The Whys and Hows of a Skincare Routine (aka the 3532 steps of K-Beauty)

March 27, 2018svphie

I’ve seen far too many people buy into the hype of a product and then have no inkling of what to do with it or where it goes in a routine (or even if it’s suitable for them). Today’s post is all about the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ in a skincare routine.  The following will describe a step by step routine in which all steps do not need to be followed unless mentioned.  

The most basic of steps would be to: 

  1. Cleanse 
  2. Tone to balance and hydrate
  3. Moisturise 

and the more elaborate routine would be something like this:  

  1. Double Cleanse and Balance 
  2. Actives (treat)
  3. Hydrate and Secondary Treatments 
  4. Seal 
  5. Sunscreen

Read on further on to why and how you may do this!

PC: Many thanks to my friend who painstakingly drew every single detail and shading of this picture. I had a go and drew the last product! We lost the original so we couldn’t draw more :'(


Why? To simply put it, you don’t go to sleep with a dirty body. So why sleep with a dirty face? It also doesn’t make sense for you to do the following steps without a clean blank canvas. (No one cooks on a dirty pan, do they? *shudders*). Oh, and: face + dirt = breeding ground for bacteria.  

Order of Steps: Oil Cleanse → Second Cleanse → pH Balance 

  1. Oil soluble cleanse (optional if): in the form of a cleansing oil or balm.This is necessary if you’re wearing makeup or sunscreen as it dissolves product more quickly and properly. The oil molecules wrap around product and push it out of your pores (where they’re having a party). Note! It must be emulsifying (turns milky when in contact with water) otherwise product will not come out.
  2. Second cleanse (water soluble): in the form of a gel, powder or cream etc and it must be low pH. This is to remove the residue of the oil cleanser and most importantly, lower your skin’s pH. Why must it be a low pH? Our skin is naturally slightly acidic (not battery acid people), around 4.5-5.5pH. This prevents the growth of bacteria and creates a healthy environment for our skin.  When we cleanse, the pH is messed up. How do we know a cleanser is low pH? It will either say on the product, or you can email the company, or (here’s the fun one) buy some litmus paper (ah, good ole’ school days) and test the acidity!
  3. Balance with acid toning (optional if): now, if you can’t get a hold of a low pH cleanser, there’s another way to lower your skin’s pH. Use an acidic toner. The product will have some sort of acid in it (e.g. glycolic, mandelic, lactic etc) or words like ‘glow’, ‘radiating’ etc will give it away. It’s very, very mild so it’s safe to use daily (unless you’re sensitive or over exfoliated). This also prepares your skin for the next step. 

STEP 2: TREAT/ACTIVES (can give it a miss): 

Why? This part is where you tackle serious skincare concerns. And I mean serious. The ingredients used in this step are potent and have their fair share of disadvantages. So, you must ask yourself if your concerns outweigh the cons.  

The reason they’re called actives (active ingredient) is because they’ve been scientifically proven to change cell structure and behaviour. They’re medicine for the skin. Examples of active ingredients are Vitamin C, AHAs, BHAs, and retinol (amongst others). They can be found through prescription or products in themselves (e.g. the product would most likely be just called ‘AHA’) 

Note! You DO NOT need to use these all at the same time, this is just an example of what would go where if you’re using more than one active.

Start with the product that requires your face to be at the lowest pH and go up. You must wait approx. 20 mins between each active (for it to work properly without being interrupted by another product). 

A very important note: actives depend on a few factors; the concentration they are at, the pH and even what type of solution they are in. If they are at the incorrect levels, they may be rendered ineffective, too harsh,  or won’t work as well. It’s important to note that the numbers mentioned are just rough go to’s and your face might like a lower percentage, higher concentration etc.

Order of Steps: Vitamin C → BHA → AHA → Prescription/Other

1.Vitamin C:

What it’s good for: fine lines, increases collagen production for plumper skin, sun damage, hyper pigmentation by acne, anti oxidant (prevents free radical damage)

How to apply: must go on a bare face at a low pH. Some forms of Vit C take fifteen minutes to absorb into the skin. (see below for what concentrations and pH they should be at)

Cons: can be quite irritating if the pH is low, quite unstable (so can degrade and not work if in the incorrect packaging)

