As a beauty writer, I’ll try anything in the world of beauty at least once. (Well, except for maybe that penis facial that was taking the world by storm last month — because, just why? — but you get the gist.) Take, for example, Japanese skin care. A few weeks ago, when I learned that the ever-popular Korean beauty craze was starting to be rivaled by none other than its sister to the east, I knew it was time to roll up my sleeves, do a little research on what makes J-beauty so popular, and go on yet another beauty adventure — all in the name of gorgeous, glowing skin.
“The Japanese beauty market is really emphasizing the ‘bihaku’ category, which are products that aim to brighten your skin,” Melodee Morita, a New York-based beauty expert and YouTube star, tells Allure. “The trend these days is an effortless, natural makeup look — at least in Japan — so people like to focus on having great skin with minimal eye makeup.”
Morita goes on to explain that, even if you have wonderful makeup skills, forgetting to protect your skin from harsh UV rays and not taking care of your skin with brightening products will result in a dull-looking complexion. “These bihaku items aim to not only lighten up dark spots — both visible and upcoming spots that are still hidden underneath the skin that aren’t visible to the naked eye — but to also give a luminous glow to your skin from within.” And it’s that exact fresh-faced glow that I set out to discover.
In my research, I also learned that, unlike the multistep K-beauty routines and the ultra-aggressive American techniques that rely on deep exfoliation and harsh chemical formulas, J-beauty is rather simple.
Relying on double cleansing (or cleansing and exfoliating, rather), essences, lotions, moisturizers, serums, and facial massages, Japanese beauty is all about nourishing skin with a gentle cleanse, multiple layers of hydration, regularly masking, and, of course, sun protection. And that’s not to say you have to oblige every single one of those components of care.
“Japanese products are developed based on ‘omotenashi’ and ‘hospitality’ spirits, in my opinion,” a Japanese beauty expert based in Tokyo named Nicole tells Allure. “The brands always focus on what is missing from the market and what the customers really want, hence, they are really attentive. You will be able to find innovative products to suit your every need.”
So, I scoured the market for a handful of prized J-beauty brands to lead me on my first forage into a Far East skin-care routine. Now, before diving deep into the step-by-step process of my J-beauty routine, I’ll be honest: This wasn’t the be-all and end-all to my complexion concerns. It was, however, pretty damn close. As a natural strawberry blonde with sensitive skin, your girl is prone to some fairly serious redness. Whether I’ve just hopped out of the shower, sat out at the beach, scratched my cheek with an extra-light hand, or, honestly, even just imagined an itch, more than likely my complexion will be splotched with redness.
In addition to my color concerns, I’m convinced that I have very enlarged pores, though aestheticians don’t seem to always agree. Either way, by committing to a regimented J-beauty routine, as opposed to my go-with-the-flow, try-whatever routine, I hoped to bring a little peace and calm to my skin in the form of color and tone balance.
Now that you have an idea of what I was expecting, read on for the J-beauty routine I followed religiously for a month — and how my skin changed along the way.
My Morning Routine
Step 1: Cleanser
Cleansing is a ritual for many people in Japan, so it only makes sense that they’d use ultrarich cleansers to get the job done. Where American skin care heavily relies on gel- and foam-based cleansers, J-beauty is all about seriously nourishing the skin with heavy-duty oils.
To give my skin the royal treatment, I chatted with my friends at Tatcha about my sensitive, combination skin, and the brand recommended using its fan-favorite One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil. Chock-full of vitamins, nourishing omegas, green tea, rice, and algae, this ultralight oil cleanser did my skin good each and every morning, not only leaving it clean but noticeably less red, too. It was never too heavy, which is something I’ve often struggled with when trying other oil cleansers in the past, and it never left residue on my skin. Instead, it foamed into a slight milky lather to rinse away whatever remained on my face from the night before.
Disclaimer: It’s worth mentioning that there were some days that my skin still felt so clean from the night before that I would skip cleansing come morning, and instead head straight to the second step. Oddly, this worked well enough to manage my finicky, combination skin.
