K-Pop Locks: The Ultimate Korean Hair Care Guide

Expensive salon shampoos and conditioners are not the solution for everyone. The 10-step Korean hair care regimen is an affordable and customizable routine that truly works! Click here to get the coveted soft and silky hair of Korean women. - www.theballeronabudget.com

Expensive salon shampoos and conditioners are not the solution for everyone. The 10-step Korean hair care regimen is an affordable and customizable routine that truly works! Click here to get the coveted soft and silky hair of Korean women. - www.theballeronabudget.com
Expensive salon shampoos and conditioners are not the solution for everyone. The 10-step Korean hair care regimen is an affordable and customizable routine that truly works! Click here to get the coveted soft and silky hair of Korean women. - www.theballeronabudget.com

As you may know by now, I’m a huge fan of Korean beauty and what it has to offer – I even wrote a comprehensive 10-step Korean skincare guide a while ago. Although the Koreans are known for their perfect porcelain skin, rigorous haircare is also one of the many heavily implemented beauty practices of the country’s women.

It’s common that many Asians, not just Koreans, don’t experience gray hairs until their far later years in life. Some would say in Western culture that our reason for premature gray hair is stress, but it’s widely known that many Asian countries like Korea and Japan have adopted a “do-or-die” educational mentality as well as life-consuming careers far worse than what the American culture deals with. It’s also been reported on numerous studies that Korea and Japan face extremely high student suicide rates due to the pressure of scholastic success. How’s that for stress?

With such a stressful and success-oriented culture, it’s hard to imagine many Asian people don’t struggle with dying their gray roots the way even the younger Western generation is beginning to do. Stress aside, there has to be some sort of explanation as to how they maintain their vibrant locks for centuries, right?

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They maintain their hair like they do their luxury goods

Just like their skin, they believe in nourishing it rather than abusing it. Regular scalp massages and bedtime hair masks are just a few of the many steps of the Korean haircare regimen. They may use heat-styling and hair dye just like we do, but they take plenty of extra measures to undo or prevent damage.

Their lifestyles are far healthier

Gray hairs are often not a sign of premature aging, but are usually an indicator of health problems. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and many other illnesses may halt or inhibit the production of melanin, causing a lack of color within incoming hair. Koreans tend to have a more disciplined diet and live generally active lifestyles. It is frowned upon in Asian culture to be overweight, so healthy lifestyle habits are adopted by force of habit and upbringing.

They eat fermented foods

Kimchi, dongchimi, kkakdugi – a lot of banchan (side dishes) that Koreans eat are very high in vitamins and minerals that keep the hair, skin and nails healthy. Packed with probiotics, Korean meals have plenty of nutrients that aid in cell regeneration and fight against free-radicals. Eating these foods are a daily practice that adds up over the years.

The 10-Step Korean Hair Care Regimen

Ever since I adopted the Korean hair care regimen, my hair’s health and strength have significantly improved. Just months ago, my hair was brittle with infinite amounts of split ends due to keratin in all my products. After discovering Korean hair care I quickly traded my expensive salon shampoo, conditioner, and serum for several Korean hair products.

Some may wonder: why make such an expensive investment? I believe that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for hair care, just like skin care. The expensive salon shampoos and conditioners I used seemed to damage my hair with sulfates and protein buildup and my scalp was suffering, so I needed to focus on taking care of my scalp and strands separately. Korean hair care is centered around the belief that scalp and hair need two separate formulations, and this was the biggest reason why my hair improved.

10 products may seem extremely unaffordable, but many of these products are only around between $10-20, and combining them may reap better results than a simple and overpriced trio of shampoo, conditioner, and a serum.

Of course, you may not need every single one of these products, and I currently only use 2/3 of them. If rebuilding your hair’s health is a goal for you, continue reading and decide what suits you best.

RELATED POST – Forever Young: The 10-Step Korean Skincare Guide


Step 1: Scalp Treatment (1x a week)

The basis of Korean hair care: scalp treatments! The beginning of each hair starts at the follicle right at the scalp. Korean beauty experts say that by keeping the scalp clean, healthy and exfoliated, we can allow for healthier hair to grow in. Enter the scalp scaler! Scalers are salicylic acid-based pre-treatments that exfoliate the scalp to remove and debris, dead skin cells, and oil build-up.

