Head over to TikTok, and you'll notice a pattern. Every other content creator is raving about how snail mucin, Centella asiatica and ginseng water reversed their skin troubles.
It's hard not to be intrigued by K-beauty, with its emphasis on gentle prevention, and not action. Korean skincare's healing botanical ingredients, 10-step routines and innovative products have inspired beauty enthusiasts to do a complete overhaul of their existing skincare.
If you're trying to piece together your own K-beauty regimen, from start to finish, here are the best products to consider. But, before we dive into South Korea's go-to skincare items, our expert tells us what a comprehensive routine can look like.
What is a complete skincare routine?
A full-face regimen aims to cleanse, tone, treat, moisturise and protect your skin, says Caroline Brooks, a skin specialist and founder of The Glass House Spa and Salon in Dubai. This entails looking after the skin during the day and night.
The routine mainly serves to shield from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) damage, while the latter is dedicated to repairing the skin as you sleep.
"For the AM (morning) routine, a gentle cleanser, toner, antioxidant serum, moisturiser and sunscreen are recommended. The PM (night) routine involves make-up removal (if applicable), double cleansing, exfoliation (two to three times a week), treatment products like serums or retinoids, eye cream, and a richer moisturiser," explained Brooks.
Contrary to popular belief, a step-by-step regimen isn't just exclusive to adults. In fact, it starts in adolescence, so teens and mature skin types can benefit from a host of products that address specific concerns.
Therefore, building a routine unique to you should be tailored accordingly. You may choose to focus on skin barrier, hyperpigmentation, acne, fine lines or sun damage with the right products, added Brooks.
Whatever you decide to add or subtract, just know that "essential products include cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen". Use this foundation and build upon it, with additional K-beauty favourites.
"Korean beauty products can enhance a routine. Popular choices are hydrating essences, sheet masks for targeted treatment, and ampoules, which are potent serums," said Brooks. In our list, you'll also come across lightweight toners that help heavier products absorb better in later steps.
We've merged both AM and PM routines for you below. The list is composed of highly rated skincare items in Korean beauty review communities, such as Hwahae and Glow Pick. It also weighs in user reviews from Amazon.
1. Best Oil Cleanser: ma:nyo Pure Cleansing Oil
Double cleansing is integral to Korean skincare, especially for the nighttime routine. A genius alternative to micellar water, an oil-based cleanser will break down waterproof make-up, unclog pores and melt blackheads. Ma:nyo's Pure Cleansing Oil is consistently ranked as the best in its category in Korea. It's made with argan kernel oil, among 14 plant-derived oils, and enriched with vitamin E and essential amino acids. This simple, non-irritating formula works into the pores and dissolves sebum, the day's sunscreen, make-up and other impurities, as five-star reviews attest. More recommendations pour in from people with acne-prone skin, who notice fewer breakouts.
2. Best Daily Cleanser: beplain Greenful pH-Balanced Cleansing Foam
Your second or daily cleanser must be water-based - either in the form of foam, gel or lotion. Beplain's Greenful is currently one of Korea's bestselling cleansers, fortified with mung bean extract. This legume ingredient helps with dislodging dirt in the pores and restoring hydration to the skin, all without drying out the face. It even works to balance the pH level of the skin to prevent acne, dry patches and irritation. Reviewers who double cleanse or use this after an oil cleanser, say it calms down new breakouts and needs very little product to lather.
3. Best Exfoliator: ma:nyo Factory Galactomy Enzyme Peeling Gel
Another fan-favourite ma:nyo product is the peeling gel or exfoliator that buffs away dead skin cells and improves texture. Unlike harsh chemical exfoliators, this gel adds back hydration with birch tree sap and seven types of hyaluronic acid. The gentle exfoliation you get is all thanks to the fermented galactomy enzymes present in the milky formula. Packed with 94.44 per cent natural ingredients, it's no wonder the gel is highly rated by sensitive and dry skin types. Remember to start slowly with exfoliating products, and adjust accordingly.
4. Best Toner: Anua Heartleaf 77% Soothing Toner
The best toners flood the skin with hydration, protect the skin barrier and correct any irritation. It's also the ideal product for prepping your skin. Currently, the Anua Heartleaf 77% Soothing Toner tops the popularity ranking on Olive Young, one of Korea's major drug store retailers. It's also BeautyTok's go-to toner, for being gentle on all skin types, whether it's oily, combination or dry. The star ingredient, heartleaf extract water, is sourced directly from Korea, and helps soothe, tone and hydrate the skin, as well as balance the pH level. Using this toner before your thicker moisturisers and serums ensures a better absorption rate than without. Reviewers attest to the calming effects, impressed with how quickly it soothes acne.
