My Lazy Korean Skincare Routine

Like most of us, I’m obsessed with K-beauty products. But, also like most of us, I don’t have time for a 10-step skincare routine each and every night. Thankfuly, the famed 10-step Korean skincare routine isn’t actually meant to be 10 steps every night. It’s most important to understand what each step does and how often you should do what.

Even for us lazy gals, there are some important takeaways to be gleaned from the way Koreans approach skincare. If we’re being honest, I probably won’t get “glass skin” anytime soon with my lazy Korean skincare routine. But, I can at least rest assured that I’m keeping my mascne under control — and that I’m taking good care of my skin.

Below, I’ll talk about each step in the 10-step Korean skincare routine, my lazy version of a K-beauty skincare regimen, and my favorite Korean skincare products to elevate your daily cleansing ritual. Let’s get started!

The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

So, what actually are the 10 steps in the Korean skincare routine — and do you need all 10 of them to get healthy, vibrant-looking skin? The quick answer is, probably not. But the long answer is that there’s a time and a place for each step, even if you don’t use them every day. Still, before we get into that, let’s go over what each step actually is, and what it’s place is in the Korean skincare routine.

1. Oil-Based Cleanser

Double-cleansing is at the heart of every Korean’s beauty ritual. Double-cleansing means first washing with an oil-based cleanser to draw out oil-based impurities, then following up with a water-based cleanser to, you guessed it, draw out water-based impurities.

The double-cleansing method is actually grounded in some pretty solid biochemistry: as you might remember from high school, water is polar, while oil is non-polar. That’s why when you mix oil and water, the two layers remain separate. They’re chemically different! So, the idea behind double-cleansing is that if you use just one type of cleanser, you’re only eliminating one type of impurity. Non-polar oil won’t be able to bind to a water-based cleanser, and vice-versa.

2. Water-Based Cleanser

Oil-based cleansers are designed to draw out sebum, sunscreen, and pollution, but not water-based impurities like dirt and sweat. That’s where your water-based cleanser comes into play. Polar pollutants (try saying that ten times fast) like dirt and sweat can’t bind to your non-polar oil-based cleanser. Hence, you need to follow up with a water-based cleanser to make sure you’re truly getting everything off your face in the morning and at night.

3. Exfoliant

When the Koreans talk about exfoliating, they’re talking about using a scrub (physical exfoliant) or peel (chemical exfoliant). They aren’t talking about face masks, which are considered a separate step in the Korean skincare routine. The role of an exfoliant is to draw out those deeper impurities that clog your pores, causing blackheads and other blemishes. But it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t perform this step every day: exfoliating more than once or twice a week can strip your skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to sensitivities in the environment.

4. Toner

To be honest, I had to google what toner actually does, because I really wasn’t sure. As it turns out, the benefit of toner is that it’s a fast-penetrating liquid that delivers a quick shot of hydration to your skin. But, toners can also double as treatments: you can purchase toners that contain salycylic acid, for example, to address oily, acne-prone skin, or toners with soothing aloe for sensitive, dry skin.

5. Essence

The essence is a step that’s pretty unique to the Korean skincare routine. Before K-beauty hit the American skincare scene, I had never heard of an essence or seen one on the shelves of my local Sephora. Essences are lightweight, hydrating products designed to add an extra layer of moisture to your skin.

Moisturizing is key in the Korean skincare routine, which is why so many steps are designed to restore moisture to your skin’s protective barrier! If you, like me, grew up getting breakouts, you may have heard that people with oily skin should beware of too much moisture, or else you’d clog your pores. However, it’s actually more harmful to strip your skin of its natural oils: when your skin gets dry, it triggers even greater oil production to restore the skin’s protective barrier, which can lead to further breakouts.

The moral of the story: don’t skip moisturizing, even if you have oily skin!

6. Treatments

When it comes to K-beauty, the main skincare treatments are serums and ampoules. Serums have since become standard in the American skincare routine, but ampoules are, as far as I can tell, still pretty uniquely Korean. Ampoules are a bit thicker and more concentrated than serums, allowing them to deliver a double-shot of nutrients to your skin.

