I firmly believe that since this is my own blog, I can write about whatever random stuff I want. Today I decided to do a beauty related post because that’s a thing I am very into. Collecting makeup and skincare products is sort of a hobby of mine and I thought I’d share some of my favorite skincare finds after about a year or so experimenting with a Korean routine to find what works for me. Everyone’s skin is different and what works for some people is a disaster for others, but if you’re at all similar to me perhaps you can find something useful here!
NB, I am using Amazon affiliate links throughout this post because it is convenient and because if you buy something with my links I get a little kickback. Amazon is a great resource for the sometimes hard-to-find imported products, but you may be able to find things cheaper on websites like RoseRoseShop or TesterKorea which I use frequently and definitely recommend. For the non-Korean stuff I mention, you can easily find them in person at Target, Sephora, or Nordstrom.
A little background on my own skin:
To begin with, my skin is DRY, like if I don’t moisturize a ton, my face gets flaky and tight and irritated and red and rough and horrible. I’ve never really had much of a problem with acne, thankfully, but dryness means my complexion tends to look very dull and not so healthy and sometimes I see weird lines in my forehead that I definitely shouldn’t have yet at my age.
For some reason it seems like the skincare that is marketed the most in the US is aimed at people with oily and acne prone skin. As a teenager I wrecked my face many times stupidly thinking I was supposed to be using all these harsh acne fighting cleansers and stuff to prevent breakouts that I didn’t get in the first place. These companies do a great job convincing teenage girls that all of us have the same skin that can be treated with the same broad solutions. I struggled for years to find the right products for me, and went through a long period of time where my face was constantly red and irritated every day.
Lucky for me, I discovered Korean skincare a while ago and they have a much different approach. Korean products are all about making your skin look glowy and bright and healthy. The goal is a thoroughly moisturized plump face that’s dewy and youthful and even-toned. Koreans also tend to prefer very involved multi-step routines where you're layering several (sometimes up to 10) products each day/night for maximum effectiveness. I have adapted this philosophy to fit my own skin type and lifestyle and I use a mix of Western and Korean products to accomplish my goal of perfectly glowing skin. My skin isn't perfect, but it has improved DRAMATICALLY since introducing these products and I rarely have any problems.
In the morning I keep it simple. I don't wash my face, just splash some water and do a few swipes with a cotton pad saturated in some toner. The one I'm really loving at the moment is Mizon Bulgarian Rose 90% Toner. It wakes my skin up, calms down any redness, and prepares it to soak up my other products.
Next step is a serum. I like Mizon Original Skin Energy Hyaluronic Acid 100. Hyaluronic acid is an amazingly powerful ingredient for delivering moisture deep into your skin, and using it as a first layer helps everything you put on top penetrate better.
Next step, an emulsion. This is heavier than a serum, but thinner than a moisturizer. Emulsions from different brands are all different and can be really watery or pretty thick, but generally an emulsion is meant to be a light first or second layer of moisture. The trick with the Korean style routine is to layer your products on in order of their thickness. Watery products go first, creamier ones go last. I use Holika Holika Skin & Good Cera Ultra Emulsion which has a hefty dose of ceramides that help protect your skin from environmental damage and keep everything smooth and healthy.
After that soaks in for a moment, I move on to a moisturizer. On a hot day I like to use something light like the Belif True Cream Aqua Bomb. It's sort of a gel texture tat feels nice and cool and absorbs very quickly, so it's perfect for sticky summer days. When I want something a little more substantial on a drier day my favorite is Missha's Super Aqua Ultra Waterfull Cream. I LOVE this stuff, it's a fairly thick cream but it feels watery when you rub it in and it soaks in so nicely.
I don't have a particular eye cream at the moment but I've been playing with lots of samples trying to find one I like. I do use ELF Eye Refresh every day, it's a rollerball that sort of massages your undereye as it dispenses a cooling serum to help de-puff and make you look more awake. It is nice enough but I'm working on finding something more moisturizing and anti-aging since I'm at that point where I need to start taking better care of my eye area.
Depending on what kind of day i'm having, I might throw in an extra step here. Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream is a miracle product that calms down redness and irritation and helps minimize any stray pimples or take care of extra dry patches or any other troubles that might pop up. If I need it, I'll use some as a spot treatment after moisturizing but before sunscreen. This stuff is a cult favorite for a reason! It might sound gross but the main ingredient really is snail slime, which actually has incredible healing properties. Embrace the snail!
The single most important thing of all for taking care of your skin is using some serious SPF and doing your best to stay out of the sun, something my own mother has drilled into my head for my whole life. You won’t catch me for a second without at least a layer of SPF 30 on my face (if I don’t plan on really being outside much, a little 30 is enough for driving around and walking from car to office and stuff). On an outside-y kind of day i’m layering 50 on top of that plus I carry some around to reapply throughout the day like a pale paranoid weirdo.
After moisturizing, the final step before makeup is sunscreen. My faves are Innisfree's Eco Safety Perfect Sunblock SPF 50/PA+++ for days when I need heavier coverage and Supergoop's City Sunscreen Serum SPF 30 for a lightweight every day option. The Innisfree one is more of a traditional sunscreen that goes on kind of thick and white but it's not greasy or runny at all so it's great for people with oily skin too. The Supergoop one is a light creamy serum that could definitely pull double duty as moisturizer+sunscreen steps for people who aren't as dry as I am.
