I get asked about my beauty routine often, probably because I test so many skincare products, so why not share it, right here, right now?
My personalized skincare routine has remained quite similar for well over a decade at this point, and closer to two. Because I test so many skincare products, I change up the products that I use sporadically, but the routine itself stays about the same, morning and night.
I started my routine way before K-beauty became a popular trend over here in western civilization, so I was excited to find out that I had been doing something right after all this time!
After all, have you seen any Korean women who have anything other than gorgeous, creamy skin? I’m just sayin’.
Here I go with my disclaimer spiel:
This is my skincare routine. This is what works for me. It may or may not be the right routine for you. Just because it works for me, and it is similar to a K-beauty routine, doesn’t mean that your skin is going to love it or will love the products that I recommend.
In fact, you might have to tweak your routine and the products that you use multiple times until you figure out what works for you, and it might take months…it might take years…to figure out exactly what will have your skin looking smooth, glowy, and wrinkle-free. On top of this, because our skin changes as we age, you may find that you have to change your skincare routine many times over the course of your life, even if you find one that works for you in, say, your 20’s or your 30’s.
With that behind us, let’s get to the dirty dirty (or shall I say cleansing?) deets!
My Step By Step Skincare Routine
I want to impress upon you that I don’t stick to a rigid routine, so to speak. While there is a method to my madness, I will often change up the order of the steps, depending on the issues that my skin throws my way, the season, new products I might be testing, and possibly based on how I’m feeling that day.
Of course, because I do test countless beauty products, I also change up the products I use way too often, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. My skin has taught me that changing up skincare products is a big no-no. But, because I am a glutton for punishment, and I love testing new products, I have learned to work with the curve balls that my skin throws my way.
I am not saying that you have to find the right products and stick to them forever and never ever ever change it up. I actually would recommend changing up your routine and the products that you use here and there. Our skin is smart! It will catch on to your routine like “I know what you’re doing!” if you fall into redundant habits. Not only that, but the needs of our skin changes season to season, and sometimes even day to day. We have to outsmart our skin and change it up, so: a) it doesn’t get bored, b) you can cater to seasonal changes and your skin’s needs, and c) you can enjoy the max results of your skincare products.
Now that we have that song and dance behind us, here it is:
STEP One: Makeup Remover and Oil Cleanser
If you’ve heard anything about K-beauty routines, then you should know about double cleansing methods. This means washing your face twice, once with an oil based cleanser, and then with a water based cleanser.
The oil based cleanser, as you probably already know, removes any makeup that is oil-based effortlessly, like my mascara, my SPF, and it also loosens the oily residual and impurities left in my pores.
The water based cleanser comes up behind the oil cleanser and helps to remove any leftover makeup and other gunk that is left on my skin. It also leaves my skin feeling so soft and smooth.
Like I admitted earlier, I often deviate, though. If I’m in a super quick hurry or just plain lazy, I’ll skip the oil and water based cleansers altogether and use only micellar water and eye makeup remover to remove my makeup.
Or I’ll just use Babor’s HY-OL, a gentle oil cleanser that removes both oil and water-soluble impurities.
Want to get super clean? That’s when I use HY-OL plus Phytoactive combined. They leave my skin feeling incredibly smooth!
I’m human. And a busy mom of nine. I don’t always have time to spend double cleansing my face. Truth be told, though, this deviation is not my norm. I do love the results of double cleansing, so most days, I do squeeze in the time.
STEP Two: Toner/Astringent/Exfoliator
First of all, I look for toners, astringents, and exfoliators that are made with natural ingredients. In fact, my skin appreciates when I use plant- and food-based products for every step of my routine. While I wouldn’t say that I have sensitive skin, my skin does not seem to like harsh chemicals that can be found in some of the non-natural toners, astringents, and exfoliators on the market.
Let’s not forget that if we want to practice a K-beauty routine, those techniques go back centuries upon centuries. K-beauty products do not include harsh chemicals and synthetic ingredients, but rather are formulations concocted from the ingredients of the earth. So, if this is what you want to practice, you’re gonna have to conform at least a little bit.
I do use a toner/astringent every day. Which one depends on the condition of my skin and the season, but I only exfoliate a couple to a few times per week. I don’t want to strip the natural oils or scrape unnecessary layers of skin off. I actually did that before – more than once. I was under the false impression that if I exfoliated more often, my skin tone would even out faster and my skin would look lovely. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Instead, I was left with chafed, red, irritated, angry skin. Don’t do it.
