How to create a Korean skin care routine for oily skin

How to create a Korean skin care routine for oily skin

In this article, Korean cosmetics aficionado Amy Cheong describes how to create a Korean skin care routine for oily skin.

A warning: here’s a story for you

A co-worker of mine (let’s call her Cathy) decides to catch up with an old friend of hers one night over dinner.  She arrives at the promised location to meet her friend (let’s call her Donna) and hears her name being called.  She turns around—and boom.  Her jaw drops.  Because while Cathy had been withering away at her desk job, Donna had clearly been doing some work on herself… and we’re talking all natural stuff here.

So Cathy asks Donna, what is her secret?  Why is her complexion glowing and how is her foundation looking like natural skin?  Why doesn’t she look like a dead zombie just like every other working professional on Wednesday Hump Day?

Beaming, Donna finally spills and starts gushing about this amazing new facial cream by some new Korean skincare brand.  Apparently, it’s the new “thing”.

So that night Cathy goes home and buys that facial cream online with no second thoughts.  Donna doesn’t get to beautiful by herself!  In the next couple weeks, she’ll get that “K-Beauty Glow” as well.

Days go by.  Donna has been using that facial cream day and night as a part of her usual skincare routine.  But for some reason, her skin is far from glowing—in fact, it’s breaking out.  Her skin looks greasy and her pores are looking larger than ever.  Clearly, her skin is very unhappy with her.

But the cream worked for Donna, right?  It did incredible things for her skin!  Why didn’t it work for Cathy?

That’s when I told her, Donna is probably a dry skin type.  So this facial cream that she is using is probably a rich, heavy cream with an oil component—perhaps lanolin or rosehip oil?

So of course this cream only made Cathy’s skin worse.  Because Cathy is clearly an oily skin type.  Her face always looks a little too shiny, she constantly needs to blot her skin, and her foundation seems to dissolve throughout the day.  So when she put an oil-based cream on her oily skin type face, it caused an overflow.  Her skin got irritated and rebellious and decided to break out—literally.  Her pores became enlarged and clogged while her skin got red and pimply.  Ew.

Not exactly the most pleasant story, is it?

Why skin type matters in K-Beauty

There is an important lesson to be learned here, which is that there is no such thing as “that one miracle skincare product”.  The human skin is a very complicated organ.  We attempt to classify it into different categories (i.e. dry skin, oily skin, combination skin, sensitive skin) but every skin is different in its tendencies and reactions.  Remember that people’s experiences with skincare products are always subjective.  So before you go hunting for your “holy grail” skincare item, you have to get to know your skin first.  Donna probably did that first, too.  So let’s all be like Donna, shall we?

And there is no better way to go about learning your skin than the K-Beauty way.  At least from my personal experience, those who love and understand Korean Beauty and Korean skincare seem to better understand the concept of learning your skin more than anyone else.  I’ve met K-Beauty lovers who keep a list of skincare ingredients that their skin is happy with, tolerant of, and absolutely abhor.  I’ve met K-Beauty lovers who know exactly what needs to change in their skincare routine depending on the weather and the season because their skin’s tendencies start to change as well.  Adapting a Korean skincare routine is about doing the work instead of hoping for miracles.  It’s about the products but also the ingredients and most importantly, how to use them.

So today is dedicated to all the oily skin types out there.  If you fit under the general umbrella of oily skin types, read on!  We’re going to get down and get dirty and do the work necessary to understand oily skin types, what to do about it, and how to go about doing it—Korean Beauty style.

Let’s meet your skin

So before we jump into the yummy details of what kind of skincare products you should be looking for, let’s break down some simple facts about oily skin types first.

If your skin is oily, it typically means that your sebaceous glands are more active than most people’s.  Sebaceous glands are the tiny microscopic glands in your skin that produce natural skin oil (a.k.a. sebum) in order to lubricate and protect your hair follicles and skin.  It’s an absolutely necessary part of the human body that protects your epidermis from harmful environmental factors and keeps your skin from drying out.  But if your sebaceous glands are producing more sebum than you need and faster than you can blot or cleanse—voila!  Oily complexion and clogged pores.  Too much of anything is bad, after all.

Oiliness may worsen based on hormonal imbalances, diet, stress, or humid weather conditions.  Oily skin types are more prone to redness, breakouts, and clogged pores (blackheads, white heads, and other sebaceous filaments).  For those who enjoy wearing makeup, they might find that their foundation almost “melts” away throughout the day and they can’t use eye makeup that isn’t at least water-resistant (or risk looking like a raccoon by the end of the day).  Enlarged pores also make it difficult to apply makeup evenly as though on a smooth canvas.  And of course, applying makeup in the first place may clog up those pores even faster.

