The Grooming Journal
A Beginner's Guide To Japanese Skincare
Japanese skincare is deeply routed in Japanese culture, with the emphasis on achieving healthy and youthful looking skin. Ashley Ogawa Clarke investigates how the rest of the world can achieve the same effects.
Mar 01, 2023
About Ashley Clarke
Ashley Ogawa Clarke is an editor and writer, and a consultant for Humanery. Ashley is the former Deputy Editor of MR PORTER, the online menswear destination, and has previously written for US Vogue, GQ Style, the Telegraph, Wall Street Journal and the Observer among others. He has been writing about men’s skincare for ten years, and is currently based in Tokyo, Japan.
If your current skincare routine isn’t yielding the results you want, consider looking to Japan. Japanese and Japanese-inspired brands such as Shiseido, SKII, Tatcha, and Hada Labo have gained global recognition for their particular approach to skincare, that is at once gentle and effective.
And though it may not have enjoyed the fanfare of 10-step routines in neighbouring Korea, there’s plenty of wisdom to glean from Japanese skincare that would benefit the rest of the world, if only they knew more about it.
Though it is rooted in much of the same principles as K-beauty, i.e. increasing moisture in the skin by layering products and minimising the appearance of pores, Japanese skincare generally (and mercifully) doesn’t involve quite as many steps. In Japan, good skincare for both men and women is all about the pursuit of ‘mochi hada’, which refers to skin as perfectly smooth and soft as mochi, the rice cake dessert. Getting there, however, involves some prior knowledge. To reach mochi-hada status yourself, get acquainted with our short guide below.
Switch Up Your Cleansing Approach
Washing your face may sound simple enough, but walk through the brightly lit aisles of any Japanese drugstore and you’ll see the shelves awash with all manner of balms and oils for cleaning your face. Though swiping an oil over your face may sound counter intuitive to making it look less greasy, surprisingly it will work by helping to dislodge dirt from your pores more effectively than a simple foaming cleanser. A pleasant and gentle way to clean your skin, oil cleansing is also the first part of “double-cleansing”, which means cleansing your skin once with an oil, and following up with a foaming cleanser (such as this one from Shiseido) to help keep your pores as grime-free as possible. If you suffer with blackheads or sebaceous filaments, cleansing in this way regularly is an incredibly effective way to minimise them.
Use Sheet Masks Daily
It took me a while to get used to the idea of sheet masks – partly because the sight of my wife wearing one used to make me jump with fright, and partly because it feels like wearing a wet wipe with eye holes – but wearing them has been worth it. Regular use of sheet masks helps keep skin in good nick by adding more moisture, and as someone who suffers from skin that’s often too oily and too dry at once (also known as combination skin), I’ve found the moisturising effect of sheet masks to be incredibly helpful in making sure I wake up the next day looking well rested, rather than dried out and puffy. If you’ve not got access to a Japanese pharmacy yourself, where sheetmasks are sold in bulk packs that indeed look like wet wipes, try out a few from BARBER PRO, which are stuffed full of stuff like green tea extract and marine collagen – ideal ingredients for mochi-like skin.
Reap The Benefits Of Natural Ingredients
There’s a famous true story in Japan that tells of a group of old women who worked in a sake brewery. Although their faces were wrinkled with age, their hands retained the youthful glow of women decades younger. When a team of scientists looked into it, they found that it was thanks to the women’s hands frequently being covered in fermented rice that was used to make the sake. After five years of research, they managed to isolate the ingredient, trademarked ‘Pitera’, into an anti-ageing formula that is sold under Japanese brand SKII today. It’s not just sake that has been successfully incorporated into skincare, though. Wakame, a type of kelp used in Japanese cooking, can be used to help skin retain moisture and stave off wrinkles – but don’t worry, you don’t have to go foraging on the beach to get the benefits. It’s a key ingredient in Skin Generics’ Anti-Wrinkle Cream, helping to lock in hydration and create a more radiant appearance.
Make SPF A Core Part Of Your Routine
On the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the humid Japanese summer, it’s not unusual to see people wearing a sun visor, shades, a face mask, and arm covers – sometimes all at once.
The goal of this is sun protection, which is of paramount importance in a Japanese skincare routine. As well as the obvious, well-documented benefits in preventing skin cancer, a decent SPF is the best weapon we have against signs of ageing, and is invaluable in staving off fine lines and age spots. If you’re not used to wearing it every day, choose a moisturiser or tinted moisturiser (and even lip balm) that comes with some sun protection already incorporated. The you, in twenty years’ time will be more than grateful that you did.
And because Japan is so good at incorporating SPF into their daily routines, brands there have nailed effective, easy-to-use formulas.
Case in point: Athletia, a Japanese brand founded in 2020 that incidentally launches on Humanery this week.
The brand’s UV gel melts into skin to feel totally undetectable, and unlike a cream, won’t leave any ghostly white streaks. It is light in texture and translucent, yet contains high UVB and UVA sunscreens. Fortified with SPF50 and with a lightly pleasant scent of lemongrass and rosemary, this is a water resistant hero product you’ll wonder how you ever lived without.
Exfoliate With Expertise
Exfoliation is all about removing dead skin cells to make way for the brighter skin underneath, but not all ways of doing it are made equally. To achieve the best results, instead of an abrasive scrub that will feel like taking a Brillo pad to your face, do as the Japanese do and opt for gentle exfoliating powder. Traditionally (and even today) Japanese exfoliants are made with rice bran, a gentle exfoliant that works to polish the skin. Haeckel’s 2.0 Salicylic Exfoliating Powder doesn’t contain any rice, but it is made from willow bark and walnut shell that has been ground down so that feels surprisingly soft on the skin.
The addition of salicylic acid works against breakouts too. If you suffer from acne, dull looking skin, or ingrown hairs, consider this a miracle product.
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