Dr. Abdullah Weighs in on 10 Step Korean Skin Care Routines

For nearly two years now, numerous beauty editors and bloggers have promoted Korean skin care routines as the ultimate solution to achieve plump, dewy, youthful-looking skin. A simple Google search will show you just how much hype surrounds these complex (up to 12 step!) routines and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

For the promise of a flawless complexion, it’s safe to bet that many of us would be willing to sacrifice extra time out of our day to the application of numerous facial treatments. But the obvious question is, “do these routines work?” And, more importantly, are they healthy for our skin? To get the answers to these questions, we went to Dr. Ahmed Abdullah, a board-certified plastic and cosmetic surgeon, and founder and formulator of the Lexli line of aloe-based skin care. Those familiar with Lexli know that Dr. Abdullah has long touted that skin care routines that include four main steps – cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize and protect – successfully meet all of the skin’s needs, thereby optimizing its health. Dr. Abdullah explains why these steps are important.

“As we age, cellular turnover, the process of sloughing off dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and replacing them with new ones created deep within the skin’s layers, slows down. This leads to a depletion of collagen and elastin, the proteins that give skin its strength and elasticity,” says Dr. Abdullah. “Add to this the  cumulative effect of UV damage and most individuals begin to see the characteristics of aging on their skin, including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and uneven tone and texture. A proper and consistent skin care routine that uses well-formulated products stimulates the skin to return to optimal function, thus bringing about positive aesthetic changes.”

The four steps each play a vital role. Cleansing removes makeup, pollutants, dirt and germs that collect on our skin and clog pores, while minimizing the potential for infections and breakouts from bacteria.  Exfoliation removes excess dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and, through that process, stimulates the dermis to begin producing healthy new skin cells. The application of moisturizer helps to prevent the evaporation of moisture from the surface of our skin, thereby keeping is supple. Finally, the use of sunscreen protects skin from UV damage, thereby minimizing further damage.

We specifically asked Dr. Abdullah to look several Korean skin care regimens, like those found here and here. His thoughts? “Overall, I find the quantity of products used in these routines not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful to the skin,” said Dr. Abdullah. “With that said, I appreciate that most of these routines do cover the four main skin care steps. They just cover them repeatedly with the addition of additional steps.”

Dr. Abdullah advises that the following points be considered before implementing a complicated skin care routine:

  • When using so many products simultaneously, the risk of irritation and/or allergic reaction increases significantly. Furthermore, it makes it difficult to isolate the one product or ingredient that is causing the reaction.
  • The delivery systems and active ingredients used in skin care products go a long way in telling us if the product is capable of penetrating the skin and creating positive changes. For example, some of the products outlined in these routines use a base of water, which cannot penetrate the skin. (The acid mantle makes skin relatively waterproof.)
  • On that point, even if the products feature a therapeutic base that can penetrate the skin’s acid mantle, keep in mind that this regimen requires the application of numerous product layers. The product at the top would need to get through each product layer below it and then into the skin to affect change. (Read more about the proper order to apply skin care products.)
  • Often, improvements that we notice after using a skin care product are due to the use of ingredients that offer temporary sensory and/or aesthetic benefits, such as silicones and perfumes. By using such ingredients, products are made to feel nice on our skin, have a pleasant fragrance and/or create a temporary improvement in appearance. They do not, however, create real changes in the health of our skin.

Ultimately, skin care is a very personal choice and the products we use need to make sense for our needs. However, before starting a lengthy skin care regimen yourself, be sure to get the facts about the products it includes and understand the pros and cons of applying so many steps. Doing so can help you to achieve your skin care goals more quickly while saving you time and money.

Learn more about Dr. Abdullah's research and publications.