Your comprehensive step-by-step guide for creating your personalized Korean skincare routine for acne.
Choosing the right skincare product for acne-prone skin is hard enough in itself. Not only do you have to consider factors like affordability, availability, reviews, and brand ethics, you also have to worry about product comedogenicity and the presence of certain ingredients/allergens. Considering the variety of skincare products in the market today, it’s hard to know which product will or will not work for your skin.
To complicate matters, creating your own Korean skincare routine for acne is an even more confusing process. Aside from knowing how to choose the right products for your skincare regimen, you’d also have to know how to use them, when to use them, and how often you have to use them. This can be a very overwhelming process, especially if you’re a newbie in the Korean skincare department.
Lucky for you, we’re here to help you build your very own Korean skincare routine for acne. This comprehensive article will guide you through the whole process. From what ingredients to look out for to the order of their application, this step-by-step guide has got it all covered. Continue reading to find out more.
What Is the Korean 10-Step Skincare Routine?
The Korean 10-step skincare routine is one of the most hyped skincare regimens today. It involves double cleansing (cleansing with both oil and water), layering, and intensive skin hydration. While it may seem like a bit of an overkill, all these steps are specifically designed to complement each other.
Follow this guide to personalize your 10-step Korean skincare routine for acne:
Step 1: Oil-based cleanser
Cleansing acne-prone skin with oil may seem questionable at first. Some might ask, “Won’t this add more oil to my skin and clog my pores?” The answer is no. Despite the popular skincare misconception that oil-based cleansers are harmful to oily/acne-prone skin, some oil-based cleansers are actually great for acne-prone skin. In fact, oil-based cleansers can remove skin impurities without stripping the skin of its natural protective oils.
- How to do it: Gently massage your oil cleanser onto dry skin for a minute or two using upward circular motions. Add in some lukewarm water to emulsify the cleanser. Emulsifying it will help it break down oil-based impurities like SPF and excess sebum. Rinse off the cleanser completely with warm water.
- When to do it: PM
- Frequency: Daily
- Tips for acne-prone skin: Consider cleansers containing jojoba oil. Not only is Jojoba Oil non-comedogenic, it has also been found to be effective in treating mild acne vulgaris.
Step 2: Water-based cleanser
After drawing out oil-based impurities with your oil-based cleanser, the next step is to use a water-based cleanser to remove water-based impurities like sweat and dirt. This will also rid the skin of any excess oil left from the previous step.
- How to do it: Gently massage your water-based cleanser onto wet skin for a minute or two using upward circular motions. After that, rinse off the cleanser completely with lukewarm water.
- When to do it: AM and PM.
- Frequency: Daily
- Tips for acne-prone skin: When choosing a water-based cleanser, go for one that’s gentle and has a low pH level (4-6). This will ensure that your skin will retain its ideal pH level. Using low pH cleansers can also reduce acne by making the skin environment non-ideal for acne growth.
Step 3: Exfoliation
There are two types of exfoliation: physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Physical exfoliation makes use of grainy and textured surfaces to remove skin debris. Chemical exfoliation, on the other hand, makes use of chemicals (i.e. AHAs and BHAs) to remove dead skin cells and to aid in skin cell renewal.
- How to do it: Gently massage your exfoliator onto your face using upward circular motions. Try focusing on your nose area and on areas with visible pores.
- When to do it: AM if you want to lessen the risk of skin redness and skin irritation. PM if you want to remove your makeup and provide better product absorption for the cosmetics included in your nighttime routine.
- Frequency: Once or twice a week, depending on your skin tolerance. Be careful not to over-exfoliate as this can damage the skin’s moisture barrier.
- Tips for acne-prone skin: Use BHA chemical exfoliators. They’re gentler than physical exfoliators and also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Also, physical exfoliators may irritate existing acne due to their tendency to create micro-tears in the skin.
Step 4: Toner
After all that cleansing and exfoliation, your skin is going to need some hydration. This is where toners come to your skin’s rescue. Toners serve a dual purpose in your skincare regimen:
- They balance your skin’s pH level.