Beyond Deep Clean Scalp Scaler: $22.73

My favorite scalp scaler: I used to use Missha’s Procure Jin Mo Scaler and Innisfree’s Green Tea Scalp Scaler, but Missha’s was discontinued and Innisfree’s is becoming hard to find (I am suspicious it was discontinued). I saw Beyond’s Scalp Scaler on Amazon and tried it out – I was not disappointed! I would say this product wells just as well if not better than the previous exfoliating treatments I’ve used.
How to use: Once every week or two weeks, use a scalp scaler before shampooing on dry hair. Using the tip of the scaler bottle, divide hair into sections and squeeze product into scalp in a checkerboard fashion. After applying, rub thoroughly into the scalp for full coverage and let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse off and shampoo as normal.

Other notable shampoo and conditioners:

Step 2: Shampoo and Scalp Massage

Ryoe Korean Herbal Anti Hairloss Damaged Hair Shampoo Conditioner: $27.22

My favorite shampoo and conditioner: Ryoe‘s anti-hair loss formula is amazing – although I don’t experience hair loss enough to need such a specific formulation, this combo makes my hair super soft. Most American drugstore shampoos have so many stripping ingredients that can dry out hair, but this one gives just the perfect amount of hydration.

Other notable shampoo and conditioners:

Scalp Massage

Of course, we all know that technically the first step to hair care is shampooing. But by adapting the scalp care principle, we need to cleanse the scalp thoroughly. Integrating the use of a scalp brush during shampoo sessions gives a lot of benefits: it maximizes lather, promotes blood circulation and stimulation, and provides a thorough cleanse of all remaining dead skin cells and debris. I personally use Tsubaki’s Scalp Brush since it came with a previous shampoo and conditioner set I purchased, but there are plenty of other scalp brushes available that serve the same purpose.

Shampoo Scalp Massage Brush: $4.00 on Amazon

High-rated scalp brush: This $4 unbranded scalp massage is an extremely popular choice on Amazon with hundreds of customer reviews.
How to use: Using hands, rub shampoo all over your hair, and then use the brush and massage your scalp. The brush will lather up your shampoo and give you an extra-thorough cleanse!

Other notable scalp brushes:

Step 3: Condition

I’m really not a fan of 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner products because they’re drying and lead to tangles and split ends. If you’re currently using a conditioner and it isn’t working for you, try leaving it on longer. The point of a conditioner isn’t just to quickly detangle your hair, it’s to … condition it. Applying it like a shampoo and rinsing it out simply will not do.

My favorite conditioner: I definitely suggest pairing your conditioner with the same brand and formulation of your shampoo, because these manufacturers design their shampoos and conditioners to work together with similar ingredients. In this case, I would be using Ryoe’s Anti-Hair Loss conditioner. Ryeo also has a line for oily hair and dandruff and also one for volume.

Ryeo Chung Ah Mo Shampoo for Oily Hair and Dandruff: $27.89

Ryoe Korean Root Volume Shampoo and Conditioner: $29.42

Conditioning tips:
  • Apply your conditioner and let it sit in your hair while you do other things like washing your face or shaving. This allows more time for the conditioner to work its magic.
  • Avoid wetting your hair while the condition is in. I keep a hair clip in the shower and clip my hair up while conditioning.
  • Avoid applying conditioner on the scalp. The scalp’s pH level is 5.5, whereas the hair shaft is 3.7. When using different products that have different pH levels, you can dry out one or the other.

Other notable shampoo and conditioners:

Step 4: Deep Condition / Hair Mask (1x a week)

Some people like to conditioner and then follow up with a hair mask afterward, but I prefer to use a hair mask in its place. Hair masks, or “packs” as they’re known by in Korea, are an ultra-dose of nutrition and powerful ingredients blended into one. Just like conditioning, I leave this on my hair while I shave and wash my face.