Step 2: Essence or Lotion
After patting my face dry, I moved on with my morning J-beauty skin-care routine with an essence or a lotion. And no, I don’t mean a creamy lotion, but rather a liquid hydrator that’s known as such in Japan and other Asian countries. “It helps to use a booster [like an essence or lotion] at the beginning of your routine to really penetrate the products into your skin,” says Morita. To “boost” my products, I relied on Tatcha’s The Essence, Adsorb’s AntiBody Moist Essence, and Beauty Pie’s Japanfusion Step M1: Hydra Prep Lotion for this step. I could’ve just chosen one, but I already felt like I was cutting down on a lot of the product testing that typically goes into all of my days, so opting for both an essence and a lotion to switch back and forth between seemed like a happy medium.
Where the Tatcha Essence is focused on plumping, smoothing, and resurfacing skin, the Adsorb essence is gel-based, working to firm, tone, and hydrate skin, and the Beauty Pie Prep Lotion is all about delivering antioxidant-rich extracts to soothe, hydrate, balance, and calm skin. Both of these products are built to turbocharge the other products that you put on top of it, so either way, I knew I was setting up my skin for success.
To apply these products, which actually had the same consistency despite different names, I soaked a cotton square and patted — not rubbed — the product into my face. “Always apply by gently pressing the product into skin rather than just slathering it across the outermost layer of the skin,” says Nicole. “Never drag your skin, because you don’t want to create any wrinkles over time while applying your skin care.”
Step 3: Serum
After thoroughly prepping my skin, I applied a lightweight serum — the Beauty Pie Japanfusion Step M2: Deep Treatment Serum — to my face. In seconds, it managed to really quench my skin’s thirst despite being so airy. Loaded with grape and citrus antioxidants and powerful skin-soothers, this serum proved to be a real ally in my quest for a J-beauty complexion and battle against redness.
Step 4: Moisturizer
While my skin already felt hydrated at this point — despite admittedly being nervous about how all this extra hydration was going to react with my combination skin come midday — I kept layering in true Japanese fashion. Depending on how dry my skin felt, I would switch between the Beauty Pie Japanfusion Step M3: Supreme Cream, Adsorb AntiBody Gel Cream, and Tatcha Water Cream. In the beginning, I was using a lot of the Supreme Cream and Adsorb AntiBody Gel Cream to soothe my dry, irritated combination skin. I found both really sunk in for long-lasting hydration.
After a few days, however, I noticed that my skin had balanced out a bit and could fare better with a lighter formula, at which point I began reaching solely for the Tatcha Water Cream. This water-gel cream is renowned across the world for its unique water-based formula that bursts upon application for what literally feels like splashing your face with water — hydrating, soothing, and never sticky. What’s more, with Japanese wild rose and Japanese leopard lily, this cream is known to create the appearance of tightened pores and control excess oil. I assure you, the claims hold up.
By the end of my monthlong stint, there were days when I literally just finished with this, penciled in my brows and swiped my lips with Lipstick Queen Frog Prince for a hint of natural-looking color before running out the door. The best part? My skin looked and felt radiant and redness-free without an ounce of makeup. This is for sure the closest I’ve ever gotten to the K-beauty glass skin trend, making this product a new swear-by that will maintain its coveted spot on my vanity.
Step 5: Eye Gel
The last step of my morning routine included the DHC Eye Bright eye gel. I recently got a really intense full-body facial at Paul Labrecque in New York City and learned that, when applying any sort of eye cream, it can make a world of difference to incorporate a lymphatic eye massage. Now, this really shouldn’t be anything new considering how popular jade rollers are right now, but the way my aesthetician performed this massage literally changed my life, not to mention my eye-care routine.
To experience the instantly depuffing magic for yourself, squeeze a dot of eye gel under your eye and use your ring finger to disperse it all over the area. Next, use the outside edge of your thumb to gently press from the lower outside corner of your eye in toward your nose, up across your inner eye area, and over toward the tail of your brow. Hold your thumb pressed in place there for a few seconds, and release. Now, look in the mirror and try to tell me your eyes don’t look drastically different.
