The question I get most often, and one that I had myself when I was first interested in Korean skincare, is how do I start? Which products do you buy first? Two very important things:
- You do not need something for every “step” of a Korean Skincare routine.
- You do not need multiple products for every step like I have. No one does. I am an obsessive person who also has a room in her house devoted to shoes. I do not understand moderation.
You might laugh at my advice given how you’ve seen my extensive skincare wardrobe, but believe it or not, you have to start small. I did.
This was my first routine (awww..so little!), and I added each of these products in gradually. As in, over the course of a few months. This was a fine first routine, although I have moved on to better products thanks to much research. Notice the lack of sunscreen. At this point, I was so far behind that I thought the sunscreen in my bb cream was enough. Silly, silly me.
The rule of thumb is to have at least a two week testing period for each new product so you can see how it reacts to your skin. If you slap 2, 3, or 4 new products on all at once and your skin freaks out, how will you know which one was the culprit?
Here is where you should start:
Oil Cleanser (to take off makeup and sunscreen and help clean out pores)
- Water-based cleanser (to ensure your face and pores are clean)
- A good moisturizer
A sunscreen (yes, you need this)
Begin with these four types of products since they are the most basic, working to clean out your pores, seal in any moisture, and protect your skin from sun damage. After you are sure your skin likes what you have, you can begin adding in products, depending on what your skin needs. (Personally, I would advocating add a hydrating toner or an essence next to help hydrate your skin.)
It can be hard to restrain yourself (clearly, it’s difficult for me, too), but you’ll just end up wasting money if you buy a ton of products and some don’t work or you have too many to test before they expire. In the case of skincare, dipping your toe in is better than jumping in head first.
You often see products marketed to certain skin types (don’t always listen to those, btw). Often, such as was the case with me, folks who think they have oily skin actually have dehydrated skin, which produces more oil because it is dehydrated. So, if you buy products for actual oily skin (that is, they work to stop the over-production of sebum), they might not help because your skin needs hydrating products.
So, how do you figure out your skin type? Great question. I’m going to let this really handy infographic from Paula’s Choice help you. Keep in mind that over time, your skin type may change; it may also change with the seasons, if you live somewhere with noticeable seasonal changes.
After you’ve been using the basic 4 products for awhile, make a list of your skin concerns. What do you want to see happen with your skin? This list of needs should be used to guide your next skincare purchases.
If you noticed all of the hydrators in my skincare wardrobe, that should tell you my main skin concern in the winter.
You’re going to have to do research to figure out which products might work best for you. If you have product allergies, read ingredient lists carefully. I do a ton of reading before I purchase a product. It’s not surprise that when I’ve impulse-bought something because I thought I would like the scent or it looked cute (sigh) it wasn’t that great of a product for me.
Always do lots of reading about a product. Read reviews, look up ingredients, and really consider what you want this product to do for your skin. Just because it is someone else’s HG product doesn’t mean that it will work for your skin. That Skinfood Peach Sake Emulsion is some people’s favorite lightweight moisturizer (it does smell heavenly). The formulation–I suspect the amount/type of alcohol in it–just didn’t play well with my skin. And that is totally fine. My partner, Mr. Sir, is currently using it up. I bought the Mizon Vita Lemon Calming Cream because I love lemon. (Seriously. What a dumb reason to buy a product.) It’s a lightweight gel moisturizer that is fine but nothing too exciting.
Remember, when you do purchase new products, give yourself those two weeks testing time. Patch test on your wrist to see if the product might aggravate your skin.
You’ll notice that I haven’t given any specific product recommendations, and I won’t. Skincare is too subjective. That is where your job (and the fun of it all) starts: research. The reviews I’ll start posting can be a part of your research, but you should go beyond just my opinion.
So, what resources do I recommend to do this research?
- Cosdna: Enter in the name of the product, get the list of ingredients as well as the known each ingredient risks (comedogenic, irritation and safety) and benefits. This is not a perfect site and can’t accurately predict if a product will break out your skin, but I usually check it for any big red flags.
- All of the blogs I list in the “Korean Skincare Blogs” page. They represent a variety of skin types, and the bloggers are women who methodically test and research the products they use.
- r/asianbeauty. Yep. Reddit. The Asian beauty community there is really great. I don’t comment, but I definitely read the threads quite frequently. Reddit is actually where Fiddy Snails (blogger) started and was encouraged to write her blog to gather all of her advice in one place.
- Google sheets review. This spreadsheet is a compilation of reviews done by myself and two other friends who use Korean skincare. We have three very different skin types, so the breadth of products tried is pretty big. We try to keep it as updated as we can.
- Glowpick. Sometimes I’m interested to know what products actual Korean women use, not what the sellers over here tell me they use. Glowpick is an app where Korean women go on to rate various beauty products. I have Google translate it for me from Korean, which means the text of the reviews are garbled and read as nonsensical, but I do appreciate seeing the rankings. (Example of the current rankings of toners as of 12/28/2016)
- If you use Amazon a lot and find yourself using the reviews as a guide, you shouldn’t be without “Fakespot” (you can get an extension for Chrome). This will analyze the Amazon reviews and give them a “grade,” letting you know whether you can trust them or not. I use this for items other than skincare as well, and I love it. (But please don’t just read Amazon reviews to determine whether or not you should buy a product.)
Unless you have money to burn, you should cross-check multiple sites to get the best deal and to ensure you’re not paying triple or quadruple what you can easily find a product for elsewhere.