Etude House Silk Scarf Hair Treatment: $7.78 on Amazon

My favorite deep conditioning treatment: Etude House’s Silk Scarf Hair Treatment is a godsend! I’ve forked over so much cash on so many hair masks – Keune, Aquage, Biolage, you name it – This $7 bottle is the best thing I’ve ever used. It’s one of those products where you can feel the results after the first use. This treatment leaves my frizzy hair extremely soft and gives it a punch of moisture.
How to use: After shampooing, squeeze excess water out of hair and apply the treatment. Let sit for 15 minutes and then rinse. Instead of your regular conditioner, use this in its place once a week. Bonus: Using a deep conditioning treatment every so often will help stop the vicious cycle of running out of conditioner before your shampoo!

Other notable hair masks:

Step 5: Vinegar Rinse (1x a week)

With both hair and skin, it’s important to strive for the correct pH level. Normal pH levels on the scalp and skin are slightly acidic between 4.5 and 5.5. The skin has an “acid mantle,” which is a thin film of acid that helps seal out bacteria (aka sebum! Natural moisture!). Dry and itchy scalps often mean that your scalp’s pH is too alkaline and has a weak acid mantle – this can cause acne, eczema, and dandruff. If you have a dry and itchy scalp or suffer from dandruff, a vinegar rinse can help!

Apple cider vinegar has a pH level of about 3, which is on the acidic side. By diluting it with water you can bring it down to around 4, and use it as a rinse. By bringing down your hair’s acidity levels, your cuticles can seal properly instead of unevenly, resulting in split ends. Your itchy scalp will also thank you!

Even if you don’t have dandruff, a routine vinegar rinse can help bring down the alkalinity of your hair and scalp that may have been caused by styling products. A single vinegar rinse will give noticeable results right out of the shower… I actually just did one before writing this and my scalp and hair both feel amazing.

Holika Holika Hair Rinsing Vinegar: $15.09

My favorite vinegar rinse: I use the Face Shop’s Vinegar Rinse on the days where I’m going out and need a vinegar treatment but don’t want to smell like vinegar. Otherwise, a cost-effective solution is to mix apple cider vinegar and water in equal parts and put it in a pump or spray bottle. You can use distilled white vinegar, but it is about 2.5-3 on the pH scale and therefore needs to be diluted more.
How to use: Apply vinegar on the scalp and all over hair after conditioning. Rinse out thoroughly!
Side note: It can be tough to get the vinegar smell completely out of your hair. You can do this step after shampooing and before conditioning. However, I strongly recommend doing a vinegar rinse last because water normally has a pH level of about 7-8. By rinsing it out, conditioning, and rinsing with water again, you’d be going backward.

Other notable vinegar rinses:

Forever Young: The 10-Step Korean Skincare Guide

Step 6: Scalp Mask (1x a week)

Skinfood Peppermint Fresh Scalp Cooling Mask: $14.98 on Amazon

My favorite scalp mask: Skinfood’s Peppermint Fresh Scalp Cooling Mask is my go-to for the summer weather where oily scalp constantly makes me itch (and even winter when my scalp is dry). My scalp is very sensitive to buildup, this cooling mask really does cool down my hot and itchy scalp. Plus, it has a cooling sensation from the peppermint!
How to use: After shampooing, squeeze excess water out of hair and apply the treatment. Let sit for 15 minutes. I use this on my scalp along with a deep conditioning mask on my strands at the same time.

Other notable scalp masks:

Step 7: Scalp Tonic

After washing your face with a cleanser, you should use a toner and then moisturize, right? With hair, a scalp tonic is the equivalent of a toner and a great way for you to prep your scalp for the next few steps.

Skinfood Peppermint Fresh Scalp Relaxing Tonic: $12.88

My favorite scalp tonic: Skinfood’s Peppermint Fresh Scalp Relaxing Tonic works so well when paired with the Peppermint Fresh Cooling Mask. It’s quite cooling to dry skin post-shower, especially if you’re the type that takes hot showers – which, by the way, you should refrain from doing if you don’t want to dry your hair and skin out.
How to use: After your shower, dry hair with a towel, making sure not to rub your hair together as this encourages frizziness (squeeze and pat dry). Simply spray the tonic into the scalp and leave on.

Other notable scalp tonics:

Step 8: Scalp Essence or Serum

Similar to the Korean skincare regimen, applying an essence or serum to the scalp is similar to an ingredient-packed serum for the face. Depending on your needs, a lightweight essence or leave-in fluid may help for oily scalps and a serum may be better for a dry scalp in need of hydration. Some who have normal scalps may choose not to use a scalp essence or serum and stick to a tonic.