My Nighttime Routine
Step 1: Cleanse and Exfoliate
At the end of the day, I made sure to always make time to cleanse my skin. While I typically do this, I’ll admit that I’m sometimes lazy and rely on makeup wipes, which, in my opinion, aren’t nearly as effective. Anyway, in making the time, I was able to commit to a regular double-cleansing routine.
Instead of using a balm and foam cleanser, J-beauty relies on ultrarich oils and ultragentle exfoliators to get the job done. For that reason, I started using DHC’s Deep Cleansing Oil, which is an olive oil-based facial cleanser that dissolves even the most stubborn makeup, while cleansing, soothing, and refreshing skin all over.
After rinsing the oil away, I immediately followed it up with a pinch of the Tatcha The Deep Polish Rice Enzyme Powder. While I’m totally on board with how smooth this powder makes my face feel, the actual application can be a tad tricky, as the powder dissolves almost instantly. Because of this, I never emulsify it in my hands before putting it on my face. Instead, I get my fingers wet, dip them in the jar of powder, and swirl it on my face with little-to-no fallout.
Step 2: Essence
Just like I used the lotion in my morning routine, after cleansing and exfoliating at night, I soaked a cotton pad with the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. Unchanged for over 35 years, the iconic product is a fan-favorite, thanks to its ability to transform skin — targeting dark spots, texture, fine lines, and radiance. Needless to say, it was an absolute must-have for my routine.
Step 3: Facial Oil
Come my evening routine, I knew I wouldn’t be heading anywhere, so it didn’t really phase me to grease up with a facial oil. While plenty of elixirs promise to never leave residue, I’ve found that they almost always do on my skin. And so was the case with DHC’s Olive Virgin Oil Moisturizer. The rich facial oil claims to absorb easily into skin, and for some of my friends I know it does, but again, this skin of mine isn’t the most cooperative. I didn’t mind the surface oil, as it made me feel like my face would be fully hydrated all night long. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Every morning I woke up with grease-free skin that simply looked healthy and hydrated, not to mention a great deal calmer and clearer as a result.
Step 4: Eye Gel
Again, same drill as the morning because, even if I had nowhere to be, performing mini eye massages feels good, so in the evening the appearance boost was a bonus.
Step 5: Spot Treatment
Even when following a J-beauty routine, the cystic blemish on my chin managed to pop into view like clockwork. At first, I layered it with the DHC Acne Spot Therapy in hopes of alleviating the mini infection before it looked large and in charge. While it worked to reduce redness at first, in the end, my zit won, forcing me to veer ever so slightly from my J-beauty routine in favor of one of K-beauty’s favorite spot treatments: the Mighty Patch. I figured this would be an acceptable detour considering my simultaneous adventure in beauty to stop picking when this monster comes into view on the monthly. Once my patch deflated the beast, I went back to using the DHC treatment to tame redness, thanks to its aloe vera- and green tea-based formula, and all was right with the world.
Step 6: Overnight Mask
Every couple of nights I would switch things up. While I kept my cleansing and essence in place, instead of continuing with the other products in my nightly routine, I reached for a SK-II Overnight Miracle Mask. Designed to leave skin looking energized and clear come morning, these quickly became a fave, so much so that if it weren’t for the luxe price tag ($105 for five masks), I would’ve gladly slathered my face in the pudding-textured face mask each and every night. Seriously, when I woke up, my skin looked so glow-y, I didn’t even want to put on makeup.
Final thoughts: I would 100 percent recommend embracing a Japanese beauty routine for its hydrating, calming benefits — especially if your goal is dewy, clear skin. Moving forward, I’m actually keeping a few of the products in my regular skin-care routine.
It’s worth noting, however, that adopting this type of regimen may take more time than your current regimen. But, like Morita says, if you want a glowing complexion, you should spend as much time removing your makeup and applying your nighttime skin-care products as you do applying your makeup in the morning.
More skin-care trends we love:
- What to Know About “Cloudless Skin,” the Latest K-Beauty Trend
- Honey Skin Is the Super Popular K-Beauty Skin-Care Trend You Need to Know
- The Most Googled Skin-Care Trend Might Surprise You
Now, watch this video on 100 years of acne treatments:
- 1 My Morning Routine
- 2 My Nighttime Routine
- 3 The Results