm going on, my acids added back in along with the PocketDerm with no bad reactions (woo-hoo!) and I’m starting to glow like I’ve never seen me do before and now…..I WANT TO OWN ALL THE THINGS!!!! Budget has been a huge issue for me, which is just as well, as I don’t patch test and have been immediately adding as many products as I’ve been able to order each paycheck because I am stupid and so far my skin hasn’t exploded so wth. Not even kidding, if I was able to order four new products and they came in the same box, I added four new products to my routine that night! But now that I know what ingredients I like, I care almost nothing about brand names or holy grails (because I’m a newb, how would I know?), I just want to hoard and own and try as many products as possible. I hit that RRS sale HARD, practically robbed the place, did my frugal Virgo product junkie heart proud and got what will probably be 4-6 months worth of skin care for less than a bottle of Sunday Riley Luna Oil (suckahhhs!). I also bought TONS of samples to try.

    My skin is still in a stage of rehabilitation (?) while the routine undoes decades of no and the prescription does its work, so as far as I can tell at this point, what matters is keeping up the routine and getting my skin optimized before I can start telling which product is worth splurging on and coveting. I think it’s going to be a while before I can tell which precious ampoule does the better job of fine-tuning my glow, and in the meantime, Mr. Flower and Miss Honey would be wasted on me. It’s weird, because it makes total sense to me that there would be a stage of “Now we all chill while waiting 6 weeks for my PIH to calm the freak down, and in the meantime I’M GOING TO TRY ALL THE THINGS” but nobody’s really talked about that. Maybe it’s just because I have so much damage that needs undone? But honestly, over the last month or two my combo skin has turned normal on me, my pores have become smaller than I ever thought they could be, and my skin tone has dropped at least a shade lower than it’s ever been in my life. I don’t even know how pale I get! I feel like I’m at the part of “The Biggest Loser” where they send you home to diet and exercise on your own and the cameras don’t show up again until the big reveal 3 months later. I’m going to wait to buy nice clothes until I hit my goal weight!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My biggest let down has been benton, I’d read so many rave reviews that I ordered both the snail bee essence and snail bee steam cream – both caused irritation and break out 😦

    I’m so glad you are blogging about cosrx, I’ve been using their products since my very first korean haul and love them, but there are very few reviews out there. I can’t wait for the release of their mild cleanser.

    I currently don’t include a sunscreen on a daily basis (please don’t shoot me!!) Because I barely see the light of day with my job, I think the bit of British uv it does get is probably required for vitD. My foundation (bare minerals bareskin serum foundation) is spf 20 and I use Riemann p20 underneath if I’m off work and outdoors (I have literally never burned with that stuff, it’s amazing). I think biore watery essence is next on my list though as I’ve got my honeymoon coming up


  17. I am blown away! I am 53 and my skin care routine has always been minimal. Cleanse, tone and moisturize. I am now having problems with under eye wrinkles and whiteheads in the T zone. I want to try getting into this skin care but I don’t know if I can remember all the products and which you do first! Any suggestions for someone like me? Is there perhaps a way I can write down the steps in the order I should do them? Any suggestions in particular for the eye area? Thanks! So glad I read your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I use a retinol cream; where would this fall in line with the skin care routine? I tend to use it after cleansing and before a sheet mask. Is this okay?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It’s VERSO’s Super Facial Serum retinol 8; I’m also using prescription 4% hydroquinone temporarily to fade some melasma on my forehead. I usually wash, apply HQ, then retinol, then moisturizer. Where in this routine do you think sheets masks would fit? BTW I’ve learned so much about Korean skin care from you. Thank you!


    • Okay, I think that the order you have your products in looks good to me (though you may want to check with your derm if you aren’t sure). I would do sheet masks about 40 minutes after your retinol so that the retinol has time to penetrate, and then do moisturizer after the sheet mask so that it can seal in all the hydration. I hope that helps!


  20. It does help; I’m slowly making my way to adapting a routine likes yours (my American dermatologist is not happy lol) – my melasma is mild, but I have REALLY pale skin. The HQ is working wonders, but when I’m done, I’m switching to Vitamin C. I just ordered a bunch of products from Jolse on your recommendations (you and I have similar skin types and concerns). Your blog is SO HELPFUL. Thank you for all the info.