Moltobene Clay Esthe EX Scalp Essence: $22.95

My favorite scalp essence: Moltobene’s Scalp Essence is perfect for those with extremely dry scalps. My scalp tends to get irritated, especially during the summer when sweat and product buildup can’t get thoroughly cleansed from my scalp. By the time my scalp is clean it’s then dry and irritated, but this essence helps re-hydrate it.
How to use: Using the nozzle, point directly at the scalp and spread a thin layer across the scalp in a checkerboard fashion. Rub into scalp to cover any missing areas.

Other notable scalp tonics:

Step 9: Hair Essence or Serum

The Korean market formulates different essences and serums for the hair and scalp – again, this is due to the difference in pH levels between both. Just like skin serums, hair serums are designed to deliver a large amount of active ingredients to the hair, while an essence acts like a moisturizing agent that hydrates hair.

Some may use both an essence and serum while others may only use one or the other – it simply depends on your needs. I use a serum for to continuously treat my hair with nurturing ingredients and follow up with an essence to lock-in moisture.

Skinfood Avocado Leave-in Fluid: $9.56

My favorite leave-in fluid: Skinfood’s Avocado Leave-in Fluid smells nothing like avocado, but makes my hair smell flat-out amazing. More importantly, it softens my hair, and unlike most leave-in conditioners it absorbs so well into my strands. It isn’t labeled as an essence, but I consider it as such because it’s almost like a lotion. After using this I follow-up with Innisfree’s Camellia Serum to prevent flyaways.

Other notable serums and essences:

Step 10: Miscellaneous Hair Items

Clarifying Mist: The Face Shop Jewel Therapy Cherry Blossom Clear Hair Mist

The Face Shop Jewel Therapy Cherry Blossom Clear Hair Mist: $7.49

I haven’t seen many dry shampoos within the Korean hair care market besides Etude House’s OMG! Dry Shampoo, but it isn’t a loss since I prefer a product that doesn’t sit like powder on top of my scalp. The Face Shop’s Clear Hair Mist is a nice spritz of cherry blossoms that removes that oily-scalp-smell you tend to get after a day without washing.

Overnight Treatment: Tonymoly Haeyo Zayo Hair Sleeping Pack

Tonymoly Haeyo Zayo Hair Sleeping Pack: $20.88

I love using Tonymoly’s Haeyo Zayo Hair Sleeping Pack after a day at the pool to help buffer the blow of chlorine damage. After showering, I towel-dry my hair, apply my tonics, serums, and essences, apply a small amount like I would a leave-in conditioner and then let it dry. Some people feel this is too heavy for their hair, so applying a minimal amount of product or wearing it overnight with a shower cap and then rinsing off in the morning may work better.

Heat Protectant: Etude House Hot Style Heat Protector

Etude House Hot Style Heat Protector: $9.98

A huge part of hair care is avoiding heat styling altogether or using a protectant if using heat. While I love Tresemme’s Thermal Spray, I sometimes prefer a creamy balm that will tame my flyaways and frizz. Etude House’s Hot Style Heat Protector is a great heat protectant that isn’t overly greasy or heavy, but just enough to provide my hair with some moisture.

Forever Young: The 10-Step Korean Skincare Guide


Where to Buy

While I love getting most of my products from Amazon, Korean hair care is still relatively new to Amazon, so it’s not surprising if products aren’t available. Luckily, eBay has a huge market of K-beauty sellers that have been selling for many years. Here are my favorite reputable eBay stores:

*Note: All prices and stock are subject to change.

Will you be trying some new Korean hair care products? Let’s chat in the comments and subscribe below for more beauty and health posts.

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20 Comments

  1. March 19, 2017 / 8:32 am

    Awesome list! I haven’t tried anything but hair oil. The scalp masks interest me.

    • The Baller on a Budget
      March 19, 2017 / 7:15 pm

      I LOVE the scalp masks and treatments more than anything in the Korean hair care regimen! My scalp feels so healthy afterward, like it can breathe again.

