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15 Mistakes That Korean Skincare Newbies Make

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Published on:

Cultivating your perfect skincare routine is a difficult journey, especially when there are new trending products and routines being thrown at you every week! However, some skincare approaches have withstood the test of time, among the most popular of which is Korean skincare.

However, making the switch to an entirely new routine, especially with something as complex as Korean skincare, can come with some serious consequences with an incorrect approach. 

Before you take the plunge into K-beauty, here are 15 of the most common mistakes that Korean skincare novices make and how you can avoid them!

1. Expecting Drying Products

After growing accustomed to a certain kind of skincare routine your whole life, making the switch to Korean skincare can leave you with a bit of…culture shock.

Unlike the vast majority of the world’s approach to skincare, Korean skincare focuses on the rebuilding and nourishing of your skin’s natural moisture barrier. If you aren’t familiar with what your moisture barrier is, it’s the shield that surrounds your face. It keeps your delicate skin cells safe from a slew of potential problem-causing agents.

Believe it or not, a damaged skincare barrier is one of the leading causes of chronic acne in young adults. The symptoms of having one are regularly confused with general acne-prone skin, so having a routine full of anti-acne products exacerbates the issue.

Most skincare approaches, especially through American products, focus on removing the sebum and oil from active breakouts by drying the skin out. While this may work for some skin types, those with damaged barriers will find that it makes the problem worse. To remedy your skin issues, you may discover the more appropriate approach is healing your moisture barrier.

Korean skincare restores your facial barrier through their skin-healthy ingredients, including ceramides, moisturizing acids, actives, etc. These won’t dry your skin out but will inject your skin with nourishing hydrating properties, allowing your skin to tackle breakouts without excess drying, irritation, and in some instances, scarring.

2. Using Incompatible Formulas

The most notable part about having a Korean skincare routine is having a slew of products to apply during your AM and PM routines. After sticking to the classic cleanser+moisturizer combo for a while, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that you can use whatever products you’d like in conjunction with one another. 

However, Korean skincare products are formulated with unique ingredients that may not like to be paired with other ingredients, and using them both at a single time can leave your skin dry and irritated, or cancel out the benefits of your products entirely. 

This isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to K-beauty, but the chances of you making the mistake while attempting a Korean routine increase due to the number of brands you’ll use at a time.

Whenever you’re using more than 3 products at a time in your routine, make sure you do thorough research about potential problems that may arise if you blend ingredients. This may sound like a time-consuming task, but with the health of your skin at stake, it’s a task well worth committing to.

The main issues that arise are when you mix vitamin serums, actives, and retinol. Since all of these products penetrate deep into the face and direct your skin cell turnover and renewal processes, it’s important not to use too many at one time. 

3. Misunderstanding Product Uses

If there’s one thing to understand about skincare in Korea, it’s that it’s taken very seriously. With their skincare product community growing exponentially, and products finding their way into international markets, you may be overwhelmed- so taken by your excitement and the cute packaging that you buy whatever cleanser or serum you see on the shelf first.

When you look into each product, though, you’ll find that no two cleansers, serums, and essences work the same way- but with the type of skincare vocabulary they use on the labels, the meaning and uses behind the products can get lost in translation. 

Take an extra minute or two in the grocery store (or online!) to fully understand what your product does and what unfamiliar words mean. This habit can make all the difference in your skincare routine and assist you in choosing the best products for your face.

For example, seeing ‘AC’ on skincare products means it’s formulated for acne-prone skin. ‘Whitening’ products aren’t used to change the color of your skin, but rather to protect it from the sun and to brighten a dull complexion. Without proper knowledge about these terminologies, you may accidentally use a product that’s incompatible with your skin type. 

Once you become more familiar with the terms most regularly used in Korean skincare products, not only will you be able to choose products with ease, but you’ll be able to introduce your friends to the correct brands and formulas for their skin types too!

4. Wrong Order

With an intricate skincare regime, that easily involves more than five products at a time, you have to be especially mindful of the order that which you apply your items. Even if you’re using formulas that are confirmed to be compatible with one another, the order of your products will ensure how effective they are on our skin.