- They prep your skin to better absorb other moisturizing products.
- How to do it: Use a cotton pad or your fingers to gently pat the toner all over your face until it is absorbed.
- When to do it: AM and PM
- Frequency: Daily
- Tips for acne-prone skin: You can use either AHA or BHA toners depending on the specific skin conditions you want to address. Use AHA if you want to focus on reducing hyperpigmentation and acne scars. Use BHA if you want to focus on treating acne and reducing the visible signs of sun damage.
Step 5: Essence
Essences are usually jam-packed with vitamins and potent antioxidant ingredients. Essences aid in skin cell turnover and are effective product absorption enhancers. They have a slightly watery texture that can penetrate deep into the skin.
- How to do it: Pour 2-3 drops of essence onto your hand. Rub both of your hands together to distribute the product evenly. Gently pat your hands onto your face and neck for an even distribution.
- When to do it: AM and PM
- Frequency: Daily
- Tips for acne-prone skin: Lightweight and watery essences are better for acne-prone skin since they don’t tend to clog the pores.
Step 6: Serums and Ampoules
Serums and ampoules are packed in with high concentrations of potent active ingredients that seek to address specific skin concerns. Unlike essences, serums and ampoules can be used for spot treatments. Ampoules tend to have thicker than serums while serums tend to be thicker than essences.
- How to do it: Put the product on your hands and gently pat it on your face. Focus on the areas mainly affected by your specific skin concern.
- When to do it: AM or PM
- Frequency: Generally, serums can be applied daily while ampoules can be used once or twice a week.
- Tips for acne-prone skin: Avoid rubbing serums and ampoules on your face. This can irritate your skin and cause unwanted swelling and redness, especially on the areas with active acne. Always pat your products in gently to minimize tugging your skin.
Step 7: Sheet Masks
The primary purpose of sheet masks is to add another layer of moisture and nourishment to the skin. The sheet ensures better nutrient absorption by preventing the liquid from evaporating too fast.
- How to do it: Put the sheet mask on your face and leave it on for at least 15 mins.
- When to do it: AM or PM
- Frequency: At least once a week
- Tips for acne-prone skin: If you intend to use sheet masks multiple times a week, make sure to check the ingredients. Look out for any skin peeling and/or exfoliating ingredients. If there is, limit the use of your sheet mask accordingly.
Step 8: Eye cream
The eye area has the thinnest skin in our bodies.This is why this area tends to be one of the first ones to manifest the early signs of skin aging. We recommend going for eye creams that address specific eye area issues like droopy eyelids, hooded eyes, and crow’s feet.
- How to do it: Gently tap on a pea-sized amount of eye cream onto your orbital bone area (the bone structure surrounding your eyes).
- When to do it: AM or PM
- Frequency: Daily
- Tips for acne-prone skin: Choose eye creams with lightweight consistencies and quick-absorbing formulations. Eye creams with creamy and heavy consistencies have the tendency to clog the pores.
Step 9: Moisturizer
Moisturizers are not only important for skin hydration, they’re also needed for regulating certain essential skin processes like skin barrier repair and skin desquamation (skin peeling process). Following this, it necessarily implies that even people with oily skin types should use moisturizers. The proper and consistent use of moisturizers can help keep your skin healthy, fresh, and youthful-looking.
- How to do it: Put a sufficient amount of moisturizer on your hand and gently pat it on your face and neck.
- When to do it: AM and PM
- Frequency: Daily
- Tips for acne-prone skin: Choose a lightweight and non-comedogenic moisturizer. Moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and aloe vera have skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that are good for acne-ridden skin.
Step 10: Sun protection
When used as directed, sunscreens can decrease skin cancer risk and prevent premature skin aging.
- How to do it: Experts suggest applying at least 5mL (approx. one tsp.) of sunscreen on your face, neck, and ears.
- When to do it: AM
- Frequency: Daily; at least 30 mins. before sun exposure; reapply every 2 hrs.
- Tips for acne-prone skin: We recommend mineral sunscreens since they’re non-comedogenic. Opt for ones that have lightweight consistencies and quick-absorbent formula. With this, you’ll lessen your risk of getting your pores clogged and having sudden breakouts.