  21. Well written and very comprehensive post!
    I approach the Korean skin care layering regime quite differently I think, though. I happen to have written about this just recently, (…/layering-skincare,) so I’m quoting: “[…] if for nothing else, the addition of toner, essence, serum, ampoule or face masks is all about consistencies. […] As someone whose skin is prone to clogging, light consistencies are vital. […] with the Western range of skin care products I would be able to target either my oily skin concerns, or anti-aging – but not both simultaneously. Whereas by combining several lightweight products at once, anything is possible!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you–that’s definitel a valid approach! Consistencies are what I’m really appreciating about my summer routine. Lots of very light products that I can stack without feeling greasy or overloaded.


  22. Pingback: Budgetting for Beauty | Form & Fluff·

  23. Pingback: Eastern Promises Part 1: Translating Between the Asian and Western Skincare Routine | BeautyandtheCat's Beauty Blog·

  24. Hello Crazy Snail Lady! I am crazy about snails too. I am also crazy about vitamin C, and am planning to add the OST C20 serum to my routine, and was wondering after doing an almost unhealthy amount of blogsurfing, doesn’t niacinamide react with L-Ascorbic acid? I really want to try the Missha Time Revolution treatment essence but it ain’t nowhere near as important as the vitamin c serum. Please let me know! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Niacinamide doesn’t exactly react with vitamin C serum. The reaction that happens is the conversion of niacinamide to niacin due to the low pH of the acid product, and that may (*may*) cause some warmness and flushing in some people but is otherwise harmless. As long as you leave about 20 minutes between your vitamin C and your niacinamide, you should be just fine!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hurray hurray hurray! Sure, facial treatment essences may not be the wig that transforms Miley into Hannah Montana. But I bet it makes ya feel hella fancy and that’s what it’s really about.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. Also thanks for replying! You and a handful of others are blog goals. Can’t wait to start using actives and up my skincare (and skin) game! Also I just oil cleansed for the first time and it feels amyaaaaaaazinggggggg! I thought being a guy, who happens to not use makeup, it was an unnessary step. Now I don’t ever wanna look back! (Sponsor me oil cleanser brand, sponsor me!)

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Pingback: A Visual Guide to the Korean Skincare Routine·

  27. Hello! New reader here but this blog is fantastic! I recently introduced BHA to my skincare routine (I am usually quite sensitive but the Cosrx seems to be fine!). I am ready to add more products and really make my skin glow! I have a few questions –

    1. You mentioned that if you use a low PH cleanser you don’t need a PH adjusting toner? So if I were using say the Miracle Rose Stick cleanser I wouldn’t need to use a AHA toner (I am presuming a AHA toner is a PH adjusting one, or is that not the case?)

    2. I have the BHA Power liquid but now I want the AHA whitehead one you mentioned above too. I think BHA is more useful for my blocked pores but I have some other concerns my AHA might work too. Do you use these together or separately?

    3. I have the hydrating side of the skincare sorted but I am still a bit confused in regards to the cleansing and actives side. Does this routine make sense (for the evening – I doubt I have time in the morning to do all of these steps, but do you need to use Vit C/BHA twice a day for it to be truly effective?).

    – Cleansing Oil
    – Stick Cleanser (low PH)
    – A toner (like Skin Watchers) or a spritz
    – BHA liquid – wait a bit – (when would the AHA go on?)
    – OST Vitamin C

    Then everything else.

    Thanks very much 😀


  28. Pingback: Restarting My Skincare Journey — | Really GotNoCloo·

  29. Hi there, I have a question about pH that no one seems to address: Is it necessary/helpful to ONLY use products that are under a 5.5 pH? Everyone talks about the cleanser and toner, but no one seems to discuss the pH of ampoules or creams or essences or what have you. I’m SICK of my dull, acne-ridden, acne-scarred, oily, dehydrated skin, and I’ve tried a million things to fix it, but nothing’s worked. I think pH balancing is my last hope, but I’m scared of trying any new products because I don’t know the pH and I can’t just buy them, test them, and send them back…. Please help!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cece! No, pH of things like ampoules etc. doesn’t really matter unless they contain pH-dependent ingredients.

      Cleanser pH matters because the disruption of the acid mantle pH *simultaneous to applying cleansing ingredients* can lead to increased drying and irritation.

      L-AA vitamin C (like OST C20 and C21.5), AHA and BHA pH matters (should be between 3 and 4, vitamin C can be even lower for max effectiveness) in order to properly work.

      Lotions and serums and stuff, don’t worry about it, doesn’t matter! 🙂


  30. Hi Ms Fiddy, can I know where can I get the A.True Real Black Tea True Active Essence and Shara Shara Honey Bomb All In One Ampoule? I know that Shara Shara can be bought from glow recipie. I am wondering if you got yours from other places.

