When I dove into AB (“Asian Beauty” for the uninitiated) skincare a year ago I didn’t do so with the intention of playing product Bingo, checking off every slot on the Korean Skincare Routine playing card. I wanted to use just as many products as my skin needed to maintain a healthy moisture barrier, control my adult hormonal acne, and protect my skin from environmental stressors. Nothing more, nothing less.
And I suppose that, particularly to Westerner’s, my skincare routine can look like conspicuous consumption (at best), but I tend to look at it this way: some people are genetically blessed and don’t need to go to the gym and watch what they eat so they can fit into skinny jeans. Some of us aren’t so lucky though, and we’ve got to work at it; we’ve got to go to the gym every day, and have enough self control not to eat half a pizza or over indulge in sweets just because we can. Skincare isn’t any different. A few are genetically blessed with good skin, but most of us have to work at it.
And some of us – like me – have to work really hard at it. Having a minimal skincare routine doesn’t make anyone more virtuous than having an extensive one makes me vain. Everybody’s skin is different, and what benefits me might not benefit you, and vice-versa.
- Earth Science ADE Creamy Fruit Oil Cleanser – Since all I’m doing is removing my nighttime layers so a cream cleanser is really all I need. This cleanses well without drying my skin (although I don’t find it adds moisture either).
- Thayer’s Alcohol Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner – Not to brag or anything, but I’ve been using this Thayer’s toner for years. Like a decade, maybe? It’s been a while, and I was thrilled when I learned of it’s popularity in the K-Beauty scene due to it’s gentleness and pH of 5.5. It was actually really comforting to get to keep something familiar in my routine, at the time. Anyway, my skin just loves this stuff. It’s so gentle, but still great for prepping skin.
- Aura Cacia Nighttime Baobab Facial Oil Serum + Hylamide c25 Booster – I actually mix these two products together (yes, I use a “nighttime” serum during the day! I’m a rebel, what can I say?). The Hylamide uses an oil-soluble form of vitamin C (ethyl ascorbate acid), which works great for my skin, but when applied on its own can be a bit drying. Mixing it with a little of the baobab oil serum prevents that. Speaking of which the baobab oil serum (full review here) is a mix of sunflower oil, baobab oil, and jojoba oil, which is super light and when applied in moderation as a first layer absorbs into my skin completely so I can still benefit from watery layers applied on top of it.
- Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence – I’m on my third or fourth bottle of this, which is really saying something for someone who has commitment issues with skincare products. There are a lot of really fantastic claims made about both snail mucin and bee venom – some of which are likely to be complete bullshit -, but for my skin this stuff is amazing. Within minutes of applying it, it evens out my skintone drastically, sucking away any hint of redness. This and the Hylamide c25 Booster are the only products that have done anything for fading my post acne scars, and for that alone it’s a useful product, but it also goes a long way for preventing any new acne, at least for my skin. You can read a great, in-depth review of it on the Skin & Tonics Blog.
- Scinic Honey All in One Ampoule – I’ve only been using this product for the last few months, but I absolutely love it (read my review here). You can’t beat the ingredients list, and my hydration levels have been amazingly consistently high since I started using this despite dealing with artificial heating and upping my tretinoin to .06%, both things that had left my skin a dry, flakey mess before I started using this.
- Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream – Real talk, I can totally understand why this gets such mixed reviews. It can be greasy, and I say that having some seriously dry skin. A pea sized amount is really all you need. Seriously. That said, I do love this stuff, and like the essence I’ve used multiple tubes of this product. I find it really calming, and it’s the perfect occlusive layer to keep my skin moisturized throughout the day (which was a problem before I started using this – by 4 or 5 o’clock my skin was flakey).
- Missha All Around Safe Block Essence Sun SPF 45 PA+++ – Part of living the #tretlife is needing serious sun protection. Prior to AB I tried a ton of both US and Euro sunscreens, but all of them either broke me out or gave me contact dermatitis. I don’t recommend it. Luckily for me many Korean sunscreens use chemical filters that don’t irritate my skin, and now that I know to avoid “cyclops” type silicones it makes my life a lot easier. So, this was not the first Korean sunscreen I tried (it was the second, huzzah!), but it is the one I love the most both for it’s protection and it’s cosmetic elegance. This never breaks me out, never lets me burn, and never feels like I have anything on my skin even when I’m reapplying generous 1/4tsp’s every few hours.