Here are a few online places I recommend that are state-side. They have relatively fast shipping compared to the Korean sites, which I will also link to.
- Amazon. Usually have good prices and fast shipping. However, not all items will be available with Prime.
- Memebox. A good selection of products and they have sales quite frequently. Plus, you earn “points” when you shop, which add up to money off. They also have a referral program. Here is my referral link. If you click on it before you make your first purchase, you’ll get 20% off, and I will get a voucher for $10.
- 3b: Beauty Beyond Borders. The shipping from 3b is crazy fast. I discovered them because they have an Asian skincare subscription box. But, they also have a decent store selection. What’s really great is that they sell deluxe sample/travel sizes of products so you can try something without having to commit to a full size bottle. They also send free samples with every purchase.
- Beauteque. Great deals on sheet masks as well as other products. Their shipping is also quite cheap, and they often have a coupon code going to get 10 or 15% off. You get a free mask with every purchase!
- Glow Recipe. The products on Glow Recipe tend to be pricier. However, this is a great shop for folks who have sensitive skin or want more natural ingredients in their skincare. They also have a referral program. If you click here, you will get 15% off of your first purchase, and they give me “points,” which add up to discounts.
- Beautibi. They curate a lot of fun, unique products. I don’t shop here as much as I do elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
- Soko Glam. I have mixed feelings adding this to the list. SoKo Glam’s founder, Charlotte Cho, is everywhere promoting K-beauty in the US. She has a blog connected to the site, which does include a lot of helpful information. However, you always have to keep in mind she’s trying to sell products. Additionally, I never purchase anything from SoKo Glam unless I have verified I either can’t get it elsewhere or it is the cheapest–SoKo Glam is often overpriced.
US. stores where K-beauty products are way more expensive than pretty much anywhere else:
- Target. I love Target and I love that Target (esp. online) carries K-beauty products. However, most of them are marked up to a ridiculous extreme. (Their Mizon Snail Repair Cream is going for $38. You can buy it on Amazon for $12.) My Beauty Diary sheet mask boxes are about the only K-beauty thing I would consider buying from Target.
- Peach and Lily. I wanted to like Peach and Lily. I rank them alongside SoKo Glam, but a bit worse in inflating their prices. (Again, they are also selling that Mizon Snail Repair Cream for $38.) Also, it is $50 to get free shipping. If they are having a fabulous sale it might be worth it, but the truth is that I’ve stopped even looking here to price compare.
- Sephora or Ulta. Don’t get me wrong. I love Sephora and Ulta, as evidenced by most of their inventory sitting on my vanity. However, I don’t buy K-beauty products at these stores. Sheet masks are almost double what you can get them for elsewhere, and they are generally overpriced. While I’m glad they’re working to make K-beauty more mainstream, I look elsewhere. (Although, if you’re looking to hit Sephora VIB or VIB Rouge, buy away. haha)
- Jolse. I love Jolse. I have purchased from them numerous times. They have free world-wide shipping, and I often pay $2.50 to get tracking (offered at checkout). Jolse is known for being quite generous with their free samples. I have had nothing but good experiences with them, so if you don’t mind waiting 3-4 weeks for your products, Jolse is a great option.
- TesterKorea. You usually pay for shipping (between 3-4 weeks wait), but their prices make it worth it. TesterKorea often has products I can’t always find elsewhere (my Banila Co. Miss Flower and Mr Honey line). But the best feature is where their name comes from: they have a section devoted to samples of products. So, you can purchase 10 sample-size packets of a cream or serum or whatever (about 2 weeks worth) for $4 to try before committing to a full jar. I especially like this when trying out products from luxury brands like Sulwhasoo and History of Whoo.
- RoseRoseShop. In addition to a range of K-beauty products for cheap, you can also purchase samples through RoseRoseShop. I have not actually made a purchase with them through their website. However, I have bought from their eBay store, which is where they began, and the transactions have been fine. The RoseRoseShop site is a bit easier to navigate than TesterKorea’s, which takes some getting used to. Both RoseRoseShop and TesterKorea’s shipping is based on weight, so keep that in mind.
- Wishtrend. While their purchase minimum for free shipping is high, they do have a section where if you purchase any product in it, your shipping is free. They also have a referral program. Click here to get $5 off of your first Wishtrend order or use the code 2713729110 when you register, and I’ll get $5 store credit. You also get free samples with every purchase.
- Ebay. Ebay is tricky; fake products abound. I stick to eBay verified or top sellers as well as known sellers like RoseRoseShop. I am also very careful because prices are often hiked up on eBay. Still, it was the only place where I could find my Miss Flower and Mr Honey hand lotion. (Uh, have I mentioned I’m obsessed with that line? Take my money, Banila Co.!)
It can be tempting to “haul,” especially if you fall down an internet rabbit hole of reading about all of the fun boxes full of products that other people get.
If I am being honest, part of the reason I started this blog is because I realized that I had gone a little overboard in my hauls these past few months. One haul is fine. Boxes arriving to my door daily, so much so that Mr. Sir joked that it was “Christmas every day” at our house? That’s too much. To alleviate my guilt, and wanting to do something useful with all of the stuff I’d learned about skincare these past 9 months, I decided to start the blog.
I actually have a spreadsheet of my testing schedule, which I borrowed and adapted from Cat’s stash organizational spreadsheet from Snow White and the Asian Pear. Yes, if you buy a lot of products, you should be this organized or you will risk wasting products.
Take a lesson from me: don’t buy products like a blogger or you will be forced to become a blogger.
What are your favorite resources or places to buy K-beauty?