Are you looking to try the Korean hair care routine for the first time but don’t know where to start? If so, keep reading!
Korean skincare has a bit of a viral phase over the last few years – who hasn’t heard of the Korean 10 step skincare routine? Love or hate the idea, almost everyone who has actually given it a go has seen massive results, even people whose skin is very different to the average Korean’s.
Although equally impressive, Korean hair care hasn’t seen as much of a cult following as the skincare routine, but it absolutely should! So, how is the Korean hair care routine actually different from the Western one?
How The Korean Hair Care Routine Differs From The West
1. They Emphasize Scalp Care
The main difference between the Korean hair care routine and the Western one is that they place major emphasis on the scalp. After all, a healthy scalp leads to healthy hair.
Korean hair care experts believe that taking care of your scalp is even more important than taking care of your existing hair, because it contributes to the growth of new, undamaged hair. Some Korean hairstylists even go as far as recommending two different shampoos to be used in the shower: one for the scalp and the other for the hair.
The Korean hair care regimen has adopted 10 different steps, out of which 5 focus exclusively on the scalp. The most important parts of this 1o step process are head massage and scalp exfoliation. There are many different methods that you can use to achieve a good head massage, but we’ll get more into that later.
2. They Use Less Heat On Their Hair
You may be thinking ‘huh, I swear I see Koreans with curled hair all the time’ and although that is true, they go the extra mile to protect their hair when they do so. For example, it’s not uncommon for Koreans to have perms on their hair, which in itself is damaging.
However, if you wanted to have wavy hair every day of your life, it’s much healthier for your hair to do a perm, rather than curling it every single day and exposing it to heat damage.
Korean women are also fans of using heatless hair tools to achieve the look that they are going after. Korean women also use overnight treatments, sheet masks and other restorative measures to protect their locks.
Some celebrities such as K-Pop Singer Sandara Park have even revealed that instead of styling up their hair with heat, they use wigs instead to maintain the health of their own hair!
3. No Sunbathing & No Alcohol
No, I’m not talking about the alcohol consumption of Korean women, I’m talking about using products with alcohol, like hairspray and gels. Korean women tend to steer clear from these drying agents because they make the hair very brittle and strip the scalp of its natural oils.
Instead of using hairspray when styling Korean hair, they use texturizing products to keep their hairstyle intact for longer. Some women don’t even use texturizing agents because let’s face it – Korean hair is very thick and can retain waves for longer than fine Western hair without drying hair sprays.
Korean women are also known to avoid the sun like the plague. If they’re not wearing a protective sun umbrella, they will be wearing face cream with SPF 50 during the times when the sun is strongest. This is also true for Korean hair care – Tiffany Hwang from Girls Generation says that UV protection is her number one tip for healthy, luscious-looking hair.
4. The Health Of Korean Hair Comes From Within
Korean women tend to have much healthier lifestyles than Westerners. Not only do Korean women indulge in traditional, fermented foods like Kimchi that are packed with minerals and vitamins, they also tend to limit their portion sizes and exercise regularly.
Koreans have different beauty standards to the Western world, and thin bodies are preferred over curvy or athletic bodies. Women take pride in their health and that shows in their hair as well as the skin.
So, What’s The 10 Step Korean Hair Care Routine?
Don’t let the number of steps scare you – as with the Korean 10 step skincare regime, a lot of these steps are to be repeated only once a week or even less than that.
The good thing about the Korean hair care routine is that you don’t need to use Korean hair care products exclusively (although that is recommended) – You can opt-in for more accessible Western brands that do the same job.
The most important part of the Korean hair care routine is the emphasis based on the scalp – massages, vinegar rinses and soothing lotions are ultimately the key to a more revived hair appearance.
You don’t ultimately need to use all these products to attain luscious locks either – I recommend trying out a few key products first and foremost, and then adding more products to your routine as you go along.
The products that have improved my own hair the most have been a boar bristle brush (for massaging and exfoliating the scalp), a satin pillow (to lessen friction during the night), scalp treatments, SLS free shampoo and a vinegar rinse. Of course, different products may work better for you, so continue reading to see what could work the best for you.
