Are you having trouble understanding how K-beauty skincare routines like mine come together? I often link to my skincare wardrobe to demonstrate the variety that makes Asian skincare and K-beauty in particular so great, but if you’re new to skincare routines that change by the day, it can be hard to visualize how that works. Looking at people’s skincare routines on Instagram can help (shockingly, the #skincareroutine tag is a good place to start, as is the #koreanskincare tag, and a lot of K-beauty bloggers post their skincare routines–my homegirl Snow does them frequently and I’m trying to do them more, too). IG isn’t the best place to explain the curation process, though. Stupid character limit. My skin and routine have gone through some changes lately, so now is a good time to explain how my morning and evening skincare routines happen.
Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*). Items originally provided by sponsors for review are marked with double asterisks(**).
How my skin has changed and how that changes my skincare routines
I went through a serious dry skin phase this last winter thanks to the aging process, acids, prescription tretinoin, the California drought, and SoCal’s often soul-suckingly arid weather. It was rough, but I didn’t want my skin to be. I turned to facial oils and other dry skin best practices to keep my skin supple and comfy.
Things have turned around in the last few weeks. My tolerance to my current tretinoin prescription grew, and the weather got a little damper. Most importantly (I think), I dropped my AHA and BHA chemical exfoliants from my routine. I’d set them aside to test other exfoliants but planned to reincorporate them into my routine. I discovered, however, that my skin much prefers being without them. Tretinoin already accelerates the skin renewal process, and an occasional scrub and the much gentler enzyme exfoliants I’ve been testing are perfectly capable of keeping my skin surface smooth and fresh. My skin never feels thin or tight anymore and never gets that dry-shiny look of overexfoliation. AHAs and BHAs are great for many people and were great for me before tret, but at this point, I might never go back.
Thanks to all these changes, I haven’t had to use oils in weeks and don’t often feel the need for my ultra-heavy standards, like the Banila Co Miss Flower and Mr Honey essence oil and cream that got me through the winter. Instead, I focus more on thinner layers of lighter hydrating products. I do miss my oils and super-moisturizing products sometimes, but you gotta do what your skin needs you to do.
My typical morning skincare routine
Working from home doesn’t mean I’m okay with a routine that takes the entire morning to complete. For day, I start with a foaming cleanser, then choose just a handful of products, favoring those that sink in quickly and won’t cause my sunscreen or makeup to ball up or look cakey. My morning skincare routine protects my skin from UV damage with sunscreen and antioxidants and typically looks something like this:
Toner: I almost always start with Dear by Enprani Moistfull Booskin. Weightless and quick-absorbing, it softens my skin, delivers antioxidants from floral and herbal extracts, and makes the following steps sink in faster, as if by magic.
Hydrator: Next comes a plumping hydrator to fill in fine lines and give me that juicy, dewy glow. My options are Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil and exciting newcomer Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion. Released late last year in Japan and still a challenge to find in some areas (I bought mine from this Amazon listing* and had to wait weeks for delivery), the Premium Lotion contains five different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid. This allows it to plump and hydrate skin at several different depths. I’ll be reviewing it very very soon; for now, let’s just say I definitely feel the difference between this and the OG Gokujyun Lotion that I was always putting down and picking back up again. The thick, gel-like Premium Lotion takes longer to absorb, but when it does, my skin absolutely puffs up with moisture.
Snail: I love my snail, primarily because snail mucin has been proven capable of significantly improving photodamaged skin. I gravitate towards snail products with the highest concentration of snail. That means that for my snail step, I’ll be choosing between COSRX’s Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence (96% snail goo!) and Snail 92 All In One Cream (92% snail!). If my skin feels like it needs more deep hydration, I use the essence. If my skin feels like it needs more surface smoothing, I use the cream. And although the cream makes a great light final step moisturizer for those normal-skin days, I prefer to use it as an essence with a cream consistency. I haven’t noticed any issues with later products absorbing over it.
