I am a board certified dermatologist with almost 30 years of experience. I field questions from patients almost daily about what their skincare routine should look like. Sometimes I’m asked about specific routines boldly advertised in the media and by self proclaimed “skincare experts”. The latest buzz is about the trending Korean 10 Step Skincare Process.
Ten steps…really? Wow.
And so, when I was last asked about the this routine, I decided to try it for myself. I was skeptical that it would provide the amazing results attributed to the process, but kept an open mind. After all, most Korean women do seem to have beautiful skin and the popularity of this routine is growing in leaps and bounds. Here are my thoughts.
Are all 10 steps of the Korean Skincare process necessary every day to be effective?
Some “skin experts” say that while you don’t have to do all the steps everyday, you should do them several times a week. On the off days, 5-7 of the steps will suffice. I endured the entire experience one Sunday morning. I honestly don’t know how people spend this much time on skincare on a regular basis, especially in the morning before heading off to work.
Step 1 Oil Based cleanse:
The purpose of the oil based cleanse is to remove makeup and “impurities” on my skin. In truth, I didn’t actually see any makeup on my face this particular morning, nor did I believe some impurity was contaminating my skin at that moment. But I’m a good sport, so I played along. Recommended oils for this step include macadamia oil, jojoba oil, or any other oil you might have in your cabinet. I happened to have a sample of macadamia oil in my kitchen cabinet given to me in my office by a salesperson (no worries, I don’t have any nut allergies). To complete this step, I applied the macadamia oil with my hands and rinsed it away with lukewarm water.
Step 2 Water Based Cleanse:
“Skin experts”, the ones that sell these products, then recommend a second cleansing with a water based solution to remove additional impurities left behind by the cleanser in the first step. Apparently, the oil based cleanser isn’t effective enough to do the job. The goal of the water based cleanser is to remove water-soluble dirt the water didn’t remove when you rinsed your face previously, and also to remove any sweat still on your face. I can’t say I saw or felt sweat on my face that morning, but again, I played along. Recommended products for this step include green tea or a foam cleanser. I chose a water based foam cleanser to rewash my face, then rinsed using lukewarm water.
STEP 3 Exfoliator:
It was now time to strip the superficial layers of skin from my face with salicylic acid. This physical and chemical exfoliation, according to the “skincare experts” sloughs off all the “dead” skin cells. I wondered as I completed this step if these so-called experts are aware that all cells in the most superficial skin layer are “dead”. Anyway, moving along, this exfoliating step is also recommended to clean the pores.I put a bit of a mild solution of salicylic acid on a soft cloth and exfoliated away. I couldn’t help thinking if I had to work that day I would have definitely been late.
STEP 4 Toner:
Toner is supposedly the ultimate product to target any residue not removed by the oil based cleanser, the water-based cleanser and the exfoliation steps. I used Aloe as recommended for this step, applying a thin coat with my hands and a light touch.
STEP 5 Essence:
Huh? What exactly is an essence? It seems “skin experts” consider an essence to be some kind of random magic formula that hydrates, possesses anti-aging qualities, and helps restore skin cells. I wondered if it could do my windows. Sorry about the sarcasm, but at this point I was tired of the process and still only at step 5. The “experts” recommend rice extract, hyaluronic acid or yeast for this step. Based on my research, the formulation of an essence is arbitrary; no standards or guidelines exist regarding the necessary ingredients. As I didn’t have any rice extract or yeast on hand, I opted for a hyaluronic acid cream, applying it to my face and under my chin.
STEP 6 Treatments:
Now I was really getting down to business. According to the “experts”, these treatments consist of powerhouse ingredients that rid the face of fine lines, wrinkles, pigmented spots and acne. Finally, the step that will turn me into Cindy Crawford! I might add that I don’t have acne and personally, I like my wrinkles – I’ve earned them. Vitamin C or soybean serum are recommended for this treatment step. I used vitamin C serum that I had some in the house, lightly dabbing it onto the more imperfect areas of my facial skin. By the way, it was now almost lunchtime.
