Image cred: allkpop.com

When we first heard about Korean Beauty (or K-beauty), Jill and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Hmmmm”. We’d both had run ins with cheap imports from the East and wrongfully pigeonholed Korean skincare in the same category. But, since we knew we were not experts on the subject we started doing some research and found a whole new world of skincare that we in SA haven’t yet tapped into.

Korean skincare is all the rage overseas. Put it this way, Koreans spend more time and money on their skins that any other country in the world. They have seemingly developed a skincare industry with more R&D than any other and are serious market contenders to the trusted European brands.



Skincare in Korea is a somewhat exhaustive multi-step process. K-beauty became famous for a ten-step regime that sparked tons of intrigue. To most of us, this sounds like way too much work, but it essentially includes cleansing, exfoliating, treating, intensely moisturizing and applying plenty of sunscreen during the day.

Koreans learn from a very young age to look after their skin. It’s ingrained into their culture. Westerners typically only start worrying about skincare when the wrinkles begin showing up because of our years of UV damage.

Perhaps proper skincare is something we should start teaching our kids from a younger age. After all, prevention is better than cure, and most of the wrinkles we have today, are as a result of sun damage we got before the age of 18! Just look at the picture above of Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun, she’s flawless and she’s not 20, she’s 36!

(RELATED POST: Top 10 Beauty Trends for 2018)



I’m sure I’ve just lost a whole bunch of readers with this heading, but the routine apparently doesn’t take as long as you think.


Step 1: Eye Makeup Remover

Jill and I have been looking for face cleansers that remove eye makeup too and sadly the search is still on. Rather remove your eye makeup gently with a specialist product because rubbing the skin around your eye isn’t a good idea. Eye makeup remover is also good for removing “stay on” lipstick.


Step 2: Cleanser

Always spend a little time to take your makeup off. During the day dust and other particles get stuck in it and can cause inflammation of the skin. Koreans like oil cleansers and use gentle, circular motions with their fingers to massage and clean off foundation and BB cream. They believe that massaging the face increases circulation, which equals brighter skin.


Step 3: Exfoliator

Exfoliating is not something done every day. Most exfoliators are recommended once or twice a week or even less. There are various kinds of exfoliators. The first is one that has particles in it that “scrubs” and the other is an exfoliator with acids or enzymes which “clears” the dead skin away.

Jill is nuts about her Hot and Cool Pore Pack Duo, R630 at K-Beauty Africa BUY

Step 4: Refresher

This is our equivalent of toner. For years I skipped this because my sensitive skin wasn’t tolerant of the alcohol in toners that dried the skin. Nowadays many toners are alcohol-free and are packed with calming and anti-pollutant properties. Koreans use them to remove any residue left from cleansers, while also restoring the skin’s pH balance. The refresher soothes and preps the skin to absorb the next step—the essence.


Step 5: Essence

Considered the most important step by Korean women, yet still a mystery to many (including me!). After the first four steps pour essence into hands and pat onto face and neck until fully absorbed.

Essence is considered one of the differentiating steps of K-beauty. It is said to soothe, hydrate, brighten and help against sun damage. I’ve yet to test an essence but with those promises perhaps I should!


Step 6: Ampoule

Ampoules are super-concentrated products, which we often refer to as serums. I’m a fan of a serum at night. It adds an extra anti-aging or brightening boost under my moisturiser. But wait, if you’re Korean, it’s not time for your moisturiser yet!


Step 7: Mask

Sheet masks are a twice-a-week procedure, or more often if your skin is very dry. The wet, papery, Jason-from-Friday-the-13th-like masks, are soaked in ingredients like collagen, which apparently draw into your skin. An update on the paper masks are the rubber masks which normally come in powder form and are mixed with a little water to make a paste that is applied to the skin. There are various types of masks. Choose the right one for you needs. Some are full of anti-oxidants, some have Vitamin E, others improve moisture.

Jill tried this Lindsay Collagen Mask and loved it. Collagen Modeling Rubber Mask, R80 at K-Beauty Africa BUY

Step 8: Eye Cream

We all know eye creams but take note of the Korean application technique: Gently tap (don’t rub) eye cream from the inside of the lower eye to the outside. Then from the inside of the top of the eye (just under the brow) to the outside. Don’t put cream too close to the eye, stay on the bone of the eye. The heat from your skin will help the eye cream spread inwards.


Step 9: Moisturiser

If you haven’t noticed, Korean skincare is all about layering. Again, generously massage the emulsion or moisturiser into the skin with gentle strokes so that it penetrates into your skin.


Step 10: Night Cream or Sunscreen

By this point I may have lost all interest and my face would be super shiny. For this final and last step, your skin needs to stay hydrated as you recharge overnight. And because the next big thing in Korean skincare is the use of fermented ingredients, one now pats in a cream that contains fermented snow lotus extracts, bamboo sap and fruit water.

If it’s morning, grab the sunscreen. There are plenty that work well under makeup like the Suntique brand from K-beauty Africa. Go for a SPF of at least 30.

Left: I’m Clear CICA Sunstick, R300  BUY

Right: I’m Cover BB Sunstick, R300 BUY

(RELATED POST: 5 Facts about sunscreen you need to know)

Yikes! Are you a bit intimidated? Those in the know say that the routine takes about 15 minutes. The exfoliation and masks are not a daily step and will add another 10 minutes. Looking at the complexions of the Korean women, it may be worth the effort. If one puts the time aside, it can probably be a good way to wind down and get into the right mind frame for bed. But mornings may need to be carefully planned.



We have many more products to test so keep an eye out for the K-beauty products in our future beauty posts.

Equilibrio has used the friendly services of K-Beauty Africa, a business owned by two local ladies, a doctor and an ex-banker. They are knowledgeable about their products and regularly travel to Korea to source the latest products.

We are yet to try Glow Theory, also a local site that is dedicated to Korean skincare, but friends of Equilibrio have had good experiences with them.

Of course there may be some other stockists in SA but these are the two that we’ve come across most often.



Because this is an issue which is so important to us, and we only want to use and promote cruelty-free beauty products, I spent a great deal of time researching this. I even contacted the Koreans for assistance!

A few years ago, the Korean government passed a bill that phases out animal testing by 2018. Great news! But, this doesn’t mean that some Korean brands don’t sell their products in China where animal testing is still obligatory. China has however white-listed a bunch of ingredients which don’t need to be retested, and this is one way for Korean brands to sell their products in China without being tested on animals first.

An organisation called KARA (Korea Animal Rights Advocates) has put a list together of brands that are cruelty-free, but not all brands are categorised on the KARA list (it is voluntary). You can find the list (last updated in Sept 2017) here.

The list has three sets of criteria:
– doesn’t test on animals
– doesn’t use animal products (animal products include lard in soaps)
– doesn’t export to China

– ticks all 3 boxes (3-star rating)
– ticks doesn’t test on animals & doesn’t export to china (2-star rating)
– ticks doesn’t test on animals & doesn’t use animal products (2-star rating)
– ticks doesn’t test on animals (1-star rating)

There are also colour indicators to show readers what type of products the brands sell:
– pink : makeup/cosmetic brand
– green : ‘daily supplies’ / life items brand (e.g shampoo, detergent, condoms)
– brown : pet industry brand

This is an article that I found useful and contained the KARA list.

In addition to the KARA list which, as mentioned, is not a complete list, one of the largest online retailers of Korean skincare, Glow Recipe, confirmed to me in writing that all their brands are cruelty-free and are not sold into countries where animal testing is required. Check out their site for a list of brands.




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