Clean Version of the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

This 10-step skincare routine is more like the CliffsNotes of a culture of skin pampering than an enumerated routine actually prescribed in Korea. The gentle multi-step process includes cleansing, exfoliating, treating, and intensely moisturizing to pamper and nurture your skin before bed, when repair happens the most. Christina of DeSmitten Design Blog and I had heard about it and wanted to give it a try, but couldn’t find a version made up of only clean products. Being that there is such an incredible amount of product involved, we decided to gather up our favorite clean products and test out the routine. What follows is our conversation around the whole process as well as our findings and recommendations.

Elizabeth: What did you think when I showed you all the steps?
Christina: I thought some were redundant and unnecessary (eye makeup remover/regular makeup remover) and I felt like some steps were missing like a detoxifying mask... although you wouldn't do a detoxifying mask every day.
Elizabeth: How much time do you usually devote to nightly skincare?Christina: I wash my face with water and then I put Tata Harper's beautifying oil on while massaging for 2 minutes and then I put eye serum on... done! So 4 minutes maybe?
Elizabeth: Just water? Even for makeup removal?
Christina: If I have eye makeup on I will use avocado oil to remove it, but usually I only use face wash in the shower—and water only the rest of the time.
Elizabeth: So the opposite of this Korean scheme?
Christina: Lol yes—my minimalism extends to my beauty routine.


Step 1: The Eye Makeup Removal

The first step is about the gentle removal of stubborn products. Don’t tug the skin to remove waterproof mascara or long-lasting lipstick—use a makeup remover of the oil-based variety.

Elizabeth: Eye makeup removal is the first step. Unless you are Lady Gaga, do you think this step is really necessary?
Christina: Lol. I think it is only necessary if you are wearing mascara or eyeliner, but i think you could just use oil.
Elizabeth: Mine comes off when I use oil on the rest of my face, but I suppose I shouldn't be rubbing mascara all around my skin? Maybe the Koreans are on to something there.

Step 2: The Cleanse

If you don’t wear a lot of makeup, you might just go straight to this step. Use gentle, circular motions to remove dirt and makeup. Massaging the face this way increases circulation as well.

Elizabeth: So mascara's off and it's on to cleansing, which might also be oil based. I do this step most nights. But you said you also use a cleanser in the shower?
Christina: I only use a cleaner in the shower, yes. When I shower, I wash my face with either John Masters or Jeff Rosenbrook.
Elizabeth: So many men in your shower...
Christina: Lol yes, it's crowded.
Elizabeth: I used to do oil and then another cleanser, but with this extensive routine that isn't necessary.

Step 3: The Exfoliator

This step can be done twice a month. It still should be gentle and please, no microbeads! Find a product that uses natural ingredients like sugar, walnut, or oatmeal as the exfoliant.

Elizabeth: I must stress this is gentle exfoliation. And not for everyday. 
Christina: I couldn't exfoliate everyday.
Elizabeth: I must admit I like to use just sugar as an exfoliant because I'm cheap and it works.
Christina: I do sugar also! I only use exfoliator in the shower, not everyday, lol. I don't do anything everyday—it's as needed.

Step 4: The Refresher 

“Toning,” sometimes called “refreshing” might be a mist or liquid you use with cotton pads (find washable ones below). Toning preps skin for the next steps by softening, moisturizing, and restoring pH balance.

Elizabeth:  What about toner? I like this step and this reminder to add it in.
Christina:  Have you ever used witch hazel for toner? I tried it once, but didn't love it. I haven't found a toner that I love... have you?
Elizabeth: I prefer the mists now. I really like the way it feels just after you mist it. I think that's what the next steps are trying to lock in—that moisture. I prefer rose water to witch hazel. The Laxmi one smells divine and you can track the harvest it came from.
Christina: I love rosewater, I am obsessed. Is it a toner? I like to think of it as a toner... and to neutralize toxins in the tap water.
Elizabeth: It's definitely in the toner category!
Christina: Then I guess I've found a toner!

Step 5: The Essence 

The essence step is about speeding up your cell turnover rate to make skin smoother and brighter. Look for a product that promotes skin regeneration, which sounds kind of gross.

Elizabeth: The essence I was less familiar with, but it seems like a serious step.
Christina: Agreed.
Elizabeth: I think along with the toner, it preps your skin for the ampoule step.
Christina: It enhances the performance of the serum.
Elizabeth: This step is about cell turnover. Are you motivated to turnover your cells with an essence?
Christina: It sounds like a great idea in theory.
Elizabeth: What is it that makes our cells not turnover on their own like they are supposed to? Age? Sun damage?
Christina: Lol, that is a great question.
Elizabeth: I bet it's sun damage. It's always sun damage.
Christina: So true.
Elizabeth: Stupid sun.

Step 6: The Ampoule

The ampoule/serum/booster should be highly concentrated and highly targeted to individual issues like aging, acne, sensitivity, etc.

