Interviewing An Expert On Korean Skincare

We sat down with Skin Library founder Abiola Renée to geek out over all things skincare and get the inside scoop on the products and trends we need on our radar in 2021.

Have you ever wished someone would do all your skincare homework for you and curate it into a fully shopable library of lotions and potions. Well, today’s your lucky day because Skin Library has done just that.

The online beauty platform specialises in South Korean beauty, stocking everything from sheet masks to essences and fermented cleansing balms. What the beauty bookworms over at Skin Library don’t know about K-Beauty simply isn’t worth knowing. Everyone’s skin is different and the expert team of librarians at SL HQ embrace and celebrate our individuality, curating products that work for all skincare types and concerns.

Education is a huge part of the Skincare Library DNA and alongside all the best formulas, emerging products and Korean skincare staples, the beauty platform also creates Library Edits to demystify ingredients and arm you with the knowledge you need to make conscious and informed choices about your skincare. From baffling labels (non-comedogenic who what now?) to PPM and retinoids, it’s your one stop shop for learning and replenishing your beauty shelfie right.

We sat down with SL founder Abiola Renée to geek out over all things skincare and get the inside scoop on the products and trends we need on our radar in 2021.

First of all we love the name! How did you come up with it and what’s the inspiration behind Skin Library?

Haha, Thank you so much! I actually came up with the name based on our aims within the beauty space. We chose the word Library as a library is commonly known as a safe space regardless of age, gender, class, race. It is a communal environment that welcomes anyone irrespective of background hoping to seek knowledge. That is what our aim for Skin Library within the beauty space, by demystifying beauty and educating the consumer simultaneously we hope that our growing community will feel empowered when it comes to making their own beauty related decisions.

At Skin Library, you have a very cool team of Librarians testing the products to see if they make the cut, can you tell us a bit about the team and their credentials and what criteria the products have to meet to earn the #LibrarianApproved status?

Our Librarians aka our team are a small group of amazing individuals from around the world who help make Skin Library what it is.

Comprised of a full-time team and amazing freelancers; My Co-founder Yuri was a fashion and beauty marketer in Korea for many years before we founded Skin Library, she goes on ground and scouts upcoming and innovative brands coming out of Seoul that have really great quality products and an inspiring philosophy behind them.

Our contributing writer Claudia Christin (FunSkincare) is an amazing dermatologist who contributes to our curation decisions and she creates scientifically accurate infographics, articles and breakdowns for our community so that they’re staying informed in their skincare, which is really important to us. I am a Cosmetic Scientist so I am always looking at the science and formulation behind a product. You can always tell when a brand has taken time with their formulations and thought about their consumers and it is always exciting to see test out exciting new products that work very well or even discovering an underrated indie brand. Overall, all of our team contributes as they all have their own unique skin journeys and can provide informative insight as they are too a consumer from Juliana, who heads all of projects to Jacinta, a talented make-up artist who handles our social media. They provide us with honest feedback into the testing stage of a product. Our growing online community also sends us regular recommendations and feedback, so they are heavily involved in the curation process as they give us a more diverse outlook and have helped us cater more to their needs when curating new products.

To launch on the website, we normally follow these guidelines when introducing new brands onto our platform:

— STEP 01 —


We are constantly updated on trends, innovations and developments of its growing beauty industry. By regularly tuning into the needs of our consumers, we uncover what kind of products that they would want and what their peers are recommending. We also combine that with the voice of beauty experts in the industry, this includes make-up artists, dermatologists, aestheticians, editors, cosmetic scientists etc. We pay close attention to their opinions and industry reports. With this valuable insight, we embark on our journey to scout for the best products and innovations coming straight out of South Korea.

— STEP 02 —


Before stocking a product or partnering with a brand, we take the time to dig deeper. We learn more about every brands ethos. This is done to ensure that every brand is aligned with the quality and efficacy standards Skin Library upholds. We speak with the brand over a period of time to understand the team and ethos behind the brand. This usually done in person but due to COVID it is being done through zoom calls and emails. This allows us to get to know a brand beyond the product. 

— STEP 03 —

Bookmark & Approve

When a product reaches this stage of curation, it is ‘bookmarked’. It will then be tested amongst our team for roughly a month. We take all feedback into consideration and if approve we then schedule it for launch!