Your skin wants to protect you, which means it’s going to work its hardest to keep things out. After cleanser, there’s a moment in time in which your skin is more susceptible to your skincare products, so working in the correct order will keep your skin open long enough for each product to prove effective.

Not only is the order of the product important, but allowing your skin ample time to absorb the product is vital as well. Simply allowing your skin to rest a minute or two in between formulas is enough to improve the formulas’ success.

We suggest you do some research about each of your products to find when they’re supposed to be used in your routine- simply google ‘(insert product type) order’, and you’ll find a ton of results about when it should be added into your regime, ex. serum order. 

As a general rule of thumb, products should be applied in order of consistency. Thin, sheer products should go on first, while thick, creamy products should be last. If you follow that guideline as closely as possible, you shouldn’t be affecting the adequacies of your products too much.

5. Applying Products Incorrectly

With Korean skincare products having such intricately designed formulas, the way they should be applied should be held in importance as well. Thankfully, Korean packaging is very thorough about the proper techniques you should use for each product, so thoroughly reading through the directions on your item can ensure you reap your desired results.

To give an example, you likely use your cleansers by pumping the product onto your hand and rubbing it on your face. However, Korean cleansing formulas should first be emulsified in the palms (until a creamy, sudsy texture is achieved), and then applied to your skin. This keeps the formula from stripping your face and makes them even gentler to use overall.

Skin essences, on the other hand, should always be applied via a cotton ball or pad. These let you move the product across your skin in a precise, even manner, allowing your skin to absorb the product concisely. If you were to emulsify this product, not only would you make a mess, but you could also compromise its formula.

There’s some controversy regarding the perfect application for toners and hyaluronic acids. Some people like soaking cotton sheet masks in them, letting the formula sink into the skin for a while before removal. Others like the precision of a cotton pad, while some people pour the product into their hands and tap it into the skin.

As you can see, there are so many different approaches to products. Some products, like cleansers and moisturizers, have a set means of application across the beauty community, while others have a bit more ambiguous application process. Figuring out the most effective means possible can make or break your routine.

6. Inconsistent Application

Buying your first Korean skincare products can be likened to being a kid in a candy store. There’s a high likelihood that you’ll buy two of each product just for testing purposes, keeping them on your bathroom counter and planning to alternate each cleanser in between uses.

When it comes to Korean cleansers, oils, serums, etc, you should always stick to one until it’s time to toss it in the garbage. That includes frequency of use as well! Of course, this doesn’t apply to times where your skin reacts adversely to products, in instances like those, we recommend giving the product to a friend whose skin it’s better suited for,

Consistency is key when it comes to all new skincare products, and that is especially applicable to products that are almost medicinal in nature (like K-beauty). Find a routine that works for you, and commit to yourself to stick with it every morning and every night- this includes those late nights where you don’t want to wash your face at all!

We mentioned this in previous sections, but Korean products help maintain a healthy culture of bacteria on your skin. These work their magic overnight, and throughout the day, to ensure your skin is always well protected from the elements, UV rays, and bad bacteria, so skipping a day can be enough to wreak havoc on your skin.

7. No Adjustment Period

Allowing your skin the grace and time to acclimate to new skincare products is notably important to the state of your face. There’s a certain adjustment period that your skin needs to show how well a product is working for you!

This can range per product, but it can be an especially difficult timeframe to figure out if you’re using active, which will speed up your skin’s cell renewal process and bring all those under-the-surface issues to the forefront of your face. This is called purging and can take a little longer than a month to subside.

Or, the opposite effect can happen, and it can seem like your new product isn’t doing anything at all for your skin. Remember that the Korean skincare approach is much less abrasive than other methods, in both ingredients and terms of technique. It may take 4-8 weeks for you to see the results that you want.

You may also notice a notable difference in your skin’s oil and elasticity, during the adjustment period, this may seem intense. Rest assured, the reformation of your skin’s natural moisture barrier will seemingly throw your oil production off of its axis. This is a temporary adjustment and will regulate after a certain amount of time to reveal healthy skin.

