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The 4 keys to Japanese skin care, according to a beauty guru


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In her travels, Tatcha beauty founder Victoria Tsai noticed that a culture’s skin care often mirrors its cuisine. “French skin care’s rich and buttery textures match its indulgent meals; Korean food is bold, flavorful, and filled with experimental ingredients and forms, just like their ever-evolving skin-care products.”

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Photo: Clarkson Potter

Then there’s Japan, where the skin care, according to her, is like sushi. “They use very few ingredients,” she explains. “And because there are so few components, each ingredient must be of the highest quality.”

As someone who was suffering from acute dermatitis, Tsai adopted the Japanese approach, and focused on the long game: glowing skin. “Western skin care is very solution-oriented, which has the unfortunate effect of reducing the client to a group of problems,” she explains. “In Japan, they recognize that your skin is the outward reflection of your health. Instead of targeting a pimple or a wrinkle, they take the time to think about the deeper causes.”

Every day, she began working little by little to achieve luminous skin—as opposed to drying out blemishes—which, in turn, helped to prevent new skin problems from popping up. “It’s like Eastern medicine,” she says. “And it’s the same with their formulas, which embody a gentle strength and efficacy without being harsh on the skin.”

Keep reading for the 4 staples of Japanese skin care, as divulged in Tsai’s new book Pure Skin (out now).

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East vs West Skin Care

One of the first things I realized during my travels was that geisha and other Japanese women all have the remarkable, glowing skin we in the western world associate with youth.

Before I embraced an Eastern-based beauty ritual, my relationship with my skin was often adversarial. I worked against it by using aggressive products that promised overnight transformation. When I talk to women with acne or eczema, they often tell me that they feel as if their skin has betrayed them. I understand that, because the thought of my skin as being out of control, too. But perhaps the most valuable lesson the Japanese approach to beauty has taught me is that skin care is about caring. Your skin works hard for you. If you show it attention and love, it will reward you with a healthy radiance.

Less is more.

Western women tend to focus much more on makeup than on skin care, accumulating an impressive collection of lipsticks, eye shadows and highlighters from a young age. Japanese women instead prioritize a clear, smooth complexion using a curated skin-care ritual. When it comes to both their arsenal of products and the ingredients within, they believe that less is more. Each cleanser, moisturizer or treatment is a beloved and essential step, often formulated with the minimum number of ingredients to ensure efficacy.

Ingredients are key.

Japanese women are acutely aware of the fact that their skin is a reflection of their health. They know to avoid certain foods or to have a very plant-rich, clean diet for healthy skin. Many of the ingredients that are commonly found in their diet are also used in their skin care; it stands to reason that what is healthy for the body is also healthy for the skin. The basics of the Japanese diet–rice, seaweed and green tea—are beloved ingredients even in modern skin-care formulas. The idea of diet-skin connection is still a nascent concept in the western world.

Rituals are essential.

To honor a ritual is to elevate an everyday action into something mindful, even healing. A geisha’s skin-care routine is necessary to melt away her makeup and keep her complexion clear, but it is not a daily chore. Whether it is the first time or the hundredth, the act of purifying the skin and massaging on a moisturizer is performed with precision and care.

Skin care is self-care.

The Japanese skin care ritual isn’t about overnight transformations or aggressive treatments. Rather, it’s about meditative moments of attending to your skin and therefore to yourself, every single day. To truly care for your skin, you must go beyond eliminating a pimple or splashing away makeup. Think of your skin as a reflection of your body. Could it be stress that causes a breakout? A lack of sleep that results in dry or dull skin? Lotions and potions will only go so far if you aren’t paying attention to the state of your soul.

Reprinted from PURE SKIN: Discover the Japanese Ritual of Glowing Skin. Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Wei-Chi Tsai. Illustrations by Samantha Hahn. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Keep traveling to learn about Hawaiian beauty and Icelandic skin-care rituals

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