If you’re just getting into Asian skincare through the coverage it’s been receiving in the Western media, you may be feeling really overwhelmed. It’s all too common for articles about K-beauty to emphasize the OMG 12-STEP SKINCARE ROUTINE!!! and to feature ridiculously expensive (or ridiculously overpriced) products, which ends up making the whole thing sound ridiculously inaccessible to the average consumer. Plus, there’s the whole “buying things from a foreign country” thing, with its implications of long shipping times, high shipping costs, language barriers, and possibly shady or counterfeit items. Beauty writers who come at K-beauty from an outsider’s perspective (bless their hearts) can make the whole endeavor seem like one giant chore.
Yo, Fiddy Snails is here to tell you that it is completely not.
In the first place, an Asian skincare routine does not require 10 or 12 or 15 steps. The AB approach is all about customization. That’s the point. So if you don’t want an exhaustive (exhausting?) dozen-step routine, you don’t have to have one.
And no matter how many steps you do want, here in the US, you can now find plenty of options available for reasonable prices and with very fast, domestic shipping. I’ve been working on a starter routine for a friend and discovering that Amazon has really, really upped their Asian skincare game in the last few months. We saw it coming with the launch of the Korean Beauty Amazon store, but it goes way farther than that.
I’ve been thinking really hard about all of this. Here’s the result: your Amazon Prime-only shopping guide for a simple or starter Asian skincare routine, organized by skin type! Each routine contains only the basics: First and second cleansers, sunscreen, moisturizer, and one extra step to target your primary skin concern.
Disclosure: All product links in this post are affiliate links, which will pay me a small commission if you choose to purchase through them. I have linked only products with prices that are reasonable and comparable to Korean vendors, at least when shipping is taken into account.
Simple Asian skincare routines for common skin concerns
Before we begin, a quick word of caution. I have either extensively tested, or am familiar with, every product I’ll list in the simple sample routines below, but everyone’s skin is different. YMMV is the ultimate skincare mantra. When you’re starting out, resist the temptation to open and use everything at once. At minimum, introduce one new product a week, and extend the testing period for as long as you can stand to. That way, if your skin has a negative reaction to a product, you’ll be able to identify the cause and learn a bit more about your skin’s triggers.
A simple routine for: Normal skin
If you’ve already got normal skin–not too dry, not too oily, not particularly acne-prone, and not too far down the road of inevitable aging–then congratulations to you and me! To you because, well, it’s nice to have skin that’s free from chronic troubles. And to me because normal skin is very easy to recommend for, since you’ll likely be able to use a wide variety of products without ill effects. This routine focuses on simple maintenance of your existing healthy skin condition.
Oil cleanser: Banila Co Clean It Zero. This classic, Skin and Tonics-approved sherbet cleanser easily loosens up just about any sunscreen and/or makeup you might have on your face and helps pop out those pesky sebaceous filaments filling your pores without drying out your skin or making a mess of your countertop.
Second cleanser: Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam. Here’s another classic. This mild, unfragranced, low-pH foam cleanser will remove any oil cleanser residue or overnight skin gunk from your face without also removing your vital natural oils, leaving your skin soft, fresh, and sparkling clean.
Extra step: Innisfree The Green Tea Seed Serum. This light, lovely serum is a staple in Mr. Fiddy Snails’s daily skincare routine. I recommended it to him because it delivers not only a refreshing dose of hydration, but also some powerful green tea antioxidants to help boost sunscreen’s protection against UV damage and long-term photoaging. Also, it smells amazing.
Moisturizer: Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream. Let’s get some snails up in this routine! Another classic (and a product that I always keep handy even when I’m not in the habit of using it every day), this weightless, fast-absorbing, shockingly inexpensive moisturizer boasts the moisturizing and healing powers of 74% snail mucin, as well as a bevy of anti-aging ingredients that help keep your skin smooth and supple in the long term. As a bonus, it’s known for healing pimples quickly and gently, so it doubles as a treatment for any random breakouts you may get.
Sunscreen: Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++. My love for this sunscreen is deep and enduring. I still use it every day, and I’m still perfectly happy to use it every day. It dries quickly and it dries clear and satin matte. No nightmarish white cast to try to rub in, no oil-slick sheen to blot away or cover up with powder. Just skin that looks like skin, with an invisible shield against the ravages of the sun.
A simple routine for: Dry skin (and a note on the difference between dry and dehydrated skin) or dry/dehydrated skin.
Is your skin dry or dehydrated? It can be difficult to tell the difference, but maybe understanding the difference will help.
