The Korean beauty trend is all about hydration.
Move along slugging, skin flooding, and cloud skin. If your pursuit for the most hydrated, luminous skin of your life has led you to the world of Korean beauty trends, it wouldn’t take long before you’ve come across the phrase “glass skin.”
“Glass skin is a trend that describes your skin looking so clear, dewy, and smooth that it can look reflective and translucent like glass,” says Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Then I Met You and Soko Glam. Though the term started to gain popularity on social media around 2017, “glass skin has long been a beauty ideal in Korea for many years,” adds Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC. "Koreans have always focused on multi-step skincare that layers hydrating products to create that dewy, youthful look."
To be clear, glass skin isn’t about achieving a flawless or pore-less complexion (which would be unrealistic) — but getting your skin to its healthiest state yet. Though it might seem skin this smooth and radiant feels out-of-reach, our experts remind us that glass skin is possible for anyone as long as you take a holistic approach: “In addition to consistent skincare practices, achieving glass skin means you need to balance it with a proper amount of sleep, plenty of water, exercise, and eating right,” says Cho.
Clearly, glass skin isn’t the kind of thing you can achieve overnight. “Give it at least two or three weeks of a consistent routine once a day — or both morning and night if that works for your lifestyle, schedule, and budget,” says Cho. Since everyone’s skin is unique, the exact steps might look a little different for everyone. But if you want to get the gist of which kind of products will get you there, here’s the basic foundation on how to start.
Step 1: Double-Cleanse Skin
If you’re not already familiar with this two-step method of cleansing, it involves using an oil-based face wash like Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm to lift dirt and grime away from the skin, then using a gentle, water-based cleanser like Good Light Cosmic Dew Water Cleanser for an even deeper clean. “Look for low-pH cleansers for your water-based cleanser, which won't irritate or strip your skin barrier,” says Cho.
Step 2: Exfoliate Dead Skin
Sloughing off that top layer of dead skin is essential to evening out your texture. “To achieve glass skin without the help of makeup, it really comes down to exfoliating off the dead skin that contributes to a dull complexion,” says Cho. For super-sensitive skin, you could also try a chemical exfoliator that doesn’t involve manual scrubbing. Bonus: Exfoliating also helps the rest of your products penetrate your skin better, allowing them to work more effectively.
Step 3: Refresh Skin With Toner
If you’re already cringing, rest assured that face toners these days aren’t the same formulas that used to strip, sting, and dry out your skin. Instead, the new class of toners maintains your skin’s pH balance while sweeping away excess oil and skin pollution. “Today’s toners are hydrating — not astringent!” says Cho. Simply soak a cotton pad with toner and gently sweep it across your face.
Step 4: Use a Sheet Mask
If you’re tight on time, sheet masks can be optional. But if your skin needs the extra TLC and you’re ready for some pampering, grab a sheet mask. “Sheet masks can be used twice or three times weekly to help boost hydration, especially when your skin is dry,” says Dr. Chang. FaceTory Dream Garden Elderflower Sheet Masks contain a triple hyaluronic acid complex to plump skin and kickstart your glow. Then, when it’s time to peel it off, pat the excess product into your skin and neck instead of wiping it away.
Step 5: Add an Essence
Get the moisture party started with the help of essences. Not to be confused with toners, which have a similar slippery texture, “essences are lightweight, water-based products with active ingredients that focus on brightening, hydrating, and nourishing the skin but are less concentrated than serums and ampoules,” says Dr. Chang.
Essences are often considered the heart of a typical Korean skincare routine — they make your skin feel renewed. “Korean essences work to optimize your skin's natural cell turnover rate. Think: skin regeneration,” says Cho. Instead of swiping it on your face with a cotton pad like a toner, essences are typically patted into your skin using your hands.
Step 6: Treat With Serum
Though it may not be necessary to use a serum in addition to an essence, if your goal is hydration, you’ll benefit from both. “Serums deliver a higher concentration of active ingredients [than essences] to target specific concerns, like dull complexion, dehydration, and fine lines. They are formulated with various active ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, antioxidants, brightening ingredients, botanical extracts, and anti-aging ingredients,” says Dr. Chang. How you use serums can also be a little different than essences: “Serums are usually thicker in consistency compared to essences and are often used like a spot treatment to treat specific skin conditions,” adds Cho.
Step 7: Slather on Moisturizer
If we had to choose the most crucial step of your glass skin routine (aside from exfoliation, of course), it would be applying your moisturizer. “Moisturizing is essential to lock in the active ingredients and hydration applied in previous steps,” says Dr. Chang. "Ingredients like ceramides, panthenol, and centella asiatica are great for hydrating, calming, and repairing the skin." Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Skin Barrier Moisturizing Cream boasts five ceramides and panthenol to strengthen your skin barrier while preventing water loss.
Ultimately, “the best way to moisturize the skin depends on your skin type and individual needs,” says Dr. Chang. For instance, she says, those with dry skin year-round may want a thicker, cream-based moisturizer. Others with oily skin can go for a lightweight, gel-based moisturizer.
Step 8: Apply Eye Cream
The skin around the eyelids is extremely delicate and thin, so it can be the first area of your face to show dehydration and signs of aging. “Korean consumers believe in taking additional steps in their skincare routine to treat various skin conditions, such as fine lines and dark circles,” says Cho. "Fine lines are more visible when the skin lacks moisture, so most eye creams are formulated with humectants and nourishing vitamins." For example, Sulwhasoo Timetreasure Invigorating Eye Cream is packed with antioxidants and ginseng to improve hydration and plumpness, specifically for the eye area.
To apply these, “use your pinkie finger to gently tap your eye cream underneath your eyes and around the entire orbital bone,” says Cho. "Don’t get too close to the waterlines of your eyes, or you can irritate them."
Step 9: Top It With Face Oil
Since face oils aren’t humectants but rather emollients and occlusives — meaning they reinforce and protect your skin barrier — applying them at the end of your routine is important to seal in all that moisture into your skin. “I recommend face oils that are non-comedogenic and contain ingredients that hydrate and nourish the skin, such as jojoba oil, argan oil, or rosehip oil,” says Dr. Chang.
Step 10: Protect with SPF
If you apply your glass skin regimen at night, your routine can end with face oils. But if you’re using your products during the day, sunscreen will be your final step. “Sunscreen is the most important part of the skincare regimen, especially in K-beauty, to prevent signs of aging and sun damage,” says Dr. Chang. "Prevention is key to maintaining healthy, glowing skin." Consider it your way of ensuring all your efforts to achieve glass skin aren’t in vain — and enjoy the dewy, glowing skin you've worked so hard for.
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