Understanding Korean skincare and the hype behind it

Hydration is a big part of Korean skincare. Picture: Supplied.

Hydration is a big part of Korean skincare. Picture: Supplied.

Published Mar 27, 2024


Beauty enthusiasts are forever introducing us to new skincare trends. While some are too much and unrealistic, others are effective and affordable.

Korean skincare is trending at the moment. It has left everyone obsessed with it.

On TikTok, the hashtag #koreanskincare has more than 7.4 billion views and counting, and, almost every day, there's a new video of people trying out the trend.

We spoke to Dr Alek Nikolic, a renowned medical doctor in aesthetic medicine and owner of an online skincare store, SkinMile, about this trending skincare that has everyone talking.

Also known as “K-Beauty”, Korean skincare is a routine that entails lightweight products (usually from Korea) focusing more on hydration to ensure the skin is healthy and radiant.

“Products that focus on hydration are important to include in your skincare regime, no matter the skin type.

“Those who have combination skin often believe that they don’t need hydration, but that isn’t true. The overproduction of oil can be your indication that your skin isn’t getting the hydration that is needed,” explains Dr Nikolic.

“I would advise those who have oily and combination skin to include a lightweight, water-based serum to help balance sebum production.”

Always cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser. Picture: Supplied.

Besides prioritising hydration, he believes lightweight serums and moisturisers, which are ideal for various skin types, makes it stand out.

The fact that K- Beauty use natural ingredients not used by traditional Western cosmeceutical companies such as bee venom, snail slime, volcanic ash, etc., is a big deal

“When it comes to the Korean skincare trend, there are a few factors that are being prioritised. They include hydration and protecting the skin barrier, the need for sun protection all year long, a focus on more gentle skincare ingredients and simplifying your skincare routine.

“But ingredients that target these concerns can be found in many products, not just K-Beauty ones, so I always advise looking at the ingredients rather than being swayed by a trend,” he explains.

Since the K-beauty trend approach to ingredients is gentler than many Western skincare trends, such as skin cycling and applying peels, the results compared to the two trends will not be the same, he said.

Hydrate with a serum. Picture: Supplied.

“I have seen many people incorporating these trends in their skincare routine, and it results in them overdoing it on harsh ingredients.

“This causes damage to the skin barrier. Ingredients such as polyhydroxy acid and hyaluronic acid are a lot more popular in Korean skincare.

“Polyhydroxy acid has the same benefits as glycolic and salicylic acids as it exfoliates the skin but doesn’t go too deep, which can aggravate the skin like other acids.”

And, obviously, not everyone is able to buy Korean products for several reasons. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives.

For product recommendations that contain some of these hydrating ingredients known for being used in K-Beauty products, Dr Nikolic suggests the following.

  • Gève Quench Dewkissed Gel Serum
  • Super Facialist FACIALIST Vitamin C+ Sleep & Reveal Night Cream
  • Sothys Organics Cleansing Oil
  • Fore Manuka Honey Mask

However, you must note that you will not get the desired results if you are missing a step, and the most important one is sun protection.

“Sun protection in K-Beauty is top of mind, and understandably it is a product that should not be excluded.

“No matter what season you might find yourself in, sunscreen is important, as it not only delays premature ageing, but also reduces the risk of skin cancer,” says Dr Nikolic.

“UVB rays burn the superficial layer of your skin and can be a key contributing factor to the development of skin cancer.

“UVA rays penetrate your skin’s deepest layer, and exposure can lead to premature skin ageing.

“The good news is that if a sunscreen passes the FDA’s Broad-Spectrum test, it will protect your skin from both UVB and UVA rays.

“So I would advise you to always look out for sun care products with broad spectrum on the label.”

Moisturise with a lightweight cream. Picture: Supplied.

He also adds that, unlike other trends, Korean skincare is simple. You don’t have to flood your skin with many products at once.

All it requires is three-to-four step routines, which includes cleansing, hydrating, exfoliating and sun protection.

Speaking of routines, he advises that it’s better to start a skincare routine sooner rather than later for the following reasons.

  • Early awareness and protection against harmful UV rays which are responsible for premature ageing and skin cancer.
  • Early stimulation of collagen and elastin.
  • Protection and repair of the skin barrier which is very important. When the the skin barrier is healthy, we typically experience a smooth, clear, even-toned complexion with a naturally healthy glow. If one’s skin barrier is damaged, we tend to experience redness, irritation, breakouts, rashes, burning sensations, broken capillaries, dryness, and even tightness.