A Guide to Japanese Skin Care (Part 1)

For many Japanese women, having smooth, radiant and youthful looking skin is considered to be ideal. In order to tap into the high demand, there are tons of skin care products on the market and if you're not familiar with Japanese brands and terms for certain products, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you're visiting a large city like Tokyo or Osaka, finding drugstores and cosmetic shops are like running into a Pidgey or Rattata (anyone still playing Pokemon Go here?)--you never have to search too far to run into one. And if you're a foreign visitor, you can sign up for tax exemption if you spend over 5,000 yen by presenting your passport upon purchase. In the first section I'll go over the basic Japanese skincare routine for the morning as well as recommend several products that are popular at the moment or all-time favorites. In the second half, I'll go through the evening routine. 
If you're like me, my skin care routine before coming to Japan consisted of mainly washing my face in the morning and evening. Maybe adding some moisturizer if I felt like it. Sunblock on my face? There was no way I was going to leave my face smeared with white residue. Instead of taking care of my skin, I did my best to hide whatever blemishes or imperfections there were. And as a naive teen who didn't know better, this meant caking on layers of foundation and makeup. In hindsight, this is no way to treat your skin and it actually aggravated my skin even more. Then in Japan, I was introduced to many different kinds of skin care products--almost too many that I was overwhelmed. You've probably read articles floating around the internet with titles such as "10 Step Japanese/Korean Skin care Regimen" or "30 Secrets of Japanese Skin Care and Beauty." That sounds like a lot of steps, and honestly, you don't need to follow every single one. What I've learned throughout the years of experimenting with different products is that you only really need to stick the basics. You can opt to take extra steps depending on what your skin's needs are. 

Morning Routine

Yes, there is a different routine for the morning and evening. This is because different skin care products do different tasks. The products you use on your skin in the daytime should be brightening and moisturizing your skin whilst protecting it against harmful UV rays. It should also feel lighter since you don't want to go out and about feeling like you have layers and layers on your face. 

1. Facial Wash

Pretty straightforward. As well as washing away the sleepiness, you want to get rid of any dirt, oil buildup or dead skin cells that have shed off during the evening. It's also important to wash off all the products you used the night before to have a clean slate. In Japan, the word for facial wash is 洗顔料 and it usually comes in three forms: liquid (液体), foam (), and solid bar (石鹸). They do also have powder types that you mix with water to create bubbles but it's not as common as the first three. 

Rosette Cleansing Paste

This super affordable facial wash from Rosette creates a rich lather from just a small amount, meaning one bottle goes a long way. The one pictured above specifically targets acne, but they also have others that have specific functions such as pore cleansing, brightening, and oil control.
Retail price: 453 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores like Matsumoto Kiyoshi; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

Doro Awawa Facial Foam

PC: doro-awawa.net

As something you do everyday, washing your face can get mundane quite quickly. That's not the case for this facial wash which lathers up into a ginormous fluff of foam. Not only is it fun to apply, but the ingredients found in it--natural mud, soy milk, and brown sugar extract--are good for cleaning out dirt from pores and leaving your skin soft.
Retail price: 2,980 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

 Suisai Beauty Clear Powder

PC: Amazon Japan

A cult classic and highly popular amongst tourists, Kanebo's Suisai Beauty Clear Powder come in single-use pods which is convenient for when you're traveling or going to the gym. Also, there's a much lesser chance of it spilling inside your luggage compared to a normal bottle type cleanser. Ingredients found in each pod include a combination of enzymes to exfoliate, tofu extract to brighten up the skin, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate. You should use it after you've removed your makeup by pouring the contents into your palm and slowly adding lukewarm water to build up the foam.
Retail price: 1,900~2,000 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

2. Lotion

Applying lotion to the face is a  common step in Asian skin care but may be somewhat of a novelty elsewhere. But this isn't the same as the lotion you rub on your body; it has a watery, light consistency. You can apply it either with a cotton pad or by lightly patting it on your face with your hands. The Japanese word for facial lotion is 乳液.

Kosé Sekkisei Lotion

Kosé's Sekkisei series is extremely popular among visitors from Asia, and it's quite common to see the shelves that hold the iconic blue bottles almost empty. The Sekkisei line promises whiter, more youthful and radiant skin. In Japan, as well as many other Asian countries, white skin is considered to be the most attractive, though really all skin colors are beautiful. Even if you're not into whitening products, this lotion leaves skin moisturized while leaving your complexion brighter.
Retail price: 5,000 yen for 200mL; 7,500 yen for 360mL
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion

PC: Rohto Webpage

If you live in East/Southeast Asia, chances are you've heard of Hada Labo as it's pretty well known and can be found in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. All of the products offered by Hada Labo are affordable and if you love a certain product, you can buy the refill version to save up on space and waste. The best way to apply the hyaluronic acid lotion is to take a bunch of cotton pads and separate them into thinner sheets then soak them in the solution. Take the soaked cotton pads and apply them over your face to fully moisturize.
Retail price: 700~800 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