  2. Megan
    April 23, 2017 / 8:34 pm

    I try and try to find cruelty free Korean brands and it’s so limited. We really do have better options in the west!

    • The Baller on a Budget
      April 23, 2017 / 10:05 pm

      I agree, it is tough to get something that’s cruelty-free, vegan, organic, etc. altogether because of international regulations. Products sold in China require animal testing, which I don’t really understand because it’s such an antiquated way to test products. And most Korean products are sold in China too… You are right, we do have more cruelty-free options in America, but then there is also the issue of having more synthetic chemicals in our products here compared to Asian products. 🙁

  3. April 27, 2017 / 3:30 am

    What a wonderful post. I must commend your efforts to come up with these tips.

    • The Baller on a Budget
      April 27, 2017 / 11:13 am

      Thank you so much for reading!

  4. July 4, 2017 / 4:31 pm

    I enjoyed of every word that written by brliant mind thanks alot of all this tips I will start to do some of them with what I have in my country♥♥♥

    • The Baller on a Budget
      July 4, 2017 / 6:36 pm

      Hi Heba, glad to know this post helped you! <3

  5. July 26, 2017 / 11:52 pm

    I just tried a hair essence tester today and it literally feels like I’ve just walked out of the hair dressers. I found your post trying to learn more about the korean hair care.

    I’m so happy that you’ve compiled this easy to follow list! Thank you so much! My new glossy locks will love you! x

    • The Baller on a Budget
      July 27, 2017 / 12:18 pm

      Hi Kylie! Aren’t essences the best!? I can’t survive without them!

      You are absolutely most welcome! Thank you for reading <3

  6. August 5, 2017 / 11:20 am

    Can’t wait to try these new tips, i have mixed curly hair and it doesn’t take to most american products well. This sounds promising. Great post.

    • The Baller on a Budget
      August 6, 2017 / 12:09 pm

      Let me know how it works for your mixed hair!!

  7. Tara
    September 6, 2017 / 6:57 am

    Thank you so much for this list. It’s really helping me get a foot in the door into Korean products. I am interested in getting your scaler and I currently have a Korean shampoo (aromatica) with scaler in it. Do you think its better to separate scaler and shampoo? And would it be ok to use a scaler plus a shampoo with scaler?

    • The Baller on a Budget
      September 6, 2017 / 9:15 am

      Hey Tara! I’m not sure how much percentage of the exfoliating properties is in your shampoo, but a separate scaler should be used once every so often (every few weeks or every month). It could be that it’s got a low percentage since shampoo is meant to be used often, but combining both could probably dry out your scalp. I would say try it and use the separate scaler once a month and see how your scalp reacts!

  8. LU
    September 16, 2017 / 2:11 pm

    Hi!!!!

    May I ask if you’ve solution to hairfall problem? Please kindly advise if any of those you’ve mentioned will reduce hairfall or promotes hair growth

    Thanks in advance! 🙂

    • The Baller on a Budget
      September 16, 2017 / 2:40 pm

      Hey Lu, how often do you brush your hair? I find that brushing from scalp to ends more often helps reduce fallout. Also, using the scalp scaler will help a ton.

  9. Stefanie
    November 11, 2017 / 9:24 pm

    Hello! I’m a little late to this article, but it’s fantastic! If I may just ask a quick question. When I use the skinfood avocado leave in fluid, do I still use conditioner? Thank you so much!

    • The Baller on a Budget
      November 13, 2017 / 9:21 am

      Hey there! It’s a leave-in smoothing product you use outside of the shower and you need just a tiny pump of it. You would still use conditioner in the shower.

  10. Katrina
    November 15, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    Oh my goodness this article is a blessing. There are no others this in depth. I wouldn’t consider my hair damaged or overly dry since I’ve never dyed my hair and I don’t use heat tools (except a hair dryer). Can I still use these products? I notice the Ryo shampoo you suggested is labeled “Damaged Care.” As are some others. Thank you!

    • The Baller on a Budget
      November 15, 2017 / 5:41 pm

      You certainly can! The damaged hair products typically focus on rebuilding hair shafts that have grown brittle or dry regardless of chemical treatment or not (I have virgin hair and it’s still damaged from dryness and not being diligent about getting trims!). They should still work wonderfully on you!

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