What I’ve learned using K-Beauty

By Kate Limond
16/03/2023 | Read time: 5m

I’ve learned so much about skincare and my own skin from Korean products!


We talk about hydration so much because it’s key to a great k-beauty routine. Toner is the obvious product for hydration, as long as it’s not one for exfoliation, of course.

But essences can boost your hydration too, particularly if they’ve got snail. Yeah, yeah, I know we write about snail a lot but it’s for good reason!

Snail has hyaluronic acid but if you don’t want snail (and some people don’t), lots of K-Beauty has hyaluronic acid, especially Isntree’s excellent range. There’s lots of other products with hyaluronic acid out there, but Isntree remains my go-to.

Hydration is so important for me because I’ve found my skin can be reactive if it’s not properly hydrated and it just feels uncomfortable. Plush, plumped and happy skin always starts with hydration for me.

Layering in K-Beauty

I know no-one necessarily wants to do the long search for a HG routine and you might already have a routine that works.

The perfect product for you may exist but quite often it doesn’t. I want both propolis and ceramides to keep my skin healthy – they might exist in one product, although it doesn’t seem to be a common combination.

You tend to find ceramides in richer products (although not always) and propolis in lighter products. However, I can get both easily by combining Cosrx Full Fit Synergy Propolis toner and Illiyoon ATO Ceramide Concentrate cream.

And then there’s layering the same product several times: the 7 skin method, which Bianca explains here.

I thought you just applied a product once, until I tried Korean skin care. Little did I know that putting the same product on my skin multiple times would improve my skin so much!

Whenever I’m trying a new toner, after testing it to make sure my skin likes it, the first thing I will do is layer it up to see how it performs so I can find out if it is hydrating enough and if it’s sticky when I apply more layers. I also like to drop my other toners and see how the new one does by itself, too.

You don’t have to use something targeted for your skin type

I’ll take notice of what might work for my skin type but I might also ignore it!

I used to moan about having combination skin, because what seemed fine on my cheeks made my t-zone oily and visa versa, good for my oily bits, too drying for my cheeks. But actually, it means I get to experiment with different product types.

Thankfully, although there are obvious products, like clay masks or rich moisturisers that are better for one type or another, a lot of K-Beauty products for oily skin are still really gentle and the richer moisturisers aren’t necessarily heavy!

I’m not acne-prone but I love propolis, green tea is great for oily skin and I worried would dry out my skin but this one doesn’t, I thought my skin was sensitive but I can use acids!

I can try stuff aimed at oily, normal and dry skin – a lot of it will work for me. Sometimes targeting products to different areas is the right thing. If my cheeks are a bit dry, add a bit more moisturiser there! If my T-zone is a bit oily, just use BHA on that bit, avoid my cheeks. And hydrating products help all areas.

So, my takeaway is don’t be put off if a product doesn’t seem like it would suit your skin type – use products targeted at certain skin types as a guide, rather than a rule.

Repairing your barrier doesn’t mean only using bland, boring products with K-Beauty

There’s so many great barrier repairing ingredients out there and they’re not always in boring formulations in K-Beauty

The Illiyoon ATO Ceramide Concentrate cream, which I mentioned above, feels like a blanket for my skin and dissolving the little ceramide beads when I rub it in make the product fun for me. Dr Ceuracle Vegan Kombucha Tea essence and Mary & May Vegan Blackberry Cream essence are very pretty products in two layers that you shake together to make a skincare smoothie – I love this as an idea and they’re great for barrier repair. I usually review serveral products together but these are so good that they each got their own review – here and here

Of course, when you’re repairing your barrier, you want to be careful about introducing new products – however, if you don’t already own barrier repair products, you may just need to get something new.

Although anyone can react to anything, especially if your skin is sensitised, there are products with shorter ingredient lists (potentially less risk of reactions) that have interesting textures.

I’ve been trying the Goodal Vegan Rice milk range and I’m really impressed. They’re super soothing and have lovely textures! I’ll be writing about them in their very own review soon.

Fragrance and alcohol are not the work of the devil

I’ve written about fragrance and alcohol before and Bianca has written about fragrance here. It is genuinely different with Korean skincare!

You should avoid anything that you are allergic to, of course.

But beyond that, a lot of Korean products are so well formulated that I barely notice when a product has fragrance (apart from the lovely smell, of course). Even products that have quite a strong scent don’t irritate my skin.

There’s also the question of sensitised skin versus sensitive skin. I did think my skin was sensitive but it looks like it was sensitised, instead! Once I’d treated my skin well and carefully considered Bianca’s thoughtful article, I realised I could try fragrance and alcohol.

I was tentative and patch tested – which is always sensible with ingredients you haven’t used before or have avoided in the past.

If fragrance is genuinely tricky for you, you’re in luck – there’s K-Beauty products that smell great from the extracts, no added fragrance. The Cosrx Full Fit Synergy Propolis toner, the Mary & May Blackberry + Idebenone Complex serum and the Mary & May Centella Asiatica serum are products that smell heavenly just from the lovely extracts they feature.

Final Word

I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from K-Beauty skincare practices and customising routines: if you told me five years ago that I’d know all of this, I wouldn’t have believed you!