How many of the brands you stock are natural, cruelty-free and vegan?

All the products we stock are cruelty free due to EU and UK cosmetic regulation, however a few brands have taken the extra step to obtain cruelty free certification such as BlitheCOSRXKlairsAxis-Y and Glosome.

We have a wide selection of vegan products that you can discover here: VEGAN BEAUTY | SKIN LIBRARY

Some of my favourites from the selection include:

For any of our readers who are new to Korean skincare, where do they start, what products would you recommend adding into their routine?

The approach to Korean skincare is a preventative one, they focus on gentle ways to replenish and strengthen the skin in result building healthy, glowing skin. Western skincare has a more reactive problem-solving approach. To incorporate the K-Beauty style method into your regular routine focus on soothing ingredients and products that work to strengthen your skin barrier. Add some of the steps that are unique to K-Beauty such as an oil based cleanser, an essence and a weekly sheet mask. The Korean beauty industry are big on SPFs so adding that to your routine is a must!

Can you talk us through the 10-step Korean skincare routine and the benefits?

The 10-step routine can sound daunting at first, but it’s not really a routine that should be used all in one go every day. It’s more of a guideline to show you all the possible steps, the placement of them in a skincare routine. If you choose 3,5 7 or all 10 it’s completely your choice and you should tailor it to you skin.

Step 1 –  Oil-Based Cleanser 

At the beginning of the standard K-Beauty routine is an oil-based cleanser. Its purpose is to break down all the make-up, SPF, excess sebum, environmental pollutants and other oil-based impurities that may leave pores clogged and congested. It can be used day or night and usually can come in a liquid cleansing oil form or sometimes a sherbet-like balm that when gently massaged into the skin melts the day away. Doubled up with your commonly known facial cleanser (water-based cleanser) to perform a double cleanse in your routine. 

Step 2 – Water-Based Cleanser 

A step you will find in nearly everyone’s routine is your standard facial cleanser. Its main purpose is to cleanse the skin of impurities like bacteria and sweat leaving your skin with a clean base (but not squeaky clean) to allow the rest of your routine to penetrate better. This step is a must.

Step 3 – Exfoliation 

Our skin regeneration slows down as we age, so this will can leave dead skin on the surface of our skin for longer which can result in dull, textured and dry skin. This is where an exfoliating product comes in. They are a great way to promote skin cell turnover and help clear clogged pores and trapped sebum as well as buff away any dead skin cells to reveal brighter, smoother skin. AHAs, BHAs, PHAs or fruit enzymes are some of the active ingredients that are considered exfoliators. They are usually added in this step but they can be placed anywhere in your routine after cleansing and before sun protection as sometimes exfoliating products come in different forms like moisturisers and sheet masks.

Step 4 – Toner 

Toners though not entirely necessary is a simple yet effective step in your standard K-Beauty routine. Toners work at removing any cleanser impurities leftover, balancing the pH of your skin after exfoliation and giving your skin that first dose of hydration that will come to follow. 

Step 5 – Essence

At the heart of every K-Beauty routine you will find an essence. A star and essentially secret sauce! Packed with hydrating and soothing ingredients they are the water-based preparation products that facilitate the penetration of the products to follow.

Step 6 – Serums + Ampoules 

Serums and Ampoules are essentially the same in that they are treatment steps, ampoules tend to be heavier in concentration than serums for specific skin concerns. Their purpose is to target any skin concerns that you may have such as dull dry skin, irritated acne prone skin, and/or textured hyper pigmented skin. They are usually a cocktail of actives working together to singularly tackle those skin problems.

Step 7 – Masking (Sleeping masks and Sheet masks)  

Sleeping masks are your night time heroes. Usually a thicker texture the focus is to apply before you go to sleep to allow for the active ingredients to do the work overnight whilst you are asleep. You usually find yourself with ultra smooth glowing skin in the morning!

Sheet Masks have gone viral on social media, looking fashionable in a selfie and glamorous in a dressing gown they actually serve a great skincare purpose. Sheet Masks are essentially these incredible face shaped sheets soaked in 30ml of serum so as you place on your face and mould to your face it will allow for a long contact time and essentially allows for the ingredients better in the skin.

