If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re a cosmetics enthusiast who have a finely tuned, carefully researched skincare routine. What’s the difference between Japanese skincare routine and Western skincare routine?
From my observation, many (Western) women’s morning skincare routine goes somewhat like this:
- Wash face — Water only or cleanser.
Toner— Ok, maybe not as many have already automatically dismissed it as being useless.
- Serum — 50/50. For those feeling fancy.
- Moisturiser — Dry skin, oily skin… who cares? *Piles it on.*
Sunscreen— “I’m not in the sun and my foundation has SPF in it already.”
The evening routine is somewhat similar as well:
- Cleanser — “This better thoroughly removes makeup and gently cleanse skin.”
- Mask (Rinse-off) — Only when in the mood or skin needs extra help.
Toner— See morning.
- Serum — Actives work better at night, right? *Layers them up.*
- Moisturiser — Again, see morning.
Chizu Saeki, 68 this year, is Japan’s renowned skincare guru and she has never had any cosmetics procedures done. Her first English book, The Japanese Skincare Revolution (2009), has caused a stirred in the Western Hemisphere with her ‘revolutionary skincare’ concept. The book is actually a translation of her 3rd book, Bihada Kakumei (“Skincare Revolution”), published in 2004. Since then, she has written 26 skincare books in Japanese already!
In Japan, Saeki is a regular fixation on TV shows and in women’s magazines. Most of her skincare techniques and routines are nothing new as they have been standard practice (although not as widespread) in Japan long before she published her first skincare book in Japan back in 2003.
A typical Japanese skincare routine goes somewhat like this in the morning:
- Wash face — Same as above. Nothing new.
- Toner (called ‘lotion’ in Japan) — Considers a must-have! In depth explanation of Japanese lotion (toner) HERE.
- Serum — Product changes according to skin’s needs. Another must-have!
- Moisturiser — To seal in active(s) given by the serum. A different purpose altogether.
- Sunscreen/Makeup Base — Since it’s considered very ill-mannered for women to not wear makeup in public and perfect fair skin is ideal, most act as both.
Saeki’s morning skincare routine is no different except she emphasizes on facial massages while doing each step.
Japanese moisturisers are bit different in terms of function and texture. Their main function is to seal in the actives(s) given by the serum you just applied, although they do moisturise skin as well. There’re 2 main types: creams and milks (very liquid-y) — Western moisturising ‘lotion’ does not exist in Japanese skin care.
According to a recent consumer survey in Japan, women spend an average of 10 minutes in the morning on skin care alone. Personally, I don’t find it surprising as it’s about the same for me. The average makeup application time for those under 26 is 15 minutes according to CanCam magazine readers poll (those over 26 spend average of 10 minutes). In Japan, your appearance matters. It matters a lot. Rather than vanity, it’s considered a sign of respect — for yourself and others.
The day has ended. What about evening care? The typical Japanese evening care routine is the same as the one Saeki is teaching:
- Remove makeup — Using a makeup remover first → Japanese skin care often refers this step as cleansing.
- Cleanser / Face Wash — A gentle cleanser to wash away sebum, dirt, and impurities from face → Japanese skin care often refers this step as washing.
- Toner (a.k.a. lotion) — See morning. Saeki does a DIY lotion mask nightly using unquilted cotton wool pads.
- Sheet Mask — Generally twice a week. (Sheet masks contain beauty serum not lotion.)
- Serum — Again, changes according to skin’s needs.
- Moisturiser — See morning.
Those who are used to the Western skin care routine may find the Japanese counterpart overly long and complicated. Saeki advocates women to spend time and care, not money for beautiful skin. In her English book she noted: if you spent 30 minutes putting on makeup, take 30 minutes removing it. It is not meant to be taken verbatim — of course — but rather, a mind-set that you should take the same care in the evening as you would putting on makeup. Personally, I think that’s excellent advice. Even people who are blessed with good genetics are still subjected to environmental and lifestyle stresses and ageing!
While I don’t agree with her on a lot of things — mixing sunscreen with moisturiser, scrubs should be used more often on broken-out skin, cleansing oils should be avoided as they contain surfactants (but soaps are OK) — I love that she advocates self-care techniques that can be done for free at home rather than expensive products or costly procedures. She teaches women how to have beautiful skin at their age rather than how to turn back the clock on ageing.
Whether her massage techniques really do work to improve sagging, firm skin, and smooth fine lines are anyone’s guess but many of her “followers” do swear by them. Lymph node massage to fight double chin in her English book:
If you’re not familiar with the Japanese way of caring for the skin and you’re looking for a good read, do check out Chizu Saeki’s The Japanese Skincare Revolution. The content may be slightly outdated with some questionable advice but she empowers women to take their skin into their own hands — quite literally — without fancy gadgets, expensive potions, or invasive procedures. Everytime I think about her advice on fantasizing celebrities that you have the hots for while putting on skin care products and applying makeup (to get the hormones going for healthy skin), I can’t help but smile.