    Thank you! Stephanie.


  31. First of all THANK YOU! This is the first out of many post that have really, really helped me understand what I’m looking for. I’ve always had good skin, but I know that there are things I need to work on. It gets a bit dry, and I have blackheads on my nose and chin! The only question I have is how exactly do I put the products in order? Toners before essences or oil cleanser before creams. I also know the routine will change from night to day. Could you please give me a basic night/day guideline in what I order I should be using these products? Thank you so much!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hiya! I know it can get confusing, especially since product types aren’t always consistent across different brands. There are three rules of thumb that will help:

      1: Think of chemical exfoliants like AHA and BHA as extensions of the cleansing step. They go right after cleansing.

      2: With chemical exfoliants, go from lowest pH to highest.

      3: With the rest of your routine, go from thin/watery to thick/creamy.

      I hope that helps!

      Liked by 2 people

  32. Pingback: Beautiful Skin in 1, 2, 3….4,5, 6 etc – A COLLECTION OF THOUGHTS BY A NOT SO STEREOTYPICAL SOUTHERN BLACK GIRL·

  33. Hello!

    I love your blog! May I just say I am nigh-addicted to my morning “coffee reads” of it, Snow White & The Asian Pear and ColorCrush. As a dry-to-very-dry skinned, sleeping pack- and tretinoin (0.1%)-obsessed individual, I struggle to find both enough moisture in products, and sunscreens that don’t look like an oil slick, simply because they are meant to be ‘moisturising’.


    The reason for my ‘comment’ is to ask you whether you were aware of any UK-shipping websites that stock this intriguing sunscreen, as the don’t have it on the only 2x I am aware of (Jolse & WishTrend) and ordering from Amazon US is unthinkable for me, as it always tends to create customs-related issues & charges, which end up ‘breaking the budget’. Boohoo.

    I am obsessive with sunscreen use and its 2-hourly reapplication throughout a given day (…only downside – I get through my usual 148-mL tube of Paulas Choice SPF50 broad spectrum sunscreen or my 118-mL tube of Jack Black SPF45 borad spectrum oil-free sunscreen, in 20-25 days…), so any non-tinted sunscreen product (a male, no-makeup individual here) that receives star reviews, I am immediately drawn to trying.

    To wrap this up, I would be more than grateful if you could help out an Asian & Science-based skincare obsessive reader with my issue.

    P.S. I had posting/log-in issues & ended up posting a comment, which can’t see, so it may have wound up in your spam box, so please ignore my previous comment, this is the comment I wished to make initially. Thank you.


  34. Why is the Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence controversial? I just ordered some but don’t want to use it if there’s a problem with it.

    Also, how can you tell the difference between a pH-balancing toner and a hydrating/prepping toner? I currently use Etude House Wonder Pore Freshner as a pH balancer. It’s about to be replaced with either Secret Key Black Out Pore Clean Toner or Benton Snail Bee High Content Skin. I just introduced BHAs into my routine and want to make sure everything goes in the right order. Is there any indication on the packaging, or is it a matter of just knowing the products?


    • Hi Percy!

      So the Benton controversy stems from two distinct things. One is their overall stance on preservatives in product. They don’t use standard full spectrum preservatives in their products, but rather weak natural preservatives. So there tends to be a higher chance of spoilage in their products if shipped or stored in suboptimal conditions, like if they’re exposed to heat for a prolonged period of time (say, shipping from Korea to the US in summer). The other is an event that happened a couple of years ago, in which a specific batch of product (I believe it was the aloe propolis toner but could be wrong) was recalled due to contamination involving visible mold growth in the product. There are horror stories floating around from people who’ve used the products, including my good friend Tracy at Fanserviced-B.

      As for the products now, plenty of people use them, love them, have no problem with them. Others choose not to because of the perception of elevated risk. This is me. I’ve been through several bottles of the essence in my time but 1) was super sick of worrying and checking for growths in it all the time and 2) noticed that my last bottle had changed color substantially over time, so I stopped using them. I must say that it really was a difficult choice to make because I happened to like the essence quite a bit.

      pH-balancing toners, besides having a lower pH, often have AHA and/or BHA ingredients in them though at low or undisclosed concentrations. Acid toners usually belong in this category. They also don’t usually have many “nourishing” or moisturizing ingredients. Hydrating/prepping toners will have more of a focus on humectants and nourishing ingredients and are often at a pH closer to neutral.

