It's been forever since I wrote about beauty or skincare! To get back into the swing of beauty reviews I think it's best to show you where I'm at:
- My multi-step skincare routine for winter
- The products I use (mostly Korean, because that's where I live!)
- Why I use them on my sensitive, dry skin
- How to move towards more natural skincare
- How to navigate cruelty-free or vegan beauty in Korea
This post contains affiliate links which means that if you shop through one of the product links, I may receive a small commission. None of the products are sponsored. You can check out my full disclaimer here.
Why adjust your skincare routine for the seasons?
If you're living in a place that has pronounced changes in weather and temperatures throughout the year, then your skin will go through different phases, too.
In Korea, we have very cold and very dry winters, and very hot, humid summers. Spring and autumn don't have any extreme temperatures, of course, but they have their own pitfalls with lots of fine dust pollution in the air that might irritate sensitive skin and clogs pores.
Take a good look at your own situation and how your skin reacts to outside factors. Your skincare routine is designed to take care of these changing needs!
My own skin journey
I first discovered Korean beauty products about seven years ago when I ordered BB cream online together with a friend. Us both being very pale, we couldn't find an affordable foundation that matched our skin tones in Switzerland. K-Beauty opened a whole new world, and I slowly got more and more not only into makeup but skincare, too!
Since then, I've made mistakes, over-exfoliated, gotten lazy, gotten over-enthusiastic, bought many a lipstick, and moved to Korea. Living here, it got easier to get a grasp of the Korean market, the different brands, products, and uses. Four years of experimentation and testing, and now here we are! I'm happy with my skin condition, I don't have breakouts as I had in the past, and my skin is much smoother.
My current state: I've reduced my routine back to essentials that really work for me.
- My biggest focus: Taking care of my sensitive skin and signs of aging (I'm 28), and transition into more vegan and natural skincare products.
While I like keeping it simple, I still am a huge fan of skincare and enjoy the ritual of applying products - feels like an at-home spa! I also still love to draw cute illustrations of my favorite skincare and makeup. That's how my Etsy shop got started, after all!
Vegan/Natural Korean Skincare
I'm still learning more about the laws here. While animal testing is forbidden in Korea since 2018 and all the brands I used before that, too, didn't test on animals, I recently found out that any brand selling in the Chinese market has to comply with their testing laws. So here a couple of notes on the brands I used before going vegan and am still using/slowly phasing out?learning more about:
- Innisfree doesn't test on animals in Korea (and the only non-vegan ingredient in their products is honey - from collagen to colors, everything is plant-based!) but sells in China, so their Chinese branch does test on animals and isn't cruelty-free. This applies to every brand that has a Chinese branch, by the way.
- Sidmool doesn't sell in China and doesn't test on animals. While they focus on natural ingredients, I've reached out to them and they confirmed that they use collagen sourced from snail mucin and also use honey in their skincare.
- I'm looking into vegan brands here in Korea. Skincare can be found but vegan makeup...? Most of the vegan skincare brands started out with a focus on skincare products for babies, pregnant women, and others that wanted to avoid harmful substances. So while they have skincare products, their makeup selection is often non-existent or very small.
- I try to reduce my environmental footprint, which is why I don't like ordering from all around the globe.
- On that note: Innisfree is five minutes away from where I live and their packaging is recycled. They also let you bring your empty bottles and boxes for appropriate recycling. That's one of the reasons I continue to use their products. Most vegan skincare brands I have to order online, and they come with a lot of excess packaging. I might continue buying Innisfree makeup because it's the only large selection of plant-based ingredient makeup I've found here.
- I always liked Lush products and stock up on their shampoo bars whenever I'm in Seoul. But: The Korean Lush products (as well as the Japanese ones) have recently changed their ingredient source and production to Japan, where laws, again, are different and I'm still waiting to find out more.
- SO: It's a complicated back-and-forth, and I'm making it my focus to reduce where possible, but if you're here for vegan-only Korean skincare, I'm not the right reviewer for you. :)
For a more comprehensive blog post about the subject, check out this vegan K-Breauty guide!
