At a 2016 launch event for Japanese beauty brand SK-II, famed makeup artist Gucci Westman talked about her time in Japan and how taken aback she was by the youthfulness of the women around her. She said that she was amazed at their smooth, wrinkle-free complexions, and insisted that she knew their secrets. Unfortunately, Westman didn't spill all of her intel at the event, but it gave me the itch to uncover what they were using.
We tapped skincare aficionado Steve Jan, makeup artist and brand founder Dani Kimiko Vincent, and board-certified dermatologist and spokesperson for Tatcha, Jenny Liu, MD for their insights on the most transformative Japanese skincare secrets.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Jan says that in Japan, it is believed that the first step to beautiful skin is what you put inside your body. "The Japanese diet is full of vegetables and fish, and extremely low in meat and sugary foods," he says. "Japanese women also believe green tea is a source of clear, beautiful skin."
Dr. Liu adds that green tea—particularly matcha—is high in antioxidants. In tandem with a well-balanced diet, matcha can help "improve our overall body health, which can be reflected in our skin." Like we needed another reason to reach for the stuff.
Do a Facial Massage
While skincare products tend to attract the spotlight, Jan explains that how you apply them can be just as important. "Japanese women believe facial massages are the key to wrinkle-free skin," he says. "As they apply each step in their skincare routine, they gently massage the product into the skin in circular motions. This anti-aging trick also helps to relax the muscles and improve circulation."
Everyone’s massage technique is different. For Dr. Liu, it starts with patting motions when applying liquid products and using the heat of her hands to help the product penetrate the skin. "In general I like to use an upward technique when applying products as my massage to help lift and tone,” she says.
Vincent relies on two devices for her facial massages, saying that they are key to creating a canvas for great makeup application. “One is a Japanese roller called the Re-Fa, which has two heads that gently draw up and knead the face,” she says. “I use it on the jaw line and along the cheekbones to help define these areas and increase circulation,” The other is an ice roller to help promote lymphatic drainage and depuff.
Embrace Your Skincare Routine
Sticking to a multistep skincare ritual is what Jan describes as the most valuable Japanese skincare lesson. “Taking that time to de-stress and do something for yourself each day helps you beautify from the inside out at the same time that you're taking care of your skin,” he says.
While the steps have morphed over the years, these days it goes a little something like this: a double-cleansing duo, exfoliator, toner, essence, serums, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, and finally, sunscreen.
Indulge in Steamy Baths
"Another important step to beautiful skin in Japan is how you bathe,” says Jan, who explains that long, steamy baths enriched with oils, essences, and tea are a regular part of Japanese beauty rituals. The logic: "This calming step before bed leads to more beautiful skin.”
Vincent echoes this, saying that she draws a bath swirled with epsom salts and oils to mentally transport her to a Japanese Onsen (a bath house powered by hot springs). “When I’m in Japan, I always book a visit to an Onsen to experience the nutrient and mineral-rich waters of these naturally occurring hot springs,” says Vincent. “This is an ancient beauty ritual for the body, mind, and soul.”
Epsom salts are composed of magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate can help reduce inflammation and help with skin detoxification.
Never Forget Sun Protection
"Women in Japan apply sunscreen daily, no matter what the weather is," Jan says. How much Japan values the skincare essential can be seen by the number of innovative textures in-store.
“Asian sunscreens, in general, are a lot more cosmetically elegant,” says Dr. Liu. “Photo-protection is very much ingrained in Asian countries, and most wear it on a daily basis. Thus, many Japanese—and also Korean—SPFs are formulated with a lighter and fast, easy to absorb texture to accommodate daily use so it looks and feels nicer under makeup." Her choice of SPF is the Tatcha’s Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen, which protects skin with SPF 40 and leaves it with a silky feel.
Don't Skip Your Nightly Cleansing
You know how easy it is to just hit the pillow with a full face of makeup? You won't find that kind of negligence in Japan. All of our experts agree that cleansing is a non-negotiable skincare step to remove the dirt, oils, and debris from the day. Both Vincent and Dr. Liu cite double cleansing (the process of using both oil and water-based cleansers to wash your face) as their go-to method.