By Jude Chao

If you hang around online skincare communities long enough, you’ll end up seeing at least a handful of variations on the “I Tried a 10-Step Korean Beauty Routine and My Face Burst into Flames” theme. And if you’re newer to skincare or K-beauty, you may at some point be tempted to try this yourself.
I was thinking about how common this is the other day, which prompted me to Tweet this:

But today I feel like I have more to get off my chest, so if you’re thinking that the way to jump into skincare or K-beauty or Asian cosmetics is by throwing an entire routine onto your face at once, please, for the love of your skin, read this first.

The “10-Step Routine” is Marketing, Not Best Practices.

I’ve been saying it for years: the “Korean Beauty 10-Step Skincare Routine” is a myth, created by brand and retailer marketing departments and disseminated through industry-friendly media and unwitting independent influencers in order to drive the demand for more products. It is not the universal secret to honey glass cloud skin that looks like an Instagram filter was put on it in real life.

(And on the topic of honey glass cloud skin…)

Now, to clarify, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a long routine.

But that’s me. Not you or anyone else. I do what’s right for my skin, which may or may not be what’s right for anyone else’s skin. And I’m not using products in order to fill specific slots in some skincare routine template. It’s the other way around: my skincare routine depends on what works for my skin. It developed organically rather than from a step-by-step form. Sometimes I do three or four steps at night. Sometimes I do…a lot. I do less in the mornings and whenever else I want to.

It’s about what your skin needs. Not about what some external “authority” tells you it needs.

Oh, and those brand lines that have a product for every step, all within the same line’s branding and theme? Please don’t let the existence of these full routine brand lines convince you that you need the entire line on your face. I prefer to think of these lines are offering a variety of options. Maybe I want more ginseng on my face, but I already have a (non-ginseng) serum and cream–in that case, I might pick up the toner. I know brands like to insist that their lines work ~synergistically~ so you should use it all, but in my experience, a mixed routine incorporating a variety of different beneficial ingredients produces better effects.

Trying Multiple New Products at Once Is a Bad, Bad Idea

Okay, so not everyone needs the “full” [however many steps the latest commercial beauty media article specifies] “K-beauty” skincare routine. What about starting a new routine of any length all at the same time?

Please God no.

Just…

There are a lot of things that could go wrong here.

Every unfamiliar product you introduce to your skin has the potential to clog pores, cause irritation, create breakouts, or trigger a reaction. Even my skin, which is generally quite hardy and very rarely suffers anything worse than a bit of redness if I’ve gone too hard with the actives, has had its moments.

Now multiply that risk by however many products your potential new routine includes.

The worst thing is, if you have a reaction to just one of the new products you put on your face in combination with a bunch of other new products, you’re not going to have any way of knowing which new product was the culprit. The whole routine is implicated unless you stop using all the products for long enough to let your skin recover, then re-introduce each new product one at a time until you find the one that messed up your skin, at which point you’ll have messed up your skin again.

This is the point at which more than one person has thrown in the towel and declared all of K-beauty or all of skincare to be terrible. And that’s absolutely not true, but good luck convincing someone that it’s not true when “K-beauty” gave them an unforgettably bad reaction that might take months to heal.

As a side note, patch testing can somewhat help mitigate the risks, but it isn’t a perfect solution. Testing your skin’s reaction to a product on one small area of your face or neck might help identify if the product is irritating overall, but unfortunately (or fortunately?), reactions and breakouts don’t always happen uniformly on every single inch of the skin that’s exposed to the offending product. I have certain areas of my face that are more prone to acting up if they come into contact with something they don’t like, but that’s still only probability, not certainty. Depending on the state of my skin, a totally different spot might react the next time.

How to Introduce New Products to Your Skin
Slowly and carefully, that’s how. Skincare isn’t speed dating. Take the time to get to know each product and how you feel about it.

What I mean is, introduce new products to your skin one at a time. When I’m asked about starting a new routine, I generally tell people to give their skin at least a week with one new product before adding another new one to the mix. A week should typically be long enough to see if something bad is going to happen. If you’re willing to go even longer in between new products, however, that’s even better.

You may indeed end up with a long routine that makes your skin happy. Or you may find that your skin maxes out at just a few products, in which case, that should make your wallet happy, too. The point is that you can’t know what’s going to work best for your skin until you get to know your own skin. Your skin is an individual, a free spirit. No K-beauty or skincare “expert” can tell you exactly what to put on it to get the results you want. But they can lead your skin to disaster by trying.

(Want to know more about how I put together a skincare routine? Check out the posts in my Routine Building category!)

Now spill. Has trying to follow the concept of the ~K-Beauty 10 Step Routine~ caused any problems for you?

Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash

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