The Evolution of “Korean Skincare Routine”


I have mentioned previously about my personal encounter on Korean skincare routines back in 2001 ish when I was still a little girl. The methodology on how to apply skincare products is quite similar to what we consider today as the “10-step Korean Skincare Routine”, introduced by Charlotte Cho. However, back then the trends, concerns and knowledge we’ve had on skincare products were quite different from from what we know today.






First off, a product that was widely recommended in the new millennium on Korean cosmetics forums — Astringent.

I’ve never heard of astringent, or its recommendation anywhere outside of these message boards, but this was considered the Step-1 after facial cleansing back in those days. After all the warnings Paula Begoun has launched against on alcohol in cosmetics; it is really difficult to imagine using products with such high alcohol content on our faces these days. But back in those days, something similar was used in the US too.




Remember OXY pads? Those pads that were drenched in some type of medicated alcohol that was supposed to be good for your skin? I remember it being highly popular in the early 2000’s, I’ve used them, even though I had no acne! I remember using them as some type of preventative measure. Well post-Begoun, OXY pads-begone. They’ve disappeared from the shelves of Walgreens and high-alcohol products like these are more difficult to find these days.

“Oil-free”. How important it was back then for products to contain these letters on their labels. Perhaps it was a continuation from the fat-free craze of the 90’s, fats and oils in skincare was seen in a negative light as well. Perhaps it’s the reason why products like OXY and astringents were so successful back then. Everyone at the time were trying to maintain a fat-free diet, while keeping skin oil-free.

Now the trends have shifted, and people seek for alcohol-free cosmetics and they don’t mind oils in their products. As long as its not mineral oils. *winky face*





Korea’s Number 1 Selling “wiping toner”


My personal thoughts are that the 10-step Korean Skincare routine from Charlotte is a bit misleading and outdated for today’s standards. There are a lot of details that are left out on the functionality for each product as well.

I believe she’s referring to what Koreans call “wiping toners” on her step 4, the “Refreshener”. Toners are usually considered to be completely liquid, while essences are a little thicker and more viscous in consistency. However, with the release of “boosters” (I’ll elaborate on this soon) which was marketed as an higher-end product, they couldn’t market boosters as toners since toners has a very economical ring to it. Thus they decided to market them as booster essences rather than toners. After all, no one has ever seen a $5 facial essence, while they may have seen a plethora of $5 toners. Some cosmetics companies sell toners that are more viscous, which resemble what we think would be the consistency of an essence. Again, more marketing in play, it allows the consumer to think that they’re getting a more expensive product at a value. The lines between toners and essences are fading in the modern world of cosmetics. Thus Korean girls always seem to differentiate the difference when talking cosmetics among one another, whether it’s completely liquid — water, or a little thick and viscous — snot type. Although a bit repugnant seeing it in English, it’s a common saying that people find whimsically funny in Korean.

Moving along, many Koreans use wiping toners to clear off excess debris and hints of cosmetics that might have been missed from cleansing. The ones used for wiping is usually what the Koreans would refer to as water-type toners, the ones that are completely liquid. Looking back, the use of wiping toners today seem to mirror the use of astringents from 90’s to 00’s. Which toner you would chose here depends all on you, whether you decide to use an alcohol based astringent, alpha hydroxy acid toners for exfoliation, or just a nice rose water toner to quickly re-hydrate your skin after washing it. The main use for this step is to further clean your skin without soap or oils.





Different Types of “Booster Essences” which are commonly labeled as “First Essence”– meaning it should be the first step to your skincare



Although “essence” is one way to put her step 5, it’s more specifically a “booster essence”. The nation-wide use of this type of essence has become revolutionary in the Korean skincare scene. Essences can mean a lot of things in skincare, some are liquid like toners, some are a little more viscous. The consistency is of little importance, nor is the “essence” labeling. What is important about this step is that you use an essence or a toner that is what the Koreans call a booster essence.

The absolute original booster essence is probably SK II’s Facial Treatment Essence which popularized, and started the chain reaction of similar products being used. There are numerous booster products that are available in the market now, including the one from Estee Lauder’s Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion, if you wanted an American alternative.

Booster essences typically have through some type of leavening or fermentation process with yeast or even probiotics. Koreans call these type of essence toners booster essences because they “boost” the absorption of your skincare regimen. Believe it or not, whether it helps absorption, I can attest to you that it does help significantly with hydrating your skin.

However, for best results, always use a generous amount of your booster essence on a cotton pad.





Yeoyoon Overnight Vitalizing Mask (120ml)

Another popular Korean product would be “sleeping cream” which would fare well on step 10 of Charlotte’s Korean beauty routine.

However it’s a little different from the regular night creams that are usually recommended for night use because its Retinol content, which leaves the skin vulnerable in sunlight. Sleeping creams are usually creamier in consistency, and they come in generous amounts. After applying everything that is good for your skin, the additional layer of sleeping creams masks are used to seal in and prevent all the moisture from evaporating. These products usually do not have any whitening or anti-aging agents, however they can double as a regular skin cream to keep hydrated. You can also use them during the daytime as well, if your skin is feeling a bit dry!


I’ll continue on with more Korean Skincare Routines in the future. Thanks for reading!

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