Serum: After the snail step, I add one or two additional antioxidant products from the essence and serum/ampoule sections of my skincare wardrobe. Innisfree Orchid Enriched Essence**, provided by Jolse for review, provides antioxidant-rich citrus, green tea, and orchid extracts. Other options contain different types of antioxidants. Also provided by Jolse, Mamonde First Energy Serum** emphasizes honeysuckle and other floral extracts and Primera Super Sprout Serum** offers sprout and grain extracts and oils. My Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Essence Oil and newly introduced Let’s Cure Honeybunny Propolis 40 Ampoule protect skin with honey, propolis, and royal jelly.
If I’m in a rush or my skin doesn’t feel especially needy, I skip the second serum step. If I’ve got time and/or my skin needs some extra moisture, I’ll choose whichever essence or serum gives the level of extra moisture I’m looking for.
Morning masking bonus step: If I have a special outing planned later in the day or got up early enough to justify rewarding myself, I’ll sometimes do a morning sheet mask. When I do, I use it between my serum and my moisturizer. I’ve found that using sheet masks on top of other steps, rather than before them, seems to improve product absorption overall thanks to the extra penetration enhancers in sheet mask serums and because moist skin absorbs better.
Moisturizer: Dropping acids has improved my skin so much that I can now get away with a light lotion for my daytime moisturizer, as long as it’s the right light lotion. COSRX Oil-Free Ultra-Moisturizing Lotion**, provided by Wishtrend*, has a thin, milky consistency but somehow moisturizes well enough to prevent tightness and dryness all the way to the beginning of my evening routine. It dries fast, making it a great time-saver, and it doesn’t pill up under any of the Japanese sunscreens I own. Because my final morning step, of course, is sunscreen. Sunscreen every day, rain or shine. It’s the most critical weapon in my anti-aging arsenal, and the actives I use during my evening routine make it an absolute necessity.
My typical evening skincare routine
I’m a pretty big homebody and don’t often go out at night, so I have the luxury of patting things onto my face all evening if I want. That means that my evening skincare routine is a lot more extensive and a lot less curated than my morning routine. You can sum it up in one phrase: Use All The Things!
For this section, instead of going through every single possible step I might do during my evening skincare routine, I’m going to talk about the steps not covered in the morning skincare routine.
Assume that this evening routine begins with a double cleanse. Since I wear sunscreen every day, I double cleanse every night. Then the fun stuff starts.
Wash-off mask bonus step: I like wash-off masks almost as much as I like sheet masks, and I’ve amassed a pretty good collection of them over the last few months. Wash-off packs fall into a few broad categories, with some minor crossover: clay masks, exfoliating scrub masks, and nourishing/moisturizing masks. There’s a lot of confusion about when one should do a wash-off mask. I do clarifying masks, like clay masks and exfoliating scrubs, after my cleansing oil but before my foaming cleanser, so that my second cleanse can remove any mask residue that rinsing missed. I use nourishing/moisturizing masks, like my favorite I’m From Honey Mask, after my second cleanser. Nourishing masks are intended to add something into your skin, and I don’t want to turn around and immediately wash all that away.
pH-dependent and prescription actives (L-ascorbic acid vitamin C serum, chemical exfoliants, tretinoin): The heavy hitters of my anti-aging skincare regimen are pH-dependent actives like vitamin C serum and chemical exfoliants, and prescription actives like tretinoin and other Rx-only retinoids. Any skincare product will absorb best if applied to bare or close-to-bare skin, and these take priority. Every other day, I apply vitamin C serum first, wait 15 minutes for it to absorb, then follow it up with my current chemical exfoliants, which I let dry before moving on to my Curology anti-aging prescription. On the alternating days, I skip vitamin C serum and chemical exfoliants and apply Curology straight to cleansed skin. Either way, I wait at least 20 minutes after applying the Curology before I continue with my routine. (Usually it’s more like an hour, because 20 minutes is long enough for me to get sucked into some activity, like, say, writing a blog post, and then I lose track of time.)
Toner, essence, snails and serum: As I confessed already, in the evening, with lots of time and no concerns about sunscreen or makeup, I get to go wild. No need to cover toners, hydrators, essences, snails, or serums again, though. Let’s skip to more fun stuff!
