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The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Does It Work?

Is the 10-step Korean skincare routine a realistic way to achieve beautiful healthy skin? Find out from the women who tried it.

Asian woman touching one cheek while smiling and looking at skincare products on the table in front of her

With its hallmark products and trends like the BB cream and the 10-step Korean skincare routine, K-beauty boasts the largest market share of skincare product exports in the Asia Pacific as of 2021.

How do we separate the hype from reality in helping you achieve a beautiful complexion, and how realistic is the Korean 10-step skincare routine? Two Malaysian women tried it and we discovered herbal alternatives for great skin.

What is the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine?

A man wearing sheet mask and playing on his phone while laying down on a bed
The popular Korean skincare routine includes wearing a sheet mask every night before applying moisturiser. 

The 10-step Korean skincare routine consists of the following: 

  1. Wash face with an oil-based cleanser
  2. Cleanse face for a second time with a water-based cleanser
  3. Exfoliate the skin using a gentle scrub
  4. Apply toner to tone and prep the skin for product application
  5. Apply skin essence (light formulation)
  6. Apply serum, booster, or ampoule (heavier formulation)
  7. Use a face mask (sheet mask if possible)
  8. Apply eye cream
  9. Apply skin emulsion or heavier moisturizer, depending on skin type
  10. Finish off with sunscreen or night cream, depending on the time of the day 

Watie, a 34-year-old compositing artist, and Susan, a 42-year-old project management consultant have tried to adopt the 10-step Korean skincare routine.

“I used to do all 10 steps, but never quite got to all of them consistently. Trying to achieve, afford, and stick to the 10-step skincare routine was an exercise in futility for me. Hence, I adapted it to my preference, schedule, and budget instead,” Susan shares her honest opinion. Watie admits she too, tried the 10-step skincare routine but stopped as it was very time-consuming and impractical.

Interestingly, both women didn’t do away with the routine completely. “I distil it down to the most important steps, and for me, they are cleansing, toning, moisturising, and sun protection. I still do these four steps. When I have time, I may do a sheet mask once a week or so,” Susan says.

Watie has a different adaptation. “My routine consists of makeup remover, cleanser, toner, essence, serum, eye care, moisturiser, and facial oil. Sometimes I add a face mask when I have time,” she divulges.

A woman cleansing her face in front of a bathroom mirror
For many, having 10 steps in a skincare routine can be too time-consuming.

The products work, but 10 steps may not be necessary  

“I could feel my skin tone even out and improve, although I had to be consistent for about two to three months before noticing the results,” Susan admits.

Watie saw results too but wasn’t sold on it solely because of the many steps. “I noticed dewier and healthy skin – but these days, I can get the same result without the 10-step routine,” she says.

A key feature of K-beauty is the use of naturally occurring ingredients like green tea, bee venom, liquorice extract, and tiger grass extract to achieve long-lasting healthy, bright, and youthful skin. Incidentally, many of these ingredients also exist in ancient traditional herbal medicines, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Something that Susan shares rings true with TCM as well, as TCM focuses on holistic health from the inside out. “I’ve tried several brands, and spending more money on a more expensive product line doesn’t necessarily yield better results,” she confides. “It depends on the suitability with my skin, and what else I’m doing to keep my health in good condition.”  

She ensures she maintains a healthy diet of nutritious foods and herbs as well as hydration. TCM Physician Kelvin Goh agrees with this. “TCM believes strongly that beauty comes from within (good health), as well as ageing gracefully with health preservation (yang sheng, 养生). If a person’s health is in great condition, healthy glowing skin will be achieved effortlessly,” he reminds us.

Skincare is Healthcare 

“Our face is like a mirror that reflects our state of health,” reflects Physician Goh. “A TCM physician would look at the facial complexion to do an initial round of diagnosis, basing his or her evaluation using the TCM skin colour palette”. This palette consists of five different colour shades that each correspond to the five TCM organ systems: Liver (green), Heart (red), Spleen (yellow), Lungs (white), and Kidneys (black).  

“For example, if the patient has a green shade to their complexion, this could mean that the Liver may not be functioning well. Hence, by working on rebalancing the Liver, a TCM regimen can help the patient achieve a healthy complexion,” he elaborates. 

At its very core, TCM focuses on beginning the practice of health preservation and maintenance earlier rather than later, to slow down ageing. The anti-ageing property of TCM modalities such as acupuncture and herbal remedies is what makes TCM effective when it comes to your skincare.  

Physician Goh shares four TCM herbs that are essential for skin care:

Panax ginseng on a wooden platter
Adding herbs like panax ginseng to your diet can have skin-beautifying benefits like reducing wrinkles, puffiness and inflammation.

Panax ginseng (ren shen, 人参)  

  • Reduces wrinkles and signs of ageing  
  • Promotes elasticity and collagen production  
  • Reduces puffiness and inflammation  
  • Brightens skin  

Astragalus (huang qi, 黄芪) 

  • Invigorates skin qi to flush toxins 
  • Prevents the breakdown of elastin fibres, a key factor in helping skin maintain its firmness, elasticity, and flexibility  
  • Promotes the production of blood and body fluids to relieve Blood Stagnation, which helps reduce water retention, including in puffy eyes 

Angelica sinensis (dang gui, 当归) 

  • Promotes blood production to brighten skin  
  • Reduces melasma due to better blood circulation  

Bird’s nest (yan wo, 燕窝)

Another TCM herb known to be great for overall health as well as skin health is bird’s nest, which is readily available in Malaysia. Sometimes referred to as “edible bird’s nest” or EBN, this product has been shown in research to significantly reduce wrinkles.

TCM herbal formulations also sometimes include collagen products. A randomised, placebo-controlled blind study published in 2019 in the MDPI Nutrients journal was able to show that a collagen supplement significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, texture, and density in the trial group.

As for the 10-step Korean skincare routine, it surely won’t hurt to do the best that you can from the outside, but Susan advises, “No amount of skincare products, whether cheap or expensive, can replace a healthy diet and sufficient hydration to achieve healthy skin from within.”

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