Grooming has suffered a bad rep in today’s world of fragile masculinity. Talking to people on the streets, you'll find people who subconsciously associate grooming as a feminine trait. Listen, there's nothing masculine about acne, wrinkles, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Hardly surprising, but having a smooth, blemish-free visage is the new cool; just take a look at the billion-dollar men’s grooming industry. Caring for your skin is just like going to the gym, a form of self-care that you do twice a day—morning and night— to make yourself look and feel better. And no one does it better than the Koreans with their infamous 10-steps routine.
What is the 10-step skincare routine?
The 10-step routine has been around for ages and essentially involves using up to 10 skincare products (of varying levels of viscosity) being layered onto the skin to achieve mul-kwang-pi-bu, or water light skin—a highly desired commodity especially for Asian celebrities and models.
The routine starts off with a double cleanse and exfoliation followed by a toner, essence, serum and ampoule, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturiser and SPF for the day. Sounds like a whole load of steps, but the truth is, you don’t do everything on a regular basis. The basic 3-steps of cleansing, moisturising and SPF should make up the backbone of your everyday routine, adding in components of the 10-steps as and when your skin needs it. Feeling rather dehydrated? Add a sheet mask into your routine for the day. Having flaky rough patches on your cheeks? It might be time to exfoliate. The key takeaway of the 10-step routine is the freedom and flexibility to custom your personal routine based on your needs.
Step 1+ 2: The double cleanse
You win half a battle with a fresh clean face. A thorough cleanse is important as it removes any residual sunscreen, grime and excess sebum which are breeding grounds for acne-causing bacteria to thrive. A good oil-based cleanser takes away lipophilic impurities such as sebum and sunscreen while nourishing and hydrating the skin with nutritive fatty oils. They could come in liquids or solid balms that emulsify upon contact with warm water. This is also the best time to give your face a quick massage while you’re breaking up all the gunk on your face. Once done, wet your hands with warm water and massage until the formula turns milky-white before rinsing it off.
There might still be remnants of the oil-based cleanser on the skin. That’s when you go in with a second wash with a water-based cleanser to remove any hydrophilic impurities that the oil cleanser did not manage to take off. Look for a gentle and low pH formula that does not leave the skin feeling tight and parched after. A general rule of thumb is to avoid products containing harsh surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate—an agent that helps the cleanser to froth and bubble. These ingredients can increase skin sensitivity and disrupt the skin’s natural acid mantle due to its high pH.
The Heimish All Clean Balm amassed a huge cult following due to its phenomenal cleansing ability. The fragrance, mineral oil, paraben-free solid cleanser melts quickly into the skin as the warmth of your palms heats up the soft balm, instantly liquefying into an oil when it comes in contact with dry skin. Once the product is massaged with warm water, the silky texture emulsifies, turning into a shade of milky white and washes off easily with a rinse. The balm is made with shea butter and coconut oil, packed with botanical oils such as citrus and tea tree that brightens the visage and prevent breakouts.
Follow up with a gentle low pH gel cleanser such as the Acwell Bubble Free PH Balancing Cleanser that contains efficacious powerhouse ingredients such as centella asiatica, aloe, and witch hazel to hydrate and calm the skin. Not only that, licorice root extract brightens while salicylic acid fights off acne.
Step 3: Exfoliation
If your skin feels rough and dull, it might be good to exfoliate once or twice a week. Exfoliators come in two different forms—physical scrubs containing coarse granules that buff away at the skin and chemical exfoliators (usually in the form of a toner) that contains alpha and beta hydroxy acids such as glycolic and lactic acid to take away the first layer of dead skin without the abrasiveness. Chemical exfoliants are generally preferred as they boast an additional plethora of anti-aging, brightening and hydrating effects.
The Neogen Bio Peel Gauze pads are a great way to slough off dead skin cells as it provides the benefits of both a chemical and physical exfoliation. These innovative pads are like mini gloves that are drenched in three different formulas designed for different skin types and concerns: green tea for sensitive acne prone skin, red wine for anti-aging, and lemon for dull and lackluster skin. You could use the grittier, textured gauze side of the pads to buff off the areas which are fraught with blackheads and closed comedones and switch over to the quilted soft fabric to sweep away the leftover impurities that the gauze side might not be able to pick up.
Step 4: Toning
Now that your face is freshly cleansed, it’s time to tone. Korean toners are vastly different from your American variant. The alcohol-free tincture works to balance the pH of the skin to an optimal level of 4.5-6 while replenishing hydration lost from the double cleanse as well as to create an astringent effect on the pores. Here you can get creative and pick out toners based on your needs, ranging from basic hydration to brightening. Use your hands to tap the toner into the skin or douse a cotton pad in the toner and sweep across your face to dislodge any dead skin cells.
Mamonde's Flower Toner Series has five different toners for various skin types and needs. Their cult classic—Rose Water toner uses 90.97% Bulgarian damask rose water as an aqueous base instead of water, which boost hydration and instantly plumps up dehydrated skin. Oilier skin types could opt for the Pore Clean toner which contains Houttuynia cordata extracts to help modulate sebum production and tighten pores. A suspension of West Coast mud helps to absorb excess sebum and mattifies any shine. Sensitive skin owners would love the Chamomile Pure toner for its soothing properties.
