Korean Skincare: Step 3. Exfoliate

skin quench

Step 3: Exfoliate

Exfoliating is one of the most important steps in your 10-step Korean Skincare routine. Not only does exfoliating remove dead skin cells, but it also preps the skin to better absorb the following products. Getting rid of that layer allows your products to seep into the epidermis right away. Exfoliating helps the blood circulation in your skin too. It stimulates collagen production, which keeps the skin young and firm.

No matter what skin type you have, exfoliating is necessary at some point or another. Leaving this step out for an extended period of time can lead to congested pores, breakouts, uneven skin tone and texture, and flakes. Yuck!

Once you exfoliate, you will typically notice your complexion is brighter and smoother. Positive results often appear the next day as well. One misconception about the 10-step method is that you have to do all 10 steps, day and night. Wrong! There are some exfoliants out there gentle enough for daily use, however most exfoliants are recommended to use one to three times a week. This also depends on your skin type and concern. Someone with normal skin may be able to exfoliate everyday, while someone with sensitive skin might do it just once a week.

Physical Exfoliants

Physical or mechanical exfoliants are the most common type in the western world. This category of exfoliant is typically a scrub with some sort of abrasive agent that physically removes the dead skin cells. Exfoliating this way is always very satisfying, because you are scrubbing the layer away with your own labor. Just remember that not all scrubs are created equal!

I’m sure we’ve all used a popular apricot scrub at some point, but this is the biggest no no in the skincare world. Using harsh scrubbing ingredients such as nuts or apricots can do more damage than good, causing tiny tears in your skin. So not what you want. It’s best to use a physical exfoliant with ingredients like sugar, natural beads that will dissolve, or oatmeal. These are gentle on your skin and safe for the environment. I will also include sea salt, just be light-handed with this one because it can be coarse if not used carefully.

There are also exfoliating brushes like the Clarisonic out there. I personally used the Clarisonic Aria for years, and stopped within the past few months. While a lot of people use brushes like these, and I love it for exfoliating my body, I think it was too harsh for my acne-prone skin. A brush like this may work for you, but this is just what I noticed with my skin over time.

Physical exfoliants are great, but they may not be for everyone. If you have active breakouts, dry, or sensitive skin, this can make your skin condition worse or create an issue. Physical exfoliants are usually ideal for people with normal to combination skin.

Here are a few physical exfoliants that I’ve enjoyed using:

Lush, Ocean Salt Scrub

skin quench


The Ocean Salt Scrub is near and dear to my heart. It’s a classic product that I’ve been using since before I discovered K-beauty. Let’s just say this scrub helped me through a rough morning once upon a time, and I’ve loved it ever since. It smells like a delicious margarita due to the lime, sea salt, and vodka. These ingredients also help make the product self-preserving.

This scrub instantly softens and nourishes the skin. The sea salt and lime can really help heal mild breakouts too. Other ingredients include grapefruit, tofu, japan wax, coconut oil, seaweed absolute, and avocado and mango butter. I would say be careful when using this, because the sea salt can be a tad harsh if you have irritation or painful breakouts. If that’s the case, it works great on the body too! This scrub is a little pricey, but I think it’s worth a try.

Lush, Mask of Magnaminty and Cup O’ Coffee

skin quench

Photo: scoutmag.ph


skin quench

Photo: sololisa.com


Mask of Magnaminty is a great soothing clay mask. It contains ground aduki beans and evening primrose seeds that help exfoliate the skin. It’s cooling effect comes from the peppermint oil. I think this would be a great option for someone with red, irritated skin that needs to calm down. Ingredients include honey, kaolin, bentone gel, and vanilla absolute. This product is at a great price point.

Cup O’ Coffee is a classic way to wake up in the morning. Ground coffee beans are gentle and really effective at sloughing off dry skin. This is also a clay mask so it helps draw out impurities. The product contains agave syrup, kaolin, vanilla absolute, cocoa extract, and coriander seed oil. Again, the price really hits the mark for this one.

Here’s a physical exfoliant that came out recently by Klairs. It’s on my list to try out:

Klairs, Youthful Glow Sugar Mask

skin quench

Photo: sokoglam.com


Chemical Exfoliants

Korean Skincare introduced me to chemical exfoliants and I am absolutely obsessed! This is a newer concept in the states, but the idea of chemical exfoliants is blowing up across a lot of skincare brands. This method uses acids and enzymes to get rid of dead skin cells. I know, the thought of putting an acid on your face sounds really scary at first. Acids in skincare however, are formulated to be gentle enough on the skin. They are also often mixed with calming or hydrating ingredients to decrease irritation.

There are generally two types of acids used in skincare: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs include lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid. They work to remove surface level dead skin cells, and usually result in a brighter complexion. AHAs are great for fading dark spots at a faster rate, as well as smoothing out the surface of the skin. As a woman with a dark skin tone, I wish I knew about AHAs sooner! They are much safer and less toxic than fade creams that used to be very popular a couple decades ago.

