5 June 2016

My Korean Skincare Routine - 6 Years of Progress

It's been a year since I've started blogging and, slowly, have gotten into makeup reviews. But I've been scared of posting anything about skincare, as I'm really no expert when it comes to ingredients or skin types, and the whole subject strikes me as so much more complex than just gawking at colors and textures of my lip products.

I'm taking the plunge today in presenting my very basic routine that I'm slooowly expanding, and showing a bit of my skin history to lay a foundation for future skincare review posts.

While I've been living in Korea for nearly three years now, I did take my first baby steps into Korean beauty long before that (maybe six years ago...?), if mostly by accident. A friend of mine had really pale skin and discovered Asian BB creams for herself before they got popular or easily accessible, so to save money, we ordered online together one day.

In retrospective, that Missha BB cream didn't work at all for my skin (gray cast, dry flakes AND oily swamp) but compared to what I'd been using previously? A whole new world free of too dark and orange foundation shades. When we re-ordered I added some lip tints and skincare out of couriosity. This is how I first discovered my staple brand, innisfree, through their Vivid Rouge Tints and some basic cleansing foam.

I'd never been good at makeup, mostly since most trends or available products back then in Switzerland or Germany where really not working for me. Always the pale vampire, I tried to at least reach the lightest affordable foundation shade by tanning (aka what is sunscreen?) and due to droopy eyes neither cat eyeliner nor thin, arched eyebrows were in any way flattering. So while I didn't fall head over heels for K-Beauty (that wasn't even in my vocabulary back then...) I definitely was intrigued since the products seemed to be catered towards me.

SO HARD to find pictures from that era, but maybe 2010? 2009? So, my late teenage years?
I was going for the burnt by dragon fire look.

EDIT: Obviously, these old pictures were taken with a worse camera and worse lighting compared to the ones down the line... though that means you actually don't see most of the bad stuff happening, so it's not really a draw. :') Also, I'm probably wearing some sort of base makeup in all of these, because picture-
taking-days were failed-makeup-days? But you can still see my general problems. Yay. :D
Sunscreen came into the equation once I noticed that MAYBE it wouldn't be too bad to have just pale skin instead of constantly sunburnt skin. My skin was dull and dry as a desert.
When I then traveled to Japan and Korea (with the same friend, actually) about two years after our first purchase, we went a bit crazy. While my travel goal had been Japan because, well, I'm a manga artist first and foremost, it was Korea that took my heart and money away.

2011 - it's still hard to find pictures from that time! I'm sure I'm wearing sunscreen here,
and maybe some BB cream? That has melted off throughout the day?
Overall really rough and uneven skin.

From then on I had what could be considered an actual skincare routine in place, with a sunscreen (thank you to the random Japanese drugstore with the cheap Biore bottles ready to the rescue while traveling), an oil cleanser, a cleansing foam and a lotion. I still tried to use products from German brands like Alverde because of easier access, but just found that Korean products from the same or lower price range worked compareably better for me. Was using a lot of Skinfood (blah), Innisfree and Etude House (never again) at that time since those were the easiest to be found.
My skin was still clogging around the mouth and chin, generally dull and dry, BUT the inclusion of SPF and proper cleansing had reduced the redness and my cheek area was looking better, at least. Dry flakes and general itchiness were going away as well, and my skin color looked more even. I also re-started using base makeup like BB cream.

Skin situation in 2012. BB cream doesn't help much when there's little hills and
valleys all ove the place... But mostly, dull and rough.

THEN there was the whole case of Korea having not only taken my heart away in the beauty/skincare sense, but me meeting my now-husband while traveling. So once I moved to Korea (leaving everything that couldn't fit in my 23 kg suitcase behind) I had to restart from the beginning.

My husband had a longer, more ritually obeyed skincare routine than me at the time. I stole his essence and skin and toner and slowly realised that some of those were actually the very same thing. I became better at cleansing, added a cream or the odd sheet mask...

My skincare looked like this in 2014 after a year in Korea, with a mixture of Banila Co, Innisfree, Mamonde,
Missha (the FTE actually didn't do much for me...) and Mizon.

It was only three days before the wedding, about a year later, that the skin clinic we went to for the special occasion told me I actually had very, VERY dry, dehydrated skin, plus accumulated sun damage from the first twenty-five or so years of my life.

(By the way, my skin on my wedding day? After a Korean skin care spa experience? No words. Never looked better.)

I started getting into makeup (brows! foundation!) after having gotten it done for my traditional
Korean wedding in spring 2014. 
That little warning call had me getting into actually CARING about skincare. Before, I'd mostly just stumbled along, adding on to a at first non-existent routine slowly but steadily and getting good results probably just from the fact of getting the basics right.

