What is K-Beauty?

Allyson Mattingly


By now, you've surely heard about "K-Beauty." You may be wondering... how is K-beauty different from your current skincare regimine? Do the ingredients live up to the hype? Is it worth changing your skincare routine to incorporate this trend?

No matter how much you’ve heard about K-beauty, we're sure you still have lingering questions about this ubiquitous trend. Never fear; we’re here to answer your questions and educate you on achieving the most luminous skin possible.

K-Beauty is an umbrella term for Korean skincare products. Thanks to Korean beauty philosophy, these products are created with health and hydration in mind and improve the health of your skin over time. Though these products generally aren’t made to be quick fixes for any skin blemishes you may have, you’ll notice the gradually improved state of your complexion.

The emphasis of Korean skincare is to follow an individualized, consistent routine with products that use natural, unique, gentle ingredients. Many of these concepts have been passed down through multiple generations. Korean beauty philosophy recognizes that everyone’s skin is unique and has its own special needs, which is why understanding your skin is fundamental to your K-beauty routine.

In Korea, people often spend a large amount of time exposed to the sun and other elements. Searching for ways to prevent and correct environmental and sun damage, Koreans found that natural ingredients such as rice water, mung bean, and camellia offered more balanced skin. Though discovered thousands of years ago, these ingredients are still used in modern K-beauty products because they are rich in antioxidants and provide hydrating properties.

Korea’s economy grew exponentially around the 1940s, and what we know as the modern K-beauty movement began. Many original K-beauty companies are around even today, such as Saengreen, Amore Pacific, and Shangpree. As the reach of these brands and products continued to progress, so did the incorporation of more ingredients and formulas. Now, a typical K-beauty skincare routine consists of products like essences, serums, ampoules, masks, and more, that all work together to promote healthy skin, layer by layer.

Remember, the emphasis of Korean skincare is customization, so while one person’s routine could be 15 steps, your’s might be only five steps. Pay attention to the products and ingredients that work for your skin and adjust your routine over time based on what your skin is craving. Many K-beauty products are designed to be buildable, so just go off your intuition when caring for your own precious skin. Need some more hydration after a particularly hot, windy day? You can apply multiple layers of your essence instead of just one layer.

Keep in mind that these are the bare basics of a K-beauty skincare routine; the whole point is to personalize it as you see fit. The most important thing is consistency and getting to know your skin. Though it may seem like a lot when you first begin, there are ways to streamline the process, like using new multi-tasking products that combine two separate steps, like a serum and moisturizer in one.

Once you’ve got your routine down, it doesn’t have to take long, especially if you understand your skin. Choose to think of that time as “me time;” this mindset can help you look forward to your daily routine and a way to prepare or unwind from the stress of the day. Not only will you have some alone time, but your skin will be happy and healthy!

Try it:

Below is a sample of a Korean 10-step skincare routine. Some days, you might complete three steps, while others, you might go the extra mile and complete 12. Use the 10-step routine as an overview to curate a perfect routine for your individual needs.

  • Use an oil-based cleanser to remove oil-based impurities like makeup.
  • Use a gentle, water-based cleanser to remove any remaining residue without stripping natural oils.
  • Use an exfoliant to remove dead skin, but listen to what your skin needs. Most people only exfoliate once or twice a week.
  • Use a hydrating toner to balance pH and provide hydration.
  • Use an essence for lightweight, oil-free hydration; it can be layered or omitted based on personal needs.**
  • Use face oils, serums, ampoules, or other treatments to target the specific issues you want to address with your skin. These products are the most personalized steps of the routine.
  • Use a mask based on what you’d like to focus on that day, though masks aren’t necessary every day. Sheet masks, rinse-off masks, and overnight sleep masks are always great options.
  • Use an eye cream to treat any dark circles or puffiness.
  • Use a hydrating moisturizer to seal all the goodness in!
  • Use a sunscreen in the morning to protect from the sun and prevent premature aging.