      Remember also that you don’t need a pH adjusting toner–don’t feel you need to get one unless you are finding that your BHA is not effective enough.

      I hope all that helped!


  35. hi snail lady! i have oily-combination skin, which is also acne prone.. i wanted to start my korean skin care routine.. so far, this is how it lays out.. do you think it’s okay?

    banila co clean it zero
    the face shop rice water bright cleansing foam
    mizon aha bha toner (to lower the ph of skin)
    it’s skin vit c serum
    missha FTE essence
    the face shop chia seed hydrating toner
    missha time revolution night repair science activator borabit ampoule
    mizon hyaluronic acid 100
    mizon all in one snail repair cream
    mizon snail repair eye cream
    11.mizon snail repair gel cream
    mizon good night white sleeping mask

    i also wanted to use:
    missha all around safe block essence during the day and
    mizon acence blemish out pink spot for acne spots

    i know, i know.. it’s more than 10 steps.. lol! i may be going over the top! do you think the proper arrangement is okay? and how long should i wait before applying each product?

    hope you can help me.. thanks in advance! 🙂


    • Hi! Couple of notes–I’ve tried that TFS cleanser and tbh I wasn’t very impressed with it. I found it pretty harsh and seemed to leave a soapy residue (which may be on purpose to create the “whitening” effect) but then again, others do like it, so YMMV. Also not sure whether the It’s Skin vitamin C serum is properly formulated (15-20% L-AA, pH <4) to have optimal impact. I think the order of the rest of your products is good although it is a lot to introduce at once. Try waiting at least a week in between introducing each new product to make sure that you won’t break out and will be able to quickly identify and remove anything that triggers your skin. As far as wait times between products, the only one that you need a wait time after is the vitamin C serum, which if properly formulated will need 10-15 minutes to fully absorb. Good luck!


  36. Hi there,
    I love your blog! Loads of information! I am always looking to better my skin. I am turning 40(ugh, I hate even typing that) and my skin is changing. I am Caucasian with normal skin. I have noticed I. The past few months I am loosing elasticity. I have one are I’m really annoyed about for wrinkles, between my eyebrows. I have been blessed with pretty good skin and am sensitive to anything thus far. I was wondering if you could suggest anything affordable for me to try. I know to start one new product at a time, but I’m ready for a change! I appreciate any advice you could give me;)



  37. Hi,
    I am still pretty new to the Korean skincare routine. I read your blog and it is very informative but I need some advise as I dunno which shud come first. Right now, I have the following:

    Pm routine
    1) makeup remover
    2) cleanser
    3) Cosrx Bha blackhead liquid
    4) Cosrx Aha (hardly use mb once a week)
    5) Cosrx aha Bha toner (after 30mins)
    6) snail essence
    7) snail cream

    I recently bought the C21.5 Vit C serum and Missha Fte intensive. Could you advise me on which steps should I insert those in? And how long shud I wait in between due to the ph levels? Also what is your best advise for Am routine if I dun want to use the aha Bha in the am routine?

    I frequently have blackheads and black pigmentation after the blackhead scars and also I am trying not to have wrinkles (so far they are lines on my forehead and am trying my best not to have them anymore) haha

    Appreciate very much for your help in this.


  38. Love your blog.

    Just started using klairs juicy drop serum (it says: LAA-that’s most effective at a pH below 3.5 ), mizon AHA/BHA, missha FTE, and belif moisturizer.
    Can you please tell me the step and the order? Also, can i mix the serum with belif moisturizer?
    I appreciate any advice you could give me, thanks in advance!🙂


  39. First of all, unnie… im a big fan of ur blog!
    I met cosrx thanks to u too, n idk how to express how grateful i am bcs cosrx is my skin savior now. I’ve finally found my skincare holy grail ! ansjsjrjkrskjdjefgh.
    But then heres my dilemma…
    Im currently using cosrx natural bha returning a-sol, but lately so tempted to try C20 as some of my acne scars still there (tho its not as severe as before thanks to a-sol)
    Do u think its okay to combine these 2 (acid) products ? Or should i focus on only one ?
    Cosrx is greaaaaaaaatttttt but im so tempted to C20 TT.TT (im not patient enough to get rid my acne scars TT.TT)
    I’d rlly love n appreciate any advice,
    Thanks a lot in advance 🙏
    And thanks a bunch for creating this blog :”)


  40. Thank you for this post. I kinda panicked because I wanted to start an AB routine but I was sooo clueless. I thought my skin was doing ok until I read somewhere that I can get rid of closed comedones AND then I read your blog post. I’ve been reading your posts for already 30 mins and omg just wow. I have access to these via online sellers but were ignoring them before. I hope they work out for me as they do for you. I know that it’s YMMV but still. I’m hoping. 🙂


  41. great post! and just on time for me 🙂
    quick question – if I’m using the COSRX AHA/BHA toner, should I use it before using (one of the) power liquids (I have and need both), or after?