Treatments should ideally be selected for your unique skincare concerns. Whether you have oily skin, dry skin, or skin that’s somewhere in-between, I can guarantee there’s a serum or an ampoule out there that addresses your skincare woes!

7. Sheet Masks

If sheet masks aren’t a part of your self-care routine yet, you’re going to want to change that. Not only do they deliver a concentrated shot of essence directly to your skin, but they are incredibly relaxing. Sheet masks have a cooling, gel-like temperature that instantly seems to make your worries melt away. And, they make for some pretty cute photos on your phone’s camera roll!

8. Eye Cream

The delicate skin around your eyes needs some extra TLC. Because it’s so thin, it’s prone to wrinkles and fine lines — meaning that eye cream is essential for your anti-aging strategy. Eye cream can also help soothe puffiness and dark circles from a night of crying or tossing and turning in bed. Your weakest finger is your ring finger, so use the tip of your ring finger to gently tap eye cream onto your skin.

9. Moisturizer

Moisturizer is the final layer that seals in all the nutrients you’ve just applied to your skin. It also administers an extra boost of moisture to replenish your skin’s protective barrier, which may have been stripped during cleansing. Moisturizing is a favorite step in the Korean skincare routine, so the Koreans have invested a lot of energy into discovering the best ingredients for the job: think unique products like snail-slime- and cica-based moisturizers!

10. Sun Protection

The risk of sun cancer and premature aging is real, no matter the weather. Rain or shine, you need to finish your skincare routine with a layer of SPF protection during the daytime. At minimum, doctors recommend using SPF 30. Anything higher than SPF 30 doesn’t provide as much extra protection as you think. Just make sure your sunscreen blocks from harmful UVA and UVB rays to cover your skin from every angle.

My Lazy Version

Ain’t nobody got time for 10 steps twice a day — which is why I simplified my skincare routine. While it still reflects the Korean philosophy on skincare, it saves me time, energy, and product by doing it the “lazy way:”

  1. Double-cleanse morning and night. I use Ulta cleansing balm followed by Differin face wash.
  2. Stick to serum in the AM and treat at night. I use the Tatcha Dewy Serum (PR product) in the morning and my Curology prescription treatment before bed. I’ll also spot-treat with Differin gel and/or Peach Slices acne patches as needed.
  3. Never skip moisturizing. Use a moisturizer with SPF in it in the AM, so you don’t need separate products. I use the Differin one during the day. At night, I prefer to hydrate with CeraVe.
  4. Use a mask once or twice a week. On days when I exfoliate, I skip my Curology treatment and Differin gel so I don’t sensitize my skin. My favorite sheet mask is the Tonymoly I’m Rice one.

The Perfect Routine for Depression and Anxiety + FREE Printable!

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Routine is KEY when it comes to recovering from depression and anxiety! Without structure in your day, you allow your depression to let you lay in bed far longer than you should, and you give your anxiety time to run rampant.

That’s why I’m currently working on building morning and night routines that work for me. Working from home, it’s difficult for me to stick to a set schedule — but I’m challenging myself to take this time to myself morning and night, regardless of when I wake up and go to bed, to focus on self-care and healthy habits that will kick my depression and anxiety to the curb.

In this post, I’ll be sharing the habits I built into my morning and night routines to help alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as a FREE printable version so you can hold onto each of these routines if you want to try them for yourself!

My Morning Routine

Meditation

You’re probably sick of hearing the benefits of meditation by now, so I’ll just list one: according to the magazine Mindful, mindful meditation relieves anxiety by helping you sit with difficult emotions without over-analyzing them. Apps like Simple Habit and Insight Timer have dozens of free meditations to help you switch off the anxious part of your brain.

You can meditate morning or night, but I like morning meditation because 1) I’m not in danger of falling asleep! and 2) it turns off that feeling of “morning anxiety” I sometimes get when I wake up. (You know, when you feel a sense of dread in the morning for no reason?) Just 5-10 minutes is enough to start feeling the benefits — so really, you have no excuse not to try it!

