Many Koreans have flawless skin that looks healthy and supple, but here’s the truth: a good majority of them are not naturally blessed with good skin genes, and in fact struggle with sensitive skin!
Koreans have been reported to have a higher incidence of sensitive skin (56.8 per cent), according to a study conducted in several countries. Nonetheless, they still manage to attain such enviable skin despite struggling with redness and itchiness, thanks to their equally famous Korean skincare routine.
Although the Korean 10-step skincare routine is infamous for being laborious and rather scary for anyone with sensitive skin to attempt, it is easy to make it work for you, as long as you understand the steps, use what you need, and be diligent in carrying out a regular routine everyday.
Read on to find out what are the steps you’ll need in a Korean skincare routine for sensitive skin, as well as recommended products (they aren’t all K-beauty brands!) that you can try out if you the step is new to you:
1. Oil cleanser
People with sensitive skin often have problems with acne as well, so it sounds incredulous that the first step is using an oil cleanser.
Oil cleansing is actually a derm-approved way to gently remove makeup, soothe sensitive skin, and even tame breakouts! Using oils instead of traditional cleansers also doesn’t strip away the skin’s natural oils or leave the face imbalanced.
The Koreans do this as part of the double-cleansing method, where the oil cleanser removes oil-based impurities like SPF, followed by a water-based cleanser to cleanse water-based debris such as sweat and dirt
Note: This should be part of your evening routine, but you can skip it in a morning routine.
Try: shu uemura Anti/Oxi+ Pollutant & Dullness Clarifying Cleansing Oil
shu uemura’s customer-favourite cleansing oil is a hit among all skin types, even among those with very sensitive skin.
Gentle enough to feel comfortable on the skin but powerful enough to remove even waterproof mascara, you’ll absolutely love using this on your skin everyday as part of double-cleansing.
It contains green tea extract for anti-oxidation, moringa extract to remove pollutants, and papaya extract to polish away protein stains.
Get this at SGD15 for 50ml, SGD55 for 150ml, and SGD125 for 450ml from all shu uemura counters Sephora.
2. Water-based cleanser
Sensitive skin tends to lean on the drier side, so the thought of cleansing again after you’ve washed your face sounds incredibly drying, but it doesn’t have to be!
The key is finding a cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its necessary oils – look for a water-based cleanser that is gentle, has low pH, and won’t strip the skin of its natural oils.
Try: belif Aqua Bomb Jelly Cleanser
If you love the belif’s True Cream Aqua Bomb, this will work like a dream on your sensitive skin as well.
The gentle jelly-to-foam cleanser is formulated with the same explosive burst of hydration as your favourite moisturiser, while gently removing all traces of makeup and impurities. That means you get clean, supple, and moisturised skin just by using one product – sweet!
P.S. This cleanser is also free of sulfates SLS and SLES and parabens, and contains less than one per cent of synthetic fragrances, so it should not cause any allergic reactions as well.
Get this at SGD35 from belif retail stores.
We reckon that many of us out there with sensitive skin don’t exfoliate as much as you are recommended to (two to three times a week).
We get it – exfoliating is scary for you, and you don’t want to make your skin even redder by intensely scrubbing it, but how can you get the same smooth and clear skin like the Koreans if you’re not exfoliating away the dirt and debris in your pores?
If physical exfoliation is not your thing, you can consider chemical exfoliation that is suited for sensitive skin. Take note also that sensitive skin types are also recommended to exfoliate less (but not completely skip it!); twice a week should be your maximum.
Try: Neogen Dermalogy Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
This amazing product allows you to do both chemical and physical exfoliation – or just chemical, depending on how hard you swipe.
The soaked pads provide gentle yet effective exfoliation. The lactic acid in the formula penetrates deep into your pores to clean out pore-clogging debris so that you don’t have to scrub at your blackheads intensely in order to get them out.
In addition, its star ingredient, Resveratrol (which comes from red wine) help with the exfoliation process while preventing free radicals from pigmentation or forming wrinkles on your skin!
Get this at SGD27 from Shopee.
Astringent toners of the past were notorious for being harsh and alcohol-filled, but these days more toners are formulated for use on sensitive skin, thanks in part to K-beauty that popularised gentle toners that hydrate and balance your skin.
If you have sensitive skin, look for toners that contain skin-soothing ingredients like rose water, hyaluronic acid, and aloe. Take note to avoid toners with alcohol and artificial fragrances as they will leave your skin feeling tight and irritated.
There is also a special method for applying a toner when you have sensitive skin: instead of using a cotton pad, warm a few drops of the product between your palms, then gently tap and press your hands onto your skin.
Try: Muji Sensitive Skin Toning Water
Muji has developed a skincare line catered specially to sensitive skin, and one of its star products is the Toning Water (High Moisture).
One of the main ingredients in the Toning Water is natural water drawn from a cave in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture in Northeast Japan: this ultra-soft mineral water has been naturally filtered for years and penetrates comfortably into the skin without irritating it.
In addition, this toner is completely free from irritants such as artificial colouring, mineral oils, parabens, and alcohol, so you can use this wallet-friendly option to hydrate any type of skin.
Essences are unique to Korean skincare routines, and arguably the key to what really differentiates good skin from fantastic skin.
For those with very dry sensitive skin, you’ll find that essences are very good for hydrating your skin. This is because they usually contain impressively high doses of active ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which help to solve any pressing dehydration issues while preparing your skin for more nourishing steps.
Try: COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
One of the best essences you can get for sensitive skin is none other than one formulated with a popular K-beauty ingredient: snail mucin!
As strange as it sounds, the ingredient is well-loved in the skincare industry because it helps to repair everything from dry patches to acne breakouts – sounds like a godsend for those struggling with sensitive skin!