Step 1: Scalp Scaler (1-2 x week)
Best selling Korean Scaler: Esthetic House CP-1 – Head Spa LineTea Tree Salt Scalp Scaler
What the heck is a scalp scaler?! As I mentioned previously, the pillar of Korean haircare lies in taking care of the scalp. Scalp scalers are gentle exfoliators, which will improve the condition of your scalp while removing build-up and dead skin cells. The idea behind scalers is essentially the same as harsh Western clarifying shampoos, which have been formulated to get rid of excess products.
The difference between scalers and clarifying shampoos is that scalers are actually extremely beneficial to your hair and scalp, unlike clarifying shampoos which are loaded with harsh detergent agents like SLS in higher quantities for “better purification”. Have a look at the video below to see the effect that a scaler can have on the scalp from just one application.
One of the best scalers in my opinion is the Esthetic House CP-1 Head Spa LineTea Tree Salt Scalp Scaler, which is amazing for itchy, dry scalp with flakes. The product gives a nice cooling sensation when it’s applied, so it kind of feels like you are massaging your scalp with ice. It leaves the scalp feeling less irritated and itchy, and there’s notably less dandruff too!
If you’re hesitating to try out a scaler, you can also exfoliate your scalp with a boar bristle brush (BBB). To exfoliate with a BBB, brush your scalp for 5-10 min before having a shower. This will get rid of any dead skin cells that you have on the surface of your scalp!
How To Use A Scaler
1. Evenly apply the scaler onto your scalp.
2. Depending on the condition of your scalp, leave the formula in for 3-5 minutes and then use your fingertips to gently massage it into your scalp. You can leave the scaler in for up to 15 minutes if your scalp really needs some TLC.
3. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.
4. Wash with 1.5 times more shampoo than usual and then thoroughly rinse the shampoo out.
Step 2: Shampoo & Massage
Best selling Korean hair shampoo: NATURE REPUBLIC – Argan Essential Deep Care Shampoo
The Korean hair care routine focuses on using shampoos that are very gentle on the scalp: instead of using harsh ingredients like sulfates, Korean hair care experts formulate shampoos with the aid of traditional herbs, natural essences and less harsh foaming agents that are gentle on the scalp.
As I mentioned previously, some Korean hair care experts even advise women to use two different shampoos in the shower – one to match the scalp’s needs and the other to cleanse the hair of product build-up.
One amazing shampoo is Nature Republic’s Argan Deep Care treatment shampoo, which combines a shampoo with hair essence and hair treatment. It’s said to be produced by slowly infusing 100 herbs and although I don’t know how much of that is true, it smells divine and it’s formulated with argan oil, rosehip oil and evening primrose oil, which are amazing for nourishing your hair.
Other Best Selling Shampoos:
A good scalp massage is an integral part of Korean hair care. You can choose to massage your scalp for 10-15 minutes before showering using either your hands, a boar bristle brush or a scalp massaging comb – or you can do the same in the shower!
Vibrating waterproof scalp massaging combs have become very popular in Korean haircare recently due to their convenience – you can lather up your shampoo and use one of these products in the shower for a good few minutes for amazing hair.
Although I haven’t used one of these devices before, I found a cute bunny-shaped scalp massager from Amazon for only a few dollars, and the dozens of positive reviews suggest that it works amazingly for hair growth.
Check out this cute scalp massager here!
Other Best Selling Massage Combs:
Step 3: Condition
Best selling Korean shampoo & conditioner pack: NATURE REPUBLIC – Argan Essential Deep Care Conditioner
Korean women often buy shampoos and conditioners in a pack – it’s quite hard to find conditioners without it being attached to a complimentary shampoo. The main reason behind this is that when nourishing their hair, Korean women often opt for deeply nourishing masks, treatments and other remedies instead of reaching for a conditioner. For this reason, conditioners don’t often end up being used as much as hair masks.
Another reason why shampoos & conditioners go together so often is purely convenience – the packs are relatively cheap and are formulated to suit similar hair needs, which entices consumers.
The best-selling Korean hair shampoos & conditioners come from Ryeo – although the products sell for drugstore prices, they are formulated with gentle, nourishing ingredients that perform way better than expensive Western salon shampoos & conditioners.
My favorites are the Ryeo shampoo & conditioner for sensitive hair, as they leave the hair feeling light and soft without weighing it down.
