Korean beauty has long been known for and defined by a complex skin care regimen. Double cleansing, toning, masks, treatments, and more, a typical Korean routine includes a whopping 10 different steps and products. But the latest K-beauty trend – what’s being called the Korean “skin care diet” – is basically the exact opposite of this: Rather than using any and every possible product imaginable, it’s a minimalistic approach that includes only cleanser, sunscreen, and moisturizer. Yep, that’s just three steps.
The goal of this streamlined skin care "diet"? Minimizing exposure to products and ingredients to help cut back on skin sensitivity. It’s an effective technique, says Emily Arch, MD, a dermatologist at Dermatology + Aesthetics of Wicker Park in Chicago: “Adopting this kind of totally basic skin care routine can be a good way to get your skin back to neutral,” she says. This holds especially true if you’ve been on an anti-acne or anti-aging rampage and your skin is starting to freak out. “Many people think ‘more is more’ when it comes to these issues and use too many products that do the same thing,” Dr. Arch adds. You end up OD-ing on active ingredients, which can exacerbate the exact skin issues you’re trying to treat. As Alanis so eloquently put it, isn’t it ironic?
That’s where seriously simplifying things can help. Minimizing the amount of products — and ingredients in them — used can help your skin normalize and ultimately make it better able to accept any stronger products you add back in later. The caveat? You have to choose your three products wisely; they should be as simple and as basic as possible. That means a gentle, soap-free cleanser, a moisturizing, mineral-based SPF (for day), and a non-comedogenic moisturizer (for night), all of which should be fragrance- and dye-free, advises Arch. Also important: Stick to this skin care ‘diet’ for at least six weeks to give your complexion enough time to fully reset.
As with any diet, ultimately you will want or need to introduce other products back in. Just like you do with a food elimination diet, slowly add one thing at a time so that you can properly gauge how your skin reacts and determine any potential irritants. Incorporate one new active ingredient, such as retinol or an alpha hydroxy acid, using it for at least a week, and carefully monitor how your skin reacts, suggests Dr. Arch. (While you may notice a little irritation immediately, it should quickly dissipate.)
At the end of the day, you can basically think of this three-step diet as the skin care version of a juice cleanse: It’s effective as a quick detox and reset, but in order to reach most of your skin care goals, you ultimately will need to add some products back in.