How to Build a Skincare Routine

Which steps should you include in your skincare routine?

The core of every skincare routine is based on 3 guidelines: CLEANSE – HYDRATE – PROTECT. All routines, including the seemingly mysterious 10-step-K-Beauty-routine – read more about it here – can be broken down into these steps and are just a more elaborated version. Now, let’s have a closer look why these steps are crucial for your skin.

Main Points

  • The basics of any skincare routine are: cleansing, hydrating and protecting the skin.
  • You can customize the products to your specific skin condition and concerns.
  • Double cleansing is very popular in K-Beauty. The first cleanser should be oil-based while the second cleanser should be water-based.
  • Hydrating the skin is important for any skin condition and concern. You can build several layers of hydration to maximize the effect. Next to hydrating ingredients, you can also incorporate ingredients targeting your other skin concerns.
  • Protecting the skin includes two aspects: Using a SPF with at least SPF 35 to prevent skin cancer and premature skin aging, and concluding your routine with an occlusive layer to seal in the hydration.

1. Cleanse

Your skin should always be properly cleansed before you start applying products. It won’t matter what wonderfully curated ingredients you have at hand, if your skin is still full of sweat, dust or make-up. Even if there is nothing visible to the eye, there IS something that needs to be washed off.

I like to differentiate between my morning and evening cleanse. My morning cleanse consists only of water because that’s what works best for my skin and because after cleansing I use an exfoliating toner a couple of times a week, which also helps removing any remaining product from the night. Always pay attention to your skin and find out what works best.

My evening cleanse is more thorough as I use the double cleansing method. First you use an oil-based cleanser to break down the sunscreen you should be wearing, or whatever moisturizer and/or make up you applied. Many drugstores started carrying oil cleansers in recent years, so you don’t even have to spend much.

As second cleanser I use a water-based cleanser to wash off whatever was dissolved by the first cleanser and get a clean slate. As a guideline, look for low PH cleansers – they are less drying than higher pH cleansers and therefore more gentle on your skin. The last thing you want is to harm your natural skin barrier and make it more sensitive. How do you know if a cleanser is too drying? Well, if you ever experience that squeaky clean feeling after cleansing, it’s time to look for another cleanser. It might feel satisfying but the goal is to strengthen the natural skin barrier and support the natural functions. Typically foaming cleansers are more drying, than cleansing milks or gels. Many cleansers will be labeled as low pH if you start looking. My personal HG cleanser is the Cosrx low pH cleansing gel (use code: SKINSOUL for 2-5% off *affiliated*). It’s perfect for acne prone skin and I haven’t found a better cleanser until today.

2. Hydrate

Once you have a clean surface your skin is ready for hydration and any other beneficial ingredients you want to add for your individual skin concerns. But even for the hydration step there are different layers. Typically you prepare your skin with a toner. This type of product differs a lot throughout the beauty world. In the West the toner is typically another cleansing product and tends to have a drying formulation. That’s not what we want though. Korean toners take a totally different approach. There is a wide selection of preferably low pH Toners to gently layer on top and gradually build the hydration up. They provide a lot of hydration. If you find a good toner that works for you don’t even need other hydrating products like essences or ampoules – the lines between all of these can be blurry anyway and mostly evolve around consistency and potency. In South Korea the so called 7 skin method is very popular. You just apply several layers of the same toner thinly, as always stick to what works for you. If one layer gets it done, just leave it at that, but try layering up 3 layers or even up to 7 layers for even more hydration. My HG Toner is the Supple preparation toner by Klairs (use code: SKINSOUL for 2-5% off *affiliated*). It has significantly changed my skin and my overall attitude towards toners and is a very hyped toner among skincare enthusiasts for a reason! Never layer exfoliating toners though!!

If you want to add more steps for hydrating, calming or treating your skin you would incorporate them after the toner. The overall guideline is to layer more watery and lightweight products under products with a more rich consistency. Typically essences are more lightweight than ampoules.

3. Protect

Lastly, you should make sure to protect your skin and seal in all of the good work you did. Apply a moisturizer to lock all of the hydration in. Active ingredients are not very potent in moisturizers and because I mostly get all of those in during the hydration step with toner and essence, a simple lightweight moisturizer with no irritating ingredients is enough for me. Gel type moisturizers suit my skin the best as they are not too rich and I can avoid getting oily during the day.

For my night time routine the moisturizer will be the last step.There are nighttime targeted moisturizers labeled as sleeping mask or pack as well, but if you don’t have one or don’t want to buy one you can also use your daytime moisturizer.

Can you guess what always goes last in my morning routine? Sunscreen, of course. I use a sunscreen with at least SPF 35, preferably SPF 50 though, every day. Every. Day. That means also on rainy days. And on dark winter days. It’s the best way to prevent premature skin aging through sun damage and more importantly protects from skin cancer. Here you can find some of my affordable sunsreen favorites.

Note: If there are any products in your routine that increase sun sensitivity you should not skip sunscreen. You probably should never skip it, but if you actively increase the sensitivity, it’s even more important. Ingredients such as chemical peelings with AHA, BHA or PHA or Vitamin C will make your skin more sun sensitive, the effect lasts for several days after the application.

Korean and Japanese sunscreens are often so elegantly formulated that you won’t even feel like you are applying sunscreen. Typically they leave a heavy white-cast or make your skin look greasy, but now there are increasingly more sunscreens that apply effortlessly and don’t crumble on your skin.


That’s a lot of information, isn’t it? Don’t worry, here are the summarized routine outlines:

Simple AM-Routine:

  1. Cleanse: Plain water or a mild cleanser, like a cleansing milk or gel
  2. Hydrate: Hydrating toner in thin layers(1-however many layers you prefer), if desired add essence and/or ampoule from lightweight to more rich
  3. Protect: Moisturizer & Sunscreen

Simple PM-Routine:

  1. Cleanse: double cleanse with a) oil-based cleanser and b) water-based cleanser
  2. Hydrate: Hydrating Toner in thin layers(1-however many layers you prefer), if desired add essence and/or ampoule from lightweight to more rich
  3. Protect: Moisturizer or Sleeping pack

Like this blog post if you enjoyed it and folllow for more content like this!

You can read about the more detailed 10-step K-Beauty skincare routine here.


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