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Tried and trending: the Korean multi-step beauty routine

The Korean skincare routine is a big commitment--read: multi-step--but does it really pay off?
Alice Vitiello

It all started for me when I read an article in The Cut about the Korean TV show that caused a YSL lipstick shortage. Tucked away in my cozy middle-American Ohio enclave, who knows how long the rest of the world had been buzzing about the Koreans and their beauty obsession. This was news to me, and I was captivated. I mean, sorry, but that's how girls like me get upon realizing that there actually exists an entire nation of people so obsessed with beauty product innovation that nothing less than the original YSL Rouge Pur Couture number 52 would suffice, even going for up to $100 on ebay. To think that the perfect nuance of pinky coral could spark such infatuation! My curiosity was piqued.

A month or so later, my go-to beauty blog Into The Gloss posted this piece on the 10 step Korean skincare routine. An hour of link clicking later, I had learned that Korean actresses are gorgeous and clearly know a thing or two about skincare, so it's no wonder a lipstick on TV could spark a feeding frenzy; Korean women are obsessed with the idea of cuteness, as evidenced by the adorable cat chaped thing-a-ma-bobs and whats-a-hoozies available for sale at SOKOGLAM!; there exists something called the Korean ombre/gradient lip, and it is amazeballs; and, most importantly, basically everything that is happening in makeup and skincare right now is coming out of Korea. The people we have to thank for beauty tube mascara and BB cream are hard at work do, indeed, know a lot about beauty, and I'm deadly serious about this. Forget everything you think you know about what you put on your face and get ready to weep tears of joy after you see the glowy, dewy skin that you'll have after giving yourself a Korean beauty overhaul. About this, I do not kid. Remember, people know I'm a makeup artist, and the best compliment I usually get is, "Your makeup looks great." Once I started my Korean skincare, I literally had complete strangers stop me on 3 different occasions to tell me that "You have beautiful skin," or, best of all, "You're so beautiful!" I mean, come on. I still haven't lost the baby weight. I have no problem taking the compliment, mmmkay?

OK, so there's two ways to go about this. You can be hardcore and go with the traditional 10-ish step routine--I tried this with products by Laneige (Amorepacific's baby sister company, available at Target!), or you can exercise your American pragmatism and go with Amarte's condensed 5-step version. Either way, you're going to see results.

For a full read-up on how the 10 step routine works in detail, you can get it from the horse's mouth here. Essentially, though, here's what my own 9 step routine looks like:

  1. Laneige Oil Free Liquid Cleanser. A clear gel applied to dry skin and massaged in to melt makeup--even the waterproof eye stuff. It's akin to a cleansing oil, only it's oil-free, and it leaves my skin really bright and glowy. I'd even be tempted to stop here and slap on some moisturizer, but...
  2. Laneige Multi Cleanser. A fluffy, creamy foamer with itty bitty scrubbing beads, I can think of no other reason than this that the blackheads on my nose have all but disappeared. It uses papaya as a natural exfoliating agent, and when rinsed, it leaves skin with a plump and moisturized feeling that--I'm not going to lie--can take some getting used to if you like that squeaky clean feeling. But that's why we have...
  3. Laneige Power Essential Skin Toner. This soothing, emulsion-like toner is swept over the face with a cotton pad to remove any leftover cleansing residue and prepare for moisturizer. I'm certain that it's an essential step, especially if you tend to break out around the hairline or the very edges of the face. That can be due to cleanser you're not rinsing off! I follow with...
  4. A mist of mineral water (Evian spray is fine), and seal it in with...
  5. Laneige Perfect Renew Emulsion. The Emulsion is a growing skincare product division that originated in Asia, and you might know about it already if you're familiar with the SKII product line. This emulsion is amazing, truly the one must-have product from the line, if I could only pick one. It just weightlessly infuses your skin with plumpness and moisture that I have never seen, felt, or experienced from any American product before, ever. And remember that I worked at Sephora--I've felt pretty much everything, at least on the back of my hand.
  6. Seal it in with Laneige Water Bank Serum. I could beauty-geek out and list active ingredients here, but what do you care as long as it works?
  7. You're not done yet! Now comes your actual moisturizer: Laneige Water Bank Gel Cream. A gel that somehow never gets dry or pilly. Smells amazing, feels amazing, looks dewy, and keeps skin looking dewy for hours. But you'll also need....
  8. Laneige Perfect Renew Firming Eye Cream. With ceramides, to be patted around the eye area. I'm not going to lie, my eyes are my wrinkly trouble area and nothing I've ever used has gotten rid of my lines, but this stuff at least keeps them hydrated and it makes my concealer go on like a dream.
  9. At bedtime, I mist one more time lightly with water and then add the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. This is kind of the facial equivalent of putting a shower cap on when you've got deep conditioner in your hair; it seals all of the good stuff in so that your skin is extra glowy and dewy in the morning. The cool part is that it is a light and cushiony gel; nothing sticky or tacky here. You can still kiss your sweetheart with this on your face!
  10. In the daytime, top with Laneige BB Cushion SPF 50+. I can't get over how this makes my skin look. Now, don't think you're all clever and go out and buy this without the other skincare; it won't work. On your regular skin, or over sunscreen alone, it just looks, well, regular. But on top of the dewiness of your gorgeously plump new skin, it sets perfectly and gives you a dewy-matte perfected finish that just looks like YSBB--your skin but better.
  11. Occasionally, I'll throw in my own glycolic something or other--either a PTR cleanser or peel--and I'll also mix in a drop of my own vitamin C powder (I like the one from Philosophy). This actually isn't far off from the Korean routines; they just call their extra treatment boosters "ampoules" and they also use things like exfoliating masks. I would, too, but they don't sell them at Target--so, like I said, I swap in my own. In general, my Laneige routine centers around deep hydration and plumping. While that sounds pretty basic, you'd be amazed at how amazing truly hydrated skin actually looks. It will take off at least 5 years for sure!