Sheet masks and hydrogel masks: Some people dislike sheet masks and never do them. Some use them occasionally, once or twice a month, as a special treat or before an event. Others do them often and regularly. I do sheet masks nearly every night, and when my skin seems to need even more moisture after the first mask comes off, I do two. I keep a big variety of sheet masks so that I don’t get bored and have a flavor to address any skin issue or ingredient craving I might have.
When my skin’s especially thirsty, I have another way to boost the moisture and maximize the plumping: double dipping! Someone on Reddit introduced me to the idea of double dipping ages and ages ago, and it’s come in handy on many a dry weather or dry skin day. Pat in an extra layer of hydrating toner or essence, something full of hyaluronic acid, either before your sheet mask or between your first and second sheet masks. The humectants in the hydrating product will help draw more of the sheet mask essence into your skin, where it can give you more of that plump, juicy glow.
Creams and sleeping packs: Over the last half-year or so, I’ve found that my skin absolutely adores creams and sleeping packs. Ending my evening routine with them almost guarantees that I’ll wake up to soft, smooth, firm, and radiant skin. Those effects become addictive very quickly. I try to always finish up with something that will put my skin in top condition in the morning.
Depending on how my skin’s feeling at the end of my routine and which products I’m thinking of using, I’ll end my routine either by layering a sleeping pack over a cream, or using just a cream or just a sleeping pack. Or sometimes a light sleeping pack under a heavy one. Same with creams.Basically, I choose something thick and rich and something light. A lighter cream pairs with a heavier sleeping pack, like my Goodal Nature’s Solution Firming Sleeping Pack. A heavier cream, like my Freeset donkey milkHEEHAW, gets sealed in with a watery sleeping pack, like my COSRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask or Innisfree Green Tea Sleeping Pack, that forms a barrier without unnecessary richness. Finally, if I’m really tired and want to go to bed fast, I slap on a generous portion of the incredible Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask, which is everything Sheryll of The Wanderlust Project said it is.
Of course, YMMV and my kind of skincare routine isn’t for everybody. For one thing, some of you probably have fewer small children and more evening plans than I do. If you want to take a look at a totally different approach to skincare, check out Lord Fiddy’s skincare routine below!
One man’s simple K-beauty skincare routine
Lord Fiddy has now had his own K-beauty skincare routine for many months, and he’s stuck with it this whole time. His is pared down and doesn’t vary day-to-day, but it is customized to his needs and changes as I find better products for his skin.
Lord Fiddy cleanses once a day with a low-pH foaming facial cleanser. While he likes the Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash, his favorite cleanser is COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser. He finds he hardly ever gets blemishes when he uses that regularly. Same goes for COSRX Natural BHA Returning A-Sol, which he uses daily as a blemish-preventing toner and occasionally as a spot treatment to rapidly shrink big, painful, deep-under-the-skin pimples. He gets his hydration and antioxidants from Innisfree’s The Green Tea Seed Serum and uses Innisfree Green Tea Balancing Lotion as his moisturizer. And when he remembers, Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream moisturizes his eye area just enough.
This routine has worked so well for Lord Fiddy that he’s already on his second tube of the COSRX cleanser and his second bottle of the Innisfree green tea serum. A second bottle of the COSRX A-Sol is headed towards us. Once a guy who used to wash his face with whatever bar soap or body wash he grabbed first in the shower, he’s undergone a complete transformation.
The final step Lord Fiddy needed in his skincare life is sunscreen. Unfortunately, he’d always refused to give it a chance. Then he caught a glimpse of the IOPE Men cushion, which lets men get in on the cushion action, without threatening their self-perceived masculinity, by packing tinted sunscreen into a cushion case covered in elegant brushed steel.
He loves his cushion as much as I love my…everything.
If you enjoy seeing skincare routines like these, make sure to follow me on Snapchat, where my handle is mommasharkus! The vast majority of my snaps are skincare routine snaps (and I snap a lot), so you can follow along with me in real time. And follow me on Instagram, where I’m @fiddysnails, if you’d rather see it all in one shot.
How do you put your skincare routine together? Do you have a set routine or are you a pick-and-chooser?