A lot has been made about Asian skincare routines lately. (What are we up to now —10 steps, 17 steps? I’ve lost count.) I’ll admit, it can be a bit daunting for anyone looking to fight those first little signs of aging (a crinkle at the corner of your eyes, perhaps a sunspot or two), or for someone looking to do a bit of early prevention. So like those perfect travel itineraries based on whether you have three days, a week or 10 days, here is our recommended skincare regimen for any woman, whether you’re 20 or 40, a neophyte or a pro.
(Editor’s note: There’s a plethora of products that work well, but we’ve personally tried all the products listed below and we’ve found them to work quite well. Have questions or need recommendations? Comment below or email us at email@example.com.)
FOR THE ROOKIE (20-SOMETHINGS):
Lucky you! Soap and water has been the name of the game for you, Oh Ye Blessed of Normal Skin. But maybe now you’re hitting an age where you feel like you need just a bit more. Don’t worry — we’re not gonna make you go out and buy a spanking new arsenal of products that cost a small fortune. There are tons of great products that work well and are quite affordable. Here’s your game plan:
- A facial cleanser
You want to cleanse your face, but not strip it of its natural oils, which keep it healthy. We recommend a gentle, affordable cleanser like Cetaphil. It works on almost all skin types, is recommended by dermatologists everywhere, and it does the job.
- A moisturizer
Nighttime is when your body restores itself, including your skin, so you want to give it all the help you can. A moisturizer boosts hydration levels and helps keep skin healthy, allowing it to function as it should, protecting itself from pollution and other external stressors. We like Laneige Water Bank Gel Crème, a soothing gel cream hybrid, perfect for normal/combination skin. If you have dry skin, Laneige Water Bank Moisture Cream is a good option.
No matter what else you do, you have to wear sunscreen. UVA rays are the number one reason our skin ages prematurely, and those rays penetrate even in cloudy weather. Fortunately, those days of sticky, tacky sunscreens are gone; there are tons of new sunscreens with super lightweight textures that are broad spectrum (they protect against UVB rays, which burn, and UVA rays, which age). My favorite right now is La Roche-Posay’s Cooling Water Lotion Sunscreen — it feels super light and then turns into an almost water like consistency as you rub it in.
If you want a bit of coverage with your sun protection, I highly recommend a BB cream, which has the added benefit of antioxidants and other good-for-skin ingredients. Just remember, with all sun protection, you need to apply at least a quarter size dollop for your face alone. If you find it takes a while to smear all that lotion in, start tapping your face with your fingers and the lotion/cream will sink in faster.
IF YOU’RE PROFICIENT IN THE FUNDAMENTALS AND WANT TO UP YOUR SKINCARE GAME (30-SOMETHINGS), IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE:
If you’re at this level, it probably means that you wear some form of makeup during the day, whether it’s BB cream or foundation or powder. In that case, one-step cleansing is no longer sufficient. A lot of makeup have long-lasting ingredients like silicone that don’t wash away with just your everyday face wash. A makeup removing towelette like Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water Cloth (my personal all-time fave) or a cleansing oil (DHC’s Deep Cleansing Oil is a best seller for a reason) is a must before you wash with your regular cleaner.
- Add a serum
A serum usually contains a higher concentration of active ingredients and thereby addresses your particular skin concerns better than just a moisturizer. For example, if you’re concerned about hyperpigmentation, you’d use a serum with kojic acid or hydroquinone after cleansing and before your moisturizer. If clogged pores or acne is a problem, a serum with salicylic acid would help immensely. Serums are usually more expensive than a moisturizer because they contain greater amounts of precious ingredients, but there are plenty of serums to fit any price range. We like serums from Asian skincare brands or that have tested on Asian skin, like those from Estée Lauder.
- Use a mask
Think of masks like that jolt of caffeine. It gives you just what you need just at the right time. A mask will have your skin extra-glowy for the following day or two, so it’s perfect for special occasions (though Korean women will incorporate it into their daily skincare regimen). Sheet masks, usually made of cotton, have crossed over from Asia to the States, so there are plenty of options readily available here. Sephora makes really good sheet masks that are super affordable ($6), When Mask brings Korea’s famed bio-cellulose sheet mask to the States, and La Mer’s The Brightening Facial is probably the most luxurious and best mask I’ve ever used (it better be — it’s about $40 a pop!).
Start by exfoliating with a facial scrub to get rid of dead skin cells, then put on the sheet mask and hunker down for an episode of your favorite show.
IF YOU’RE ALREADY A SKINCARE CHAMPION (40-SOMETHINGS AND ABOVE):
So you know the difference between retinoid and retinol, hydroquinone and hyaluronic acid. Here are a couple things you can add to your regimen to get you to Asian world class.
- Hydrating toner
We say “toner” because that’s the term most Americans are familiar with, but really, it’s a watery “skin lotion.” You use it right after cleansing and massage onto your face to prep skin for all the treatments to follow. See our primer on watery lotions here.
- Add a finisher
Korean premium skincare brand, Sulwhasoo, is a frontrunner in Korean skincare. We think their latest innovation, the Luminature Essential Finisher, will be a game changer. There’s a saying in Korean skincare — that your skin “eats” your makeup well. Basically, when your skin is at its best, foundation goes on smoothly and looks flawless. When your skin is less than perfect, foundation looks clumpy, settles into pores and just looks obvious. The Finisher, which contains the equivalent of five ginseng roots and 110 cups of green tea, is made to seal in the benefits of all your skincare treatments and provide a smooth base for your makeup. It’s not available until September, so get ready!
- Use an overnight mask
You already use a sheet mask, so why an overnight mask, you ask? Because it’s easy and it makes a difference. I was skeptical at first, too. But I can’t live without an overnight mask anymore.
Unlike a sheet mask, an overnight mask is usually some sort of gel-like product that you tap onto your face right before you go to sleep — no need to wash off! The mask quickly sinks into skin so you don’t feel it at all. Just proceed with your morning routine as usual. It’s so easy to do and a good way to seal in the benefits of your nighttime skincare ritual. I have the masks on my bedside table so it’s the last thing I do before turning off the lights.
Koh Gen Do has a great Night Moisture Mask that I’ll use on nights where I’ve had salty foods or alcohol, to give my skin a boost of hydration. I feel like it helps alleviate the inevitable puffiness that follows the next morning. Otherwise, I’ll use the Premium Firming Sleeping Mask from Korean skincare brand Dr. Jart+, the first to bring BB cream to the U.S.
Have questions? Need recommendations? I’d love to hear about your skincare regimen and favorite products. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!