Examples: there are a few forms of Vit C, these are: LAA – L-Ascorbic Acid (most common) use at a 20% concentration and a low pH aprox 3.5, MAP – Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate) use at a concentration of 5%, it’s not pH dependent so works betters there’s no wait time so you can layer product straight away, SAP – Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, use at a pH of 7, AP – Ascorbyl Palmitate, use at a pH of 5 and a concentration of 3%

2. BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid): oil soluble

What it’s good for: acne prone skin, clogged pores, blackheads, anti-inflammatory

Cons: can be drying as it’s oil soluble

How to apply: effective on a face at pH 3-4 and takes twenty minutes to do the job

Examples: Salicylic acid, Betaine Salicylate (better for drier skin types)

3. AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid): water soluble and a humectant (draws and retains water to skin)

What it’s good for: dry flaky skin (it exfoliates), fine lines, wrinkles, breakouts, hyperpigmentation from acne, sun damage, anti aging, dullness

How to apply: must go on a bare face which is at a low pH and concentration of about 10%. It takes fifteen to twenty minutes to absorb into the skin. 

Examples: glycolic acid (penetrates deepest but can be irritating), mandelic acid (largest molecule so good for sensitive skin but takes longer to penetrate), lactic acid (the middle man), citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid and PHAs (think AHA without the photosensitivity and irritation – lactobionic and gluconic)

Cons: photosensitising (vulnerable to sun damage), irritation

Note: the above two are less about pH and more about oil and water. BHA will battle sebum (skin’s natural moisturiser when it’s too much) and the AHA will work on skin texture. 

 4. Other: e.g. Retinoid (Vit A)

What it’s good for: exfoliates, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne, anti-aging, and hyper-pigmentation. It helps prevent premature aging and stimulates collagen.

How to apply: tbc

Examples: (in order of weak to strong) retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinaldehyde (these are over the counter) and adapalene, tretinoin (or retinoic acid), tazarotene, isotretinoin (these are prescription only)

Cons: irritation (more so than the others), redness, dryness

Note: if you are ‘purging’ (breaking out for your skin to become better again) and you aren’t using an ‘active’ at its correct pH. YOU ARE NOT PURGING, YOU ARE BREAKING OUT. 

STEP 3: HYDRATE/SECONDARY TREATMENTS (do at least one step): 

Why? This part is crucial for everyone. You don’t need to follow all steps but at least hydrate your face once. In this stage, we hydrate the face and also use moderate active ingredients (that don’t have the impact or scientific backing of a true active for it to be a product in itself).  

Hydration is vital because most of our faces lack water (even oily skin girls!) In fact, there are two opinions on why skin is oily. 1) your skin is lacking in water, so it overcompensates by producing more oil 2) your skin’s barrier is damaged and cannot keep the oils at bay. Either way, hydrating is important to compensate for this. Note! Dry skin lacks oil, not water. You know you’re dehydrated when your skin feels tight after a shower, your foundation is patchy because your skin is drinking the water up (gross) and your face looks dull.  

This stage also helps minimise the negative effects of actives. The reason I’ve grouped this together is because you use the ‘thinnest to thickest’ rule here. You are also able to play around with secondary ingredients that aren’t as important as actives and make a boring pot of humectants (hydrate by drawing moisture and binding it to skin) more exciting by adding extra benefits.  

Order of Steps: First Essence → Essence → Serums/Ampoules → Sheet Masks 

  1. First essence: watery hydrating toner that softens the skin and adds hydration. Usually contains ferment extract/filtrate (for hydration and antioxidants) and brightening ingredients.  
  2. Essence: thicker texture, almost gloopy and has a high dose of skin loving ingredients. This is an alternative to serums for those with oily skin as it’s very light.  
  3. Ampoule/serum: even thicker texture and has a high dosage of actives and other ingredients (like propolis, niacinamide etc) that doesn’t fall into the actives category but has amazing benefits.  

Examples of humectants are: glycerine, hyaluronic acid, sorbitol (sugar alcohol), hexylene and butylene glycol, urea, and collagen

STEP 4: SEAL (at least one step is needed)  

Why? Now it’s time to lock in all the amazing products you’ve used with an occlusive (creates a barrier to prevent water loss) moisturiser. Again, you don’t need to use all of the following, but you can if you want to.  

Order of Steps: Emulsion → Cream → Oil 

  1. Emulsion/lotion: thin and comparable to what the western world call lotions. Great for oily skin users as it isn’t too heavy. 
  2. Cream: thicker but you can find watery textures like ‘gel creams’. Dry skin users can layer emulsions and creams for extra precaution.  
  3. Oil: can be plant-based, and is even more heavy duty. If you’re oily and afraid of an oil, don’t be. Just patch test and make sure it’s not comedogenic (clogs pores). Please note that not all oils are occlusive!