Step 5-6: Essence, serums, and ampoules
Ah, the jargon. To put it simply, serums and ampoules are no different. These elixirs come in small bottles and supercharged with efficacious ingredients. Essences, on the other hand, are the watery cousins of serums that add another layer of hydration. More commonly known as the 'treatment' step, these products target and treat any skin concerns such as acne and hyperpigmentation. You could even skip it if you feel that you don’t really need it.
We highly recommend you incorporate a vitamin C serum in this step as it is a powerful antioxidant that helps to lighten any dark spots and hyperpigmentation. A good one to try is Dear Klairs' Freshly Juiced Vitamin C drops. The potent elixir is packed with 5% ascorbic acid, a vitamin C derivative that's gentle enough for sensitive skin, Centella Asiatica for soothing inflamed skin, and a multitude of natural extract to revitalise and rejuvenate the skin.
For an extra surge of moisture, a fermented yeast essence will come in handy. Galactomyces ferment filtrate and Bifida ferment lysate are great for slightly older skin as they hydrate, brighten and firm skin. Missha's cult favourite, the Time Revolution Intense Moist was dubbed the 'Korean SKII' for good reason. Instead of fermented yeast, the elixir contains 90% fermented Himalayan Purple Barley to effectively plump skin, refine skin texture, and reduce pigmentation. The inclusion of niacinamide and adenosine also brightens and feeds the skin with energy for a youthful supple appearance. The lightweight and watery formula makes it easy to sink into the skin without suffocating your pores.
Step 7: Sheet mask
Sheetmasking might be the most indulgent activity in the routine. You might look like Hannibal Lector, but trust us, once you peel off the sheet you’ll notice a glowing and well-rested complexion. Just slap one on and lie on your bed or couch for a good 20 minutes—any longer and the mask will actually have a drying effect.
Sheet masks come in an assortment of materials— cotton, bamboo, hydrogel, foil and etc. A good sheet mask would adhere to and coddle every contour of your face while delivering hydration and nutrients to the dermis. The Papa Recipe Bombee Honey sheet masks are by far the thinnest and form-fitting that we've ever tried. Like its name, the mask drips with honey, a natural humectant that draws in moisture from the surroundings with anti-bacterial properties and propolis extract to heal, restore and balance problematic skin. You'll be surprised by how firm and plump your skin feels after drinking up the essence from the mask.
Step 8 + 9: Moisturising and eye cream
It’s time to seal in all the hydration that you’ve (painstakingly) added into your skin. A good moisturiser is lightweight and breathable and yet provides an emollient layer to prevent trans-epidermal water loss. Remember that the neck is part of your face also. Eye creams are optional but they do help de-puff, firm and revitalise tired eyes with ingredients such as caffeine.
We recommend The Face Shop's Dr. Belmeur Advanced Cica Recovery Cream, dermatologically tested for sensitive skin. The sorbet-like cream feels velvety and melts into the skin, delivering SKIN-SYNC RX™—a custom complex that strengthens skin barrier to aid the recovery of skin that's damaged by environmental aggressors into the skin. Ceramides fortify the moisture barrier, panthenol helps calm and soothe inflammation while centella asiatica regenerates damaged skin. The formula is gentle enough so that you even use it under your eyes. If the idea of a cream might be too heavy for you, Dr. Belmeur Serum is your go-to as the silky non-water based serum coats your skin with an emollient barrier, while providing anti-aging properties to the skin.
Acne-prone skin can look to a finishing cream such as the viral Red Erasing Cream from Medicube which contains niacinamide, tomato and purslane extracts to lighten acne scars while evening out the skin tone. While its name might be a tad misleading, the cream functions more like a protective barrier cream. The slight white cast after application comes from zinc oxide that helps soak up excess sebum throughout the day while helping to heal inflammatory acne and tons of other additional benefits to the skin. Trust us. Squalane, which is found also in human sebum, is packed with fatty acids and antioxidants to help keep your skin healthy and supple.
Step 10: SPF
If there’s one important note to take away from this article, it's this: never forget to apply SPF come rain, hail or shine. We can’t stress how important SPF is, especially in our clime. Aside from cosmetic reasons such as freckles and sunspots, UV rays from the sun causes skin damage and skin cancer. You should be applying sunscreen daily, and no less than SPF50—a teaspoon-full for the face (excluding your neck, ears and nape). A common concern for guys is how 'obvious' sunscreen looks on their skin. There are formulas that do not leave a visible white cast so there are no excuses for skipping this vital step.
Forget thick, slippery and greasy sunscreens that are unbearable to wear. The best suncreams are lightweight, resistant to sweat, water, and friction while providing additional skincare benefits throughout the day. Anessa Perfect UV sunscreens have been the cream of the crop in Japan for 17 years because they fulfil that exact criteria. Specifically, we recommend the Perfect UV Sunscreen Skincare Gel—it might be watery, but it packs an SPF of 50 with PA++++ protection to protect the skin from harsh UV rays.
What's the bottom line?
Think of the Korean 10-step routine as a lifestyle choice, rather than an ordeal you have to go through each day. Don't expect instant results from the routine as the results are cumulative, just like working out. If you really think you can't commit, you can narrow down the steps to just a bare minimum of three: cleanse, moisturise and SPF. You'll thank us when your peers start mentioning that you look younger than they do.