For those with dry skin types, you may notice an over-production of oil, and vice-versa. People with significantly textured skin may notice more breakouts (though they’ll be in areas where you previously had congestion), or you may not see results at all. This is all part of the adjustment period.

8. Jumping Into New Routine

In that same breath, we need to warn you of the dangers of throwing away all of your old skincare for a brand new 10-step routine. Though this may seem like an “out with the old, in with the new” type of mindset to adopt, bombarding your skin with a load of new formulas and products can send your cells into panic mode!

This is especially applicable if you haven’t stepped outside of the realm of cleansers and moisturizers. Serums, essences, toners, etc. are all formulated to be slightly stronger on the skin, so they should be introduced into your original routine first (one by one) before you start using them in conjunction with one another.

The best way to start your transition into a new skincare routine is by swapping each of your products out accordingly, allowing your skin the time to adjust to them, and then adding a new one to your routine. This can make for a long process, but even waiting a minimum of 2 weeks in between product additions can make your new routine smoother.

You’re likely to see adverse results and reactions fairly soon after your first application. For example, if you try out a new moisturizer, and the next morning you wake up with dry, irritated skin, you’ll know that you shouldn’t continue using it.

On the same note, adding products one at a time will make it easy for you to pinpoint the problematic addition in your routine. If you were to swap out your routine in its entirety and suddenly break out, you wouldn’t be able to tell which product (or a mixture of products) was the culprit.

9. No Patch Testing

The easiest way to tell if you’ll have an adverse reaction to a formula is by doing a patch test, which is a necessary step in introducing all new products into your routine. It seems the popularity and importance of doing patch tests haven’t been emphasized for skincare novices, so we’d like to be among the first to remind you that they should never be skipped!

Being allergic to a product can boast some pretty horrible results, so keeping these breakouts condensed in a small surface area is much safer than it potentially affecting the entirety of your face. The worry about using a new product is that you’re unaware of how severe a potential reaction could be. They can range from redness to full-blown-hives, so err on the side of caution. 

To effectively do so, use a cleanser (one that you already know and trust), and follow it up with a swipe of the new product on top of your clean skin. Do this in an inconspicuous location, but one that won’t be disrupted by rubbing on your pillow, etc. For skincare, we recommend a swipe on the bottom of the jaw. 

This area is ideal because it’s close enough to the natural skin of the face where you’ll be able to see how it will likely react on your facial skin, but a reaction won’t impact your face directly. 

10. Improper Storage

With a delicate formula comes a delicate means of storage! Though you may be used to leaving all of your products in your bathroom cabinet or letting them be bathed in the sun rays coming in from the window, you could unknowingly be causing some changes in the formula that impact how well your skincare works. 

Here are some guidelines about the proper places to store popular skincare items:

Cleansers can generally be left on the bathroom counter, or in the cabinets. They usually don’t involve too many active ingredients, acids, or vitamins (especially if you’re opting for gentler formulas) so you have freedom with where their homes are, as long as it’s cool and dry (no direct sunlight!).

Vitamin C should always be kept out of direct sunlight, as even a little bit of heat could break the formula down faster. To elongate its shelf life, feel free to leave it in the fridge! These same rules can also be applied to retinol.

Oil and clay-based products should be left in the cabinet, out of direct sunlight and moisture (steam from the shower). These formulas are temperature sensitive and can cloud or harden if left in poor conditions.

Things like toners, sheet masks, and eye creams can thrive in cooler temperatures! Not only will these increase the shelf life of the product, but they can feel nicer and more soothing on the skin as well. 

11. Giving Up Before Results

Finding your holy-grail skin products is a process- one that involves a lot of trial and error. No one routine is compatible with every skin type, so you’ll learn what products, methods, and frequencies of each product work for you.

It’s a trying journey, and one that can leave you feeling frustrated (especially since the likelihood of you bumping into incompatible products is fairly high!). We implore you to keep working through the process, as the results after finding the routine best suited for you are well worth the trouble.