The most common BHA is salicylic acid (SA). After using products with SA growing up, I was sure that this ingredient was what dryed out my skin. Wrong! Mainstream, drugstore products that have SA are usually mixing it with other ingredients that really dry out the skin and can cause more issues. Authentic SA is actually great for those with acne-prone and oily skin (it me). BHAs go deeper into the pores to break down whatever is clogging them. That means any oils or dirt that can result in blackheads. BHAs are also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, my favorite.

There are some chemical exfoliation treatments that are meant to be applied and washed off after you double cleanse. There are also some treatments that include acids in serums or moisturizers, that are gentle enough to leave on the skin. It’s all up to your preference and your skin’s sensitivity.

An IMPORTANT NOTE, make sure you know what other ingredients you are using in your skincare routine before adding in acids! While AHAs and BHAs can work together, they don’t usually mix well with ingredients like retinoids, vitamin c, etc. These are called active ingredients because they are actively doing work, and altering your skin texture on a chemical level. Make sure you do your research and see how your skin might react.

Like I said, chemical exfoliants have become really important to me. I’m excited to share the products I really love that have been doing wonders for my skin:

Neogen, Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine

skin quench

Photo: sokoglam.com


This product is the first chemical exfoliant I’ve ever tried, and I found it to be a great introduction. These peeling pads are both physically and chemically exfoliating. First, you use the textured side to slough off dead skin. Next, you use the other side to swipe it away and rinse your face with water. I remember using this for the first time and being amazed that my skin was significantly brighter and smoother the next morning.

The pads are soaked in a liquid with wine. Wine contains resveratrol, which is a naturally occurring AHA. Not to mention the wine smells luxurious. Other key ingredients are blackberry and raspberry extract (antioxidants), and glycolic acid. It comes with 30 pads, which last a good while since you only use them two or three times a week.

Neogen, Real Cica Pad

skin quench

Photo: sokoglam.com


The Real Cica Pad is a newer exfoliating pad from Neogen. This one is currently in my rotation and I’m obsessed. It’s different than the Bio-Peel Gauze because it contains polyhydroxy acids or PHAs, a gentler acid derived from AHAs. There is no need to wash it off, simply pat the remaining essence in. The low pH of 5.8 and PHAs also allow you to use these pads daily if you choose.

The pads are soaked in an essence which includes centella asiatica extract (calming for breakouts), madecassic acid, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides. With a quantity of 90 pads, there is really no reason not to try this.

COSRX, BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

skin quench

Photo: theskincareedit.com


This product isn’t called a power liquid for nothing! I have never seen blackheads disappear so fast. I usually apply this liquid after my essence and before my serum at night. The betaine salicylate is what makes blackheads magically disappear. I also love that there are few ingredients in this product.

Key ingredients are willow bark water, niacinamide, and sodium hyaluronate. I found this exfoliant to be gentle enough for everyday use. It lasts a long time and is definitely worth it for the price.

The Ordinary, AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

skin quench

Photo: theordinary.com


You may know this exfoliating facial as the mask that makes your face look like it’s bleeding. It’s scary looking, but it’s truly a holy grail. I use this peeling mask once a week and it is by far my favorite exfoliant. This goes on after your double cleanse, once your face is dry. It should sit for ten minutes, and ten minutes only. Trust me! You will feel a tingly sensation which might be a little uncomfortable at first, but it should subside after a little while.

Key ingredients include glycolic acid, aloe leaf water, SA, lactic acid, tasmannia lanceolata extract (what makes it red), and sodium hyaluronate. DECEIM made sure to combine these acids with hydrating and soothing components. The results are so worth this product! You won’t see a change right away, but you’ll wake up to glowing skin with drastically reduced blemishes and dark spots. This peel can be used up to two times a week. A little goes a long way and it’s so cheap, you’re probably going to buy it after you finish reading this.

Lactic Acid 5% + HA

skin quench

Photo: the ordinary.com


The Lactic Acid serum is a gentler alternative to the peeling solution. Depending on your skin sensitivity, it can be used every night. I notice great surface exfoliation with this product. It also contains hyaluronic acid and tasmannia lanceolata extract to sooth and hydrate the skin. There is a higher percentage that I plan on working up to slowly, but the 5% works wonders. Again, it’s super cheap and effective with no filler ingredients.

Dr. Oracle, A-Thera Tea Tree Peeling Sticks

skin quench

Photo: sokoglam.com


Okay, who doesn’t love jumbo Q-tips? These bad boys come in individual packages soaked in a cocktail of powerful ingredients. You only receive ten sticks, but they are so insanely good it doesn’t even matter. These peeling sticks are soaked in lactic acid, glycolic acid, tea tree extract, and more. The Q-tip is perfect for specific spots you want to treat like random cystic pimples.

Simply swipe over your trouble areas after a double cleanse, and pat into the skin. You can also swipe over areas like your oily T-zone to shrink pores. These sticks were included in my Best of 2018 products because they are the real deal! I’ve had blemishes straight up disappear the following morning after using these. If ten sticks for $24 isn’t worth it for you, definitely keep these on your wishlist for upcoming birthdays or holidays.

I’m so happy that chemical exfoliants are popping up in more product lines in the U.S. The more options, the better. What other exfoliants have you guys tried and loved? Leave me a comment and let me know.

2 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.