From there I proceed with my makeup which is a topic for another day!
Night time is a little more involved for me. Your skin does most of its healing and regenerating while you sleep so it's the best time to slather all the things on when you don't need to worry about sweating or looking greasy.
I'm not big on washing my face in the traditional way because cleansers can strip away any natural oils that your skin produces. Depending on what kind of makeup I wore and how sweaty of a day I had, I have a few different tactics for cleansing my skin.
(And seriously if you wear makeup, any at all, please I beg you-- do not go to sleep with it still on your face. Unprotected sun exposure is the only thing worse than sleeping in makeup. It will wreck your skin and make you sad. I don't care how drunk and sleepy you are, CLEAN YOUR FACE!)
Here's what I do on a typical night. For makeup removal, I love Lush Ultrabland! This is a Western twist on the popular oil cleansing method that so many people swear by. (Side note: I used to work at Lush and got to know their products very well, I must say I do not recommend ANY of their facial skincare products aside from Ultrabland as it all has some pretty harsh ingredients that can be major irritants for most people--leave a comment or email me if you have questions on that).
Ultrabland is a thick waxy goop that many people might hesitate to put on their face at first, but it melts into a nice oily consistency that magically erases all your makeup. I massage it into dry skin for a couple minutes then remove it with the same Mizon toner from the morning. Several days a week I use a First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pad in place of the rose toner for some light chemical exfoliation. These use AHAs to help shed that top layer of old dull skin cells, they make my face a lot smoother and brighter almost instantly!
Next step is either a serum or an ampoule for me. Some days I like to use Scinic Honey All-In-One Ampoule at this step. This is another crazy miracle product that I would recommend the most if you're only going to buy one thing. The name of the product says it all, it's every step in one jar. Of course my skin has greater needs than one item can take care of but when I am having a lazy night (i.e. too drunk to deal with all this crap) i'll just put this on and be ok. It's decently moisturizing and has really nice ingredients that make my skin happy like propolis and royal jelly. It definitely gives me a brightness boost and is also nice just to slap on any time during the day when my skin is angry.
Other days I'll skip the honey and just stick with the same Mizon Hyaluronic Acid serum from the morning. Once or twice a week, I follow up with a sheet mask (only after the serum but not after the honey ampoule--too much moisture!).
I LOVE sheet masks for their ability to deliver a concentrated boost of moisture and brightness. They're so fun to use and your face always looks 100x brighter and firmer and more awesome afterwards. I buy tons of masks in bulk on Korean websites for under $2 a piece mostly. The ones I find can be really hit or miss though. If you want to spend a little more and not have to go on a big hunt you can find a selection of popular ones at Sephora or Urban Outfitters as sheet masks are having kind of a moment right now. Dr. Jart brand masks are excellent but comparably very pricey. My favorites are from the Mizon Enjoy Vital Up Time line. Avocado is my jam but I also really liked the Lavender (sooo relaxing before bed) and Propolis ones. It's all personal preference.
If I'm sheet masking I'll leave it on for around 20-30 minutes then remove it and use my hands to pat the excess serum into my skin. After it sinks in, I follow with the same emulsion and moisturizer from the morning, then if needed another spot treatment with the Snail Recovery Gel. The final step is a sleeping pack.
A sleeping pack (or sleeping mask or overnight mask) is designed to be your last layer at night. They have occlusive properties to help seal all your previous products in throughout the night to help you retain all that moisture and they usually deliver a dose of their own nice healing ingredients too. I have a bit of a sleeping pack problem. I've tried a ton of them and I regularly cycle through different ones depending on how I'm feeling.
My favorites at the moment though are the Mizon Goodnight White Sleeping Mask and Laneige Water Sleeping Mask (weirdly I purchased a travel sized version of this at Target in a set with a different mask. It's the only Korean stuff I've seen there). The Laneige one is super moisturizing, maybe too much for most people, especially in conjunction with all the other products. It's best on dry wintery days or when your skin just needs something extra. You could probably use it on its own without a moisturizer underneath.
The Mizon one doesn't really deliver much moisture but it is loaded with good anti-aging stuff like niacinamide, a potent ingredient for brightening your skin. (In Korean skincare marketing, anything with "white" or "whitening" in the name just means brightening) I use this one most frequently and it seriously has made such a difference in my skin tone! Niacinamide helps fade those weird dark/red spots that get left behind after a breakout and even out your natural skin tone to make your whole face look nice and glowy and healthy. It's also been linked to tons of great anti-aging benefits. I'm a big fan.
This is pretty much my core routine. I have a bunch of other products I sub in sometimes and I'm always grabbing new samples of different things to play around with, but most of these steps have remained the same for a while.
If you're interested in delving into the world of complicated skincare but aren't sure about it, I invite you to leave a comment below or drop me an email with any questions you have. I'm not an expert but I might be able to point you in the right direction (or even send you some of my extra samples if you ask nicely). The ultimate resource however, is the Asian Beauty subreddit. It's filled with fabulous helpful snail-obsessed people who taught me everything I know, so definitely go check it out!
Have you tried a multi-step routine like this? Share your experience in the comments and let me know your favorite products!