Enter Christine Chang and Sarah Lee, who founded Glow Recipe after twenty plus years as marketers and product developers in the US and Korean beauty industries. Glow Recipe is renowned for natural, cruelty-free and harsh-free Korean skin care innovations and a stringent curation process that includes product testing on a multi-ethnic test panel. These are the girls we knew we should plug for a beginner’s guide to all things Korean skincare, because hey, it’s absolutely been all the rage for quite some time now. This trend is here to stay, so here is Christine and Sarah’s guide to Korean beauty for beginners…

The Beginner’s Guide to K-Beauty by Glow Recipe

What is K-Beauty?

K-Beauty encompasses all of the beauty trends and products that are coming stateside from Korea. K-beauty originally started trending in the US with BB Creams. This skincare and makeup hybrid was popularized in Korea almost a decade ago and spawned an entire BB and CC Cream industry in the US from scratch. With a continuous stream of new innovations, such as the sheet masks and cushion compacts, industry insiders, editors and customers alike are now looking to Korea to see what ‘the next big thing’ is in beauty.

K-beauty has been called the ‘next skincare superpower’ and ‘twelve years ahead in beauty versus the rest of the world’ by magazines, whereas the CEO of Estee Lauder likened the influence of Korea in beauty to that of Paris in fashion. Sarah and I have been in the Korea and US beauty industry for a combined twenty-plus years and it was amazing to see firsthand an increasing number of global beauty companies working with Korean manufacturers to source the latest and greatest!

Why is it great?

The local beauty market in Korea is extremely competitive, and driven by an adventurous, skincare-obsessed customer that is willing to try anything and everything at least once for that ideal of glowing, healthy skin. This fuels constant innovation in new product categories, ingredients and technologies. The Glow Recipe team visits Korea every two to three months to meet with new brands and test products, and we’ve been blown away by the wealth of new, intriguing products to try each time. Skin-plumping gel creams, ‘pulp’ essences, all-natural kelp sheet masks, cold pressed liquid treatments that you can splash on in the shower – these are just the tip of the iceberg!

Another great thing about Korean beauty products is the surprising, sensorial textures that make the skincare routine that much more enjoyable. We love the term ‘skintertainment’, because it reflects the fun, holistic approach to skincare being a moment of pampering and self-care versus a daily chore.

How do I start?

There’s a widespread perception that K-beauty is about an intricate ten to fifteen step routine, but nothing could be further from the truth. Korean women may use a few more steps, but their daily routines are fluid and adapted to their skin concerns at the time. Nothing is set in stone! We’d recommend starting with the below baby steps if you are just dipping your toes into the realm of K-beauty.

The foundation of a Korean beauty routine starts with hydration. The beauty ideal is plump, glowing, ultra-moisturized skin. Plus, skin that is sufficiently hydrated has a healthier skin barrier and is better prepared to absorb your skincare efficiently. We recommend using a moisturizer with moisture-binding ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, or natural alternatives such as tremella or bamboo sap. Primary Raw DoYou Azulene Gel Cream is a lightweight yet hydrating gel-cream great for all skin types. The formulation is powered by raw bamboo sap, with replenishing vitamin capsules suspended in the jar.

Hydration doesn’t have to be limited to your moisturizer. A new skincare trend in Korea is ‘aqua peeling’, inspired by the dermatology clinic treatment of the same name, which exfoliates and hydrates at the same time. Aqua peelers come in an oversized q-tip format, and are pre-soaked in skin smoothing glycolic acids and deep sea water for a gentle, yet effective peel. Sweep the swab all over the face – you can also do precision exfoliation around the nose and chin area. Follow with your usual skincare steps without having to rinse the formula off.

A sheet mask is also a great addition to your usual skincare routine. These masks wrap the face for fifteen to twenty minutes to intensively deliver hydrating and anti-aging ingredients to the skin. Use one or two times a week for an instant and lasting glow. One of our perennial bestsellers is the Whamisa Sea Kelp Sheet Mask, which our customers have affectionately dubbed the ‘ocean-to-face facial’. This sheet mask is a breakthrough as it not only is drenched in a full bottle of fermented sea kelp serum, but the sheet mask itself is made of skin-beneficial, nutrient-rich sea kelp.

Tips for Success

Start small

Starting a K-beauty routine doesn’t mean you have to buy into ten products at once. Start small, with a moisturizer or sheet mask and slowly work the products that you love into your routine. K-beauty isn’t just about the products, it’s about the holistic approach to putting skin first and investing the time each day for long term results.

Application matters

An easy way to start a K-beauty routine is with the simple act of gently patting on your products, versus rubbing them onto the skin. Patting in an upwards motion will help with absorption and is much gentler on your skin than rubbing in products or pulling skin downwards during application.

Use products from lightweight to heavier textures.

Did you just start using an essence or ampoule? Not sure where to slot it into your existing routine? The rule of thumb for applying your leave-on products is from the most lightweight to the heavier textures. This is because lightweight textures are designed to penetrate (usually essences or serums) versus heavier textures that create an occlusive barrier to keep skin hydrated (usually moisturizers or creams). So after cleansing, use your toner, then serum or essence, then moisturizer. Read our guide to putting together a K-beauty evening skincare routine here.

Read our guide to exfoliating, and check out these miracle eye creams