Your Comprehensive Guide To All Things Japanese Skincare
Move over, K beauty. Japanese beauty is the new kid in town, ready to claim the title of the new Queen Bee of skincare. Well, maybe. Being half Asian, myself, I’ve always had a fascination (and maybe bias) towards Asian beauty trends and products, so naturally, when I discovered J beauty, I had to dive in. I mean, literally, dive into a huge pile of skin plumping serums and creams galore to find out what really is the deal with Japanese beauty?
What is Japanese skincare?
Think of J skincare as the grandmother of skincare rituals –– she always makes you feel comforted and she’s super nurturing. Basically, she just wants to hold you and make you feel your best all the time. (See, beauty really can make you cry tears of joy). Unlike some other cultural beauty rituals, the Japanese put significant value on the importance of nourishing your skin through a (somewhat) minimalist routine that emphasizes gentle cleansing with several hydrating layers that follow.
Differences between J beauty and “Western” skincare
While there may have been a recent shift in the Western approach to skincare (thanks to K beauty), a lot of people in Western culture can be grouped into two very different extremes: either the very ‘laxe and simple face wash and moisturizer or a more expanded routine with the addition of serums, eye creams and more. But typical Western beauty culture also loves a good “intense” treatment. Think peels, lasers, physical exfoliation to the MAX. And while these intense treatments can be beneficial in their own right, it’s very different from Japan’s gentle approach to caring for your skin.
Differences between J beauty and K skincare
Like the Korean skincare ritual, Japanese beauty also prides itself in the art of layering, but it’s much more condensed and simplistic. (No shade to K beauty –– we love a good 10 step routine when it makes our skin look bomb, but your girl could use a little extra sleep in the AM). Korean beauty also puts a strong emphasis on masking (especially sheet masking), to the point that it’s pretty common for women to do it daily. For Japanese skincare, though, it’s recommended every other day.
Ideal beauty in Japanese culture is considered the look of “mochi skin,” which translates to “rice cake-skin” and is a playful nod to those cute and squishy desserts most of us all know and love. But mochi skin is about achieving radiant, soft skin inspired by the blemish free complexion of traditional geishas.
Bathing for wellness
In Japan, baths are viewed as not only a means for getting clean, but they’re also an integral part of daily wellness. Bathing in hot springs is also a popular wellness ritual that both locals and foreign tourists across the world flock to Japan for. According to an article written by Sophie Bew for UK Vogue, “Each natural hot spring boasts different benefits depending on the minerals in its water: iron-rich springs are meant to soothe painful joints; sulphur helps to manage blood pressure and prevent the hardening of the arteries; hydrogen carbonate smooths the skin. At Kinosaki, the waters are teeming with sodium chloride and calcium, which are thought to help reduce fatigue, digestive issues, nerve and muscular pain, and bruising.” BRB, booking a flight to Japan, stat.
The skincare ritual
Traditionally in the Western part of the world, the big names in Japanese beauty have been cult classics like SK-II, Shiseido and Shu Uemura. However, if you’re looking for cruelty-free skincare, you won’t find it with these brands. But you’re in luck. Brands like Boscia, Tatcha and BeautyPie offer Japanese-inspired skincare and they are cruelty-free. It’s also worth noting that you can always adapt a Japanese skin ritual using non-Japanese products.
A typical, less condensed version of a Japanese skincare routine consists of thoroughly removing your makeup, cleansing skin, using a hydrating liquid lotion, a serum treatment, and concluding with a moisturizer to seal all that hard work in. Below, I’ve broken down the key steps along with some cruelty-free product recommendations to build a Japanese inspired skincare routine.
1. Cleansing Oils
Japanese culture promotes the art of double cleansing. The first phase of cleansing allows users to gently remove all makeup (eyes included) using a cleansing oil.
2. Face Cleanser
The next phase is where the skin is thoroughly cleansed a second time to actually remove excess oil and dirt from the surface of skin.
3. Lotions or Skin Conditioners
The next step is to condition skin using the “Kesho-sui,” a liquid treatment commonly designed to hydrate and soften your skin. In Korean beauty, the closest product in concept to the Kesho-sui is an essence, while the closest skincare product in Western beauty is the toner.
In many cultures, the serum is often seen as the core of a routine, as it usually delivers the most impactful ingredients formulated to address your skin concerns. In Japan, serums are referred to as "biyoueki," which translates to "beauty liquid,” so it’s safe to assume they think serums are the powerhouses of your routine, too.
Just like in Korean and Western beauty, moisturizing is a crucial step in their routine. The Japanese use hydrators in various consistencies, including your usual creams, oils and “milks.” And it’s pretty common to hydrate using unexpected non-vegan friendly ingredients like horse oil and squalene (derived from sharks or olives). Tsubaki oil is also a popularly used hydrator for both skin and hair.
Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil $72
*100% plant based and not derived from shark
5. Sun Protection
Because having “mochi skin” is the ideal in Japanese culture, sun protection is a necessity in their skincare routine (but like, it should def be a must in everyone’s routine) and is key in achieving beautiful skin, free of UV radical damage.
BY KIMBERLY ARNOLD
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