At this point, the Korean 10-step skin care routine has a larger-than-life reputation. Some people swear by it, some people say it’s purely a marketing gimmick, and some people don’t actually even know what the term means.
Rather than forcing you guys to choose sides in this debate, I’m going to present a middle ground (which happens to be where I stand) on the 10-step skin care routine:
I think it’s a great starting point for anyone new to skin care, but I don’t think everyone needs 10 steps.
So, whether you love it, hate it, or don’t know much about it, let me invite you to take this ride with me today.
I’m going to present a middle ground: The 10-step skin care routine is a great starting point for anyone new to skin care, but I don’t think everyone needs 10 steps.
What the 10-Step Routine Is
Let’s start with a list of all 10 steps:
- Oil-based cleanser (aka first cleanse)
- Water-based cleanser (aka second cleanse)
- Exfoliator (chemical or physical)
- Toner (hydrating and/or astringent)
- Mask (sheet mask; if wash-off, this goes after cleansing)
- Eye cream
- Moisturizer/sleeping pack
- SPF (during the day) or spot treatments (at night)
When you look at it like that, it’s definitely overwhelming. It also looks expensive!
For a lot of people, this is as far as they get into the 10-step skin care routine before they nope out. If you were in that group before, I totally get it! But I encourage you to hear me out before you write it off completely.
Efficiency vs. Efficacy: The Different Philosophies of Beauty
Western skin care is more heavily focused on having products that do as many things as possible, and (I know I’m generalizing a bit here) minimalism is valued over anything else.
It’s almost a badge of honor to nonchalantly say, “Oh, I only use three products!” (If you already have a more elaborate skin care routine, you’re probably used to getting snarky comments about being high maintenance or something similar because of this.)
We value efficiency, and that’s not a bad thing. In the case of beauty, though, it’s not always the best approach. Trying to buy one product that “does it all” is almost always a recipe for wasting money on something that doesn’t do anything very well.
Trying to buy one product that “does it all” is almost always a recipe for wasting money on something that doesn’t do anything very well.
In contrast, the Korean beauty philosophy focuses more on incorporating multiple products that each do one or two specific things very well. Of course, not every K-beauty product is magical and perfect, but again, this is just a generalization.
Adopting this approach to skin care might seem “extra,” but it’s about investing time and effort into healthy skin without worrying about how it’s perceived by other people who don’t have to live in your skin!
The True Beauty of the 10-Step Skin Care Routine
Can you do 10 steps of skin care every night? Absolutely! You can do 15 if you have the budget and desire. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing every single step in the list every single day, if that’s what you want to do.
But the thing I love the most about the K-beauty skin care philosophy (and the thing that I feel is missing from Western skin care) is that it’s all about learning YOUR skin’s needs and tailoring your routine to fit those needs.
And because so much emphasis is placed on customization, it also means that your routine can easily adapt and evolve as your needs change.
The thing I love the most about the K-beauty skin care philosophy is that it’s all about learning YOUR skin’s needs and tailoring your routine to fit those needs.
A Simplified Look at the 10-Step Skin Care Routine
I gave you the full list of steps earlier, but now I’m going to simplify things a bit. Instead of thinking about it in 10+ steps, try thinking about it as three broad categories:
3. Nourish and Protect
The first category encompasses the double cleanse, which I’ve talked about in a previous post.
The treatment category includes acids (AHA, BHA, vitamin C, topical retinoids, or any prescriptions from your derm), spot treatments, and extras like wash-off masks. None of these things are absolutely necessary, but they can be super helpful for issues like acne, eczema, and sun damage.
The remaining steps fall into the “nourish and protect” category. Toners, serums, essences, lotions, creams, sleeping packs—all of these things perform nourishing tasks. They typically add hydration, soothe redness, bolster resilience, or seal in moisture, all of which are essential for healthy skin.
(SPF falls into the “nourish and protect” category as well, but its primary job is just daytime sun protection.)
When you think about the 10 steps in terms of three categories, it’s a lot more manageable, and it gives you somewhere simple to start.
How to Make the 10-step Routine Work For You
Even if you never plan to have 10 steps in your beauty regimen, you can carry the spirit of the Korean 10-step skin care routine into however many steps you’re comfortable with.
Here are a few tips to help you get started down the path of a better, more personalized skin care routine:
1. Remember: Cleanse, treat, nourish and protect.
Instead of worrying about specific terms like essence versus serum or sleeping pack versus moisturizer, look for textures and ingredients that work for your skin. Flexibility is the name of the game.
2. Decide on one to two main issues that you want to improve in your skin.
Focus your product curation on these issues. For example, if you want to minimize redness and add hydration, look for products that contain brightening ingredients like niacinamide, licorice, or arbutin or moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
3. Go slowly.
Skin care is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s tempting to buy a whole new routine, but it’s better to sub in one product at a time.
4. Most steps are negotiable.
The only steps that are 100% necessary are cleansing, moisturizing, and SPF. If you’re building a new routine, start with cleansers and sunscreen, and go from there.
5. One final tip: Not every step has to be a different product!
If you need several layers of hydration, you can use the same watery toner or essence and layer them on. (I do this all the time!) You also don’t have to have a totally different daytime and nighttime routine. Use what works for you!
Tell Me What You Think!
If you’ve ever done a Google search for “10-step routine,” you’ve probably seen a lot of polarizing articles from people who feel really strongly about the concept one way or another. I personally don’t think that having such rigid views on the topic is helpful, so I wanted to give you guys a third option.
Now that I’ve explained how I approach it, I’m curious to hear what you guys think! Do you share my philosophy, or do you disagree with my opinion? Have I changed your mind about trying the K-beauty approach to skin care? Drop a comment below and let’s discuss!