Tactical Guide to KBeauty Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This is the first post in a series on Korean Beauty for beginners. I will be introducing Korean makeup and skincare philosophy and discussing differences between Korean and Western beauty. In future posts, I will be giving an overview of Korean brands and retailers and uploading instructional posts on how to research products to figure out what you want to buy, how to purchase from Korean websites, and how to navigate the Korean web.

The ultimate goal is to get beginners up to speed and speaking the language of Korean beauty, heretofore referred to as just Kbeauty, as fast as possible.

For example you may not follow the below hypothetical convo as of today...
"Did you hear about that new Laneige emulsion?"
"Oh my God, I need it. Looking up the ingredients on CosDNA now!"
"Do you think I should swap it in for my propolis ampoule?"
"I don't know, it's so hard to decide. Maybe if it's on sale at TesterKorea!"
...but a few weeks from now, with the help of this guide, you will *hopefully* understand every word of that little repartee.

KBeauty as Beauty Philosophy

Tactical Guide to KBeauty TG2KB Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare & Makeup
Kbeauty, or as zee Koreans call it: Beauty

The above clip is from a popular Korean beauty show called Beauty Bible in which a celebrity makeup artist asks the 3 show hosts which step is most critical to achieving flawless makeup. IN UNISON, all 3 reply "Skincare!"

This clip illustrates the fundamental difference between Kbeauty and Western beauty. The biggest secret to Korean beauty is that with Kbeauty, there is a laser focus on maintaining and improving the appearance of ones skin. The idea that good skin is fundamental to looking attractive and put together is ingrained in Koreans from early childhood. Koreans are highly knowledgeable about skincare, and a highly sophisticated skincare market has cropped up to satisfy their needs. (I stereotype, because it's faster. I kid, I kid.) What's more is that good skincare is available at all price points. Tough in-market competition between beauty brands has driven prices down making quality products highly accessible to all.


Korean skincare emphasizes...
  • Taking preventative measures to protect the existing condition of the skin
    • Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun to prevent skin damage and wrinkles
    • Keeping your skin well-hydrated
    • Using anti-aging products to prevent the formation of wrinkles
  • Selecting and applying ideal targeted treatments to correct issues that may arise with ones' skin
    • Whitening and brightening products to treat hyperpigmentation
    • Acne spot treatments or "products for troubled skin" as they will likely be marketed

Korean skincare innovates...

Tactical Guide to KBeauty TG2KB Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare & Makeup
Ingredients Cheatsheet..
Click to expand. Feel free to save!


The Korean skincare routine seems intimidating. Every article on it talks about how it takes up to 10 steps and 1-2 hours to complete it properly, but it is not as complicated as everyone makes it out to be. Once you understand the purpose of each step, and the layering principle, you'll be able to take a typical routine and customize it to your own needs.

So a typical Western routine may look like this:
MORNING | Cleanse - Moisturize - Apply Sunscreen
NIGHT | Cleanse - Tone - Spot Treat - Moisturize - *Optional masks, eye creams, or night creams

A typical Korean routine may look like this:

Tactical Guide to KBeauty TG2KB Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare & Makeup

Tactical Guide to KBeauty TG2KB Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare & Makeup

Tactical Guide to KBeauty TG2KB Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare & Makeup


The layering principle is a general rule of thumb used in ordering ones skincare routine, which is to apply products from the thinnest formulation to the thickest formulation. This principle is not exclusive to KBeauty products, but can be used with any type of skincare routine.

Also important is to apply the products using a gentle patting motion so as not to tug or add any stress on the skin.


They are hydrating products that can also deliver anti-aging, brightening, and acne-fighting benefits dependent upon their featured ingredients. They are named/categorized based on their texture and thickness. There is no standard definition as to how they are named/categorized but IN GENERAL...

Toners and Essences feel like watery, runny liquids. Unlike Western toners, these products are meant to be applied and left on your skin, as opposed to swiped over your face with a cotton pad.
Emulsions feel like runny, milky lotions.
Sheet Masks are sheets made of cotton or silk fibers, or gel-like materials, which have been soaked in an essence. One typically applies them to the face for about 30 - 45 minutes.
Serums feel thicker than essences, and can be on par with emulsions. Serums can sometimes feel tacky or sticky depending on their contents.
Ampoules can take almost any consistency, but will generally still feel lighter and thinner than a lotion.
Lotions are a medium weight cream.
Creams are a bit denser and heavier than all of the aforementioned types of products.
Sleeping packs are dense creams that are meant to be left on the skin overnight to hydrate and nourish your skin whilst you're asleep.


Skincare regimens vary widely and the best one for you will address your personal skin issues. Know your skin condition, know your goals / issues you want to correct, learn the ingredients that can treat those conditions, and implement implement implement! There will be a lot of trial and error at first.
It is highly encouraged to try samples of products before buying full-sizes, and "patch-testing" new products before applying them all over your face, to see how your skin reacts to new ingredients.

Skincare Ingredient Cheat Sheet Infographic  Updated
Ingredients Cheatsheet.
Click to enlarge and save.
You do not need to do a full 10 (or whatever) step routine. Abbreviated routines are quite common, especially in the morning as people rush to get out the door without having to wait for products to absorb onto the face. If I were to be asked which products/steps are the most important, and worth incorporating into a personal routine asap, I would say a good sunscreen, and water-based cleanser. This is the bare minimum. If your skincare goals are to aggressively prevent aging, or fade acne scars, or repair a compromised moisture barrier (dry skin), then you will need to look for products that contain the appropriate ingredients. 

Know that just because you follow a Korean-style skincare routine does not mean you need to use all Korean products. My own routine combines Korean and Western products to achieve my skincare goals. I began by introducing one new product at a time, often trying products out as samples before deciding upon whether it was a worthy investment!

I have a whole post on this topic here along with some of my answers to frequently asked questions about Asian skincare products.

I hope this helped!

P.S. I just had a shower thought about how funny it would be if the tables were turned and everyone else in the world was blogging in-depth about American beauty secrets. This must feel weird to Koreans somewhat.


Part 1. Introduction to Korean Skincare
Part 2. Introduction to Korean Makeup

Part 3. The Brands
Part 4. The Retailers
     -> Link to a Price Comparison Search Engine (Results from verified sellers only)

Part 5a. Researching Products; How to Figure Out What You Want to Buy - CosDNA, Popular Products w/ International Stockists
Part 5b. Researching Products; How to Figure Out What You Want to Buy - AllofCosmetics, Korean Products w/o Strong International Presence
Part 5c. Researching Products; How to Figure Out What You Want to Buy - Blogs and Youtube Channels

Part 6. My Skincare Routine & Reasoning
Part 7. Wishlists, or "Make Me a Routine"

Part 8. "Advanced" KBeauty - Buying Services & Korean-Korean E-tailers
Using Avecko by SnowWhite&thePear
Using 11st by SnowWhite&thePear
Part 9. Navigating the Korean web: Naver Blogs, Korean Youtubers. Coming soon.
Part 10. Guide to the Hwahae App
Part 11. Beauty Shopping in Seoul 

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