Step 8 – Eye Cream 

The skin around the eyes being the thinnest skin on your face is prone to discolouration, puffiness and a hollow look. This is a result of many different factors. Mostly genetic factors, however they can appear due to tiredness, stress or even environmental factors. In that case an eye-cream may be able to relieve some of those problems. A regular eye cream is formulated with gentle ingredients that will help prevent dark circles from forming and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. 

Step 9 – Moisturiser

Moisturisers tie in closely with water-based cleansers as the most common products found in a universal skincare routine. They are an essential staple and can be the difference in your skin’s health. They are essentially packed with humectants (water-retaining ingredients) and occlusives (moisturising agents that work by acting as protective layer and sealing all the hydration in the skin) to keep your skin healthy with long lasting hydration.

Step 10 – SPF

If you haven’t got a sunscreen in your daily routine, this is a sign to end that today. All year round you need an SPF in your routine. SPF is the last and most essential step in your skincare routine. Its purpose is to protect your skin from potentially UV damage that can cause PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), premature ageing and even skin cancer. It is important that it is worn daily.

Beauty tools are really having a moment, what are the benefits of using massage tools such as a gua sha in your skincare routine?

Beauty tools are such a great addition to the skincare routine, especially during a pandemic where things can appear repetitive and boring. It can turn what can feel like a regular routine into an at home spa massage giving you great results over time.

Gua Sha itself is defined as “Gua” which means “scraping” and “Sha” means sand or sharkskin. In short, it is a technique to scrape a part of the body to improve one’s health. This technique originated in China and has been used as a healing technique all over Asia for years. In history, it is known for people to use the Gua Sha to alleviate several conditions from flu, bronchitis to even musculoskeletal problems. Today people use it in beauty as it has many benefits such as aiding lymphatic drainage, improving microcirculation in your skin and relieving muscle tension. I use the Glosome 100% Rose Quartz Gua Sha in the mornings where my face feels puffy and I want to reduce it and feel more awake and I use the Glosome Gua Sha at night to revive the angles in my cheekbone and jawline. I follow a very talented Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist Sandra Lanshin Chiu who has uploaded a really helpful tutorial on how to use a Gua Sha effectively.    

With so many products and self-proclaimed TikTok experts out there on the internet, choosing the right skincare can be overwhelming. Could you suggest a curated Skin Library routine for the different skin types – we’d love to see which products you recommend trying for different skincare needs / concerns (dry, oily, sensitive, combination, acne-prone etc)

A tailored starter kit will be launching soon on our website with discounts and a step-by-step guide

Oily – The focus is on products that help with excess oil and sebum production whilst still providing your skin with the hydration it needs.

BEAUTY OF JOSEON Radiance Cleansing Balm

ACWELL Bubble Free pH Balancing Cleanser

ISOI Acni Dr. 1st Control Tonic

SOME BY MI AHA-BHA-PHA 30Days Miracle Serum

DR. ORACLE 21 Stay A-Thera Emulsion

Combination – Is catering to the multi skin types that your skin may have whilst maintaining a good balance and healthy skin.

AXIS-Y Quinoa One Step Balanced Gel Cleanser

ACWELL Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner

ISOI CICAGO Cica Double Effect Ampoule

AXIS-Y Cera-Heart My Type Duo Cream

Dry – The focus is on replenishing moisture at a deeper level with hydrating and nourishing ingredients.  

ATRUE Sweet Song Black Tea Cleansing Gel

ACWELL Betaglution Ultra Moisture Toner

Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop

ACWELL Betaglution Ultra Moisture Milk Oil

BE PLAIN Hyaluronic Aqua Gel

Sensitive – for calming and soothing the skin of any irritation whilst providing them with the needed hydration and barrier strengthening ingredients they will need.

AXIS-Y Sunday Morning Refreshing Cleansing Foam

KEEP COOL Soothe Bamboo Toner

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence or vegan option COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Hydra Power Essence

BLITHE Crystal Iceplant Pressed Serum (which is a serum moisturizer hybrid)

BENTON Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel

As we move into spring, what are some of the skincare swaps we should be making?

