Allison, a long-time skincare aficionado, discusses her experiences with Japanese skincare
When did you first try Japanese skincare? What did you like and didn't like?
I ended up trying Japanese products in my early 20s; like most teenagers with cystic acne, I spent a lot of time and money on very harsh products, trying to kill my acne and bumps. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I essentially was destroying my skin barrier, and that overly harsh treatments tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. I had incredibly oily skin in my teenage years, and I ended up over-treating it. What I found very enjoyable about Japanese products is that they’re very light and very wearable. The entire product, from packaging to application, is very thorough and has been designed with the consumer in mind.
Probably the only thing I dislike is how often Japanese products update and change. The beauty market in East Asia is ruthless and finicky; there are products that I like that get discontinued and it’s incredibly trying to find them and stock up. The other issue (and this is a point for more French-based products) is that there is a lack of heaviness for harsher winters and weather problems. I find European oils to be more beneficial in these climates.
What are your favorite Japanese beauty products? How do they fit into your skincare routine?
Hands down my favorite Japanese products are their sunscreens, their essences and their vitamin C. Japanese products are very portable, especially their moisturizing products and their sunscreen.
The Merano Vitamin C Medicinal Essence is incredibly effective product that lasts a long time and has sturdy portable packaging. I pretty much apply 5-6 times a week. It’s moisturizing, adds a brightness to your skin, and helps with hyperpigmentation. One of the best things is how effective the packaging is. I take it everywhere when I travel. I’m the type of person who is forever traveling, and it’s so easy to pack! I think this is really important too, when you’re stuck always traveling, you want to make sure that you’re taking care of your skin. I like to put this on my face post face-mask on a plane. I usually put on this 4-6 times a week, pre-sunscreen in the morning.
The Kikumasamune Sake Skin Essence is amazing for that dewy look; usually I’ll put in a glass spray bottle and occasionally spray my face throughout the day. On weekends, I’ll constantly apply it. It’s great for hydration, it has a slightly sake scent which I find very pleasant (though your mileage might vary) and it absorbs very quickly for me. I always have the spray bottle around me at home, so I usually use it countless times throughout the week.
The Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk is an incredible sunscreen that I go through countless bottles of. I am the sunscreen freak you read about, but never actually encounter. I am one of the few and the proud that actually reapply sunscreen every two hours. Moisture Milk does an incredible job of melting in the skin, not being tacky or piling up in gel balls, or being undesirable to the consumer. There were some summer trips to Southeast Asia and Central America where I was reapplying this 5-7 times a day and I never felt it was heavy or overwhelming. I am consistently impressed how lightweight it is and how wearable it is.
Can you describe your typical routine?
I think the best routine that works for my skin is a combination of both Eastern and Western skincare. I am against a huge number of multiple steps for skincare; the reason is that it’s not realistic. Good skin comes from consistency, not from products. You don’t need the best sunscreen in the world, you need a sunscreen that you will put on every day. I actually worry sometimes products are overpriced; the consumer is not incentivized to use the recommended amount because of a price worry.
In the morning, I usually use a foaming cleanser which is gentle, followed by either a vitamin C serum, a peptide serum or a niacinamide serum depending on the day. If my face feels dry (usually more common in the winter), I’ll follow up with a light moisturizer or a heavy essence. After waiting 5-10 minutes, I’ll put a sunscreen on. I usually don’t wear makeup on my skin (I would like to credit my skincare routine for that), and I will reapply sunscreen through the day. At night, I cleanse, usually with a cleaning balm on more fragile skin area (mainly the eye area) and with a gentle cleanser on other areas. Usually after that I put an essence on. I usually take off my makeup the minute I get home, which means that there are a couple hours between essence and my nighttime application. I do use retinoids, so usually my skincare routine at night is a retinoid, serum and then if it’s a winter or dry based environment, an oil or heavier cream. Two or three times a week, I’ll do a face mask, and once a week, I’ll apply a heavy cream to my entire body and wear old ratty gym clothing so it’ll fully absorb. People forget that your skin is your entire body and I find it disconcerting when the facial skin and the body skin look different. Don’t forget that when I use my steps I also apply to my neck!
Can you name some products that you brought back from your recent trip to Japan? Which would you recommend the most and why?
I think the Japanese have been really doing interesting things with their essences and their emulsions. I am a huge fan of emulsions, mostly because as you get older, you tend to want wear skin care products that feel weightless and enjoyable. I was a big fan of the formulation of the product Kosé Sekkisei Emulsion and other types of emulsions that are very light and very moisturizing. I’m currently stationed in Chicago and spent a lot of time on the East Coast; during the Summer I was in Toronto. Before that I was in Los Angeles; these climates could not be more different in terms of skincare. I have found emulsions to be the best products to travel with in terms of adaptability for climate. It’s just a question of how much you apply and how often do you reapply. I found a lot of American/Western products lacking in how to do this, to be frank.
Is there anything special about products you've found in Japan that aren't easily accessible here?
The Japanese put a high premium on wearable skincare; what I mean by that is that they understand that skincare can be a chore. I’ve never met a consumer that desires wearing heavy, white-tinted sunscreen that makes them look undesirable; add that you have to reapply every two hours to maintain this ghoulish appearance, it’s not hard to understand why American people don’t want to wear sunscreen. I think the culture of skincare is much more admired in Japan, and I wish that would translate more to America. The other thing is how portable Japanese products are! American urban life is constantly on the move, and no one wants to constantly transport their life to the workplace.
I think the other thing that I like about Japanese skincare is that it feels like a luxury. I liken it to waxing a luxury motorcycle; there is something very beautiful about a newly cleaned Ducati, and there is a certain amount of pleasure during the process of actually waxing the motorcycle. Japanese skincare is similar.