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Board Certified Dermatologist Calls B.S. on 10 Step Korean Skin Care

Does 10 Step Korean Skin care routine work?

by Fayne Frey, M.D.

The 10 Step Korean Skin Care Process is Trending

I am a board certified dermatologist with almost 30 years of experience. I field questions from patients almost daily about how their skincare routine should look. Sometimes patients ask 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 last asked about this routine, I decided to try it for myself. I was skeptical it would provide the amazing results attributed to the process, but kept an open mind. After all, most Korean women seem to have beautiful skin, and the popularity of this routine is grew quickly in leaps and bounds. Here are my thoughts.

Are all 10 steps of the Korean Skincare process necessary every day to be effective?  

People want to know, does the 10 step Korean skin care routine work? Some “skin experts” say that while you need not do all the steps everyday,  you should do them several times a week. On the off days, 5-7 of the steps 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 they go 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 contaminated 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 a salesperson gave me in my office (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 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 wonder if these so-called experts know that all the cells in the most superficial skin layer are “dead”. Anyway, moving along, skin care professional also recommended this step 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 but think if I worked at the office that day, I would be late.

STEP 4 Toner:

Toner, considered by some to be the ultimate product, supposedly targets residue not removed by the oil based cleanser, the water-based cleanser and the exfoliation steps. I applied a thin coat of Aloe with my hands and a light touch as recommended for this step.

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, does it do windows? Sorry about the sarcasm, but at this point I was only at step 5 of the process and tired. 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 had no rice extract or yeast on hand,  I opted for a hyaluronic acid cream, and applied it both to my face and under my chin.

STEP 6 Treatments:

Now I really got 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 to turn me into Cindy Crawford!  I might add I don’t have acne and personally, I like my wrinkles – I earned them. Skin care professionals recommend Vitamin C or soybean serum for this treatment step. I dabbed some vitamin C serum I had in the house 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 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 supposedly the soul of the Korean skincare process. You take some random item, maybe a cucumber or a rose, place it on your facial skin and leave it for a really long time. If you weren’t  late getting somewhere before, surely you are by now. Not only should this step relax you, but the “experts” boast your skin will absorb all those nutrients from, you know, whatever substance you chose at this point. I sliced a cucumber and placed segments all over my face. I lay down so the cucumber slices wouldn’t fall off my face, and because my feet were tired (I stood in front of my mirror a long time.) Twenty minutes later I moved to step #8.

STEP 8. Eye cream:

As a chemist, scientist, and dermatologist, I can tell you eye creams formulations are like any other facial moisturizer. The difference is they are packaged in smaller pricier containers. Eye creams contain no particular ingredients added specifically for use 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 to apply eye creams with your pinky. Just curious, why with your pinky? No one has ever been able to answer to that one. The ingredients in eye creams said to perform all this magic include honey, ginseng or caffeine, are unfortunately completely unproven. I applied a well formulated “eye cream” (moisturizer) to the skin around my eyes anyway, and yes, I used my pinky!

STEP 9. Moisturizer:

Finally, a skincare product I actually need. Why? Because the essence I applied hours ago, along with the magic serum, sheet mask and delicately placed eye cream did not provide enough moisture. 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 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 sunscreen daily, liberally and often. If I pick only one skincare product to buy, it is absolutely 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 I completed this final step, I was exhausted and ready for dinner. As a matter of fact, it was late enough in the day already that I expected the sun to set soon – eliminating the need for sunscreen at all. 


Skincare should NOT be a full-time job. Nor does it make sense 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, generously applied every morning. Additional moisturizer at bedtime and again in the morning is a good idea if you have dry skin. 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 Skin Care process. Below is MY tried and true personal skincare routine – hope you 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

Nutritious breakfast

Facial wash in the shower with water only

Sunscreen applied liberally

3 minute application of makeup (so I don’t scare anyone at work)

Laugh often


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, by clicking on the Product Selector.


fayne frey

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, 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.

2 thoughts on “Board Certified Dermatologist Calls B.S. on 10 Step Korean Skin Care

  1. Thank you! I agree one hundred percent. The 10-step Korean routine is nothing but hype designed to sell product. The models they use are either airbrushed or have naturally gorgeous skin. Unfortunately a lot of women get sucked in, thinking they can scrub, sandpaper, and glop their way to perfect skin. Ain’t gonna happen!

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