It almost seems there is no upside to this, is there?

But we’re about to get to the fun part!  Now that we’ve all done a bit of learning (like Donna), it’s time to build your next skincare haul shopping list.  I’m going to hit every step of a standard Korean skincare routine for oily skin—complete with personal favorites and suggestions—plus some extra pampering you can do for your skin.

The Korean Skin Care Routine with 6 Steps

The Double-Cleanse: Step 1

Ah, the famous “double-cleanse” method of K-Beauty skincare routines.  It’s typically meant to be a part of your evening routine when you need to remove makeup first to ensure waterproof cosmetic products are completely removed before foam cleansing.  But for oily skin types, a quick pre-cleanse in the morning before splashing water on your face might be refreshing and helpful in reducing excess sebum that was produced overnight.  And there is no better skincare product to use for that initial cleanse than cleansing water.

Quick side note: I am personally obsessed with cleansing water (a.k.a. micellar water).  If you haven’t used cleansing water before, you are missing out.  Seriously.  You need to get on that.  Now.  Let me convince you.

Cleansing water contains microscopic micelles, which are little molecules that capture or absorb dirt and oil.  In human terms: it’s basically a pre-cleanser or makeup remover without oil that can still dissolve oil.  It is the perfect way to reduce sebum and refresh in the morning or to remove makeup without feeling like you’re applying more oil on your already oily skin.

My all-time favorite cleansing water is Sweet Song Black Tea One-Step Cleansing Water by A.True.  It is made with 87% black tea water and other natural ingredients to gently cleanse, refresh, or remove makeup.  And the best part is that there is no oily residue left after use.  On particularly exhausting nights, I have gotten away with using just this little product alone to remove simple face makeup and quickly cleanse before going to bed (okay, I really should have foam cleansed but my point is that this cleansing water makes your skin feel that super clean).  All you need to do is soak a cotton pad with this cleansing water and gently wipe across your skin to remove dirt and oils.  For eye makeup or other color makeup, press gently on your eye lids or lips for several seconds before wiping the product away.

The Double-Cleanse: Step 2

When it comes to foam cleansers, people who have oily skin tend to enjoy that after-feeling of “squeaky clean” after washing their face.  For once, their skin is free of oil and grease!  But because of this tendency, I’ve noticed that oily skin type folks often make the mistake of going after cleansers that are too harsh and high in pH level.  If a facial cleanser has a high pH level, it means that it is more prone to stripping your skin dry and will cause problems over time.  You may enjoy that squeaky clean feeling right now, but trust me—your skin is crying underneath.

I’m going to offer you a product that will gently cleanse your skin, yet leave no oily residue behind.  Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser by COSRX is a K-Beauty fan favorite.  This gentle gel-type formula with a pH level of 5.0 – 6.0 contains tea tree oil, which is a natural beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that is a common skincare ingredient for refining skin texture and shrink enlarged pores.  You can use morning and night to wash away sebum, dirt and excess oil for that matte feel.

The Toner

Toning is definitely the underrated Korean skincare routine step.  But the preparation of your skin is just as important as the following steps.  Toners are lightweight, watery products that help to prepare the skin for the incoming skincare products that tend to be thicker and heavier.  Think of it as starting off something something easy and light to ease your skin into the routine instead of just scooping on dollops of cream onto your face.

For oily skin, I recommend Aloe BHA Skin Toner by Benton.  I’ve been using this toner along the oiliest parts of my skin and it’s done great things for my T-zone.  The aloe keeps things soothed and calm while BHA tends to the oily pores.  It’s a great refreshing toner for those who are looking for something easy.  Use a clean cotton pad to apply more evenly.

The Serum

Here is where you pull the big guns out.  Serums are concentrated skincare formulas that truly address your skin concern directly and mercilessly.  In this case, we need a serum that’s going to keep the skin matte and clear out those clogged pores.

So we turn to BHA Blackhead Power Liquid by Cosrx (are we seeing a pattern here with BHA?  I believe so).  With 4% BHA, this powerful serum works to clear out clogged pores and eliminate blackhead and sebum.  It is also a protection to prevent excess sebum from turning into blackheads in the first place.  I use this on my nose a lot and I noticed that my dark-colored blackheads had significantly been reduce within two weeks and my skin looked smoother overall.

But be warned—4% BHA may be a little too strong for some.  Make sure to ease this product into your skincare routine instead of using pumps of it day and night.  Pay attention to how your skin reacts to it and if everything looks normal, continue use.

The Essence

Since I introduced a fairly powerful serum, let’s not overdo it with another strong essence.  What do you do after de-clogging pores?  Heal your skin, of course.