STEP 7 Sheet Mask:
You’re not alone if you’ve never heard of a sheet mask. And no, it has nothing to do with your bed linens. This step, the all important step 7, is touted as the soul of the Korean skincare process. You take some random item, maybe a cucumber or a rose, and place on your facial skin, leaving it for a really long time. If you weren’t late getting somewhere before, surely you would be by now. Not only is this step supposed to be relaxing, but the “experts” boast that the skin will absorb all those nutrients from, you know, whatever substance you decided to use. I chose to slice a cucumber and place segments all over my face. I had to lie down so the cucumber slices wouldn’t fall off my face, and because, more importantly, my feet were tired from standing in front of my mirror so long. Twenty minutes later I moved onto step #8.
STEP 8. Eye cream:
As a chemist, scientist, and dermatologist, I can tell you that eye creams are formulated like any other facial moisturizer, then packaged in smaller pricier containers. No particular ingredients are added to eye creams that are specifically to be used for the skin around the eye. The miracle creams for this step claim to remove dark circles, puffiness, crow’s feet and stains from your teeth (OK, I made the last one up). Skin “experts” also say eye creams must be applied with your pinky. Just curious, why with your pinky? No one has ever been able to give me an answer to that one. Moving along, the ingredients in eye creams that are said to perform all this magic include honey, ginseng or caffeine, though unfortunately these claims are completely unproven. I applied a well formulated “eye cream” (moisturizer) to the skin around my eyes anyway, and yes, I absolutely used my pinky!
STEP 9. Moisturizer:
Finally a skincare product I know I actually need. Why? Because the essence I applied hours ago, along with the magic serum, sheet mask and delicately placed eye cream were not moisturizing enough. If I skipped the first 8 steps and went right to the well-formulated moisturizer I would be out the door by now. Yes, science says that well hydrated skin is beneficial. I love moisturizers. And especially love that this step is a quick one!
STEP 10. Sunscreen:
The true “magic potion” dermatologists, including myself, recommend you apply daily, liberally and often. If I had to pick only one skincare product to buy, it would be absolutely be sunscreen. As the final step, I applied my beeswax based SPF 70 sunscreen, just as I do every morning. Why a solid beeswax based sunscreen? Because I like it and it works. After completing this final step, I realized was exhausted and ready for dinner. As a matter of fact, it was late enough in the day already that in a short time the sun would set and there would be no need for the sunscreen at all.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Skincare should NOT be a full-time job. Nor should you need to mortgage your home to afford quality affordable products. The 10 step Korean Skincare process is overkill, and, though probably not harmful, a major time and money waster. Don’t get sucked into the hype.
A good skincare routine for most of us with healthy skin primarily consists of sunscreen, applied liberally every morning. Moisturizing at bedtime and again in the morning is a good idea if your skin is dry. As for cleansing, experts do not agree on how often an individual with healthy skin needs to wash their face. Rinsing with water is adequate for those with healthy skin. Don’t forget, skin is an organ. What’s good for your health is good for your skin. Exercise regularly, eat healthfully and get enough sleep – these are not only important steps for healthy and beautiful skin, but cost a whole lot less than the Korean 10 Step Skincare process. Below is MY tried and true personal skincare routine – hope you will try it and let us know your thoughts.
Dr Frey’s Personal Skincare Routine
(Hint: It’s not the 10 Step Korean Skincare Process!)
Morning 5 mile run
Facial wash in the shower with water only
Sunscreen applied liberally
3 minute application of makeup (so I don’t scare anyone at work)
Facial wash in the shower with water only
Moisturizer application when the skin is dry
Laugh some more
8 hours of sleep
Note: A database of effective affordable moisturizers and sunscreens manufactured by reputable nationally and internationally recognized companies can be found on my website, FryFace.com by clicking on the Product Selector.
Fayne Frey, M.D.
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.