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Korean Skincare Demystified

by Cardon Team |

What is K-Beauty? Let's dive into what makes Korean skincare so special and why this phenomenon has taken over the world.

Korean beauty and skincare philosophy revolves around allowing your natural skin to glow. For many Koreans, skincare is not a luxury or a remedy to a pimple, it's a lifestyle. Both women and men take pride in the quality of their skin, starting from a young age. Skincare experts as well as rookies can learn a lot from the fundamentals of K-Beauty, a global skincare phenomenon that aims to give consumers clear, bright, youthful complexion. Here are the lessons from Korean skincare routines that we can apply to men’s grooming routines.

Let's Start with the Basics

What is K-Beauty, you ask? Well, it’s shorthand for Korean Beauty, as its origins are anchored in South Korea—a country that is as synonymous with beauty as Italy is with leather, and as Germany is with cars.

Korean skincare is built around the philosophy that proper skincare is accessible and essential. There is a strong emphasis that consistent care early on can prevent significant damage and aging to the skin, rather than waiting for a problem to solve.

Korean skincare is built around the philosophy that proper skincare should be accessible to all and an essential part of any healthy lifestyle.

Over the last decade, Korea has been at the forefront of skincare innovation. Here are a few qualities that make K-Beauty unique within the global skincare industry:

Gentle, yet effective. K-Beauty ingredients and products are renowned for being gentle on the skin. These ingredients are highly researched and multifunctional. Something that smooths and prevents wrinkles might also boost moisture levels or shield against toxins.

Beauty for every budget. K-Beauty products are cost effective because Korean skincare brands have invested heavily into innovating the industry with in-depth ingredient research and more stable formulations suitable for sensitive skin, as well as unique and fun packaging. Quality doesn't have to be expensive.

Customizable routine. You may have heard of the famous 10-step routine. It may sound like a lot but it creates a framework for individuals to find the right products that work for their skin needs. Products are layered in a specific way that helps the person achieve his or her crystal-clear skin goals.

Universal. K-Beauty is genderless; men take just as much pride in the philosophy and practice as women do. That’s because in Korea, having healthy skin is ranked up there with having a good sense of style, good taste in design, and so forth.

What Korean skincare can teach us

Korean skincare fundamentals can teach us a lot about our own regimen. Even if you're starting off with a minimalist skincare routine, there is room for intention and complexity. In fact, that’s a very good place to start, since K-Beauty’s focus is about starting with the basics and building up a regimen that suits your specific needs. You may not need 10 steps in your regimen, but you can pick the four or five steps that you do need, and focus on those goals.

So, you can start with the basics—like cleansing, hydrating, and protecting the skin—and then target other areas that could improve your overall complexion and skin health. (For example, oily skincare regimens should add toner to help balance sebum production.)

And of course, K-Beauty also reminds us to consider the research and ingredients that go into each and every product that we put on our precious mugs. It’s all too easy to buy a product because its packaging is beautiful or because you’ve been using that exact brand for years without question. But K-Beauty is about asking questions, like “Are these ingredients actively improving my skin (and can I pronounce most of them?), or are they simply mass-sourced and underperforming? Even if you’re on a budget, there are products made with intention that work to firm, hydrate, and clear your skin better than many drugstore standbys.

Which ingredients should I look for?

K-Beauty products often use natural-based ingredients; many are plant-based like Centella Asiatica (commonly referred to as cica) or cactus extract, and some are wild like snail slime or bee venom. The big takeaway here is to understand the fundamentals of K-Beauty products: It’s not that you need to go looking for a specific ingredient, but rather, the ingredients in your products should have been carefully researched to serve a function and the brands should tell you precisely why these ingredients have been included. What are the products doing to work overtime in your favor, as opposed to a bunch of chemicals that make no promise above the bare minimum?

This is a big reason Cardon spends so much time developing products around cactus extract, an ingredient that soothes, hydrates, and is rich in anti-inflammatory, firming, and healing vitamins, as well as electrolytes to protect skin’s moisture barrier. Cactus extract is infused in every Cardon product, from the Clay Cleanser to the SPF 30 Moisturizer, so that people who use these products in their skincare routine get the benefits at every stage of the process.

Similarly, the cleanser uses clay to deeply extract impurities from the pores, and it deploys cica grass for its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. The same can be said of Cardon’s using tumeric in its SPF moisturizer, while the Gel Moisturizer uses rosehip oil for its richness in Vitamin A, and its age-reversing superpowers.

Again, when it comes to the products you buy and the ingredients you look for, remember that every product should have this same level of research and consideration behind it. That’s a K-Beauty principle.

Introducing k-grooming

As we said above, korean skincare can be universal and genderless—one that focuses on complexion as opposed to cosmetics.

Odds are that men would build a slightly different regimen than women, given they do different things to their face (like, you know, grow beards and shave). So, men must add in a few other specifics that address their own concerns, another of which is likely targeting excessively oily skin (since men get oilier than women, in general).

And while the term K-Grooming hasn’t grown to similar prominence, it is something that Cardon discussed when building a product assortment, as well as when discussing cactus extract as a key ingredient. Cardon’s founders are well versed in K-Beauty principles (one of them, Narae, is even native to South Korea and is an industry veteran). But the main question that needed answering was: How can the principles of K-Beauty be applied to men in the western world, in a more scaled back manner that still works hard to help these men achieve clear, healthy, youthful skin? And in that way, in founding Cardon, one of the first K-Grooming brands was born—in the United States, no less.

The fundamentals of K-Grooming

With an ingredient-minded, foundational skincare routine in place, you’re then able to add complexities that further follow K-Grooming principles. Your core regimen already focuses on:

  • CLEANSING: washing the face, morning and night, to flush away impurities, excess oil, and to unclog pores
  • HYDRATING: moisturizing, morning and night, to nourish skin, promote youthfulness, and prevent dryness
  • PROTECTING: applying SPF by day and a dense moisturizer by night, to shield skin from harmful ultraviolet rays as well as pollution and other skin-aging toxins

This is a universal twice-daily regimen that every person should follow, at a minimum.

Then, you can consider your other skincare needs. Are you experiencing fine lines and wrinkles? Do you have oily skin? Are you prone to acne? What about shaving irritations, like ingrown hairs or redness? Do you commonly get dark undereye circles or experience puffy under eyes?

These are just some of the ways you can consider adding complexities to your skincare regimen, whether it’s a toner to balance oil levels, a gel or cream to target dark circles and puffy eyes, a prescription cream or retinol that addresses fine lines or acne, or a more careful and sensitive approach to pre- and post-shave regimens.

This self assessment is how you build a customized K-Grooming regimen on top of your foundational skincare routine, so long as you keep in mind that the ingredients need to be exceptional in each of the products. Secondly, you need to research the order of operations—how to layer the products so that they all work most effectively. For example, you can’t apply anything until after you have first cleansed the skin. But then you also shouldn’t apply a moisturizer or SPF until the very end, because they act as a shield or lid on all the lighter, more targeted products, and it is important to apply them to clean skin from lightest (and most absorbent) to densest.

If you're looking for help finding your customized routine, Cardon offers complimentary 1:1 skin consultation sessions. Once you’ve mastered your own regimen and are months into the process, you’ll have profound results on skin clearness, firmness, brightness, and youthfulness. And you will have successfully mastered the careful craft behind K-Beauty and K-Grooming. Chughahabnida! (That’s ‘congratulations’ in Korean.)

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