Betty, founder of Kantanno, shares her own journey with J-beauty and how it transformed her skin
I first discovered Japanese beauty during a summer internship in Tokyo 12 years ago.
My skin had just taken a beating from a brutal Boston winter: harsh cold winds + super drying heat from my dorm’s radiator. I constantly felt oily and noticed that my pores were getting clogged, so I did what any skincare amateur would: I washed my face more frequently and used astringent toners to help with oil control. That was a big mistake. My skin got worse, and my pores only got bigger.
Fast forward three months, and I was in Tokyo. My skin (already struggling) was NOT prepped to handle the heat and humidity. My t-zone was an embarrassing mess—acne all over my forehead and whiteheads on my chin. Initially, things took a turn for the worse in Tokyo. I broke out like crazy in the hot and humid environment, and My CVS cleanser and astringent toner did nothing to save me from looking like a hormone-prone teenager. In the sea of women with seemingly impeccable porcelain skin, I sure stood out (and the shiny, red beacon on my nose didn’t help)
Showa Women’s University in Tokyo
I was staying at a women’s university campus and got to hang out with an awesome group of local college and graduate students. They were incredibly warm and welcoming, and we shared meals everyday and took many weekend trips together (think Terrace House, minus boys). In one of our conversations, I asked them about their beauty regimens, and this evolved into a favorite topic of discussion amongst the group.
It became apparent to me that having good skin is essential to the Japanese ideal of beauty. In Japanese, there is this phrase “mochi hada”, or “rice cake skin”, to describe the the ideal skin condition. Think soft, smooth, and plump. Makeup is secondary and worn to complement naturally beautiful and glowing skin.
With nothing to lose, I got a list of my Japanese friends’ must-have products — anything to allay my tormented skin — and marched over to the drugstore around the corner that had an ample beauty section. After just two weeks of sticking with the routine, I started noticing that my t-zone started clearing up. And my face felt softer and smoother, and my pores became less visible. Finally. Progress. The more I kept up the daily routine, the freer I felt to walk out of the house without makeup (and self-consciousness).
Summer fireworks festival in Tokyo, 2007
I learned many things about skincare from my Japanese friends, hanging out everyday in the college dormitory. Their routines were very similar to one another and if it was all working for them, I needed to give it a go (it seemed like everyone in the country was in on this big secret).
What I loved most about the Japanese skincare routine is that it’s fairly simple and straightforward. People focus on the most critical steps — cleansing, hydrating, sun protection — but doing those steps consistently every single day.
I’ve been following the j-beauty routine for the past 12 years: through more brutal Boston winters, powerful tropical UV rays (love my Miami sunshine!), long hours in my finance career, etc. My skin has become softer and clearer, my pores barely visible (hallelujah!), and my complexion more radiant. The steps are simple, and the textures of the products make putting them on always an enjoyable experience, so I’ve been able to keep up the routine for many years. It was a real confidence booster when my friends started asking me about my skincare routine. I always respond, “try j-beauty!”.
Below are keys steps in the Japanese routine that I’ve learned after years of research and practice:
- The concept of cleansing and purifying is extremely important to the Japanese (definitely go to a public bath or hot spring if you visit!). And Japanese face washes are unique in that they thoroughly wash away makeup, dirt, dead skin cells, etc. while being gentle and preserving the skin’s moisture level.
Locals washing their hands prior to entering a shrine
- Moisturizing is a two-step process in j-beauty, kind of like layering on clothing. The first step, conditioning the skin with toners/essences, is often overlooked in the West. The Japanese describe this step as “filling up the face with water”. Basically, using watery toners and essences to hydrate the skin and help it retain moisture. The second step is “sealing off this water with a “veil”. Using a moisture that contains a balance of water and oil to keep everything locked in. Through this two-step moisture layering, the skin is deeply hydrated all day long. And without the use of a heavy cream that might feel greasy or cause breakouts.
- Lastly, if there’s one thing I took away from these conversations, it’s that sun protection is critical. People in Japan carry umbrellas on both sunny and rainy days. So you can imagine the innovation in sunscreens. There are so many different brands, textures, and applications methods: gels, milks, sprays, powders, sticks, etc. Japanese sunscreens are powerful but lightweight, very different from the traditional heavy sunscreens common in the West.
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, take a look at Kantanno’s curated selection of skincare essentials from Japan. And subscribe to our newsletter below to get 10% off your first purchase.