Elizabeth: Ok, after you turnover your cells, you are ready for the ampoule—which is what we call a serum or booster.
Christina: I think this is a really important step because it's where you can target your specific needs quite well.
Elizabeth: What do you like to use for this step? I think it's one product most of us are already familiar with.
Christina: The Klurskin one or the Rodin.
Elizabeth: I like the turbo booster C powder, but NOT every night because it is so strong. I also like anything from Tata Harper and I'm currently interested in this brand Benshen
Christina: I totally love Tata Harper, too! This is the step where you address any issues like acne, dryness, sensitivity, etc so you've got to get the serum that is right for your skin.

Step 7: The Sheet Mask 

The sheet mask can be done twice a week or more (it’s a very gentle type of mask). With the muslin type of mask, I found it easier to put the products on my skin and then add the damp mask on top, rather than trying to load the products onto the mask. It works by forcing your skin to absorb the products and moisture before they evaporate. Your face will feel softer and plumper afterward.  

Instead of using wasteful one-time masks, Christina and I used scrap muslin to create washable, reusable ones. The beauty of these is that you can tailor the formulation to you skin’s needs. Here’s how:


  • Thin muslin, cotton, or silk fabric
  • Scissors


  1. Print out the pattern and follow the instructions here.
  2. Tailor the mask ingredients to your needs.


How To Use Blank Sheet Masks To Create A Custom Skin Treat
Beauty Trends Made Easy: DIY Sheet Mask

Elizabeth: I love how we made the muslin sheet masks. I've been using mine, but not every night.
Christina: I've used mine a bunch of times too. It's so nice!
Elizabeth: I totally get this step, but I just couldn't do the throwaway masks they sell.
Christina: I know, I thought of getting the Muji ones and reusing them but then I thought it wouldn't be sanitary.
Elizabeth: Ew, probably not. At least we can wash these.
Christina: Totally.
Elizabeth: It definitely locks in all the hard work of the first steps.
Christina: When you wake up in the morning after doing all the steps with the mask your face still feels hydrated.

Step 8: The Eye Cream

You know what eye cream is. Tap it gently around your eyes.

Elizabeth: Soooo we’re about an hour into the routine...just kidding. But now more moisture. On your eyes. Er, around your eyes.
Christina:  I like the John Masters eye serum.
Elizabeth: John Masters is the bomb. I'm not sure if I’d like an oil one. I feel like I'd prefer a cream. Thoughts?
Christina: The one I use is more like a gel...I prefer not putting oil under my eyes, but that's just me.
Elizabeth: Obviously, it's a very delicate area so the formula should be very clean and nourishing. 

Step 9: The Moisturizer

Find the right oil for your moisturizer. Use gentle strokes to apply it (the way they do when you get a facial).

Elizabeth: And then you do an oil moisturizer. Another product most of us probably use.
Christina:  This, for me, is the Rodin... the thickest oil... although I've been wanting to try RMS's oil.
Elizabeth: Thick oils don't cause you problems?
Christina: I don't use it every day—only 1-2 times a week. I use Tata Harper’s Beautifying Oil every night and it is perfect.
Elizabeth: Ahhh...Tata, we love you! I like Argan oil (especially in winter) but I've also thought about trying True Moringa.
Christina: Argan oil doesn't do anything for my skin, it just feels like it sits on top and doesn't soak in.
Elizabeth: I'll admit I haven't branched out on that much. You should get your oils from reputable companies, and ideally organic and fair trade, but I will say it's so nice to read the ingredients list and it's just...oil.
Christina: Agreed. No checking EWG for weird ingredients.

Step 10: The Night Cream

A night cream will intensely hydrate and restore firmness while you sleep. You may or may not feel you need this step.

Elizabeth: And finally, the night cream. Necessary after all the rest of it?
Christina: I don't think so... at this point I feel like it is too much, don't you?
Elizabeth: Maaaayyybbeee in like the dead of winter, but right now it made my face feel kind of suffocated.
Christina: Maybe after a windblown day walking around the city in the dead of winter.
Elizabeth: Or maybe when we are older? But maybe we just don't know the benefits of being smothered in moisturizers?
Christina: That could be possible.
Elizabeth: I'm going to keep trying because I think I just need to find the right balance of products and amounts. I'm loving the texture of this Laxmi Nilotica Creme


Elizabeth: All in all, I think it's a good guide for mapping out a comprehensive skincare routine.
Christina: Yes I agree. And then you can customize to your skincare needs/season.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I tend to buy things that I want to try or like the sound of without assessing how it will fit in with my other products. So I might have too many of one step and not enough of another.
Christina: Me too!
Elizabeth:  We should approach it like we do our wardrobes. How it will fit in and complement what we already have.
Christina: I love that way of thinking!

Ariana at Paris To Go created a complementary zero waste routine with traditional Korean recipes. Check it out! 

This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy anything through the link (it doesn't change the amount you pay). I only include brands that I believe in, that I would use myself, or think might be of interest to you. 

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