Does a 10-step skin care routine work?

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted clear skin. It’s funny how you never realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. Looking back on some older photos I realized my skin was actually pretty good when I was growing up. I didn’t have that teenage acne. BUT, then my late 20’s joined the party and I realized that I really didn’t know how to care for my skin.

Skin care lessons?

How did you learn about skin care? Because now that I’m thinking about it, it was just bits and pieces of what friends said, what I saw on TV (where most people did not look like me), and what my mother said in passing because she didn’t approve of all my skin care products. In high school, I think I saw it all. Going to an all girls’ school was interesting in that way (and many others). There were girls who used just regular bar soap to wash their faces, some used carbolic soap (a mild antiseptic containing carbolic acid), others had more elaborate regimens and others paid for expensive chemical peels and regular visits to the dermatologist.

I was definitely not on that spectrum with the folks paying for expert treatment, and I knew that I needed at least some moisture, so I wasn’t going to use just bar soap – I found myself somewhere in between. Fortunately or unfortunately I found the St. Ives brand. Yep, I was part of that era of folks who were held hostage by the St. Ives apricot scrub. The good thing is that they had a variety of options, so I think I found a decent cleanser and a pretty great moisturizer…but that APRICOT SCRUB! That apricot scrub was absolutely not it. It took us so long to realize that.

If you’re from Jamaica or the Caribbean, you might also be aware of the “Nadinola phase”. Nadinola was a skin cream made in Jamaica for an American company. It was a fade cream (used to help discolouration and dark spots), but when mixed with other products it was essentially a bleaching cream. I decided to use the Lander Vanishing Cream instead (just to be sure that I wasn’t bleaching my skin).

Do you remember this? Or am I just old as hell 😩

Suffice it to say that I went through a few phases, and still hadn’t figured out an actual routine. One thing I remember though, was that collagen should be included in your routine, since collagen is a major component of your skin.

I also didn’t really figure out that skin care includes much more than just the skin on my face until entirely too late. But, we’ll get to that.

The 10-step skin care routine, whew it already sounds exhausting

Everywhere we look we’re being told that we need this product, this device, this procedure. In no time, skin care products have taken over our bathroom counter/medicine cabinet/dresser and we realize that we STILL don’t know what to do with all these products or even why we bought them.

Let’s break down one of the most popular regimens online – the 10-step Korean skin care routine. Here are the ten steps:

  • STEP ONE Oil cleanser : Applied to dry skin, an oil cleanser removes makeup and any other oil-based product debris like sunscreen and pollution particles.
  • STEP TWOFoam cleanser : This water-based cleanser is applied to wet skin and removes impurities like sweat and dirt. After double cleansing (first with oil then with foam), it’s believed that not a hint of grime will be left to hinder your skin’s health.
  • STEP THREEExfoliator : Exfoliation not only cleans out clogged pores, but it also removes dead skin cells. When you remove this dull layer of cells, brighter skin is revealed. This step is not recommended for daily use. If you have sensitive skin, you’ll only want to exfoliate once a week, otherwise you can do it more regularly (about three times a week).
  • STEP FOURToner : Toner acts as a way to prep the skin, so it’ll absorb the following treatments better (especially after the thorough cleaning of the first three steps).
  • STEP FIVEEssence : The essence is really the heart of Korean skin care, a step that is credited to their culture. It’s a treatment product similar to serums, but has a more watery consistency, so it’s a bit like a toner.
  • STEP SIXSerum, Boosters, or Ampoule (high-concentration serum) Treatments : This is the step where you will treat your skin based on your skincare issues, such as age-related concerns ranging from fine lines and wrinkles to hyperpigmentation or discolouration.
  • STEP SEVEN[sheet] Mask : The purpose of your mask depends on what your skin needs. A hydrating mask is recommended. But you can also choose one for brightening that may be packed with vitamin C. This is not an every night step, you really only need to do it twice a week. You can swap a sheet mask for a serum or essence to cut time off your routine.
  • STEP EIGHT Eye Cream : Depending on the eye cream you choose, this could focus on everything from fine lines to dark circles. Basically, if you have any under-eye concerns, there’s a cream for it.
  • STEP NINEFace Cream : This step is simply to lock in skin’s moisture. Next to daily SPF, skin hydration is key for supple, younger-looking skin at all ages.
  • STEP TEN SPF : Sunscreen is a necessary step to any skincare routine. Wearing sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays every single day regardless of whether the sun is out or not.