- The Saem Healing Tea Garden Tea Tree Cleansing Water – This is the one thing I still struggle with. No matter how much I clean my skin before and/or after working out, I break out. It’s really pissing me off at this point, tbh. At the moment The Saem’s cleansing water is the best option; it cleanses well, but doesn’t strip or irritate my skin, and the tea tree oil in it might be helping (not sure if 100ppm is really helping, but it smells good at least). I use this both before and after working out, and rinse enthusiastically.
- Biologique Recherche P50 Lotion – I used to use this at night as my first step after cleansing, but I think I’m getting more milage out of it here. Between 12% hydroxy acids and a pH of like 3 I’m banking on it cleaning out whatever gunk is causing my post-workout breakouts. I’ve only been doing it for a few weeks, so we’ll see. At the very least my skin is still baby smooth despite moving this to a different slot in my routine.
- Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid – I bought this specifically to use post-workout. Of course then I contracted some form of the plague that meant I couldn’t workout for a few months, and am just recently getting back to it. But anyway, BHA’s are tricky for me because of my dry skin, but this one pairs a gentle form of BHA (beataine salicylate) with a natural form of BHA (salix alba bark water) in a base that includes hyaluronic acid, panthenol, niacinamide, and arginine. So all in all it’s actually pretty nourishing, like to the point that other than eye cream my skin is perfectly happy going an hour or two without a proper moisturizer on it after working out.
- PCA Skincare EyeXcellence – TBH, I don’t have any strong feelings about this eye cream. I bought it a while ago, and I just need to use it up. It works just fine; adds moisture without being greasy and doesn’t irritate my eyes. Not much to say other than that. I use it because while the rest of my face might not miss a moisturizer post-workout my eye area definitely does, so I’ve got to use something.
Nighttime Routine (Curology)
*My nighttime routine actually alternates: 2 night of Curology, and then 1 night of “acids”.
- DHC Deep Cleansing Oil – Like the Thayer’s Rose Petal Witch Hazel I’ve actually been using this product for years. When my skin first started freaking out in my early 20’s I discovered double cleansing hoping that I was breakout out because I wasn’t getting my skin clean enough. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, but I was so awed by cleansing oil’s ability to literally melt away a full face of makeup without being harsh or drying, that I was a total convert. 15 years later and I still love the OG DHC Deep Cleansing Oil.
- Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser – The name of this product is so nonsensical because it’s actually a makeup remover. You apply it like you would a cleansing oil (to dry skin), then add water to wash everything away and/or turn it into a foaming cleanser. But whatever. On lazy days sometimes I’ll just use this instead of a proper double cleanse and it’s brilliant. I started using this because I heard it was a gentler alternative than my beloved CeraVe Foaming Cleanser, which was just a tad too stripping for winter use. Long story short: it is, but I’ll probably switch back to the CeraVe come summer.
- Thayer’s Alcohol Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner – Like I said, it’s my toner of choice 🙂
- Curology – I have a long, storied history with tretinoin, which mostly ended in tears and pain. And was complicated by the whole sunscreen shit-show, but moving on. Curology – due in part to a base my skin loves, and the beauty of multiple hydrating layers of products – is the only prescription retinoid that I’ve successfully used. I’m up to .06% now, which is great (my Rx also includes azelaic acid and clindamycin). Other than sunscreen tretinoin and it’s like are the best products you can use for anti-aging and acne treatment. I apply this immediately after cleansing and toning and let it sit for an hour before I layer anything on top of it, so it has a chance to really do it’s stuff, unbuffered. The only exception being…
- Cosrx Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream – I dab this thick serum-like cream around my eyes and on my neck because those areas will otherwise turn into a red, irritated, peeling mess if I let unbuffered tret anywhere near them.
Nighttime Routine (Acids)
- DHC Deep Cleansing Oil
- Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
- Cosrx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner – I use this purely to prep my skin to the right (super low) pH so that I can get the most out of the acid products that I follow it with. TBH I’m not super in love with it. It doesn’t contain AHA or BHA in effective amounts and the pH can be unstable (as mentioned here). I honestly doubt I’ll repurchase it, but for the time being it serves it’s purpose.
- Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum OR Andalou Naturals Pumpkin Honey Glycolic Mask – I go back and forth between these two products. For a long time I loved the Andalou Naturals mask because it was stronger and really made a difference in my skin, but using acids more frequently now I find it’s too harsh and the Mizon is just right. Really it just depends on what I feel like my skin needs. Though I haven’t properly review the Mizon serum yet, I have shared a few thoughts on the Andalou Naturals mask.
- Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid – This stuff is so gentle compared to Western BHA’s that I have no qualms about slathering my face in it multiple times a day. And I have used it in this capacity enough to say that even though it doesn’t have as noticeable an effect as something like Stridex it definitely helps heal acne. Like with the Curology I allow this any leave-on acid products to work, unbuffered, for an hour or so before I follow with the rest of my skincare routine.
- LJH Tea Tree 90 Essence – I went through my first bottle of this thinking it didn’t do diddly for my skin. Boy, was I wrong. While it definitely calms acne, it doesn’t treat it like tea tree oil would (there’s a big difference between the extract this essence contains and the potent oil). This essence is all about babying sensitive, easily irritated skin, which makes it brilliant for use with tretinoin, in my experience. It’s light, but hydrating, and makes a perfect first layer, prepping my skin for anything else I put on top of it. Lesson learned, I won’t go without this again.
- Kiku-masamune High Moist Lotion – The Japanese do a few things really, really well when it comes to skincare, and hydrating “lotion” toners are one of them. This one is my favourite with it’s sake ferment, and ceramides, and glycerin (which we’ve already established I love), and almost ridiculous amount of other beneficial actives. My skin freakin’ loves this stuff. I could bathe in it and be perfectly happy.
- Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence + Scinic Night Repair Ampoule – I’m just going to say it quick, like ripping off a band-aid: Cosrx Galactomyces does nothing for my skin. Like zip, zero, zilch. NOTHING. I’ve been using it for months now and it just doesn’t work for me. I mean it doesn’t hurt anything either, but I get no benefit from it. I think my skin is just unaffected by galactomyces ferment, period. Because both Missha First Treatment Essence and Scinic Night Repair Ampoule, which use a mix of bifida and saccharomyces give my skin that ~*ferment glow*~ lickity split. At this point I’m just using it up because I’d feel bad tossing it. The Scinic though I’ve gone through multiple bottles of and love it. My skin is so much more hydrated and even toned when I use it at night. One of these days I’ll review it properly because it deserves it and I never hear anyone talk about it.
- Secret Key Snail Repairing Eye Cream – Another eye cream I like, but don’t love. It layers well though, adding a bit of extra hydration where I need it without getting greasy or causing milia. Not sure if I’ll repurchase, but the tube it huge and you only need a small amount so it’s not something I have to think about for a while.
- Cosrx Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask OR Ultimate Nourishing Rice Overnight Mask – These are the first “sleeping masks” I’ve ever tried, mostly because other products in this category rely on types of silicones I can’t use unless I’d like a lovely outbreak of cystic acne (spoiler alert, I would not). But, straight talk, they’ve been saving my skin this winter. The honey one is my bae, but when I need more moisturizing I reach for the rice version. Fifty Shades of Snail has a great review of them that more or less inspired my purchases (here). They’re the perfect last step for me though; they keep my skin hydrated all night, don’t clog my pores, and in the case of the Honey mask, work like gangbusters on hormonal breakouts (a benefit I was not anticipating!).
Masks, Spot Treatments, Etc.
I didn’t take pictures of these because they’re used purely on an “as needed” basis. Sometimes I sheet mask nightly, and sometimes I’ll go weeks without touching one. I might use a clay mask once a month during the winter, and once a week during the summer. Spot treatments vary considerably depending on why and how I’m breaking out. Of my skincare wardrobe these are the parts that are most mutable. At some point I’ll probably write a post about them, but this isn’t it since I wanted to focus on my day-to-day routine.
So there you have it, a day in the life of my skincare routine. I’m sure to some people it still seems grossly excessive, but hopefully it gives a little insight into why a multistep routine might be beneficial to people like me.