  42. In my skincare routine, I apply the Mizon snail repair intensive ampoule right after the toner. Should I use an essence in between or is this not a necessity? I was using the Missha FTE but it made me break out like crazy so I skipped this step. Also I use the ampoule 1-2 times a day. I read ampoules are only supposed to be used occasionally so I’m wondering if I’m overdoing it..


    • If what you’re doing is working for you, then go on doing what you are 🙂 There are really no rules about how many products to put in your routine or anything like that–it all varies depending on your skin’s needs! And I am a bit skeptical of claims that ampoules should only be used occasionally. Any skincare should be used consistently to be effective, so unless the ampoule has something super strong in it like high percentage of exfoliant or retinoid or something, there’s no reason not to use daily.

      (Though I’ve seen some ampoules that come in such tiny bottles for such high prices that it simply would be impossible to use them daily, but that’s not so much about the product as it is the marketing!)


  43. Hi there! Nice overview. Sensible advice, good quality products recommended, all delivered in a style that seemed like I was hearing from a younger friend or family member. I had discovered Korean skincare when taking some business trips to South Korea in 2013. After a facial and a stint in the jjimjillbang bathouse onsite in the hotel, I was really surprised at how my skin changed with the products they used. With humor, I think I shocked them in the bath house with my Hammam style 3-washings-&-rinses before immersing.( Previous road trip lesson, haha! Just wait ’til you go Istanbul, young lady!) The attendants deemed me not lacking too much sense for an old white lady, so they chatted about their skin care. I ended up going to a department store with one to visit her sister and received a firm 20 minute lecture about the evils of my skincare routine and the joys of Sulwhasoo’s skincare line. I walked away with the set they had on special, and a generous handful of samples. I asked what was the one thing that I should leave Korea with: She smiled and gently said: “The body is first” – A delightful puzzle of answer I spent the next 3 years figuring out. Like you, I did not go cold turkey into the entire Sulwhasoo line all at one. I started with the double cleanse, then added the serum, then the others, 1 month at a time. I was convinced after that first set was depleted, I was onto something GOOD. I’ve tried many samples from other lines, and I found my balance of products that work for me. I am fair skinned, with tendency to redness when irritated; sensitive/combination with a rather oily t-spot, few wrinkles, but some collagen loss at my age. My product line up is: Camellia seed oil ( USA grower), Ricewater bright cleansing oil by The Face Shop, or Nature Republic green tea seed oil, then The face shop Ricewater bright foam, or Sulwhasoo’s snowise cleansing foam; Sulwhasoo Balancing H20, the first essential serum, then Inta’s broccoli anti-aging serum or UNIK’s Propolis serum or UNIK Rose galactomyces serum, depending on my skin’s wants. Emulsions are either Sulwhasoo or Nature Republic’s Super Aqua Max for combination, then finish with good ol’ Sulwhaoo concentrated ginseng cream or Beauty Of Joseon cream. I use sheet masks 1x week, and try new things all the time, but I find myself loving Inta’s line of masks and face masks with bamboo water or snail mucin. I also use Nature Republic’s soft peeling gel 1x week. It all adds up to skin that is rarely irritated, evenly colored ( redness no more, YAY), and has a nice glow.


  44. Wow, thanks for the advice about checking pH of cleansers! I have been using the rice bright cleanser by the face shop…I really like using it! BUT, I just looked up the pH and it’s above 6. 😦

    I just looked up the Missha cleanser you recommended. Does the super aqua refreshing cleansing foam have the same low pH as oxygen micro visible deep cleanser? It’s just a bit cheaper.

    And one more question. Why does the Skinfood toner you use say serum on it? That’s confusing!


    • I am not sure about the Missha cleansing foam, but they have a line called Near Skin that I believe is all pH 5.5-ish. For cleanser pH, I’m willing to go up to 7 these days if the cleanser is otherwise lovely, but every time I go above that, something bad happens.

      And why the Skinfood toner says “serum,” sigh. I have no idea–brands get really confusing with their product naming sometimes!

      Liked by 1 person

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