5. Best Essence: Beauty Of Joseon Ginseng Essence Water
Essences are water-based, like toners, but carry a slightly more concentrated list of ingredients. They're poured into the hands and patted on the skin. This Beauty of Joseon essence is formulated with hanbang, traditional Korean herbal medicine. It lists 80% ginseng root water as its first ingredient, along with 2% niacinamide and adenosine. As a result, you get an even skin tone, antioxidant properties to protect against external stimuli, wrinkle prevention and sebum control. Reviewers are ecstatic about what the essence has done to their skin, calling it magic in a bottle. They note an instant glow, shrunken pores and hydration.
6. Best Serum: Torriden Dive-In Low Molecule Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Pat in more hydration for the day, with Torriden's Dive-In serum. Its low-molecular hyaluronic acid formula penetrates deeper into the skin, building 3D networks to help maintain moisture levels. You'll find the texture non-greasy and watery, so it disappears as quickly as a toner. It's free of artificial fragrance, mineral oils and other skin irritants. Calming ingredients, like allantoin and panthenol, also work wonders to alleviate dryness and a compromised skin barrier. Reviewers are easily able to add it to their summer routines because of how lightweight it is, even if they have oily skin. Some men use it as their after-shave moisturiser.
7. Best Ampoule: Mediheal Tea Tree Biome Blemish Cica Ampoule
Replace the serum with something more potent to treat problematic areas. Ampoules could come with vitamin C, tea tree, collagen or retinol. Our pick is the Mediheal Tea Tree Biome Blemish Cica ampoule, which gently brightens blemishes without irritation, despite being highly concentrated. It's made with 87% organic tea tree leaf extract, grown and harvested in Korea, and large quantities of Centella asiatica extract (Cica) to soothe inflamed spots. Other beneficial ingredients include chamomile and aloe vera to remove excess sebum, clear pores and improve texture. Reviewers say they don't notice new breakouts when they're using the ampoule, so it's great for acne prevention.
8. Best Mask: beplain Mung Bean Pore Clay Mask
Masks are not a fixed beauty product in your rotation, rather they're meant to be a pick-me-up of sorts for the skin when certain concerns arise. You could opt for the traditional sheet mask to quickly soothe a painful pimple, or integrate a wash-off clay mask into the routine. Reach out for beplain's Mung Bean Pore Clay Mask, when blackheads and whiteheads become more prominent. This is a deep-cleansing, non-drying creamy mask with mung bean enzyme and mung bean powder, both of which gently exfoliate clogged pores, dead skin cells and blackheads. The clay texture contains coconut shell powder to aid in physical exfoliation, when you gently massage it in. It only needs three minutes to work.
9. Best Eye Cream: Beauty Of Joseon Revive Eye Serum
Eye creams offer special care to the thin skin around the orbital bone - it's where we show signs of ageing, but also find dark circles to dull our appearance. A dedicated eye cream should deliver elasticity, hydration and some tightening effect, like the Beauty of Joseon Revive eye serum. Its creamy formula contains 10% ginseng root extract for brightening and 2% retinal, a vitamin A derivative for anti-ageing, is mixed with niacinamide, glycerin and cholestrol to improve the appearance of wrinkles. The best part is that you can use this serum cream on the neck, laughing lines and even all over the face. Do note that if your skin isn't used to an active like retinal, then you might need to buffer the serum with a moisturiser. Beauty of Joseon recommends use only at night. Reviewers attest to the lightening of dark circles in the morning, and some find relief from puffiness and milia.
10. Best Moisturiser: Aestura Atobarrier365 Ceramide Cream
Great in summer and excellent for winter, no matter the season, the Aestura Atobarrier365 Ceramide Cream does what it claims. It's also one of Korea's favourite cream-based moisturisers. Specially formulated for dry and sensitive skin, the cream promises 100 hours of hydration. The formula is hypoallergenic, unscented and free of alcohol. Three lipids - ceramide, fatty acid and cholesterol - restore the skin barrier without weighing too heavily on the skin. Reviewers who use retinol leave five stars on the Atobarrier365, saying that it helped their flaking, irritated skin. There's no pilling under make-up, and it doesn't clog acne-prone skin, either.
11. Best Sunscreen: SKIN1004 Hyalu-Cica Water-Fit Sun Serum
The last step of your AM skincare routine is, perhaps, the most important. A good sunblock shields the face from harmful UV rays, fights signs of sun ageing, and reduces hyperpigmentation. K-beauty sunscreens, like the Skin1004 Hyalu-Cica Water-Fit Sun Serum, are known for their broad spectrum protection and no-white cast formulas. This popular sun serum has an SPF 50+ with a high protection grade or PA++++ rating. It goes on like a water-based serum, which helps the skin absorb it quickly without a greasy finish. Don't let the thin texture mislead you - it has hyaluronic acid and Cica to soothe and hydrate irritated skin. It's also a reef-safe chemical sunscreen! Rave reviews pour in from acne-prone, oily and sensitive skin types.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.