OK, now listen. I know y'all. I know you think I'm crazy. I know that when my mother is done reading this, she's going to call me and say something like, "That is absurd! All you need is Neutrogena sunscreen and some Aquaphor!" Which is cool, because my mom is drop dead gorgeous, and basically all she uses really is Neutrogena sunscreen and Aquaphor. That being said, let's say some of you others are intrigued, but you're not willing to spend the time and/or money on such an involved routine. Can you get the same results with less?

That's what skincare brand Amarte claims. The brand is actually number one in Asia and has been since it first launched in 2001, which is a ridiculously impressive claim given the level of savvy that 10-stepping Korean beauty consumers must have. The secret here is that the brand was designed to be based in both Korean beauty traditions and western dermatology, creating a hybrid brand and product that is especially suited to Americans who are looking to dabble in the Korean skincare trend without going whole hog into 10-step territory.

Here's how to cut your Korean face washing routine in half and still get the beauty benefits:

  1. Amarte Daily Wonder Cleansing Foam. It's a hybrid makeup remover, cleanser, and toner in one, so there are your steps 1-3 from the list above. It's cushiony and smells like cucumbers, and I can tell my husband has been stealing it from me because he comes out of the shower smelling delicious in the morning! I have to tell him to lay off my good face wash...
  2. Amarte Aqua Veil Hydrator. Here is your emulsion and serum in one (steps 5 and 6 above); it's plumping, acne fighting but non-drying, soothing, brigtening, and moisturizing. Also smells like cucumbers!
  3. Amarte Hydrolift Cream. This is your anti-aging powerhouse, and here's where the western dermatology part comes in: it features retinol, the number one ingredient any dermatologist is going to recommend to you for anti-aging because it's clinically proven to help with a whole host of skin concerns like spots, wrinkles, lines, pores, and even sagging. High on its list of ingredients (ingredient #4!), it's got argan oil, too, which is a bonus to face oil devotees like myself. The argan oil seals in the good stuff, so there you've got steps 7 and 9 from above; consider this your moisturizer and sleep mask in one.
  4. Amarte Eyeconic Eye Cream. An eye cream with retinol? And peptides? That sound you hear is a thousand dermatologists applauding your wise choice of eye creams.
  5. With all this retinol on your face, you're going to see some serious anti-aging activity, but you've got to be sure to protect the good work you've done because the sun can ruin it all in an instant. Finish skin for daytime with Amarte Natural Finish BB Cream--SPF 36, water resistant, and gives skin a foundation-free glow.

Full disclosure: I haven't committed myself to the Amarte routine yet because I'm in the sun nearly every day for hours at a time, and for this reason I don't like to use retinol in the summer. I am saving these goodies for the fall when I want to make short work of the freckles and such that have popped up from a summer spent outdoors. However, even from just the week of use that I gave these products in testing, I found that my skin looked plump, glowy, and hydrated. I'm not going to say that I achieved the extreme levels of plumping and hydration that I get from the full 10 step routine, but it sure comes darn close--and retinol really takes about 6 weeks to fully work its magic on the skin, so these products need more time to do their thing and are less of a quick fix.

Laneige products were purchased by me. Amarte products were provided by the brand for the purpose of this article.

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