Other Best Selling Shampoo & Conditioner Packs:
Step 4: Hair Mask For Deep Nutrition (1x Week)
Best selling Korean hair mask: TOSOWOONG – Repair Sleeping Hair Pack
Much like Western women, Korean women treat their hair to a hair mask once a week. For the mask to really absorb and do its job, leave it in for at least 10-15 minutes while doing other “shower duties” like shaving and washing your face.
Even better, try Tosowoong’s innovative sleeping hair mask! Much like the name suggests, this is a mask that you sleep in to achieve silky hair, and – here’s the kicker – you don’t wash it out!
Much like sleeping masks for the face and lips, this sleeping pack for the hair does a fantastic job of moisturizing your locks and protecting them from friction against your pillow at the same time.
With 5 different oils and royal jelly extract, this product is a holy grail hair mask for anyone with dry, brittle and damaged hair. If you haven’t tried out a hair sleeping mask yet, I highly recommend doing it!
Other Best Selling Hair Masks
Step 5: Sheet Masks (1x Week)
Best selling Korean hair sheet mask: KOCOSTAR HOME SALON HAIR PACK
A sheet mask for the hair? Yup, it was about time. After having sheet masks for the face, lips, eyes and essentially everything else, hair was the next logical step to take. The way in which hair sheet masks are different from a normal hair mask is that they come in a sheet (duh).
When using the mask, instead of slathering it on your head, you flip your hair into the sheet mask, twist it and secure it in place. You can then go about your business as you let the hair mask absorb for 20+ minutes.
I love hair sheet masks as they make it super easy to leave a nourishing treatment on for a longer time – you can do literally anything with this on – watch TV, do chores, or even hop down to the supermarket (although I don’t recommend that – put a pompom hat on if you do!)
Check out Kocostar’s Hair Sheet Masks Here
How to Use Korean Hair Sheet Masks
1) Once a week, instead of a hair mask, opt for the hair sheet mask. After shampooing, skip the conditioner and wrap your hair in a towel and let it dry for a few minutes.
2) Unpack the mask to reveal the sheet (it should look like a paper towel).
3) Gather your hair at the nape of the neck and place the ends into the wrap.
4) Pull the sheet over your head and around the hairline, almost like a shower cap
5) Massage the hair mask into your hair for a few minutes, then let sit.
6) Wait for 20 minutes, then rinse.
Other Best Selling Hair Sheet Masks
Step 6: ACV – Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse (1x week)
How To Do An At Home ACV Rinse
1) Blend one cup of water with two to four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to make your rinse.
2) After you have shampooed and thoroughly rinsed your hair, slowly pour the mixture over your entire scalp, allowing it to run down the length of your hair (being careful not to get it in your eyes).
3) Massage the mixture into your scalp, which will also serve to stimulate circulation and hair growth.
4) After one to two minutes, rinse out the vinegar.
You can use a higher concentration of ACV in your rinse such as 50%, but beware of smelling like vinegar for the rest of the day…. or the week. You can also leave the rinse on for longer than 2 minutes to remove excess build-up of products from your hair, but it’s not necessary.
Korean hair care experts have also developed nicer smelling vinegar rinses that are designed to do the same job as an ACV rinse, minus the smell. I found it a bit hard to find these Korean hair care rinses on the Western market, so I picked out a few of the best selling “Western vinegar rinses” for those of you who want to try out more professional vinegar rinses (see below), although in my opinion these really aren’t necessary – ACV will do the job for a fraction of the price.
Other Best Selling Vinegar Rinses
Step 7: Scalp Mask (1x week)
Best selling Korean scalp mask: Lador – Tea Tree Scalp Clinic Hair Pack
Scalp masks are exactly what you’d expect them to be: hair masks for the scalp! Why is this necessary you may ask? Well, as discussed above, your scalp’s structure is very different to the rest of your hair’s, so you should treat it differently too. My tip is to lather on a scalp mask while you are treating your hair to a treatment mask at the same time – this saves major time.
The cult favourite when it comes to scalp masks is Lador’s Tea Tree scalp mask, which offers nourishment for both dry and oily scalps – it balances sebum production so if your scalp is producing too much it will slow it down, and if it’s producing too little, it will help retain the oils that you have. This scalp mask also gives a nice tingling and cooling sensation when you apply it – it feels like a mini massage!
