Using cutting-edge formulations and both new and time-honored ingredients (centella asiatica, anyone?) alike, K-beauty is constantly innovating. And if having “glass skin” is your ultimate beauty goal, you’ll want to incorporate some of the best Korean skincare products into your daily routine.
We’ve tapped several experts to help navigate the latest and greatest in this beloved skincare category, including exactly what to look for in a product and their favorite picks. Whether you’re a snail mucin aficionado or novice to a multi-step routine, there’s an essence, cleansing balm or face mask here that you’ll want to add into your beauty regimen. Below, find ten of our top picks across various categories that suit a wide range of skin types.
Best Korean Moisturizer
A Soothing Cream That Delivers Major Moisture
Best Korean Lip Balm
A Moisture-Rich Balm With A Hint Of Tint
Best Korean Essence
An Antioxidant-Rich Formula With A Serum-Like Texture
Best Korean Serum
A Cult-Favorite Serum That Brightens And Hydrates
Best Korean Sunscreen
A Clear SPF That Doubles As A Moisturizer
Best Korean Eye Cream
A Brightening Formula That Smooths Fine Lines
Best Korean Face Wash
An Eco-Friendly Cleanser For All Skin Types
Best Cleansing Balm
A Luxurious Balm That Melts Away Makeup And Debris
Best Korean Sheet Mask
An Ultra-Hydrating Treatment That Locks In Moisture
Best Korean Face Mask
A Calming Solution To Stressed Skin
What To Consider In Korean Skincare Products
While everyone’s needs will be different depending on their skin type, there are certain standout features to look out for in a Korean beauty product. Co-founder of Schwanen Garten Dr. Suan Hwang recommends formulas that are gentle but effective. “Look for hydrating, nourishing products that will maintain and fortify a healthy skin barrier,” she says.
Yoon echoes this sentiment. “Many Korean skincare products are focused on hydration and being gentle on skin,” she says. If you’re just getting into the world of K-beauty, she recommends starting out with an essence, as hydration has an impact on so many other aspects of our skin. “As an esthetician, I’ve seen these be a game-changer for many people,” she says.
A typical Korean skincare routine can vary in number of steps from several to ten, but it always starts with a good cleanse. “The general steps include cleansing, sunscreen (and makeup) in the morning, and cleansing, serums and moisturizers at night,” says Wong. If there’s one thing to pay attention to in your routine, however, it’s consistency. “Most products take a while to work, so it’s important to use them regularly to really see skincare benefits,” she says.
Day vs. Night
Experts recommend starting your morning with a cleanse, followed by an essence, serum, ampoule (a concentrated liquid packed with antioxidants), moisturizer, sunscreen and makeup (if desired). If this multi-step routine sounds a touch overwhelming, fear not. “You might not need the essences, serums and daily ampoules,” says Hwang. “Your skin will let you know what it needs.”
Begin your nighttime routine with a double cleanse to thoroughly remove impurities from the day. “An oil or balm loosens up dirt, makeup and sunscreen, and a water-based cleanser removes any leftover residue,” says Hwang. After your double cleanse, it’s on to the essence, serum, ampoule and your night cream of choice. “You might want to add a special treatment like a weekly exfoliation or mask,” she adds.
For high-performing ingredients that really deliver results, Korean skincare reigns supreme. Wong recommends seeking out unique ones like snail mucin for hydration, rice for brightening and ginseng for its antioxidant properties. “These ingredients are more difficult to find in Western products,” she says.
Lee looks for products that contain powerhouse ingredients like pearl, propolis, royal honey and mugwort. “Lots of these ingredients have been used for centuries,” she says. Similar to mugwort for its calming abilities, artemisia is a favorite of Yoon’s for treating common skin conditions like keratosis pilaris. Her top product recommendation for it: Peach & Lily’s KP Bump Boss Microderm Body Scrub.
For sunscreen, look for SPF products containing UV filters DHHB and bemotrizinol, which are not yet available in the US. “These allow for lighter textures while still offering high protection,” Hong says.
What Products Does A Typical Korean Skincare Routine Include?
Most experts agree that a typical K-beauty skincare routine includes a cleansing balm, water-based cleanser, essence, toner, serum, moisturizer, eye cream and sunscreen. However, given the recent trend towards paring down the 10-step routine, Hong says there’s a bit of a debate over what’s “typical” these days. The one product experts agree that can’t be skipped: sunscreen.
An added step as needed: Yoon cites all manner of masks (i.e., sheet masks, lip treatments, overnight masks) as an integral part of the regimen. “[They’re great] for whenever skin needs a boost,” she says.
Where Are The Best Places To Shop Korean Skincare?
There’s a wealth of K-beauty stores online, fully stocked with everything from snail sheet masks to watermelon sleeping treatments. A perennial favorite is Peach & Lily, a rigorously curated site in which only 5% of products considered make the cut.
It’s also worth checking out the wide array of Korean beauty products available in person. New York-based Besfren Beauty is known for its reasonably priced items and impressive selection of products; the staff is super knowledgeable and ready to lend its expertise. Also in NYC, oo35mm is another hidden gem located in Chinatown—packed with affordable bestsellers, it’s a K-beauty influencer favorite.