Unless you have done what I just talked about, a good toner will soothe your skin if you have irritation, while it removes any stubborn leftover traces of grime and oil from your face. If you have acne-prone or oily skin, or you like to wear makeup or sunscreen every day, astringent will be your best friend.
If you really want to understand the difference between toner and astringent (and which one you should be using), read my blog post here.
Exfoliation unclogs my pores, helps to remove the dead skin layer, and promotes cellular regeneration. After you exfoliate, you should notice that your skin absorbs your other skincare products, like serums, oils, and moisturizers, so much better. In Korea, it is customary use a mixture of fruit and botanical extracts (called a gommage peel) to exfoliate skin with. These type of peels literally roll the dead skin right off of their faces. You have probably experienced that before – dead skin mixed with product that turns into “pills” that rub off your face. Yeah, that’s what’s up.
After I do all of this, if my skin feels like it needs some soothing, if I have healing acne or dry spots, I simply apply thin layer of aloe vera gel.
STEP Three: Mud Masks, Clay Masks and other Rinse-Required Masks
This is where my routine differs a bit from K-beauty. I honestly don’t know where mud masks, clay masks and other rinse-off type masks would fall on the K-beauty step-by-step process, but I like to do mine after I tone and exfoliate to get that deep-down-into-the-pores clean before I proceed to applying skincare products. Does that make sense?
I am a mask fanatic! It really doesn’t matter if it is a mud mask, a clay mask, a cream mask, or a sheet mask, I am sold on all of them! Of course, the more natural, the better.
Sadly, I’ve found that clay masks are super drying, and not much more effective than a charcoal mask, so I have slowed down on those. You know that feeling when the mask has sucked your skin uber tight? Guess what? You just dehydrated the outer layers of your skin.
So, you have to be watchful when choosing and using masks. Ultimately, when you use charcoal and clay masks, don’t wait for them to get so dry that they are cracking. Wash them off when they are still on the moist end of the spectrum.
24k gold masks! When my skin is looking dull and lifeless and needs some hydration and some shine, I’m a sucker for a 24k gold mask!
I also love a good old fashioned DIY mask. Oatmeal, honey, yogurt, you name it, I am all about it. Although, again, I don’t always have the time to concoct a DIY mask.
STEP Four: Vitamin C Serum
None of us want our skin to age any faster!
If you agree with that statement, then you want to get your hands on some topical vitamin C for your skin. Here’s the thing: You can take all the vitamin C supplements that you want, but most of that Vitamin C will not make it into your skin. You have to apply Vitamin C topically for your skin to be able to absorb it and utilize it.
Now, the jury is still out on how effective topical Vitamin C really is. While the brands that make the products will sing the praises to the high heavens, I really do think more clinical trials need to be done for us to feel confident that we should spend our hard earned money on Vitamin C serums. However, unless someone tells me that it is absolutely not going to be effective, I’m going to take the chance that it will help determine the signs of aging.
Ultimately, vitamin C protects our skin from the things that make it age. It is crucial for collagen maintenance and production, and can even help to fight against the degradation of collagen. It is also a powerful antioxidant that will neutralize free radicals that have come in contact with your skin and reduce any stress.
I am sure that you have heard the phrase “free radicals,” but do you understand what that means? Traveling back in time to fifth grade science, we learned that in nature, electrons should be matched up, right? Well, a free radical is a molecule or an atom that is running around with an electron that is unpaired, frantically attempting to pair up with something – anything! Because it is not mated, it is short-lived and chemically reactive, and tends to attack chemical compounds that are nearby.
How do these free radicals cause damage to our skin? Let’s say that a free radical sneaks up to a strand of collagen in your skin and pilfers an electron from one of the proteins. This is going to create a tiny gap in the strand of collagen and alter the chemical structure of it, ultimately causing damage. As this happens several times over the years, that strand of collagen will have multiple gaps of damage, and that is what causes our skin to wrinkle and sag.
Our skin does have metabolic processes and cellular enzymes, like antioxidants, that naturally fight against this type of damage. However, if you smoke or your skin gets sun damage or pollution exposure, these things can overpower the natural protections that our skin has in place.
Now that I’ve walked all of the way off of the beaten track, hopefully you understand why I will continue to apply topical Vitamin C to my face daily. It certainly can’t hurt.