My main concerns at that point were my still red-flushed cheeks and nose area from irritation and/or sundamage, the major dehydration still going on and closed comedones. Breakouts were mostly just a hormonal thing, with my chin and mouth area getting the worst of it.

This ain't no innisfree commercial...
I started to be a lot gentler to my skin, using minimal pressure when cleansing, soft tapping motions instead of vigorous rubbing, and layering on the moisture. I also stepped up my sunscreen game for prevention purposes, especially since the harsh sun on Jeju island and me spending a lot of time outside were pushing my sunscreen to its limit.

By spring in 2015, my skin had evened out, though there's obvious sun spots to be found all
over my cheeks.

So, I reached the point where I was comfortable enough with my skin to make applying makeup fun, and me starting to blog about it in a very limited way.

My skincare routine was still quite basic, since I've only been dabbling in actives from autumn 2015 onwards. Me using mostly innisfree isn't really a call for you to go out and purchase everything from them - it's more that their stuff works well for me, not breaking me out even once (something that has hampered my motivation in trying out other brands) and that I'm on a budget, so sticking to one brand while living in Korea gives me the advantage of reaching VVIP status there (thanks, friends and family that used my point card~) which results in monthly 30%-50% sales, free gift sets and all that jazz. I did also use a lot of Mamonde skincare while I had a membership at Aritaum (Laneige, however, didn't work for me...) and enjoyed Hanyul and Iope products while that lasted, but now that this membership is basic again, I keep to innisfree.

So, as to how my current skincare looks like:

Scary. It looks like a lot when I put it all together like this, but it's not like I use all of these on a daily or even weekly basis.

My daily routine would be this:

A cream cleanser (oil cleanser were a bit much for my dry, clog-prone skin, and I've been going for cleansing creams ever since the nice lady that made my skin look great for my wedding told me to...) to take off sunscreen/makeup. On rare days when I wear a lot of eye makeup, I'll use a Lip & Eye makeup remover (by Aritaum).

I've used the Banila Co. cleansing balm for the longest time, both the sensitive and the radiance version, but using that on my mostly just sunscreen-and-liptint face was like throwing bombs at mosquitos. Overkill. Switched to the Apple Juicy Cleansing Cream by innisfree some months ago which works perfectly fine.

A new addition is the Bija Trouble Cleansing Gel. I've been using the Mamonde Lotus Micro Foam until recently, but wanted to switch to something less harsh and, mainly, low PH after that tube was empty. So far I'm loving it, even though I miss having actual foam.

After cleansing, I use a Toner/Skin, at the moment the Jeju Orchid Skin by, who would have guessed, innisfree. I also own their Broccoli Clearing Toner (free gift set, yay) that I use on cotton pads to swipe down my nose and mouth area after hot days with heavy makeup or to swipe off vitamin C (more on that later). The orchid line works really well for me (I tried the Orchid Enriched Cream, the Night Cream and the Lotion previously and loved them all) but the Skin is the only one I'd use all year round, as it isn't heavy despite being very moisturizing. Love the texture of this! But I'm eyeing their White Tone Up Skin, because Niacinamide.

As for essences and serums, I switch it up a lot depending on the season. I've been using the Ginger Oil Serum Rich all winter long, and a recent clearance sale made me switch to the Jeju Mineral Sparkling Essence Rich which is lighter but still moisturizing. Doesn't do anything fantastical beyond that, but the foam texture sure is fun and I love the scent!

I DON'T expect my basic routine to do any wonders, just moisturize and calm my skin. I'll probably switch back to my staple summer serum - the Green Tea Seed Serum - soon and then switch back to this one in autumn.

For cream, I'm using The Minimal Moisture Cream that I bought because it would be easy to travel with (last winter) and which surprised me positively. Calms down redness, moisturizes, but works well under makeup. I've also got their Oat Mild Moisture Lotion (free gift set, again), which works similarly but is a bit lighter and fragranced.

So, after getting these frankly kind of interchangeable basics out of the way, here come my non-daily things. Routines similar to this one (3-6 products + sunscreen) are actually what most of my Korean friends are doing - I only stumbled upon actives and in-depth analysis on the Asianbeauty subreddit.
The price point might be a reason, too: Keeping up those heavily promoted 12-step-routines costs money, and products that are cheap from some countries' perspectives can be quite hard to purchase and maintain from an average-income Korean's perspective.

Sheetmasks! What fun would all this be without them? I try to not use them too often from a packaging-waste point of view, but still like to get in at least one or two per week.