Dry skin is inherited and, for the most part, not changeable. Your skin may have always been dry, or it may be getting drier as you age. If you have dry skin, then your skin doesn’t produce enough oil to maintain a strong barrier against moisture loss (Trans-Epidermal Water Loss, or TEWL if you’re super-KEWL). It feels dry to the touch and, if you don’t moisturize it, will also feel dry from within: tight, uncomfortable, probably at least a little itchy.
Dehydrated skin is a condition caused by external factors (usually overcleansing, cleansing with harsh, alkaline products, or overexfoliation). The acid mantle is compromised and unable to help skin retain moisture, leading to excessive TEWL. Dehydrated skin can also be caused by dehydration dehydration, so if your skin feels unusually dry, take a good hard look at whether you’ve been drinking enough water.
To put it as simply as possible: Dry skin lacks oil; dehydrated skin lacks water.
Dehydrated skin can present as either very dry (dehydrated/dry) or very oily (dehydrated/oily) skin. The routine below is geared towards dry and dehydrated/dry skin; a routine for dehydrated/oily skin is farther down the list.
Oil cleanser: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil. Made from rich, nourishing olive oil, this perennially popular Japanese oil cleanser thoroughly dissolves makeup and sunscreen without also removing those natural oils that your skin so desperately needs to hold on to.
Second cleanser: Once again, I’ll recommend Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam to cleanse skin. For dry and dehydrated/dry skin types, however, I’m going to add the suggestion to only cleanse at night. As long as your face isn’t getting abnormally sweaty or dirty while you sleep, you may be able to get away with simply rinsing your face with water in the morning. And if you can, your skin will appreciate it.
Extra step: Here’s where the routines diverge. If your skin is dry, then what it needs is a boost of fatty acids to help reinforce the weak natural barrier. I absolutely adore (and will soon be reviewing) Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid. This thin and slippy serum contains a number of moisturizing botanical oils as well as skin-identical fatty acids like ceramide 3 and cholesterol. It sinks in fast and it keeps my skin supple and happy on even the driest days.
If your skin is dehydrated/dry, however, then what you could use is an extra dose of humectant hydration to help attract and bind water in your skin. And in my experience, there are few products around that attract and bind water like the bestselling Hada Labo Gokujyun Super Hyaluronic Acid Moist Lotion. This clear, slippery liquid delivers three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin at several different depths.
Moisturizer: The routines converge again here. Whether your skin is just dry, or dehydrated/dry, you need a rich and occlusive final step moisturizer to keep it moist throughout the days and nights. I was recently lucky enough to be gifted a sample tube of Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream (thanks, Chel! Fiddy luhhhhhh you) and am so in love with it that I kind of wish my skin were dry enough to demand I use it every day. The cream’s combination of skin-identical lipids and botanical oils makes it, like the liquid, pretty much ideal to provide lasting moisturization to skin that needs it most.
Sunscreen: I wouldn’t recommend my beloved Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence for dry or dehydrated/dry skin, as the alcohol content might further dry out your skin. Instead, check out Shiseido Senka Aging Care UV Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA++++, which pampers dry and dehydrated skin with extra hyaluronic acid as well as antioxidants like ubiquinone (CoQ10). I love using this sunscreen during dry weather, when the rich moisturization it provides is a welcome addition to my cream.
A simple routine for: Oily (and dehydrated/oily) skin
Defining oily skin is a no-brainer. If your skin is naturally oily, it simply produces an excess of sebum. Like naturally dry skin, this isn’t really something you can change with topical products, but it is something that you can mitigate.
But skin that looks and feels oily isn’t always naturally oily. Remember how I said that dehydrated skin can also present as oily skin? Yup. If your skin uses up blotting papers and powders on a regular basis, it might actually be dehydrated/oily.
There are two schools of thought for why this might be, and as of yet no definitive answer. One school of thought is that skin has a feedback mechanism that recognizes a state of undesirable dryness and responds by kicking oil production into overdrive. The other school of thought is that when your barrier is compromised, the natural oils that should be contained within the acid mantle end up leaking out onto the surface.
I fall into the second camp. In my opinion, if skin had such an efficient and responsive feedback mechanism, then neither dry nor oily skin should be problems for as many people as they are. Instead, just about everyone’s skin would be able to respond naturally to the situation of the moment. But as far as I can tell, it doesn’t work that way. It makes more sense to me that oily/dehydrated skin is that way because the damaged barrier allows the natural oils to leak onto the surface.
