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After delving solo into the world of cleansers, ampoules, serums and sheet masks, I asked Mary Kong-DeVito, owner of Naked Botanicals Apothecary and a former aesthetician, to break down the mystique behind K-beauty. (Image: Courtesy Skinfood)

Curious about K-beauty? Here’s how to make the switch

Seems like you can’t pick up a magazine or read a beauty blog these days without hearing about the miraculous merits of Korean beauty products, right? I’d been wondering myself just how great they could possibly be. But I mean, the proof is in the pudding--one look at a Korean woman’s skin, and you know she’s doing something right. In learning more about them, though, I was a little daunted by the sheer number of products on the shelves (and the number of daily steps required, which is upwards of ten). After delving solo into the world of cleansers, ampoules, serums and sheet masks, I asked Mary Kong-DeVito, owner of Naked Botanicals Apothecary and a former aesthetician, to break down the mystique behind K-beauty.

DCR: What advice do you have for someone looking to make the switch to K-beauty?

MKD: I'll demystify K-Beauty for you. Asian women, like vampires, go to great lengths to avoid the sun, which is why there's this perception that we have flawless skin. Sun exposure is the #1 cause of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and all sorts of things you don't want. So K-beauty, or any beauty product, is only a factor in overall skincare. Getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water and using sunscreen any time you leave the house will make you look better than all your friends, I promise.

DCR: How do I go about selecting products that are right for me?

MKD: It's important to be savvy about ingredient knowledge. Knowing what your skin type is and understanding exactly what it needs is crucial: one person's gold is not necessarily another person's treasure. Get a proper assessment from a skincare professional to see what you need to look and feel your best. Your skin is the largest organ in the body, and just like the rest of you, you get out what you put in. That doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money; it means choosing quality products that are appropriate for you.

DCR: What are some of your favorite k-beauty products?

MKD: Sheet masks are a must all year-long, so I love Dr. Jart's Ceramidin Sheet Mask. Serums are an important and essential step of any skincare regimen, and I love serums that my skin just slurps up. Right now, I'm digging May Coop's Raw Sauce, which brings hydration back and that youthful fullness. This is a Japanese brand, but for moisture, Tatcha's Silk Cream rights a lot of sins.

DCR: What do you find to be so great about k-beauty products?

MKD: I personally love the emphasis on proper hydration and products that feel great going on. Good skincare should not only make you look good, but also make you feel good, too.

As Kong-DeVito points out, every person’s skin is different. Having said that, these are some of the products I’ve used in my switch to an all K-beauty regimen. As for those ten steps? They actually don’t take all that long, and it actually makes for a nice evening routine during which I’m spending a few minutes completely on myself.

  1. Oil-Based Cleanser: The first step in a Korean beauty routine is using an oil-based cleanser, which will adhere to dirt and makeup and sweep it away from your face. The Face Shop Rice Water Cleansing Oil is not too thick or greasy, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to. To use, rub one or two pumps on dry skin. No need to remove it--just splash some water on your face and then continue onto step 2. (Before step 1, I actually use The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Lip & Eye Makeup Remover, applied with a cotton square. It’s gentle and really removes stubborn eyeshadow, eyeliner and lipstick.)

  2. Foaming / Water-Based Cleanser: A foaming cleanser will remove any remaining dirt, oil, makeup and toxins. And let’s face it, when a facial cleanser is nice and lathery, doesn’t it always feel like it’s doing an amazing job? Again, I turn to The Face Shop. Their Rice Water Bright Cleansing Foam is a pearlized cream that really foams up, even if you only use a small amount. It has a light refreshing scent and is gentle for all skin types--it’s the best foaming cleanser I’ve ever used.

  3. Exfoliator: It’s not necessary to exfoliate your skin every day---that can actually prove to be too abrasive. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your routine several times per week. I recommend Skinfood Black Sugar Mask Wash Off Exfoliator, which has a lot of grit and a fresh lemon smell. Rub a small amount on your face, avoiding the eye area, then wash off.

  4. Toner: After cleansing, a toner will remove dead skin cells, and restore moisture and proper pH levels to your skin. If you are used to American toners, you know they tend to be watery and alcohol-based, and can leave your skin dry rather than moisturized. You will be pleasantly surprised at Korean products, which are thicker and more soothing. Try Mizon Intensive Skin Barrier Toner, Mizon Aha & Bha Daily Clean Toner or Cosrx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner. Apply the toner with a cotton square.

  5. Essence: Think of this step as the heart of the Korean skincare routine. An essence hydrates and balances your skin after cleansing and toner. Unlike a serum, it’s not as concentrated or targeted, but it’s a step you shouldn’t overlook. And there is only one ingredient I’ll consider using in an essence: snail mucin. I know, slathering the excretion from a snail trail sounds absolutely disgusting, but hear me out. It’s filtered, clear and has no odor. I will admit that it’s pretty slimy, but beyond that it really is the miracle ingredient it claims to be. Snail mucin leaves my skin soft, diminishes fine lines and wrinkles and just leaves it feeling amazing. Try Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. A small pump is all you need--apply it by patting it gently on your chin and working upwards.

  6. Serums / Ampoules: These concentrated products are like supplements for your skin. (For more information on serums, check out this article we ran a few months ago.) There are lots of different options out there for Korean serums, depending on if your goal is hydration, wrinkle control, removing red spots, etc. I like Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum, an acid serum that helps with skin cell turnover. Because it’s acid-based, it’s a bit stronger than others, so you only need to use it around three times per week. The other nights, use another depending on your skin’s needs. Skinfood Gold Caviar Collagen Serum is great for anti-aging, and there are a bevy of others out there, too. You don’t have to stick with just a single serum or ampoule per evening, either; some women use two or three.

  7. Sheet Masks: These consist of a paper that’s similar in consistency to a makeup remover wipe, which is dampened with liquid containing vitamins, collagen, minerals, moisturizers and other ingredients. Sheet masks are very gentle and can be used every day if you want to. To use one, remove it from the foil pouch, unfold it, and match up the eye, nose and mouth holes. Place it on your face, pressing it all over to make sure it sticks. Keep it on for twenty minutes, and when you remove it, gently massage the rest of the liquid onto your face, arms, legs, neck, and anywhere else. This 16-pack of Korean sheet masks works and is incredibly affordable.

  8. Eye cream: Remember, the skin around your eyes is very thin and delicate, so when you apply an eye cream, be sure to to gently pat it--not rub it--on. A good tip is to use your ring finger rather than your index finger, which will give you a lighter touch. Try Mizon Collagen Power Firming Eye Cream or Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream (the latter can also be used in step 9 as a moisturizer or night cream.)

  9. Moisturizer / Night Cream: Slather on your night cream (either the Mizon one mentioned in step 8, or any number of great ones out there), but several times a week, replace it with a water sleeping mask, which is basically a leave-on treatment that you wash off in the morning. Laneige Water Sleeping Mask is gel-based and light, yet leaves your skin incredibly refreshed, brightened and hydrated in the morning.

  10. Sunscreen: Sun causes more damage to your skin than anything else, remember? Don’t leave the house without using one. Try Innisfree Perfect UV Protection Cream Triple Care. If your skin is oily and you are worried about clogged pores, look for The Face Shop Natural Sun Eco Sebum Control Moisture Sun SPF 40.