Considering the fact that we live in a fast-paced world, a 10-step Korean skincare routine can be a little too burdensome for people who have strict budgets and hectic schedules. Luckily, you can still reap the desired benefits of this skincare routine by following its simplified version instead.
Superstar Ingredients for Acne
The popular 10-step skincare routine originated in South Korea where reports show that 53.4% of women have dry skin and 68.8% of women have sensitive skin.
Although these statistics imply that the Korean 10-step skincare routine is meant for people with dry or sensitive skin, people with oily and acne-prone skin types can still benefit from this routine. They just have to be more selective in choosing the products that they’ll be incorporating into the regimen.
To guide you in choosing the right products, here’s a list of superstar ingredients for acne care:
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are a group of naturally occurring compounds present in many foods and milk sugars. Two of the most popular types of AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Glycolic acid is often used to treat existing acne. Lactic Acid, on the other hand, has been found to significantly improve the appearance of superficial acne scarring on the skin.
According to the US-FDA, products containing AHAs may increase the skin’s sun sensitivity. They recommend using sunscreen and limiting sun exposure when using products containing AHAs.
Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are compounds that penetrate the skin through sebaceous follicles. Studies show that BHA can treat acne without disrupting the normal skin function. Also, BHAs are less irritating on the skin than AHAs. One of the most common BHAs found in cosmetic products is salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid (SA) belongs to a class of drugs known as salicylates. SAs can help in stabilizing the skin peeling process and eliminating dead skin cells. Through this, SA keeps the pores free from acne-causing cellular debris.
The US-FDA also recommends using sun protection when using BHA.
Propolis is a potent anti-acne ingredient produced by honeybees. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that aid in fighting acne-causing bacteria.
Although generally considered safe, people with bee allergies should be careful of using products containing propolis. Propolis can cause adverse allergic reactions when used by people who are sensitive to bee and bee by-products.
Vitamin C and E
Vitamin C and Vitamin E are powerful antioxidants essential in several bodily processes. Research shows that the combined properties of Vitamin C and Vitamin E can prevent comedone formation and deprive the P.acne bacteria of a thriving ground.
Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids that are found in the epidermis. Studies show that topical ceramides help improve the skin barrier function in acne-affected skin. It can also reduce the dryness and irritation that commonly results from acne treatment.
Ingredients to Avoid
Oily and acne-prone skin types tend to easily get inflamed and irritated. This is why you should be cautious in choosing products for your face. Here’s our no-no list for your reference:
Denatured alcohol is basically ethanol that’s been ‘denatured’ or mixed with off-putting ingredients to discourage people from consuming it. Using products with denatured alcohol can make the skin extremely dry and irritated. When the skin becomes dehydrated, it tries to overcompensate the moisture loss by producing more oil. This creates a vicious cycle of overdrying and overproduction of sebum, clogging the pores and triggering acne in the process.
Ironically, many people with oily and acne-prone skin are still attracted to alcohol-based acne products. For one, it gives them a ‘tight’ and ‘clean’ feel. Also, alcohol gives the impression that it can kill acne-causing bacteria. In reality though, these benefits are superficial. That seemingly ‘refreshing sensation’ is actually the alcohol stripping away the skin’s natural oils and damaging the skin’s moisture barrier.
Lanolin is a substance secreted by the sheep’ sebaceous glands. While it has its fair share of beneficial effects on the skin (i.e. moisturizing and soothing), this ingredient is considered to be highly comedogenic. Studies also found that lanolin is notorious for irritating sensitive skins and causing allergic contact dermatitis.
Research showed that the topical application of oleic acid—the main fatty acid present in olive oil—can cause acne and induce comedones. Also, it was found that oleic acid can boost the growth of acne-causing bacteria (P. Acnes).
Topical application of olive oil onto the skin can cause significant damage to the skin barrier. Because of this, it can potentially dry out the skin and exacerbate existing eczema.