Another one of my holy grail items is the Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence by Cosrx.  Now I know, I know… some people get freaked out by the idea of putting snail secretion filtrate on their face.  But snail mucin is actually one of Korean Beauty’s biggest skincare tricks, due to its powerful healing properties that repair damaged skin from the inside out.  It’s a fairly rich essence and moisturizes and soothes the skin—one pump is enough to cover the entire face.  Once it is fully absorbed, it leaves the skin matte and smooth with no gooey mess.  I find this essence to be fairly safe bet for most skin types, including oily skin.

The Moisturizer

When it comes to moisturizers for oily skin types, it’s important to find a product that will strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier but not bombard the skin with extra oil.  The keyword is “lightweight”.

I love using the Spring Green Tea Watery Calming Cream by A.True as a lightweight option, especially in the summer when I don’t want too many layers of products on my face.  It is a very light moisturizer with a gel-like texture that is absorbed into the skin very quickly.  There is a sweet scent but not overpowering.  A blend of black tea water and green tea formula makes you feel pampered during application.  It leaves the skin feeling moisturized and smooth with no grease.

The Sheet Mask

I will never understand those who are not in love with sheet masks.  To me, they’re like shortcuts to achieving better skin!

My all-time favorite sheet mask for pore care is I’m Sorry for My Skin Jelly Mask – Pore Care by Ultrue, not only for its catchy product name but for its amazing jelly essence.  A LOT of jelly essence.  The sheet mask is doused in rich, soothing, moisturizing jelly essence that stays moist on your face for nearly an hour!  Plus, there’s enough jelly essence left over in the package to apply all over your body, too.  Aside from the intense moisture treatment, other natural ingredients chestnut shell and chamomile help to reduce excess sebum production and improve overall skin texture.  You will truly get a bang for your buck with this one.  And who can possibly resist that adorable packaging?

Another holy grail item by many K-Beauty lovers and experts alike is the Pore Beauty Nose Pack by Skinmiso.  This is a strip just for your nose, but unlike the kind of nose strips you rip off, this one melts away the dirt in your pores and gently de-clogs them.  The first strip helps to open up your pores and bring the blackheads and whiteheads to the surface of the skin.  After gently removing the dirt with a cotton swab or comedo remover tool, the second nose strip will help to tighten those pores.  The third step is a tube of silky essence that helps to reduce production of sebum.

The Clay Mask

Clay masks should be a part of every oily skin type’s routine.  Natural, good quality clay not only helps to tighten enlarged pores and improve overall skin texture, it also controls excess sebum production and purifies the skin.  And oily skin types with large pores that are prone to breakouts and flare-ups definitely need that purification factor.  Since most clay masks are wash-off masks, it can get a little tedious and annoying to use regularly.  But just once a week minimum is all you need to help your skin maintain a healthier oil/moisture balance.

Try the Jeju Volcanic Clay Mask by Ciracle for a taste of “Korean Beauty meets Korean History”.  This mask contains volcanic ashes from Jeju island, a rare ingredient proven to be effective in maintaining soothed, healthy skin.  You can apply on the whole face or just on particularly oily areas.

To have a little more fun with this tedious process, Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask by Elizavecca could be for you.  One of the latest K-Beauty fads is this carbonated clay mask that bubbles up on your face within seconds once you apply!  The clay works its magic to purify pores and moisturize the skin, but beware—it can get a little tickling as the mask bubbles up.  It would be wise to have a facial sponge on hand to have an easier time removing the clay mask.

Helpful Item for the Road

Oily skin types are definitely no strangers to carrying around blotting sheets to maintain matte skin throughout the day.  I personally always hated using the sheets because I felt like my makeup was being removed with it and the thought of others seeing my used blotting sheet made me cringe.

So I got one of these: No-Sebum Blur Pact by Innisfree.  It’s a mineral powder pact with no color that absorbs excess oil upon application.  And it’s super tiny—only about half the size of a regular compact—so it’s easy to take it on the go.

In Closing

I hope you are all getting ready to make your next Korean Beauty haul!  Skincare can be frustrating but there are ways to keep negative symptoms under control to maintain healthy skin.  Change is not immediate, but your hard work and research will pay off.  Remember that these products are suggestions and variants of the same type may work better for you than they did for me.  Stay skin smart!

About the author

amy cheong

Amy is an NYC-based writer who specializes in content relating to skincare, cosmetics, fashion, and fine luxury goods.  Her personal passion for K-Beauty makes the said topic the most exciting for her to write about.  She aspires to acquire an esthetician license one day but for now, she is simply happy to gush about it through written articles. Her portfolio is available at

Further reading

If you want to learn more about specific Korean beauty products, trying starting with our guides on Korean BB creams for beginners, moisturizers, and snail cream.

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