Whew! This sounds like a lot, but it actually sounds pretty great. It looks like you’d really be giving your skin everything it needs. But, it also comes down to how much time you have, how much research you’ve put into finding the “perfect” products for your skin, and how often you should use certain products. It becomes a very precise practice. But does it actually work?

Nobody got time for that – and a word from experts

With the expense that may be associated with this routine, and the time required, is it even worth it?  

Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, said in this article: “I think part of this whole trend of wanting to do multi-step skin care comes from a real need or desire in our society to do more self-care”. Are we more caught up with a multi-step skin care regimen because we’re buying more self-care time? Is this why we’ve sought out the 10-step Korean skin care routine and other similar regimens?

 Dr. Anna Guanche, a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert, explained that if someone has, say, a 10-step process, that would be “optimal if all ingredients are compatible, stay active on the skin when layered, penetrate, and most importantly, are applied consistently”. So, that’s where a problem might lie. Folks might not be paying such close attention to ingredients to know which products interact best with others, and which might be best for their skin. Honestly this sounds like BIG SCIENCE. We should be mindful too that “skin care and beauty products are studied for their efficacy on an individual basis, not as part of a layered routine. When you put multiple layers of products on your skin, you can’t always be sure the active ingredients in each of them are penetrating as deeply as they should be for the results you want” (source).

Overall, though quality is more important than quantity. As it turns out, there are only a few non-negotiables that dermatologists suggest: cleanser, SPF and moisturizer. There is also a 5-step Korean skin car routine which includes: cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, and SPF.

But does it work?

Most of the articles I’ve seen from beauty bloggers who tried a more complex routine said they liked it overall, but it was a little much to do on a consistent basis; and while it also introduced them to new products, it was pretty expensive to find options that would work best for their skin.

My skin care routine now is not quite a 10-step regimen but has really helped clear up my adult acne (it was so bad that I had no pictures of my face – without heavy makeup – for a few years). Here’s my “routine”:

  1. Cleanser – my mother always said that I should use just plain water (and I thought it was all a farce until my skin exploded and I realized it was better to use just plain water🤦🏽). Some days I will also use the gentle foaming cleanser from Cetaphil
  2. Toner – not gonna lie, I skip this step more often than I actually do it. But after reading this : “toner removes any last traces of dirt, grime and impurities stuck in your pores after you wash your face. When added to your daily skincare routine and used regularly, it can have major positive impact on the appearance and tightness of your pores” on this website, I’ll use it more often
  3. Vitamin C serum – I have issues with dark spots and general discolouration so I never skip this step (also the serum I use is pretty expensive so it’s pretty much the glue holding my skin care routine together lol)
  4. Retinol/Vitamin A – to help with how smooth my skin feels, also reduces wrinkles
  5. Collagen cream – this is a recent addition. I was heading to bed one night and randomly remembered the tidbit I shared earlier – when I was about 15 years old a rep at a spa booth at an expo told me that collagen should be an important part of my skin care routine because skin was basically collagen. Keeps skin tight and looking healthy. I honestly felt a difference when I added it to my routine
  6. Hydration cream / moisturizer (and SPF in the summer) – I add just a bit of this just to make sure my skin is adequately hydrated. In the summer I use a moisturizer with SPF, and then add a little extra SPF during the day
  7. Eye cream – In the summer/if I am leaving the house I would put this on before my SPF but when heading to bed I like it to be the last thing I add (I don’t apply SPF when heading to bed, saw a bit of a debate about that and I am not on that train)

I occasionally do a gentle face scrub, a more intense scrub and a mask at varying points in a month. When I do those I generally drop a few things in the routine. I also have done no / not enough research to know if layering these things actually make sense but my skin looks pretty healthy 🤷🏽‍♀️.

p.s.: I should also note that I don’t really wear makeup so I wouldn’t be sure whether this routine would work well for someone who does

Skin care is not just about your face though

In all this, we should remember that taking our skin is actually the largest organ, and it doesn’t stop at your neck! So take the time to cleanse, tone and moisturize all of your skin. You might be wondering if they have body toner (and not jus the one for face) and they actually do. Check out some options here. But, it is far more common for us to cleanse (via bathing), maybe do a body scrub and moisturize our body.

Moisturizing has improved the appearance of my skin so much, I recently found out I have Keratosis Pilaris or “Chicken Skin”, which makes my pores on my legs (mostly my thighs) very visible and they appear darker. Using shea butter everyday (like deliberately moisturizing my WHOLE BODY has really helped!).Take the time to figure out what works best for you. I would also recommend chatting with a dermatologist about your options.

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