Spring is a great time to switch up your skincare routine so you feel renewed and refreshed. I pack away my heavy moisturisers and serums and swap them for some skin barrier strengthening ingredients, soothing and healing products and mild exfoliators to buff away dead ‘winter’ skin and increase skin cell turnover.

My favourite skin barrier ingredients include Ceramides, Niacinamide, Fatty Acids, Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin. My favourite soothing ingredients include Aloe Vera, Mugwort, Cica aka Centella Asiatica and Bamboo Water. Some of my favourite products that include the mentioned ingredients are the:

  • AXIS-Y Artichoke Intensive Skin Barrier Ampoule a light weight serum that delivers rich antioxidants, nutrients, and hydration to heal damaged, irritated skin barriers. Phytonutrients defend against bacteria and pollutants to prevent future breakouts and irritation. 
  • ACWELL Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner – This superstar toner has a pH of 5.5 (similar to the skins optimal pH range) that deeply cleanses, hydrates and tones the skin all at the same time. This toner will help you remove remaining dirt/debris from your skin which helps your next skincare products so they absorb and work even better. It also happens to be our best seller!
  • KEEP COOL Soothe Fixence Mist – A refreshing and cooling mist during the warmer spring days packed with soothing and hydrating ingredients that helps makes your makeup last longer while calming the skin of any irritations that the environment can trigger.

Any game-changing skincare heroes we should shop right now?

A few must haves would be:

COSRX Pimple Patches – You have probably seen pimple patches throughout Instagram as of late. There are different variation such as stars and hello kitty patches. COSRX are one of the first companies to release pimple patches. They are a thin clear hydrocolloid patch that sticks firmly onto the skin to protect pimples from secondary infections and also absorbs oil and sebum from the pimples. It also soothes the inflamed area and reduces redness. They also have a thin version that can be worn under make-up, and a wider size range for those with acne-prone skin.

The Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask and Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop duo – The Vitamin Drop is a hypoallergenic vitamin serum that is formulated with stabilized 5% pure vitamin c (ascorbic acid). It helps to improve dull skin, uneven skin tone and fade acne scars. It pairs fantastically with the Vitamin E Mask, a pudding-like mask rich in vitamin E as an antioxidant that will help improve skin moisture, wrinkles and fights signs of premature ageing, for optimum brightening and hydration.

Blithe Vital Treatment 9 Essential Seeds Essence is a hydrating essence used as a treatment to get your skin back to its original state. The watery liquid is easily absorbed into the skin as the oils used were fermented for 120 hours to improve absorption ability. This essence is enriched with 79% seed extracts (Baobab seed extract, Green Tea Seed, Fennel Seed, Evening Primrose, Chia Seed, Lotus Seed, Quinoa, Grape Seed, Rose Hip Seed) to hydrate, improve skin elasticity and brighten skin. With the help of Vitamin E, it will brighten skin to reveal a radiant glow from within.

We have a mini shop on Skin Library with miniature sized versions of most of our stocked products, this is to give people the opportunity to sample products before committing to the full size. I am loving the Beauty Of Joseon Triple Hanbang Solution  (mini) a trio of serums with a focus to target various skincare issues using the power of traditional Korean medicine ‘Hanbang’. Depending on how your skin is feeling on the day, change up the serum you use. Skin looking a little dull and seeing early signs of ageing? Try the Repair Serum. Got some acne breakouts and fighting against enlarged pores? The Glow Serum is the way to go. Sensitive and irritated skin? Keep calm and use the calming serum.

Describe your ideal Sunday self-care session!