Products aren't everything
I'll elaborate on this more once I break down the individual steps, but really, it's not all about products.
I've found that simplicity and less-is-more works best for me, as it allows me to see which product actually has an impact on its own, and which steps work best for which skin condition. Applying your products - whatever they may be - well and carefully, being gentle with your skin, and focusing on your health overall has a much bigger impact than finding that one holy-grail skincare item.
Also: You don't need Korean products!
Yes, it's called a Korean skincare routine, but that's mostly because the multi-step routine was popular here for a long time and then used for marketing all over the world. You can find products all over the world - I always just gravitated to Korean products for their makeup shades, the gentler exfoliation, focus on cleansing and layering, and the price point.
I do get the more "natural" parts of my skincare routine from iHerb, though, since I order staple foods and supplements there, anyway. Especially for oils and moisturizers like shea butter or coconut oil, they come in very handy! You can get 5% off your first purchase by using my coupon code: ZCC500
You don't need 8 or 12 or however many products for a routine to work.
The 12-step Korean Skincare routine is - in my eyes - a marketing ploy. I personally know not a single Korean who isn't a beauty blogger or YouTuber that actually uses that many steps. Of course, if you're into beauty and skincare, you quickly accumulate products and might love the whole relaxing process of applying all of them. But if you're just looking for a simple routine? Four or five products are enough!
My Skincare Routine - What I Use and Why
1. Cleansing Oil and Cleansing Foam:
The two-step cleansing routine is probably old news by now, but I can't emphasize it enough: First remove makeup/sunscreen/dirt/dust with an oil cleanser or cleansing balm, then remove the residue of all that with a cleansing foam. Having a clean canvas for all the products that get applied later makes all the difference!
I use a gentle cleansing oil by Sidmool (the Calendula Cleansing Oil) and a cleansing balm for makeup removal if necessary.
My cleansing foam is by Sidmool, too, and on days when I didn't wear makeup, I use a plant-based facial soap (trying to reduce packaging waste!).
- Use a cleansing balm (I use this one by vegan Korean skincare brand Aromatica) instead of a cleansing oil if you have very dry or sensitive skin.
- If you wear heavy makeup, first clean eye/lip makeup with a separate makeup remover and cotton pads, then move on to the cleansing oil. You don't want to rub your eyes too harshly, or spread your mascara all over your face! Just let the soaked cotton pads rest on your eyes for a couple seconds for the product to do its work.
- While oil cleansing, give yourself a tiny facial massage.
- Small circles with very gentle pressure are better than rough rubbing!
- Use tepid water, not too hot nor too cold. Your pores might look smaller after an ice-cold shock, but it can also make your skin more sensitive and irritated.
2. Toner or Skin
The order of application in a multi-step skincare routine is actually quite simple: Go from liquid to cream! So your thinnest products go before your heavier ones, in general.
I like to prepare my skin with a toner (this also serves as a double-check if all the makeup gunk really got cleaned properly - if you find anything on your cotton pad after gently applying toner on your skin, you've failed. FAILED, I tell you! ;) ) I like this PH balancing toner and am now testing a new one with lavender oil!
Optional: Vitamin C or BHA/AHA products. I've got sensitive skin, so I'm very careful with exfoliation. Less is more! I'd rather have the occasional clogged pore than a full-on red face and rough skin!
I've found the CosRX AHA liquid (which is vegan and cruelty-free, yay!) gentle enough for bi-weekly exfoliation, and on occasion use a Vitamin C ampoule to brighten some of my old acne scars. I prefer not using pure Vitamin C because that's a bit too intense for my sensitive skin, too, and I'd rather have a slower, steady improvement than going overboard. If you're looking for a low-impact Vitamin C product that you can use for a longer time than the usual ampoules (which oxidize after a couple months, so you have to use them quickly!) I recommend getting a Vitamin C powder to mix with your lotions or essences instead.