Nameraka Honpo Soy Milk Lotion

Another product that's great for those who don't want to break the bank but still have nice, moisturized skin. What's also nice about the Nameraka Honpo Soy Milk Lotion is that it's a perfect consistency--not to thick or runny--and it doesn't leave a thick glaze over your face.
Retail price: 850 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

3. Essence (optional)

To be honest, I usually skip this step because mostly I can't be bothered to or have the patience to add an extra step to my morning regiment. And it's totally okay to skip this step as it's optional--you can decide to add this to your routine if you want to do extra care when it comes to skin troubles such as wrinkles or dull skin. Most essence products have a watery consistency and are applied using the hands. As we get older, this step becomes more crucial for those who want to fight against wrinkles and fine lines. In Japanese, essence is called 美容液.

Naturie Hatomugi Moisturizing Gel 

Sometimes it may seem like essences are a luxury to have (think SK II and La Mer) but this skin conditioning gel by Naturie is far from being considered expensive.  Don't be fooled by the simple packaging, it does a great job with moisturizing the skin and it's fragrant free and doesn't have any artificial dyes. The only con is that because it's in a jar container, it can be easy to contaminate; but using a small spatula should fix that. Overall a great bargain if you don't mind the mundane packaging and no frills.
Retail price: 900 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

PC: SK II webpage

I thought about leaving this out of the article, but eventually gave in--there's no way you can make an article about Japanese skin care and not mention SK-II in it somewhere. It's just that well known and raved about that I don't even need to go into detail about its benefits. I admit I haven't tried the SK II Facial Treatment Essence since I don't have that kind of money lying around, but once I can afford it I'll be sure to try it out. If you've used it before, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Retail price: really, really expensive (17,000 yen for 160 mL)
Where to buy: upscale department stores like Isetan and Takashimaya

Astalift White Essence Infilt

PC: Astalift webpage

This essence prevents age spots from appearing by inhibiting melatonin generation while improving skin quality, making it more elastic and firm. Some of the ingredients found in the Astalift White Essence Infilt include Nano AMA, Vitamin C and collagen. It's a good option if you're looking for something within the price range between the products above.
Retail price: 6,804 yen
Where to buy: most department stores; select drugstores 

4. Moisturizer- Creams & Emulsions

Wait, wasn't what we've been doing up until now moisturizing? In a way yes, but the key is that Japanese skin care moisturizes by layers. The idea is that we layer each of the products by their consistency--the most watery products go first and from then we add products that are thicker in consistency with each step. This is to ensure that your skin absorbs all of the moisturizing products and locks it in. In this step, you're locking in the moisture with a thick cream (フェイスクリーム) in the winter or lighter emulsion (エムルション) for warmer days. 

Decencia Saeru Whitening Cream Clearist

PC: Decencia webpage

Retail price: 5,400
Where to buy: beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

Kosé Sekkisei Emulsion

PC: Sekkisei webpage

Retail price: 5,000 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

DHC Medicated Face Cream

Retail price: 4,286 yen
Where to buy: DHC boutiques 

5. Sunscreen/ UV Creams

Finally we are at the end of our morning skin care routine. Of all the steps, this last one is perhaps the most important. If a Japanese woman had to leave the house with only one thing on her face, you can be sure that it would be sunscreen. Japanese ladies are religious about applying sunscreen and UV creams no matter the season, whether it be the sweltering hot summer or dead of winter. Protecting your skin from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun is one of the best anti-aging methods and prevents dark spots and uneven complexion. Japanese sunscreens are known all over the world for their quality and wide range of products. I highly recommend the sunscreens (日焼け止め) that are water based as they can be worn under make up without feeling greasy. 

Anessa Sunscreen Series

PC: Anessa webpage

Anessa is a line of sunscreen produced by Japanese cosmetic giant Shiseido and is perhaps the holy grail of Japanese sunscreens. They have many different types of products available depending on which consistency you prefer or how much coverage you need.
Retail price: ranges from 1,500 yen to 3,000 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

Allie Extra UV Protector (Whitening)

PC: Allie webpage

Allie is also another popular line of sunscreen products by Kanebo. As the bottle states, this particular sunblock can be used on both the face and body and protects skin from UV rays to prevent dark spots. It has a similar consistency to a lotion, which means it's more on the watery side.
Retail price: 1,400 yen for 25 mL & 2,800 yen for 60 mL
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores

Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Gel

As the name implies, this sunblock from Bioré feels less like a cream and more like a gel that slides on easily and leaves no sticky residue. This is personally my favorite sunscreen for the summer because I dislike the lotion-y feeling that most sunscreen products leave on your body. The version shown in the picture is the older version; they have a newer packaging that is more of a turquoise color.
Retail price: less than 1,000 yen
Where to buy: most drugstores; beauty/cosmetics section of Bic Camera, Loft, and Tokyu Hands; specialty cosmetics stores
 
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out Part 2 for more on the evening skin care routine and recommended products.

Midori Nishida