I love this question! I believe that we should all schedule in a self-care session for ourselves whether it is 5 minutes or 1 hour, if possible. I use this as an opportunity to utilise various skincare steps that I was unable to fit in during the working week. During lockdown, this has been extremely important to me as it contributes to my no-screen time. My ideal Sunday self-care session includes my phone off, laptop away and a great relaxing music playlist, I love the “Songs to put a ‘Spring’ in your step” Playlist Team Zoella put up in the first lockdown last year. I firstly do a double cleanse, this includes an oil based cleanser and a standard water based cleanser. My favourites are the BEAUTY OF JOSEON Radiance Cleansing Balm and AXIS-Y Sunday Morning Refreshing Cleansing Foam. This provides me a deep cleanse without stripping the skin and leaving it dry. I then multi mask with the AXIS-Y Mugwort Pore Clarifying Wash-Off Mask to help reduce and calm my current maskne breakouts and theAXIS-Y New Skin Revolution Mask to strengthen my skin barrier. I follow up with the Keep Cool and Soothe Bamboo Toner for hydration and then COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence to help with my hyperpigmentation. I then do my weekly sheet mask and perform my Gua Sha massage whilst the sheet mask is applied. My favourite go to’s are the GLOSOME All Day Glow Sheet Mask and ABIB Mild Acidic pH Heartleaf Sheet Mask. I finally seal all of the goodness in with a light moisturiser, my current favourite is the Be Plain Hyaluronic Aqua Gel

Name a skincare crime you think we should all stop making…

A popular trend I am seeing across social media is individuals putting beauty droppers directly on their skin. This is an easy way transfer bacteria on the surface of your skin to your skincare product. This could further breakouts and potentially cause chemical changes to the serums efficacy. The best way to minimise risk of contamination of your skincare product is to disperse the product from the dropper onto clean hands, without the dropper touching the hand and then apply to your face. 

The best skincare advice you’ve received / a tip you’ve learned along the way that we need to know?

The best skincare tip I have received is to treat your skin like a journey not a destination. Enjoy the experience and understand every day is different. There is no such thing as perfect skin. Skin without filters comes with texture, visible pores and unique traits. Celebrate your skin, celebrate yourself.

Essences are a big beauty buzzword right now but what’s the difference between an essence and a toner?

There are quite a few similarities in the formulation of toners and essences however, they have slightly different purposes.

A toners main purpose is to balance the skins pH after cleansing, hydrate the skin and in some cases gently exfoliate the skin. Western toners usually contain astringents that are known to strip and dry the skin. However, Korean toners take a more regenerative and replenishing approach, they do not contain harsh ingredients like denatured alcohol.

Essences are native to the Korean beauty routine. Their base formulations are similar to that of a toner, however they contain no cleansing agents or astringents. They introduce actives and hydrating ingredients that act as a preparation and progression step for the rest of your routine to follow. They’re light weight water-based products that are formulated for fast absorption and penetration to help the efficacy of the more concentrated products to follow.

Other than sheet masks, BB creams and 10-step skincare routines, is there any other K-Beauty tricks we’re missing?

There are so many amazing tips and tricks that have transformed our community’s skincare routines:

Double cleansing – It is two-step cleansing routine that involves an oil-based cleanser first and a water-based cleanser that follows. This is done to when a deep cleanse is desired without the stripping feeling. It ensure all impurities, whether water-based or oil-based, are broken down and washed away.

7 Layer Method – A method that went viral in Korea first and then made its way transatlantic. The idea is to replicate the level of treatment product you would get when receiving a facial by applying three-to-seven layers of toner, essence or ampoule on top of one another to allow your skin to deeply absorb into the skin for a deeply hydrating experience. You would apply a thin layer, let it absorb and then follow up leaving your skin with that post-spa-glow!

What do you think is going to be the hero skincare ingredient or skincare trend of 2021?

Mugwort – it’s a powerhouse ingredient that has been used in Korean traditional medicine for a long time. An incredible plant with healing properties, its antibacterial and anti-fungal attributes has made it a a key ingredient Korean spas, medicine and food to help detox the body. It has helped soothe the skin for those with acne, eczema, atopic dermatitis and many more. I am loving it currently, it’s the star ingredient in the AXIS-Y Mugwort Pore Clarifying Wash-Off Mask

Fermented Ingredients are another star focus of 2021. They are ingredients that have undergone a metabolic process where a microorganism’s natural enzyme breaks down molecules, such as sugar, to other new substances. This can improve the absorption of the product into the skin as they are smaller molecules, the by-products of fermented ingredients introduces new skin-benefitting ingredients such as amino acids, AHA’s and antioxidants. It is also great at reducing irritation.

The ATRUE Real Black Tea True Active Essence  uses the power of fermented black tea (78.8%) to nourish the skin whilst combating skin ageing concerns by boosting skin elasticity and brightening the skin.