I keep some basic Innisfree It's Real Squeeze Aloe or Green Tea ones in my fridge for days when I had to spend a lot of time outside and even re-applying SPF 50 couldn't keep my skin safe. Their Rice one also works really well for me - similar effects can be achieved by splashing left-over water from washing rice on my face, though. ;)

My skin doesn't like to meet chemical exfoliants too often (found out the hard way) so for a BHA, I'm actually using a sheetmask from innisfree's Skin Clinic line once a month or so. I don't even know if the PH and ingredients are sufficient, but hey, it does make my skin more even, my pores look clean and I'm happy with that.

Some other sheet masks I like are the hydrogels by Mamonde, the cotton ones by Illi, the fancy ones by Aritaum Salon Esthe (and their Modeling Masks), the occasional MediHeal when I stumble upon a sale - and some glorious hydrogels by a brand called Cel-Derma that my mother-in-law gave me en masse. No idea where to repurchase those, though.

A lot of other brands are more of a hit-and-miss thing for me, and I'm not very adventurous because the risk of breaking out isn't worth it for me.

I don't do BHA beyond that occasional sheet mask mentioned above, but I did start using an AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid by CosrX about nine months ago (after sampling some other stuff that was way too harsh). The thing is, my skin really doesn't like it when I go overboard on anything, so my AHA usage is still just a once-a-week thing. I use it more like a spot treatment around my mouth than all over my face, too. And wash it off after 15 minutes.

The Volcanic Clay Pore Mask by innisfree has been a staple for over three years now. It saves my pores during the humid summer (using it once or twice a week), and is gentle and non-drying enough to be used even in winter, about once in two weeks. Definitely a holy grail product for me!

Vitamin C, on the other hand, is a fairly new addition. I've had several samples from another brand, but went with the Sidmool (Sidmul) Vitamin C ampoule since it was cheaper and I'd read some great reviews on their entire product range in the Korean bloggerverse. I hope that this will take care of my hyperpigmentation, and already I've seen some brightening and lightening happening! Fingers crossed. I use it about two times a week, since again, I don't want to overdo it. I also swipe off the sticky residue after 15-20 minutes with a toner.

Oils... Facial oils are my saviours in winter months. I've been using the innisfree Canola Honey Oil all through last fall and winter, and a flood of samples of their Green Tea Seed Oil the year before. Oils are the only way I've been able to withstand the freezing, dry winters of Korea, especially when visiting Seoul and bad air gets thrown into the mix.

A new addition, purchased with the Vitamin C ampoule, is the Vitamin E by Sidmool. Supposed to help with sustained sun damage (antioxidants and such) I bought this to use in conjunction with my Vitamin C. It's heavier than the Canola Honey Oil, so I only use it at night, when it feels very relaxing, nourishing and calming, while the Canola one works fine even when used under makeup. Can't say much about its other properties, since I've been only using it for a month.

Since I'm now 28 by Korean age counting system (turning 27 for the rest of the world) I'm more concerned about fighting off fine lines. While my mother-in-law does keep me kind of flooded with a variety of Sum37 and Sulwhasoo samples (YAY for the Ajumma-Network!), I do also own a proper eyecream in the Innisfree Eco Science Wrinkle Spot Essence. It isn't very moisturizing and thus not heavy at all, and I do see the difference whenever I forget using it for a while because I'm lazy. Especially when my eyes are tired from squinting at drawings and screens all day and night...

The other product from the Eco Science line I own is the cream. It has a peculiar texture, very heavy and occlusive but not oily or greasy at all. It's cooling and feels tightening on my skin, and I use it in the evening on top of my moisturizing layers to seal everything in. Also works really nicely for facial massages, though tapping is the way to go to get good absorption. Will repurchase both (I'm on my seconde tube of the spot essence and the cream lasts me forever!).

So that's what my skin looks like currently, while wearing sunscreen. It's become a lot smoother compared to my old pictures (in which I'm wearing sunscreen and/or BB cream), and even my stubborn CCs around the mouth and chin have been reduced a lot. While I wouldn't say that my skin is glowing (maybe the Vit C will help?) it does feel healthy and firm and soft, and the permanent redness on my cheeks and nose is gone except for the maybe-broken capillaries around the nose...

With a thin layer of Cushion foundation (Innisfree Water Glow, half-empty cushion that I keep around
for very thin makeup days)
My skin does also work better with makeup now - in the beginning, everything would sink into lines or pores or stick to dry patches, and having a better canvas to work with (and better base makeup products/skills) definitely made a huge difference! I've never even had to use that mint-green base product to balance out redness after the first year of purchasing it! :D

Of course, I've also aged more than half a decade since the first skin close-up picture in this post, so there's some fine lines around my eyes. I should really start wearing sunglasses... Full cheeks are a thing of the past, too.