Silicones are substances derived from silica. By itself, silicone is low risk and non-comedogenic. However, its emollient activities make it worrisome for oily/acne-prone skin. Being an emollient, silicone works by creating a protective film on the skin surface to prevent moisture loss. This protective layer, however, doesn’t only trap moisture but can also seal in dead skin cells and sebum. This may likely cause clogged pores and unwanted breakouts.
Fragrances; essential oils; parabens
Fragrances, essential oils, and parabens are commonly added to cosmetics to mask any off-putting scents, boost the product’s antimicrobial properties, and serve as chemical preservatives, respectively. However, research showed that these substances are some of the most common allergens found in moisturizers. When used on oily and acne-prone skin, they can potentially exacerbate skin inflammation.
Shea butter is a substance that comes from the nut of the Africa Shea tree. While several studies indicate mixed results regarding the potential comedogenicity of shea butter, AAD supports the idea that it can clog the pores and trigger acne.
Isopropyl Myristate is a fatty acid that consists of isopropyl alcohol and myristic acid. This is widely used as a moisturizer and as an ingredient penetration enhancer. However, it isn’t advisable for people with oily or acne-prone skin. It has a comedogenic rating of 5, the highest score on the comedogenic scale.
Simplified Korean Skin Care Routine for Acne
The steps in the Korean 10-step skincare routine for acne can be stripped down to its core to cater to people who are on a strict budget and/or tight schedule. Try this simplified version:
Step 1: Double cleanse
For the first part of your double cleanse, we recommend oil-based cleansers/balms over facial oils. Although both of them have oil as their main component, the former has added ingredients called surfactants. Surfactants help oil-based cleansers/balms bind to various skin impurities. Once bound together, both the cleanser and skin debris will be easier to rinse off. Some facial oil residue, on the other hand, may be left behind if not thoroughly cleansed off.
For the second part of your double cleanse, we recommend pH-balanced water-based cleansers. Cleansers with high pH levels are so harsh that they can wreak havoc on your skin’s pH level, consequently causing it to become either too dry or too oily.
Step 2: Exfoliate
We recommend chemical exfoliants over physical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants have soothing and antibacterial properties which are great for acne-ridden skin. Oily and acne-prone skin types also tend to have loose comedones. Using physical exfoliants on your face can make your skin and your active acne more inflamed and irritated.
Step 3: Serums/ Ampoules
When choosing a serum for your skin care regimen, consider either a Vitamin C serum or Vitamin E serum. Research has found that Vit. C can help with Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and potent antioxidant components. Meanwhile, Vit. E can reduce the risk of acne by preventing the formation of comedones. Without comedones, P. acne bacteria will have no thriving ground.
Since serums and ampoules are highly-concentrated, you can use them for spot treating your specific skin issues (i.e. acne, hyperpigmentation, etc.). Spot treatment involves applying a product to the specific areas/‘spots’ affected by your skin condition. To do this, put a pea-sized amount of product on your finger and gently dab it on your target areas.
Step 4: Eye cream
Gel-type eye creams are better for acne-prone skin than thick and heavy eye creams. Their light consistency makes product absorption easier and a lot quicker.
Do note that for eye creams, a little goes a long way. The eye area skin is so thin, you won’t need to put on so much product. Also, if you’re using a heavy type of eye cream, be very careful not to apply it outside the eye area. Heavy eye creams could easily clog the pores and trigger acne on your cheeks/temples.
Step 5: Moisturize
A common misconception that people with oily and acne-prone skin have is that their skin does not need moisturizing. False! While the last thing you want is to add more oil to your skin, not moisturizing enough will only cause you more harm than good.
Lots of people with oily and acne-prone skin falsely believe that ridding their skin of all moisture would lessen their problems with breakouts. However, this will only lead to skin dehydration. Overly-dehydrating your skin can cause it to produce more oil, further aggravating your problem with breakouts. Make sure to always moisturize.
Step 6: Sunscreen
Knowing that not wearing sunscreen increases your probability of getting skin cancer and photoaging should be more than enough to convince you to apply sunscreen. But if you need stronger motivation to religiously apply sunscreen, do know that your risk is further increased when you use certain cosmetic products containing certain ingredients.