Examples of occlusives are: mineral oil, vaseline, oils high in linoleic acid etc

Note! Do NOT expect your moisturiser to do an actives job. Its job is to moisturise and seal your skincare in to prevent TEWL (transepidermal water loss). That’s it. 
Note 2! Do not go ham and use five various new products at once. If you break out from one, you’ll never know the culprit without having to go through it again. You also won’t be able to tell which product gave what benefit!  

And there we have it! The end to a very, very, very long post. Hats off to you for completing that. Did you find this helpful? Comment and ask questions below! 

This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Comments (63)

  • Fahmida

    March 27, 2018 at 8:06 PM

    Great blog 👍 really learned a lot from it. Thanks x

  • Fahmida

    March 27, 2018 at 8:07 PM

    Great blog, learned so much from it. Looking forward to all your other future posts.

    1. svphie

      March 27, 2018 at 11:05 PM

      Aw I’m sooo glad you enjoyed and learnt from it!

  • Majida

    March 27, 2018 at 8:13 PM

    Jzk for this super helpful but please do share your routine and the products you use as you seem to really know about products and their ingredients! X

    1. svphie

      March 27, 2018 at 11:05 PM

      Aw yay! I’m so so happy to hear that you enjoyed it! And for sure I will!

  • NAJ💕

    March 27, 2018 at 8:58 PM

    Omggggg I love this! So so informative & it’s basically everything I’ve asked you about in the past year! THANKYOUUU! Xx

    1. svphie

      March 27, 2018 at 11:04 PM

      EVERYTHING in one huge post! Woohoo!

  • Syeda Shaguftha

    March 27, 2018 at 10:28 PM

    Much needed post….👏👏👏👏 ur a true genius

    1. svphie

      March 27, 2018 at 11:03 PM

      Thank you my love! I’m so happy you benefited from this!

  • Samina

    March 28, 2018 at 12:37 AM

    Thank you for this blogpost, it was really helpful and informative. Looking forward to more skincare posts from you x

    1. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 12:13 PM

      Thank you for reading. I can’t wait to post more!

  • Kolis_beauty_bag

    March 28, 2018 at 8:28 AM

    Wow really helpful post, I learned far more than I was expecting, this is great for me to refer back to when buying my skincare 😊

    1. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 12:13 PM

      I’m glad you learnt so much! This makes me immensely happy!

  • Saira

    March 28, 2018 at 8:29 AM

    Such a good detailed blog post! Loved it!!!

    1. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 12:13 PM

      Thank you! I hope this helped you 😘❤️

    2. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 1:44 PM

      Thank youuu! I’m glad it helped!

  • Uzma

    March 28, 2018 at 10:25 AM

    I didn’t know any of it until I came across this!!

    1. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 12:14 PM

      Aww this makes me so happy!!

    2. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 1:44 PM

      Awww this makes me so happy! I’m glad it helped ❤️

  • _tbeautyyyy

    March 28, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    Once again, you smashed it 👏😍
    Everything you ever need to know about skin in one post. LOVE IT!

    1. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 12:14 PM

      Thank you! And lotsss more to come 😉😉

  • Sadiyah Islam

    March 28, 2018 at 1:24 PM

    Really helpful post! Would I be able to use rose water as a toner? I’ve heard you can use it for that purpose but i’m not entirely sure…

    1. svphie

      March 28, 2018 at 1:44 PM

      Yesss! Rose water is an amazing hydrating toner!

      1. sana

        April 12, 2018 at 10:45 AM

        rose water can break some people out so depends which one you get. The KTC rose water broke me out so I bought another one from holland and barret which is so much better.
        There’s also the mario bedousca one which I haven’t tried.

        1. svphie

          April 14, 2018 at 9:05 PM

          Thank you for the recommendations Sana! and as they always say, different strokes for different folks!

  • Mayaa

    March 28, 2018 at 10:29 PM

    Amazing post, thank you so much

    Really wish you could give personalised advice though, little overwhelmed by how much depth there is to skin care

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:15 PM

      Feel free to message me anytime for help!

  • Preena

    March 29, 2018 at 7:59 AM

    Ooomg this was so interesting! I love your skincare posts 😘

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:14 PM

      Thank you!!