Be smart throughout the process, and do thorough research on each product before you buy it. Read through reviews and learn about the techniques people found most effective with the product, and always test out new formulas with a light hand! 

Good skincare takes time. Korean brands that care about results won’t pack their products full of aggressively drying or overwhelmingly hydrating ingredients. They’re aware of the time it takes to cultivate lasting, nourishing results, so simply having that “trust the process” mentality can make the journey go by a bit easier.

On average, you’ll see results within 2 months. At that point, you’ll be able to discern whether or not a routine is working for you. 

There will be times using products, especially actives when it feels that your results have plateaued and that you’re no longer seeing improvement. Check that brand’s website to see if they have that same formula, but with a higher percentage of the active. For example, moving up from a 5% Lactic Acid to a 10%.

12. Only Using Targeted Skincare

Here’s the thing with spot treating, it provides very temporary results. They don’t penetrate deep enough into the skin to heal it. They simply take care of surface-level issues but don’t nourish the skin enough to prevent those problems from arising again.

Taking care of the overall health of your skin is the only way to prevent breakouts and issues from rearing their heads. Improving your moisture barrier, balancing oil regulation, and keeping your skin cell renewal process in revolution will make it so you don’t need to “target” problems in the first place.

The same philosophy applies to skincare that’s meant to exfoliate the skin. Sticking to exfoliating products, and this applies mainly to those with dry skin, can strip your skin entirely. Exfoliating products aren’t meant for everyday use they should only be used 1-2x a week. It’s meant to target those especially dry moments.

13. Buying What’s Popular

With the amount of influence social media apps have today, it’s incredibly difficult to not be compelled to buy what’s trending today! Trending products should always be dealt with with a grain of salt. Popular products rarely last the test of time!

Whether it’s a celebrity-name brand, has cute packaging, or the brand just knows how to market its product- buying a product based on popularity and nothing else is a surefire way to stress your skin out! 

When a product starts showing up all over the internet, don’t run to the store to buy it quite yet! Wait for a month to a month and a half (enough time for people to see the actual effectiveness of the product), and then revisit the reviews. 

People will be a lot more transparent about their results, allowing you to see the product for what it is outside of popularity.

14. Listening To Influencers

The same hesitance should apply to what influencers are recommending as well! Though they could be genuine about their recommendations, there’s a greater chance that skincare brands are paying them to give their (usually ingenuine) opinions about their products.

You can tell if a product review is endorsed or not by checking the caption of the photo, video, or TikTok post promoting it. If you see ‘#ad’ anywhere in the description, this is a sign that the brand approached the influencer about making the post. If you don’t see it anywhere, then it’s a genuine opinion!

There are some loopholes with this common mistake. If you see an advertisement from a trusted skincare influencer, especially if they’re accustomed to using Korean skincare products, you can trust their advertisements more than someone advocating for products outside of their niche. 

15. Not Knowing Personal Skin Type

Last, but absolutely not least, is grabbing Korean skincare products simply for the fact that they’re Korean, and not doing any research about their compatibility with your skin type. Though K-skincare is incredibly gentle, it’s also effective enough to cause some unsavory results when not used with caution.

Be transparent about your skin type and what your concerns are. It can be difficult to know what the specificities of your face are outside of just “oily, dry, or combo”, so if you want to be sure you have a clear understanding of your concerns, visit with a dermatologist.

An important thing to keep in mind is paying attention to the evolution your skin will take on over time. With aging, proper care, and other factors, it’s entirely possible to go from acne-prone to strong skin, oily skin to dry skin, etc. Keep up with these changes by buying appropriate products when you notice your skin reacting differently. 


The rewards you can reap with Korean skincare are beautiful, and your skin will thank you for sticking with a nourishing approach long enough to see the results…

..and now, with your newfound knowledge about the products, techniques, and precautions you can take to ensure you don’t fall into the common blunders surrounding it, you can formulate your routine with absolute confidence!

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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