Skincare regimens specializing in acne treatment often include products containing AHAs, BHAs, and/or retinol. These ingredients heighten your sensitivity to the sun’s UV rays. At this point, using sunscreen becomes all the more essential, non-negotiable even.
Mineral sunscreens (a.k.a. physical sunscreens/sunblock) containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are recommended for people with oily/acne-prone skin types. These ingredients naturally broad spectrum and non-comedogenic. Moreover, they’re also less likely to cause skin irritation compared to chemical sunscreens.
For your simplified nighttime routine, you may skip the SPF and focus more on products that focus on skin regeneration.
What’s a simple tip to remember the layering sequence?
“The rule of thumb when applying skincare is to apply the lightest first and the heaviest last, since thinner products can’t penetrate thicker products” – Dr. Idriss, NYC cosmetic dermatologist.
To ensure maximum product absorption, apply the products with thinner consistencies first (i.e. serums/ampoules, eye creams) before applying the thicker ones (i.e. moisturizers, sunscreen).
Do I need all 10 steps?
No, the 10-step Korean skincare routine for acne doesn’t necessarily need to be followed religiously every day, all the time. On busy days you can save some time by following the simplified version of the skincare regimen. Some of the steps in the routine are to be done only either in the morning or night (e.g. sunscreen, serums, ampoules) while others (e.g. exfoliation, ampoules, sheet masks) aren’t meant to be done daily.
Must all my products be Korean?
No, where your skincare products are made is immaterial. Ideally, using Korean products for this routine can give your regimen a more authentic feel. However, if these skincare products cannot address your specific skin concerns, your skincare regimen might do more harm than good.
Should I start all the steps immediately?
No, you should resist the urge to slather on all the products at once. This can potentially irritate your skin and cause unwanted breakouts, especially if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Applying too many products without properly doing a skin patch test can also make your skin inflamed. Worse, it may even trigger an allergic reaction.
Gradually easing your skin into your new Korean skincare routine for acne can help you distinguish which products your skin can tolerate well from those which your skin can’t.
Try introducing a new product into your skincare routine every 1-2 weeks. This way, you can pinpoint any product that’s possibly causing any reactions on your skin.
Additionally, products containing active ingredients like retinol, AHAs, and BHAs work by increasing the skin cell turnover rate. With this, you may experience initial skin purging, a process characterized by an increase in clogged pores, sebum production, and breakouts. While this may be distressing in the short run, it’s a good sign that the product is working as intended.
Don’t confuse purging from a reactive breakout. With skin purging, you will experience breakouts in the places where you normally have blemishes. With a reactive breakout, you will suddenly get acne in the areas of your face where you don’t normally get them. If you’re experiencing a reactive breakout, stop using the product immediately.
During purging, your skin is going to be very sensitive. To prevent further skin irritation, avoid adding new products into your regimen until the purging process is over.
There is no exact time frame for skin purging. However, these symptoms generally go away within four to six weeks. If your symptoms are getting worse beyond this period, consult a dermatologist immediately.
How long before I can see results?
It depends. Not everyone has the exact same skin type in the same way that not everyone has the exact same reaction time when using skincare products. Keep in mind that the Korean skincare routine for acne is all about consistency and long-term results.
For hydrating sheet masks, you may be able to see immediate results after application. However, its effect may only last for a short while. In terms of improved skin hydration, it may take you a couple of weeks to see it but the results will be longer-lasting. On the other hand, it may take you a few months or so to see significant improvements in hyperpigmentation and skin firming.
While these steps may seem a little too overwhelming for you (and your wallet), investing in a good skincare routine will pay off in the long run. Much like all other parts of your body, your skin also needs some tender loving care. With this Korean skincare routine for acne, you can bid your skincare worries goodbye. No more inflamed skin, no more redness, and no more problematic acne. Say hello to healthy and youthful-looking Korean glass skin!
We hope that with this guide, your tailor-made skincare routine will give you that healthy and glowing confidence that you deserve. If you have any more suggestions, feel free to leave us a comment below. We love hearing from you!