The Western beauty world has always been pretty stuck on a cleanse-tone-moisturize kind or regime, plus the heavy marketing of anti-ageing creams to repair damage already done.
Korean skincare regimes all vary, but they approach skincare as a sort of gentle layering of products, and focus on prevention and early intervention for problems like fine lines, sun damage or acne.
Living in Sydney, I'm lucky enough to access to a couple of physical stores for trying and buying Korean skincare brands, so armed with a bunch of research into what might work for me, I headed over to the Blush Cosmetics store in the new Central Park complex in Chippendale (you know the one with the massive vertical gardens and hanging vines all up the side of the building, that you can see from Broadway/George Street? It's shaping up to be pretty cool inside too) and to the A'HA pop-up kiosk in Broadway Shopping center to pick up some goodies.
There are already lots of great articles about putting together a Korean style skincare regime, and tonnes of reviews on products (which makes it easier to choose stuff when you can't read the labels!) so I won't go into a crazy amount of detail - I will direct you to some of the best articles I've found though, if you're interested. But basically your regime will involve some or all of the following steps:
1. Cleanse. While you don't exactly get grimey while you sleep, you do still sweat, so it's a good idea to cleanse morning and night. I use Etude House "Happy" Essential foam with Collagen. It's gentle, lightly foamy and leaves your skin feeling clean without that tight feeling. This is cheap and cheerful brand, and if you're going to balance your savings vs splurges, this is a good spot to make some savings.
2. Tone: I use a different toner morning and night, because I'm experimenting with two different ones right now. In the morning I'll use Skinfood's Peach Sake Pore Toner. Unlike Western toners (and despite the name) Korean toners tend not to be the drying, alcohol-containing kind. They are actually meant to balance the pH level of your skin after cleansing, and prep the skin for the rest of your regime. This one (and all the Korean ones I've tried) leave your skin feeling soft and moisturized, not tingly and tight like most Western ones I've tried do.
3. Serums/Essences: These are essentially targeted formulas to address specific skin problems, such as dark spots, acne or anti ageing. You can use one or more depending on what kinds of benefits you want. I've been using this Skinfood Lettuce and Cucumber Water Drop Essence on the recommendation of the Blush staff, and it has definitely addressed the dryness I get during the winter by being extra hydrating, but it does seem to irritate my skin very slightly sometimes, so I've stopped using it. I've got a few new ones to try, so keep posted for proper reviews.
4. Emulsion: An emulsion is actually kind of like a lightweight moisturizer that you apply, and then layer a richer moisturizing cream over the top of. Most days, I use my Skinfood Peach Sake emulsion. It soaks in fast (which is important in the morning for me, since I leave for work at 5:30am most days) and doesn't leave your face feeling sticky or looking shiny, so it's fine to wear makeup on top of it.
5. Cream/ Eye Cream. Some people will stop at an emulsion for daytime if they have quite oily skin, however because mine can be quite dry, I follow my emulsion with a richer cream. For daytime, I usually go with the Deoproce Green Tea cream (which I got for super cheap in a set on sale at A'Ha Beauty), because even though it is a cream, it still absorbs without feeling too heavy. I don't use an eye cream presently (another thing I think it worth splurging on, so I plan to hold off until I can afford a great one rather than settle on an average one), but I did work my way through some samples of Skinfood's Gold Caviar lifting eye cream. I mostly used it at night, but plenty of people who use an eye cream will do so morning and night, and will slot it in here after their emulsion and cream.
Another option is a CC (colour correcting) cream or a BB (beauty balm) cream with SPF.
Then follow with your usual makeup!
As a take-away, this is more pared-down than some other people's Korean inspired morning routines, in that for me, most days I only follow 5 steps. This is entirely down to the fact that I have a pretty tight time restraint in the mornings. I leave for work at 5:30am on work days, so my routine has to be pretty quick so I don't have to get up any earlier than necessary. It might sound involved, but it honestly adds less than 10 minutes to my morning routine. I brush my teeth, get dressed or do my hair in between steps while products soak in, and it's a good way to start the morning on a really hectic day. By taking these deliberate steps to pamper yourself for a few minutes each morning sets kind of a nice tone for the rest of the day, I think.
So next post I'll go through my evening routine and the little extras I use a couple of times a week, and I'll link you to more great resource in case you want to find out more about Korean skincare or start your own regime.
Try these great articles on building your own regime:
The Wanderlust Project - An American girl who lived and taught in Korea and got hooked on Korean skincare. She has great advice that's super down-to-earth and not too technical.
Skin and Tonic: This is a great overview, and the rest of the site has in-depth product reviews that get a bit more technical about the ingredients. If you have sensitive skin or allergies, this is a good site to check on products you're interested in, because they will often flag ingredients that can cause reactions.
Byrdie - Great breakdown of steps and good product recommendations.
I'll do another post on where I buy my products (based in Sydney, Australia) as well as other reputable online sources, but if you want to try out any of these products, your best port of call in Sydney is Blush Cosmetics or A'HA Beauty Store.