I find that what helped most was having a basic routine in place that wasn't doing any miracles, but kept my skin calm and moisturized. Being generally gentle while cleansing and applying products still gives me immediate differences as opposed to days when I'm kind of just rushing and rubbing my way through stuff. Eating and drinking are a whole other subject, but definitely have an impact as well...

Only when I had the basics in place did I venture out into fancy things like actives, and I'm glad I took the time to get to know my skin before I did.

Hopefully I'll get rid of the last closed comedones and hyper-pigmentation one day, but mostly I'm happy with my progress and will keep on taking baby steps instead of rushing ahead.

Anyone still here? Anyone still awake?
So. Wow. That was one hell of a long blog post - but I just wanted to get all this out of the way before I start actually doing reviews of skincare and base makeup products, especially since I'm actually new to the whole 'Asian Beauty' internet culture, despite dabbling in Korean skincare for a long time.

There's so many different skin types and situations (climate, allergies, sensitivities, life/stress) that influence how products work for different people, so you might look at this blog post as some sort of disclaimer: This is my skin. It's come a looong way. I'm still learning.

BE NICE TO YOUR SKIN! And see you next time with a sheet mask review, a haul or something else, less rambly. :)


  1. I love this post :) (although I did have to take a nap in the middle..just kidding XD ) it's so great to hear about the entire journey and how it's made such a positive difference (I wish I had an ahjumma-network...please? anyone?).
    That picture from your wedding looks soooo beautiful, btw :D you might very well be plucked out from some movie!

    Personally, due to my psoriasis, I have to fight a little redness and dryness constantly, no matter what I use :( Mizon Snail Gel was a revelation though, it soothed my skin within seconds (maybe it has tiny magicians as it's main ingredient...) but Korean skin care has been the best at keeping my skin happy, even on the days when I can't resist gluten-&-tomato-laden pizza (no judgement..:D )

    What would you say has been the MOST 'mind-blowing' or 'life-changing' product you've used?

    1. Lol, believe me, I took a nap in the middle, too. XD I just wanted to get it all out of the way in one long word-vomit (TMI, sorry)
      The Ahjumma-Network gives me live! There's friends of friends of aunts that go to department stores and then pass around free samples or stuff they got from other friends that work for sheetmask companies.... It's like the circle of life! :D And thank you so much for the compliment! The wedding picture combined my first facial, first professional makeup and first professional photographer, so yay~

      A little redness and dryness is left for me, too, especially if I don't do something like a facial mist during the day. And winters are no joke! Strangely, snail products really don't do anything for me. I tried stuff from Mizon, and sheetmasks from a lot of brands, and ... just nothing. ㅠ ㅠ

      Hmm... life-changing is so hard! Because it was such a gradual change, I mostly didn't even notice the differences until I went looking for old pictures. But the innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum kind of single-handedly saved my skin during my first Korean summer - calmed the redness and moisturized while keeping my then still overly-active oil production in check. I love it till this day, but since the rest of my routine has balanced out my skin, the effect isn't as drastic as the first year. :)

    2. It sounds magical O_O friends who work for sheet mask companies...i would like those friends, we would be great friends... :D

      well I think it's really important to remember that skin is super individual - everyone responds differently. 3 years ago I tried a snail mask that made my skin hell, but now I tried a few and they seem to work quite wonderfully! You just really have to find the things you like, and stick to them :D At least that's what I do, so my 'routines' are boring too because they're the same things all the time.

      See - that's so strange, because the Green Tea Seed Serum does nothing for me XD I tried it for half a year, it seemed to irritate my skin a little T_T Haven't tried the updated version, but since I didn't quite love the first one I'm wary of throwing my money (possibly) down the drain.
      I was quite surprised by the new Jeju Lava Seawater Deep Essence - it does wonders for my dry skin, especially when paired with a sheet mask <3

    3. Friends of friends of friends of relatives, more likely :D

      I did actually order one snail mask by Tosowoong recently (though most of the order consists of Deep Sea Water and Blueberry ones) because I keep on trying to love the snail~
      But really, sometimes I'm jealous of all these cool hauls people do, because my 'hauls' mostly consist of marching into innisfree on sale day and grabbing what I've run out of. Same story over at Aritaum. :')

      Haha, this is exactly why I'm scared of doing skincare reviews! My skin seems to love green tea in general, especially when it's gotten a bit too much sun exposure and redness, but for you it seems the opposite is true! But that Jeju Lava Seawater one... I've got a sample here and am so scared of trying it, falling in love and needing to buy it immediately. But I've heard so much good about it...! #byemoney

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