I Tried an Intense Korean Skincare Routine Everyone Seems to Love

What I seek most from my skincare routine — bouncy, clear, hydrated skin — is probably pretty basic, but I have yet to achieve it to any level of satisfaction. (Philosophical question: Has anyone?) When I first heard of the seven skin method sometime last year, it sounded like it might finally deliver exactly that. A solution for dehydrated skin that promises to plump and soothe with just a few (okay, seven) layers? I was sold.

The method involves patting on seven layers of a hydrating toner before going on with the rest of your routine. It became popular around 2016 in South Korea, and it migrated over to the U.S. as K-beauty exploded, says Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Korean beauty retailer Soko Glam.

I’ve battled dehydrated skin for years. While my skin is oily, I tend to get dry patches and flaky skin if I don’t take proper care of it, especially during the winter. The seven skin method seemed right up my alley.

As Cho explains, the seven layer trend follows the Korean beauty ethos of prioritizing hydration. “Korean women are always looking for methods to deeply hydrate their skin, because they know that proper hydration leads to youthful-looking skin.”

Okay, but why seven layers? “Although you can do as many layers as you’d like,” Cho says, “seven layers is the optimal number of times according to the trend.” A little digging on my part revealed the trend reportedly started after Korean actress Lee Ha-nui went on TV and explained her secret for glowing skin was seven layers of toner. I couldn’t find any scientific research to back this up, but remained intrigued nonetheless. It just sounds so appealing in its simplicity, doesn’t it?

As for how to actually execute it, Cho recommends “cleansing and exfoliating your skin so that it is clear of any dead skin cells, impurities and debris and so the next step can be absorbed better.” Then, add a dime-sized amount of a hydrating essence or “skin,” another term for toner in Korea — not a drying, astringent one — onto your hands and fingertips and pat into your skin. After this absorbs into your skin, repeat this process six times. She says you can stop here, finish the rest of your normal routine or end your routine with an emollient moisturizer to lock it all in, depending on your individual needs.

Seven layers sound like a lot, but Cho says it sinks in pretty easily. Hypothetically speaking, the seven skin method should work for all skin types: Oily skin types can hydrate their faces without a thick moisturizer, and dry skin types can follow the method as a way to pack in layers of hydration when their normal routine isn’t cutting it. The idea is you cocoon your skin with layers of skin-benefiting ingredients to see results, Cho says.

Ever the bouncy skin pursuer, I tried the seven skin method for one whole month, mid-December through mid-January.

Here’s how it went.

I used Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner, a $12 hydrating toner made with 91.3% milkvetch root extract (also called astragalus root — which supposedly has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties) and followed the method every morning and night. I chose Pyunkang Yul because one of my favorite beauty YouTubers, Gothamista, raved about using it for the seven skin method in particular.

Off the bat, I liked how easy this method is to follow — it doesn’t require any additional products, and because the Pyunkang Yul is relatively thin in consistency, it felt like nothing on my skin, even after seven layers. It left my skin feeling bouncy, in fact. That said, once I got into the groove of doing seven layers of toner twice a day, there were times it felt like it took FOREVER. I would let each layer sit for a few seconds before adding another, and while my skin did feel bouncy, it felt no bouncier than with only one layer of the Essence Toner.

Here’s the worse news: the seven skin method also didn’t make my skin look any better. I don’t notice a difference at all! Well, other than a few pimples that popped up over the month (likely unrelated) and the fact that I nearly ran out of a massive bottle of toner in a single month. But by far my biggest critique is that, as the weather grew drier and colder, I could still see some dry patches around my nose and chin area, especially when I wore foundation.

When I asked Cho why the method might not have worked for me, she says it could be any number of things, ranging from my skin type, my choice of toner and the routine I followed it with. (I continued using the rest of my normal routine, including a hyaluronic serum and a lightweight moisturizer.) In other words: She wasn’t sure.

Perhaps my experience is the exception. The seven layer method has been hailed on beauty sites like Allure and The Gloss and forums like Reddit, which many consider a straight-to-consumer goldmine for beauty tips. Of the seven layer method, one Redditor wrote: “[I] decided to try it [at] night with Kiku[-Masamun] High Moist Lotion and maaaaaaan was my skin plump and glowy. I was super fascinated with the results because my skin is super dehydrated but I didn’t even have to use my moisturizer on top on it.”

Convincing, no? And there are many other posts just like it.

If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, here are Cho’s tips for application:

1. Apply your skincare in the order of consistency, from thin to thick so that you allow the products to absorb into the skin. Do the seven skin method wherever your toner falls in that order.

2. Make sure the ingredients in your toner include a humectant, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid. She says these will hydrate your skin and help it retain the moisture. “Retaining moisture is the most crucial step, as a lot of your skincare products can evaporate,” Cho says.

3. Following up the seven skin method with a sheet mask can help your skin absorb all the goodness from your toner by forming a barrier so that the ingredients do not evaporate.

4. If you have particularly dry skin, consider using a humidifier in your bedroom along with the seven skin method.

Would I try this again? Sure, but I would probably use a different product. Cho says the Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner might not have been hydrating enough. I also wouldn’t use it every day — it felt like too much for too little reward! — but rather on the days my skin felt drier than usual. For the time being, I’ve moved on to other products that I suspect might better suit my dehydrated skin, like a snail mucin essence. It’s an endless pursuit, really.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Art Direction by Emily Zirimis.

Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist who has been published in Columbia Journalism Review, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, CityLab and The Development Set. Follow her @JulissaTrevino.

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