3. Essences and other Power Houses
Apply your most potent product first: The Innisfree Soybean Energy Essence EX - this has such a dreamy texture! It's a clear liquid with just enough viscosity to not drop out of your hand. It sinks in immediately and really helped in evening out my skin texture and keeping it supple.
Whenever I leave this out of my routine for a couple of days, my fine lines get more pronounced, too. I like to dab it on my under-eye area since it sinks in quicker than an eye cream.
You want your most powerful products - the ones that take care of your personal skin concerns like sensitivity, oiliness, fine lines, age spots and so on - to go on your skin early during the routine. Usually, these products come in the form of ampoules, essences, tonics, and have a relatively thin consistency.
This is where I'm happiest to spend my money, by the way. I've found that most cleansers, toners, and lotions work fine for me as long as they don't irritate my skin, but essences can pack a lot of punch.
4. Lotions & Oils for Hydration
After taking care of your skin's concerns (that can include several essences or ampoules, though I personally like to keep it simple), it's time to moisturize! No matter if you've got oily skin or dry one, moisturizing is important to keep your skin barrier intact.
I remember thinking I had oily skin and using incredibly harsh cleansers while being afraid of moisturizing - my skin hated me all the more for it and produced more oil to keep up with the dryness.
I love natural oils.
Contrary to popular belief, most don't leave your skin oily at all! I use an almond oil at the moment, which absorbs quickly and calms any redness I've got thanks to the dry and cold winter air. But I also like Green Tea Seed Oil, Rosehip Oil, and Camellia Seed Oil. Especially the Green Tea Seed Oil is both nourishing and very easily absorbed, so I default to that during the summer months.
The NOW almond oil is available on Amazon and iHerb. NOW is a cruelty-free brand and I use many of their products, from essential oils to skincare. You can get 5% off your first iHerb order by using my coupon code: ZCC500
A lotion can then add some extra moisture on top of the oil, but I personally use only one of the two. Simple works best for me if I want to keep track of how my skin changes.
5. Creams to lock in Moisture
A good cream seals in all the products used during the skincare routine.
This is another point in my skincare routine where I'm ready to invest more for good ingredients. While a simple balm might work just fine, I've found that a good cream can work like an overnight sleeping pack and has me wake up to skin that feels just like after I'd finished moisturizing the evening before.
For five years now, I've always come back to this Innisfree Eco Science Cream. The texture is heavy - like a balm rather than a cream - and the scent reminds me of Korean herbal medicine. While I don't use it in the morning (lotion/oils combined with a moisturizing sunscreen work best for me) it is a savior at night!
Despite the heavy texture, it sinks in nicely and has a very calming effect on the redness I get easily during winter. When I stay at home during the day (working from home perks!) I use it in the morning, too, to combat the dry air.
The jar is larger than other Innisfree creams (80ml instead of 50ml) and despite using it for five years, I'm only on my third jar ever!
A lighter cream that I'm on my third re-purchase on is the Innisfree Orchid Enriched Cream. Designed for early anti-aging concerns (mid-twenties) like dullness or loss of elasticity/suppleness, this cream is very nourishing and moisturizing but works well under makeup, too!
No Need to Use Everything Everyday!
All these multi-step skincare routines can be very intimidating if you're just starting out. But really, it comes down to:
- Cleanse well
- Apply something effective
- Apply something moisturizing
You can do a full-on routine each day, morning and evening. My personal morning routine is just a simple cleansing (with a natural facial soap instead of cleansing foam because I'm always trying to reduce packaging), then an essence and oil, then sunscreen.
In the evening, I do what fits with my skin condition on any given day. More steps or multiple layers of skin if it feels dry, an exfoliation if it's been a while and I've found some clogged pores, or a facial mask if I really want to amp it up.
But you can play around! As long as you introduce each new product slowly and patch-test, there is no need to do the exact same thing each day.
Be gentle and have fun!
If you like to decorate your makeup or skincare products, check out my beauty illustration stickers on Etsy!