  • Ruby

    March 29, 2018 at 1:32 PM

    Goodness me! 😅🙌🏼 Thanks for taking the time out to break down all this science, it’s really helpful! 😘

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:14 PM

      I hope you use it 😛

  • Mahira

    March 29, 2018 at 3:00 PM

    I am so glad I came across you on inster!!! Your blog post is so good and in depth. I have learnt a lot from your blog post!! Now to read some more when the kids are asleep 😴!!!

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:13 PM

      Good night time reading 😉

  • Narjiah

    March 29, 2018 at 8:04 PM

    Loooooove xxxx

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:13 PM

      Thank you!

  • Glambyzahirah

    March 30, 2018 at 1:15 AM

    Get it Gurllll!!! Such an informative post. *scraps her little tray of lotions and potions*#svphieknowsbest. Right…. Time to invest in some real skincare me thinks! 💛 💛 💛

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:13 PM

      Haha! Loving the hashtag, feel my head growing a little too big. Thank you for your support, it means the world!!

  • Ayah

    April 1, 2018 at 6:40 PM

    You know I check your Insta/blog before I buy anything. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge with us ♥️

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:12 PM

      Thisss :’) Makes me so happy!! Thank you Ayah for all your support and love!

  • Qurratulein mohammad

    April 1, 2018 at 7:03 PM

    Loved reading this so helpful!❤️❤️Time to up my skin care game👌

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:11 PM

      Aww yay! I’m glad youre more informed about your own skin!

  • Sabha

    April 2, 2018 at 12:18 AM

    Best believe I took notes Miss Svphie 😂😏❤️🙌🏻

  • Sabha

    April 2, 2018 at 12:19 AM

    Best believe I took notes Miss Svphie 😂😏❤️🙌🏻 Can’t wait for future skincare lessons

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:11 PM

      Haha, ever the good student you are!


    April 2, 2018 at 3:55 AM

    Wow!!! So much information. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻 i definitely learned alot. I really want to try the ordinary brand out now.

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:10 PM

      Thank you! Yeah they have great products!

  • So scholarly

    April 2, 2018 at 9:08 AM


    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:10 PM

      Thank you!

  • Aalia Ryaz

    April 2, 2018 at 3:33 PM

    Amazing blog! Best one I have seen for far for skincare and I would definitely recommend this to others 😊

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:09 PM

      Awww thank you so much! I’m glad you liked it!

  • zara

    April 2, 2018 at 7:27 PM

    This is a very informative blog post. Everytime i buy any product even when i brought my derma roller i researched when is it best to use it, because i is something that is inportant. Thank you and i have just subacribed.

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:09 PM

      Yes! Research always!

  • Alexajanem

    April 3, 2018 at 8:13 PM

    Very helpful indeed! Will be keeping an eye on your further posts.

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:08 PM

      Thank you!

  • Forida

    April 3, 2018 at 10:47 PM

    This iinformation has been really helpful for me. Helped me to understand my super sensitive skin. I love the information you give about skincare in your blog and instagram. I started following you when @safiyahtasneem suggested you on her Instagram. Thank you for your skincare tips and information looking forward to more. 😘😘

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:08 PM

      Aww thank you! I love Saffiyyah, she’s so kind and thoughtful!

  • Maya

    April 4, 2018 at 9:17 AM

    Hi thank you for this amazing,

    I use a wash that is a high pH. I have 2 different timers, one that is hydrating and the other is clarifying. Which one would be better to use ? Don’t know the difference lol xx

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:07 PM

      A hydrating one would be better to counteract the cleanser drying out your skin, although neither (I’m assuming) will balance your skin

  • S.T.Miah

    April 4, 2018 at 9:36 PM

    Thanks for the great advice! Really helpful! X

  • Fatima

    April 14, 2018 at 6:48 AM

    This is such a helpful blog 😍 I am so glad I came across your page when I did, Mash’allah you’re teaching others the same time yourself, and that’s wonderful, I especially love your motto “Teach not preach” because it is really inspiring and motivating! Keep it up x

    1. svphie

      April 14, 2018 at 9:04 PM

      Aww this was so sweet! Thank you for taking time to comment!

  • Herbeautycanvas

    April 15, 2018 at 7:28 PM

    Printscreened and saved! Thanks for this svphie

    1. svphie

      April 24, 2018 at 7:32 PM

      Aww thank you!

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