STEP Five: Essence
A lot of people don’t know the difference between essence and serums. The goal of essence is simple: to provide an extra layer of hydration after toning and help to get the most out of your serums. Traditionally, essences were lightweight, more fluid, and not as concentrated as serums are.
Consider for a moment that your skin is a sponge. Picture a dry, shrivelled sponge. It isn’t going to absorb much of anything, but once it is wet, it will continue to absorb more and more liquids. By using an essence, you are preparing your skin so it can absorb any serums you plan to add next.
STEP Six: Ampoules and Serums
I have to admit: I am addicted to serums. If I had the time in a day (and they wouldn’t start pilling up and rolling off after adding 16 of them), I would massage a hundred serums into my skin. In fact, I collect serums, and have an envious assortment of them, if I do say so myself. Maybe it is the way my skin feels as I massage it, or maybe it is because I love the perfect viscosity of serums. Or maybe it is the way my skin looks and feels after I apply the serums.
Whatever it is, I am an addict.
This is probably the most personalized steps of anyone’s skincare routine. Serums are created to target specific skin issues. One serum can be for brightening up your pigmentation issues, another can be for hydration, and another could be for smoothing out your fines lines and wrinkles. They are typically layered, applying one after another, from least viscous to the thickest, and they are made to travel deeper into the skin than your moisturizers.
Ampoules are like supercharged serums. They are created with higher concentrations of active ingredients. So, let’s say that you are experiencing a skin disaster, you would use an ampoule that is created to target that emergency. I have heard that it is better to use your ampoules before you apply your serums.
Here are some cute ampoules I got from Babor just before Easter:
On a side note, opening ampoules has always made me nervous. They are made of glass and customarily, you just snap them open. While I will say it’s not as intimidating once you’ve done it a few times, I also have to admit that I have rubbed ampoule concentrate on my face and felt little shards of glass scrubbing against my skin once or twice. So, I do tend to be super careful when I use them.
Seven: Face Mask
This is one of my most favorite parts of the day. After the kids have gone to bed, I slap a sheet mask on and relax to watch a movie or some YouTube videos. While some sheet masks are made to absorb in 10 minutes or less, most that I have used take a good 45 minutes to an hour to completely absorb into my skin, and I will let every last bit of that precious essence sink in, too!
Don’t forget, though, that there are plenty of other face masks that you can use. I especially love the overnight no-rinse masks that apply like a cream or moisturizer, but are chock full of active ingredients. I replace my moisturizer with one of these masks two to three times per week, because our skin regenerates overnight while we are sleeping, and we have to take advantage of that!
STEP Eight: Eye cream
I started applying eye creams when I was young because I have always battled lack of sleep issues and looser skin around my eyes. To this day, I am thankful that I started young, because I really believe it has kept the fine lines and wrinkles at bay.
Our eye area is naturally made of thinner skin, which can get dehydrated super easily, plus if your eyes are anything like mine, you can’t just put any type of cream around them, so you should always use an eye cream that is formulated specifically for your eye area.
Tap your eye cream on to the skin! We all know not to pull and tug at our tender eye skin parts.
STEP Nine: Moisturizer
There was a time when I thought I didn’t need to moisturize, because I have ridiculously oily skin. However, moisturizer is a crucial ingredient after going through this entire, tedious process. It should never ever never ever be skipped!
Here’s a visual: Paint and corrosion-resistant coatings are applied to metal to create a protective barrier. This coating protects the metal from any elements that could corrode it. Think of your moisturizer as similar to these protective barriers. Not only does it form a protective barrier, it also helps to lock in those essential ingredients you just applied so they won’t evaporate from your skin.
STEP Ten: SPF
SPF is a seasonal step for me. In the winter, I typically hibernate, and even when I go out, the weather here in NY rarely allows for sun, so SPF is not as crucial as it is in the humid and scalding summertime.
It is part of my A.M. routine, not my P.M. routine. I prefer to use products that double as a primer and SPF, a BB Cream and SPF, or a foundation and SPF, rather than a dedicated SPF product because I don’t like the greasy feeling and extra layer on top of my already overly oily skin.
That is my 10 Step Routine that has helped me to fight every battle against acne, pigmentation problems, uneven texture, aging issues, and everything else under the sun.
What is your routine like? What are your favorite skincare products? Are you thinking of trying out a K-beauty routine? What are your thoughts about my routine?