What Is Korean Skincare? Plus, the Best K-Beauty Products for a Clean, Healthy Glow

These creams, serums, sunscreen and more Korean beauty and skincare products are made with gentle, mostly plant-based ingredients.


Jun. 28 2024, Published 2:57 p.m. ET

korean skincare
Source: Walmart, Amazon, Soko Glam

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I've been a skincare fanatic since I was in high school, long before it became trendy to be one. My skincare routine is consistent, but my products are always changing because I focus more on ingredients than I do on brands. I'm always trying to fine-tune the ingredient mix and simplify the process, giving my sensitive skin what it needs but not too much of it. Lately, this "less is more" approach and my three-decades-long devotion to achieving clean, dewy skin and a luminous glow has led me to deep dive into K-Beauty, or Korean skincare, a South Korean approach to skincare that uses natural, plant-based ingredients.

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The 6 Best K-Beauty Skincare Products

Step 1: Cleansing Oil: Skin1004 Madagascar Centella Ampoule ($15)

Step 2: Water-Based Cleanser: ROUND LAB 1025 Dokdo Cleanser ($13, was $15)

Step 3: Exfoliant: Mixsoon Bean Essence ($35)

Step 4: Toner: Anua Heartleaf 77% Soothing Toner ($23)

Step 5: Serum: Peach & Lily Rescue Party Barrier Restore Serum ($47)

Step 6: Moisturizer: Make P:rem Safe Me. Relief Moisture Cream 12 ($12, originally $34)

Step 7: Sunscreen: Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun: Rice + Probiotic SPF50+ PA++++ ($14, was $18)

Now, before you come for me, yes, I know that traditional K-Beauty promotes a 10-step skincare routine. But I'm more focused on products themselves: gentle moisturizers, serums, gels, and more that simplify the ingredient list, leave out harsh, drying chemicals, and focus on deep, skin-quenching hydration. I have my favorite products, and so do the legions of Korean beauty enthusiasts out there, so I decided to round up seven of the best across the board — all of which are cruelty-free and vegan. Let's take some liberties and revise this to the seven-step skincare routine.

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Roll up your sleeves, break out your spa headband, and get ready for the kinds of natural ingredients that you never thought you'd be slathering on your skin—things like probiotics, algae, and deep sea water —in the quest for a flawless, ageless complexion.

SKIN1004 Madagascar Centella Light Cleansing Oil

Korean skincare is all about having clean skin, and cleansing oils—or oil-based cleansers—are a popular component. They're used dissolve makeup, sunscreen, and excess sebum without stripping your skin of its natural oils ( if your pores clog easily, you might want to skip this step). SKIN1004 Madagascar Centella Light Cleansing Oil is one of the best you'll find, formulated with Centella Asiatica extract, a potent plant-based ingredient known for its ability promote collagen production and reduce inflammation (it's also great for scars). Since it balances oil production, it's extra effective for sensitive and acne-prone skin.

$13 (was $21) at Walmart
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ROUND LAB 1025 Dokdo Cleanser

Double cleansing is big in the Jhe second step in the typical Korean skincare routine is to follow up your oil base cleanser with a water-based on. That's where the beloved ROUND LAB 1025 Dokdo Cleanser comes into play. It's a gentle, water-based facial cleanser enriched with deep sea water from a Korean island called Ulleungdo, which is known to be rich in minerals. The cleanser zaps any remaining impurities and oils and leaves you with a clean, hydrated "pallette" for the rest of your skincare products.

$13 (was $15) at Amazon

Mixsoon Bean Essence

Now it's time to slough of the dead skin cells, unclog your pores, and leave your face gleaming. I like a gentle exfoliant, and the internet-famous Mixsoon Bean Essence is just that, combining hydration with light chemical exfoliation. Its key ingredient is Lactobacillus/Soybean Ferment Extract, a a blend of fermented bean extracts that act as a probiotic to balance your skin's microbiome. Use this to improve skin texture, boost radiance, and maintain moisture balance.

$35 at Soko Glam
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Anua Heartleaf 77% Soothing Toner

If you're a regular on #skintok, you know that Anua Heartleaf 77 Soothing Toner is the formulation every Korean skincare loyalist is trying to get their paws on. It's infused with 77 percent heartleaf extract, an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial plant extract. This is the step where you calm and hydrate your cleansed skin, balancing its moisture levels and leaving it feeling smooth and refreshed.

$23 at Soko Glam

Peach & Lily Super Oasis Concentrated Serum

Korean skincare serum in a white and peach bottle

Ready to restore and reinforce your skin barrier? Peach & Lily, one of the OG Korean skincare brands on the market, makes the vegan Super Oasis Concentrated Serum, which hydrates, repairs, and strengthens the surface of your skin so it can better keep toxins out and hydration in. This serum is enriched with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and probiotics.

$47 at Peach & Lily
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Make P Safe Me. Relief Moisture Cream 12

Now for my personal favorite: the part where we moisturize. My fellow moisturizer aficionados, the Make P:REM Safe Me. Relief Moisture Cream 12 — which is EWG Verified — is formulated with only 12 ingredients, all of which are plant-based, making it ideal for sensitive skin. One of the key ingredients is one of my personal favorites: squalane, a natural emollient and antioxidant that deeply, deliciously hydrates. This moisturizer also has glycerin to retain moisture, and raspberry extract to protect your skin from free radicals and toxins in the environment.

$36 at Soko Glam

Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun: Rice + Probiotic SPF50+ PA++++

Sunscreen is that crucial final step in any skincare routine, but certainly in a Korean skincare routine. Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun is a lightweight formula with rice extract and probiotics that hydrates and protects the skin—and has an entire fan base to vouch for its effectiveness. It offers high broad-spectrum protection against UV rays while nourishing your skin, and we love a good sunscreen/skincare combo.

$14 (was $18) at Stylevana
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