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Everything you need to know about K-Beauty 26 February, 2021   

When you hear about South Korea, chances are you’ll either think or major bands like BTS or Blackpink that have gone international, or you’ll think about cutting-edge beauty products. Even if you’re no skincare aficionado, you most likely have heard about K-beauty at least once.

Surpassing J-Beauty (from Japan), K-beauty is now the most popular category in cosmetics from Eastern Asia – to the point that most brands in the UK and the US have started taking heavy inspiration from these trends.

If you’ve always wanted to dive into the fabulous world of K-beauty, or if you’re curious to see what you could learn, then keep on reading! In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about k-beauty trends.

What is K-beauty?

In a few words, K-beauty designates all products that originate from Korea, whether that’s skincare or makeup. What’s the big deal, you wonder? In South Korea the beauty industry is huge and highly competitive, meaning brands keep battling it out to release products that are innovative, effective, and in line with the Korean beauty philosophy.

The core principle of K-beauty is all about repairing, protecting and gently taking care of your skin for long-term results. Historically, Koreans were mostly farmers (we’re talking about hundreds, thousands of years ago), which has led to researching ways of protecting and repairing any damage to the skin caused by the sun when working long days in fields. Even if the lifestyle of most Koreans has vastly changed since then, the philosophy has remained the same.

Korean cosmetics are all about strengthening your skin barrier and staying protected from damage caused by sun, wind, cold, pollution or other environmental factors. Preventing signs of ageing is one of the main goals, but achieving “glass skin” has also been a popular trend in recent years.

Korean Skincare and Steps

This philosophy had led to some specific products that could originally be only found in Korean skincare routines. Sheet masks are the perfect example of a type of product that you might use regularly now, but you may not know that it is a staple in K-beauty. A sheet mask is a piece of paper or cloth shaped for the face, soaked in a serum solution, usually with hydrating and soothing ingredients. It’s an extra step you would use before a moisturiser and helps to combat dryness and dehydration, as the sheet acts as a barrier while ingredients work their way into the layers of your skin.

Another typical Korean product, that many people are yet not quite familiar with, is an essence. You may see it by now, k-beauty is all about keeping skin hydrated and essences are yet another step that helps in this process. Used after the toner stage but before any serums, essences are best described as “thick water” in texture and are packed with hydrating ingredients that will help prep your skin for the next stages of your routine and achieve youthful, “plump” skin.

Star Ingredients

Like most results-driven skincare products, k-beauty cosmetics rely heavily on some core ingredients to offer effective products that consumers will love. If Korean brands will use some ingredients that we know and love (think Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid), they also take inspiration from traditional medicine by incorporating plants and herbs into products.

One ingredient that gets often mentioned is snail mucin (which is that slime produced by snails), which can seem highly unusual but has been praised for its healing properties and is mostly used to support collagen production.

Nature is a huge inspiration in K-beauty. Yes, it includes uncommon ingredients (at least for us!) like snail mucin but you can also find many plant-based extracts such as bamboo, ginseng, lotus, rose, green tea, centella asiatica, aloe vera and other roots, mushrooms and plant extracts.

If you’re looking for innovative ingredients or to add variety into your routine, you’ll be amazed by everything that Korean skincare has to offer. There are some great sites that specialise in Korean skincare, such as this one, where you can see what takes your fancy.

10-Step Routines

A few years ago now, we first got introduced to k-beauty through the (in)famous 10-step skincare routine, which seemed a world away from our usual cleanse-tone-moisturise mantra. While this can seem like a lot of steps to go through when you’re rushing to get ready for work, this concept is the perfect embodiment of the Korean beauty philosophy and shows the importance that skincare can take.

A typical 10-step routine will go as follow:

  1. Oil-based cleanser

  2. Water-based cleanser (i.e. gel or cream)

  3. Exfoliation (physical or chemical)

  4. Hydrating toner

  5. Essence

  6. Serums

  7. Face mask

  8. Eye Cream

  9. Moisturiser

  10. Sunscreen (in the morning only)

Of course, the idea is that you can adapt this to your skin and the types of products you like using. For example, if your skin tends to be on the oilier side you may not need to use both a hydrating toner and an essence, or if your skin feels very dry you may want to use a face oil.


A lot of people take these 10 steps for face value and think that you need to religiously follow these to achieve their ideal skin. The truth is, when it comes to skincare, consistency is key. You may do 5 steps, you may do more, as long as you can keep it going. The 10 steps should be taken as a template to get you started that you can adapt to your needs.

Another common misconception is that k-beauty products are only suited to Asian skin, but this is completely false. Skin is skin and Korean skincare targets common concerns that everyone can experience such as dryness, sensitivity or oiliness.

Brands to try

If you’ve enjoyed this overview of k-beauty so far and are now looking to shop your first products, you might get overwhelmed by the number of brands available out there. If you’re just starting out, try popular brands such as Klairs, Cosrx, Neogen, By Wishtrend, Purito, Laneige, Heimish or Missha.

Cruelty-free, vegan, budget-friendly and luxurious, you’ll find brands for all preferences and all types of budget.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you can find more Beauty advice and articles here.

Kbeauty skincare

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