Other Best Selling Scalp Masks
Step 8: Scalp Tonic
Best selling Korean scalp tonic: Lador – Dermatical Scalp Tonic
I know what you may be thinking – another product for the scalp?! Yes, that’s right! Scalp tonics are a great way to provide a little extra TLC to your root area – not only are these products designed to remedy an itchy scalp, but they are also often packed with nutrients that will penetrate the skin on your scalp.
The best ingredient to look for in scalp tonics is salicylic acid – this acid gently exfoliates your scalp, which stimulates hair growth and helps strengthen your hair, leading to thicker, more luscious hair. Another great ingredient to look for is mint, tea tree or any cooling extract – this will remedy an itchy and irritated scalp in the best way possible.
Because scalp tonics are aimed to be left on your scalp after washing your hair, the effects of the product will often be more prominent when compared to an in-the-shower product. Although hair scalers are amazing in what they do, they are designed to get rid of product build-up on your scalp, not add thickness to your hair. A scalp tonic is formulated not just to allow new hair growth, but to actually promote new hair growth, making your hair thicker and fuller-looking.
Step 9: Scalp Essence Or Root Enhancer
Best selling Korean scalp essence: AROMATICA – Rosemary Root Enhancer
A scalp essence is rather similar to a scalp tonic – in fact, if you are already using a scalp tonic and have a normal scalp, you may want to skip this step. Scalp essences and serums are designed for scalps with high needs – if your scalp gets oily too quickly or suffers from dryness, trying out a scalp serum or essence is your best option.
These essences or root enhancers are meant to be left in the hair throughout the day to offer extra protection. They differ from scalp oils in the way that scalp oils and deep treatments are often left in the hair for a night before washing them out with shampoo in the morning. This product isn’t one of those. Instead, it mimics a facial serum that is meant to be used after/before a moisturizer on the face.
Root enhancers are oftentimes packed with powerful nutrients but are still formulated to feel very light on the skin. My favorite scalp essence is Aromatica’s Rosemary Root Enhancer, as it improves blood circulation and leaves the scalp leaving moisturized, but not oily.
To use a scalp essence, just spritz a tiny amount of product on your fingers or directly on the scalp and rub it in until there are no traces left. These essences and root enhancers can be used daily.
Step 10: Hair Essence Or Serum
Best selling Korean hair essence: Lador Silk Ring Hair Essence
Similar to scalp serums, Korean women use a hair essence to finish off their hair routine. These products are meant to seal in all other products that you have used prior in your hair care routine, as well as provide a protective layer for the hair against the elements and protect split ends from forming.
Like many Western hair serums, Korean hair serums and essences often contain a mixture of silicones and oils. Now, I know that silicones have a bad reputation when it comes to hair care, but putting silicones into a serum actually makes complete sense.
Silicones are compounds that literally create a layer between your hair and its surroundings – they stop water and products from both getting into your hair and getting out of it.
Now, because you’ve already applied all the products with beneficial nutrients to your hair prior to using a serum, it makes complete sense to lock them in tighter. This way, they won’t be able to “escape” the hair shaft.
Oils act in a very similar way but have a different consistency (some oils, such as coconut oil actually penetrate the hair, but that is better to be used before having a shower, not as a leave-in product). Therefore it really depends on your personal needs what type of hair serum/essence is the best for you.
Other Best Selling Products That Koreans Love
For silky smooth tangle-free hair in the morning
Where To Buy Korean Hair Care Products?
Most of the items that I have linked are all available on Ebay and YesStyle, which is the number one place for me to look for any foreign beauty items as they usually arrive the fastest.
Apart from these retailers, quite a few big retailers such as Sephoraand Cult Beauty have started offering Korean skincare products after the surge of interest in Korean beauty, however not many of these stock Korean hair products yet.
Yes Style, has by far the most extensive range of Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese beauty and fashion items. Many of the items actually sell for a lot cheaper than Ebay and have hundreds of customer reviews, so have a look around there if you can’t find your favorite Korean hair product anywhere else. (Click here to be taken to Yes Style’s Korean hair section.)
I hope you enjoyed this Korean hair care routine guide! If you did, make sure to check out some other Korean beauty posts that we’ve made!