The COSRX snail essence is a concentrated treatment product that is formulated with 96% snail mucin, so you’re getting the full efficacy of the miracle skincare ingredient to work on your damaged skin while giving it the elasticity and hydration you need for Korean dewy skin.
Get this at SGD27.40 from Althea.
For those of us with other skin problems caused by sensitive skin (redness, itchiness, acne, etc.), we need something more charged to tackle those issues while soothing our skin.
Thankfully, there are a couple of serums out there that provide the ultimate comfort to reactive skin: they’re made with ingredients that soothe and calm inflammation, alleviate dry patches and redness, and even strengthen the skin to create a barrier against outside irritants – all without using any alcohol or harsh chemicals.
If you need instant results or desperately need to save your sensitive skin after a very bad breakout, consider using ampoules instead – these are more concentrated versions of serums.
Try: Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum
Cica, or Centella Asiatica, was made popular by – you guessed it – the Koreans. It is often used in Eastern medicine and has since been picked up as an anti-inflammatory skincare ingredient for those with sensitive skin.
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum is an award-winning serum made with Cica to provide instant and effective soothing to sensitive and damaged skin, particularly those suffering from dry patches and rosacea. Its watery texture is lightweight but provides intense soothing effects without greasiness, so you don’t feel like it’s clogging your pores at all.
Get this at SGD66 from Sephora.
Having a thinner or damaged skin barrier allows moisture to escape more easily, which is why sensitive skin tends to be dry as well.
That being said, moisturisers can be one of the trickiest steps in a skincare routine for those with sensitive skin. Many of them tend to contain sulfates, alcohol, preservatives, dyes, or fragrance – in fact, fragrances are one of the most common causes of skin irritation and allergies!
Besides using a moisturiser that doesn’t contain allergens, you are recommended to look out for these ingredients that boost hydration, soothe irritation, and have healing properties: ceramides, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, soy, and colloidal oatmeal.
Try: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel
The non-comedogenic Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is a top favourite among all skin types, including those with sensitive skin.
Formulated with hyaluronic acid (one of the recommended ingredients for sensitive skin), this best-selling moisturiser helps to quench dry and dehydrated skin and make it look smooth, supple, and moisturised.
Plus, it’s an oil-free moisturiser, so you can easily wear this under makeup as a smooth, velvety primer.
Get this at SGD21.50 from Watsons.
8. Eye cream
Eye creams are also another integral part of Korean skincare routines that are sometimes neglected. In K-beauty, they pay particular attention to the eye area: it is the most delicate skin on the face, and easily betrays signs of age and fatigue – not desirable if you want to achieve more youthful looks.
Regularly using eye creams can help to depuff tired, puffy eyes, brighten and minimise dark circles, as well as hydrate crepey undereye skin.
The skin around your eyes is the most delicate skin on your face, so if you have sensitive skin, you need to make sure that you choose an eye cream that has absolutely no chance of causing any irritation.
Try: First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream
This eye cream from First Aid Beauty is not only formulated to minimise the appearance of crow’s feet, fine lines, and wrinkles but also contains sensitive skin-loving ingredients that you can use without worrying about a potential allergic reaction.
Ingredients such as retinol, hyaluronic acid, and caffeine give you the bright and firm skin around your eyes, while a blend of colloidal oatmeal, allantoin, aloe, ceramides, and Vitamins C & E helps to soothe and prevent any skin irritations.
Get this at SGD65 from Sephora.
9. Sheet mask
A sheet mask is that amazing product that seems to make everything better. Got dry patches? Put on a sheet mask. Got acne? Put on a sheet mask. Got wrinkles? Just put on a sheet mask already.
That being said, sheet masks are another tricky product to navigate around, considering the variety of good (and bad) options in the market, as well as the fact that even those that are super effective can backfire on those with sensitive skin.
In order to make this step work for you, look for masks that are free of artificial fragrance and alcohol, which can leave your skin blotchy and stinging. Products with fewer ingredients also tend to be a safer bet, since they’re less likely to contain something that’ll irritate your skin.
Masks with loads of active ingredients like salicylic acid or Vitamin C are also not recommended for regular use – try to opt for those chockfull of soothing and hydrating ingredients more often so that you can enjoy the benefits of hydrated skin, sans the irritation.
Try: Mediheal N.M.F Aquaring Ampoule Mask
If you are looking for a sheet mask that can provide instant moisture for the skin, this is the one you should definitely use.
Besides replenishing moisture in your skin, the N.M.F Aquaring Ampoule Mask also helps to tighten your pores, regulate sebum, and even solve any allergies caused by dry skin – truly an all-in-one skincare product!
Tip: You can use this both in the day and at night as it doesn’t clog pores, and can occasionally be used to replace the serum in your skincare routine.
If you have sensitive skin, you probably know of this catch-22: your sensitive skin gets easily sunburned, but many sunscreens also irritate your skin.
Some people with highly sensitive skin may find that they’re allergic to sunscreen, usually due to a reaction to ingredients found in chemical sunscreens. Chemical UV blockers found in many chemical sunscreens can wreak havoc on sensitive skin — think burning, stinging, and red itchy bumps.
People with sensitive skin are recommended to use physical sunscreens instead – these are typically formulated with zinc or titanium dioxide, which actually help to heal the skin and prevent acne in the long run!
Try: CNP Laboratory Derma Shield Sun Stick
CNP Laboratory’s Derma Shield Sun Stick is specially formulated to protect sensitive skin from UV rays. Not only is it free from potential allergens, but it also soothes the skin with colourant-free Calamine so that any skin irritations will be taken care of.
The thin powdery texture and travel-friendly packaging are also good for bringing along to reapply throughout the day – reapply every two hours to make sure that your sensitive skin is well-protected from the sun.
Get this at SGD34.90 from Shopee.