Yoga

Why should you exercise in the morning? Because in the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy!” Once you get used to moving first thing in the morning, you’ll find that it helps you wake up and face the day with a higher mood and more positivity. (In case you’re still not convinced, check out Cosmopolitan‘s 15 reasons to exercise in the morning!)

At least 10-15 minutes of yoga each morning is a must to boost happy chemicals in my brain and combat my depression. I follow along to videos from several YouTube yogis, but Yoga With Adriene has been a longtime favorite!

Breakfast

If you ever experience brain fog due to depression, then you’ll understand why I swear by eating a full breakfast each and every morning. Well, okay — not every morning. I am human, after all! Point is, I’m trying to get better at eating a “real” breakfast, but when you’re in a pinch, a yogurt or a fried egg still does the trick.

Eating breakfast is almost always better than eating nothing at all, since breakfast jumpstarts our cognitive function in the morning to improve memory and concentration. When depression already impacts your concentration, the last thing you need is hunger pangs distracting you further. So, eat a balanced breakfast, darn it! I like to also enjoy my morning coffee during breakfast, as it gives me something to look forward to.

My Night Routine

Planning

Every night, I draw out my daily bullet journal spread, which includes gratitudes, to-dos and habits for the next day. I also fill in the day’s habit tracker and gratitude list before moving onto the next day. I find that sitting down and planning out my day helps me feel more organized and less anxious when I’m falling asleep. Instead of worrying about all the things I have to do the next day, I can rest easy knowing that I’ve made a list of my priorities for the next day — and that I haven’t forgotten anything.

Don’t forget to schedule positive activities into your day, too: I talk a lot about behavioral activation for depression, which is the idea that you should schedule pleasant activities that you enjoy doing to force yourself to engage in self-care. The idea is that you may not always feel motivated to start, but once you get past the initial dread, you’ll actually find yourself enjoying the activity!

Skincare

I can’t prove that having a skincare routine helps with depression or anxiety, but we do know that self-care — and specifically self-soothing — does help with difficult emotions. To me, having a skincare routine is part of that self-soothing ritual. As I’m rubbing all my various lotions and potions on my face, I find myself actually slowing down and taking time to notice how I feel. It’s a quiet moment that allows me to get in touch with my emotions and focus on doing something positive to take care of myself.

If you struggle with body image issues, a skincare routine can also be beneficial — after all, it’s a way of showing your body some love. You may not love every feature on your face or body, but taking care of your skin sends a subliminal message to your brain that you’re willing to take good care of your body anyways. These small moments of self-care may not seem like much, but they have a positive ripple effect that carries through into every aspect of our lives. The more you engage in self-care, the easier it becomes, so I recommend building at least one type of self-care (whether that’s skincare or otherwise) into your nighttime routine to give yourself some much-needed TLC.

Journaling

I talk a lot about journaling on this blog — because I’m obsessed with it! I’ve long believed in the power of journaling to help you get in touch with your emotions and learn more about yourself. I believe this act allows you to get to the root of why you feel anxious or why you feel depressed, which empowers you with the information you need to start making small, but positive changes in your life.

I believe in the power of journaling, but I also know how difficult it can be to start when you aren’t sure what to write. Lately, I’ve been loving guided journaling for that very reason! The exact journal I use is called Getting to Good by Elena Welsh, PhD and uses principles of CBT and psychology to guide you through journal exercises that improve your mental health on bad days. I highly recommend working through this journal if you are someone who’s new to journaling, found yourself in a journaling rut or wants to try something new in their journal routine!

Tips for Starting a New Routine

Before I share your FREE printable version of my morning and night routines, I want to take a moment to remind you that it’s always okay (and even encouraged!) to start slowly when it comes to implementing healthy habits. It’s better to focus on building one habit at a time than to try to upheave your entire morning and night routines at once.

It takes anywhere from 18 days to two months to build a habit, so it’s okay if you don’t feel settled into your new routine for awhile. If you can add just one healthy habit into your routine to help combat your anxiety and depression, you’ll be better off than not setting any goals at all. Plus, working toward a goal is a proven part of treatment for depression, so always having something to look forward to may actually help improve your mood!

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