But I digress. The most important thing to remember about treating either oily or dehydrated/oily skin is that harshly cleansing away all the oil all the time is not the answer. If your skin is naturally oily, then the oil is just going to come back anyway. If your skin is dehydrated/oily, then you’ll be further weakening your barrier and making the problem worse. And if your skin is oily but not dehydrated now, harsh cleansing could push it into dehydrated/oily territory, also making the problem worse. Yeah. Put down the Seabreeze and back away from the acne soap. Right meow.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between oily skin and dehydrated/oily skin, but one quick test is to check how your skin feels from within. The next time you cleanse your face, don’t put on moisturizer immediately afterwards. Wait for a while, until your face starts getting oily again. How does your skin feel from inside? Is it at all tight or uncomfortable? If so, then chances are good that it’s dehydrated/oily. If it feels fine besides the whole oiliness thing, then it’s probably just oily.
Oily skin can benefit from very light hydration and moisturization, using silicones rather than oils as occlusives. Dehydrated/oily skin, on the other hand, requires extra hydration and barrier supplementation, and that, in some cases, will require the counterintuitive step of adding more oils while you repair your barrier. Let’s take a look at the simple routines for these skin types.
Oil cleanser: Japan’s Kose Softymo Deep Cleansing Oil is beloved by many Asian skincare enthusiasts for its thorough-cleansing, clean-rinsing, non-wallet-busting properties, and if your skin is producing an excess of oil that needs to be cleansed off along with makeup and sunscreen, you’ll probably appreciate those properties, too.
Second cleanser: I bet you didn’t guess that I’d be recommending Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam again, did you? This is as close as I’ve found to a universal cleanser. I do love my Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash something fierce, but the SLS and fragrance in the Tosowoong are deal-breakers for many people, and there are so few other effective, low-pH facial cleansers out there that Hada Labo wins by default. Get your hands on some of this and a konjac sponge, and you’ll be set for the foaming cleanser stage of your routine.
Extra step: As with dry and dehydrated/dry skin, here is where the oily and dehydrated/oily routines diverge. If your skin is naturally oily, there’s not terribly much one can do in the short term to minimize the oiliness without also overdrying or dehydrating your skin. Long-term, however, niacinamide has been shown to help regulate sebum production, and yeast ferment extracts also show some promise in this area. Missha’s First Treatment Essence Intensive gives you both niacinamide and ferments in a watery, fast-drying product that won’t add more oil to your existing oil.
If your skin is dehydrated/oily, on the other hand, then you need to work on hydrating it while repairing your compromised barrier. For the “extra step” portion of your simple routine, therefore, I’ll recommend the same thing that I did for dehydrated/dry skin: Hada Labo Gokujyun Super Hyaluronic Acid Moist Lotion. The megadose of humectants this product delivers will make your skin much more comfortable from within while you work on your barrier from without.
Moisturizer: If your skin is naturally oily, then you’re fortunate in one way: you can get away with a much lighter final step moisturizer than many other people, because your skin is already producing oils to hold in the hydration in your skin. In fact, you might be able to pull off no moisturizer at all, though I believe that doing so would be robbing your skin of a chance to reap other benefits. Instead of skipping moisturizer, why not try Innisfree Green Tea Balancing Lotion? This supremely thin emulsion will give you the benefits of photoprotective green tea antioxidants while helping keep your skin supple.
If your skin is dehydrated/oily, however,you’ll definitely want to moisturize and work on your barrier. While the oiliness is at the forefront, however, you won’t want anything heavy. Until your barrier is repaired, try out the versatile Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid as an emulsion, to get some of those skin-identical lipids onto your face without adding weight or extra shine.
Sunscreen: Your sunscreen choice will depend on whether your skin is naturally oily or dehydrated/oily. If your skin’s naturally oily but you prefer a matte look, Biore’s UV Perfect Face Milk or UV Bright Face Milk dry down quickly to a powder-perfect finish and control oil all day long. Neither of the face milks are totally clear, however, so if you have darker skin, either Biore’s UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence or the ever-so-slightly-more-hydrating UV Aqua Rich Smooth Watery Gel would be more suitable. Dehydrated/oily skin types can also start with either the Biore Watery Essence or Smooth Watery Gel, which provide enough oil control to tamp down the shine a bit for a more tempered glow throughout the day.
And there you have it! Basic, simple skincare routines for the major skin types, put together with products available on Amazon Prime for decent prices. Now who said K-beauty or Asian skincare have to be excessive or expensive? Fiddy proved them wrong, amirite?
Did you like shopping with Fiddy? If so, stay tuned for future installments in the series. We’ll explore the best skincare extras on Amazon Prime. Then we’ll check out the virtual shelves of my favorite Korean cosmetics sellers, like Jolse bae, TesterKorea, RoseRoseShop, and Wishtrend. Someday we might even take the leap into Avecko hauling together.
What burning routine or shopping questions do you want to have answered?