Our love for the brilliance and innovation of Korean beauty knows no bounds, but there’s another country in Southeast Asia that’s giving K-beauty a run for its money in brilliance and effectiveness: Japan.
We asked the expert on this subject—the brilliant Victoria Tsai, founder and CEO of Japanese-inspired brand Tatcha Beauty—to fill us in on how to incorporate the beautiful and intuitive basics of Japanese skincare into our Western, hectic lives.
“The Japanese approach to skincare is very different from the Western approach,” says Tsai. “In the U.S., we so often apply aggressive treatments to work against our skin. In Japan, they recognize that skin is a brilliant organ and takes good care of itself, with a little bit of help.”
Japanese women have one of the longest lifespans in the world (87.14 years on average), often credited partly thanks to their antioxidant-rich diet, which is heavy in rice, green tea, and seaweed. And those exact same core dietary ingredients crosses over into their skincare, too. (That trinity of rice water, green tea, and algae/seaweed are in Tatcha’s cult-status The Water Cream ($68), which is so popular, it seems to be constantly sold out at Sephora.)
“In Japan, women understand that their skin is a reflection of their health and that the same ingredients that keep their bodies healthy also keep their skin healthy,” says Tsai. “I’ve often found that a culture’s approach to skincare and beauty mirrors its food. Japanese skincare is like sushi: very few ingredients, minimally manipulated in a simple arrangement.”
Here’s how to bring J-beauty into your skincare routine (oh hey, they also know a thing or two about how to wash your hair).
1. Follow a four-step plan: purify, polish, plump, and nourish.
“While there are certainly modern day Japanese brands that offer 10-step skincare routines, the classical approach to skincare in Japan is based on daily purifying, polishing, plumping, and nourishing the skin,” says Tsai. “The first step is usually a cleansing oil (purifying), followed by a very gently exfoliation—historically with rice enzymes (polishing), then an essence (plumping), and finally sealing in all the goodness with a moisturizer or beauty oil (nourishing).” Sun protection is important, as well, usually with both a sunscreen, and also a protective accessories like a hat or parasol.
2. Add in a regular face massage.
For K-beauty, daily sheet masks are incredibly popular, but for J-beauty, it’s more traditional to take matters into your own hands—literally. “Regular facial massage with hands or massage tools is also a regular part of the skincare ritual,” says Tsai.
“Practicing facial massage has been shown to de-puff the skin and promote microcirculation, while adding only two minutes to your skincare ritual. When purifying my skin with the Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil ($48), I often take an extra minute to massage the skin with my fingers. In the morning, I take a chilled Akari Gold Massager ($195) (I keep it in the fridge), apply some moisturizer, and use it to massage my face in upward strokes.”
3. Start with just one product.
With all this inspiration, where do you even begin incorporating Japanese rituals into your daily regime? An essence is the perfect starter product, if you haven’t started using one already. It’s a pillar of Korean skincare, too, as it helps any product moisturize on a deeper level. Apply after cleansing, and before moisturizing for the greatest benefits.
4. Use a cleansing oil.
Changing your cleansing routine is another easy way to bring Japanese beauty rituals into your routine, and can be easily paired with any regime. “Often times we think we have rough, dry and sensitive skin, but we’re just using the wrong cleansers.” Start with a cleansing oil, which will help both gently remove makeup, and cleanse skin in one step.
Tatcha’s best seller Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil ($48) is a beloved favorite, and entirely Japanese-inspired. And when paired with their exfoliating Rice Enzyme Powder ($65), women saw a remarkable difference in the texture, tone and brightness of their skin, and a noticeable difference in the appearance of pores after two weeks in a clinical study.
5. Shower, then bathe.
Japan’s onsen-inspired baths are both simple and luxurious. To mimic one at home, first shower, so you can do all cleansing tasks in the shower beforehand, leaving the bath time to simply relax.
“In Japan, they shower before entering a bathtub to relax muscles and detox the body,” says Tsai. “For your own onsen bath, simply run a bath and add a little extra something, either for a soothing fragrance or to benefit the skin. In Japan, a citrus fruit called yuzu, and other seasonal herbs are added.” (Yakusen Bath Roman Muddy White’ Japanese Bath Salts have rave reviews on Amazon.)
Feeling inspired by the tradition and simplicity of Japanese beauty? Other popular Japanese brands to check out include SK-II for their iconic, sake-inspired essence. Or Shiseido, now over 100 years young, for their impeccable, invisible sunscreens. Or want to curl those eyelashes the Japanese-approved way? Shu Uemura eyelash curler is the best in the world. And did you know your beloved, favorite concealer is actually Japanese? The luxury skincare and makeup line Cle de Peau is owned by Shiseido.