- A typical Japanese skin care routine is gentle but thorough, incorporating multiple layers of moisturizer, targeted serums, and sheet masks.
- Unique tactics — such as double cleansing, tapping products into the skin, and regular facial massages — make Japanese skincare especially effective.
- Japanese skincare products use natural exfoliants, antioxidants, and other nutrients to enhance the skin without stripping it of essential oils and moisture.
Japanese people treat taking care of their skin as a luxury, not as an obligation; pampering themselves is something they look forward to. But what are the steps, strategies, and products they use to maintain such radiant, smooth skin?
In this guide, we’ll reveal the secrets of Japanese skincare and beauty products.
What is a typical Japanese skin care routine?
Japanese people approach skin care “much more delicately and preventatively” than Americans, who are obsessed “with aggressive exfoliation and harsh products,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rhonda Q. Klein of Westport, CT.
“The basic tenant of Japanese skincare emphasizes sun protection and strict avoidance, gentle cleansing with multiple layers of hydrating and moisturizing products, serums, more moisturizers, and masks,” she explains.
Double or triple cleansing is quite common, often starting with an oil cleanser followed by a hydrating cleanser.
Morning and bedtime routines
In the morning, Japanese skincare routines are about balancing the skin, protecting it from environmental pollutants and harmful rays it will be exposed to throughout the day, and prepping it to be the perfect canvas for any makeup.
The first step is cleansing the pores to eliminate any excess sebum, dirt, and impurities. Cleansing is typically followed by emulsion. This step involves using a softener or a hydrating essence, which is a lightweight, watery product that tones the skin and restores moisture balance.
The next step is to lock all the products in with a moisturizer and then add sunscreen, even when it’s overcast outside.
At night, the focus is placed on nourishing and enriching the skin with key vitamins, helping to fuel cell turnover and collagen production.
The routine starts with a makeup remover before cleansing, and typically ends with the application of a facial serum and then a moisturizer to treat the skin and address any specific concerns.
Although they might not use them daily, the Japanese regularly incorporate specific face masks into their nighttime regimen. These masks can be formulated to be brightening, firming, or hydrating.
Japanese-inspired skin care tips
Follow these six basic pieces of advice to fully benefit from your Japanese beauty routine.
- Don’t try to multitask
In a Japanese skin care routine, each product is designed to serve one purpose only. Although it might be tempting use a formula that promises to perform multiple functions, you should seek out products that offer a single benefit instead.
Even Japanese sheet masks are specially designed to treat one specific problem, such as dullness, blemishes, hyperpigmentation, or signs of aging.
- Double cleanse
It’s very common for the Japanese to cleanse twice. First, they use an oil-based cleanser that’s rich in vitamins and less likely to dry the skin out. This helps lift away makeup and other impurities. Then, they apply a foaming product to wash away residual dirt.
- Tap, don’t rub
Many of us tend to rub cleansers, exfoliators, serums, and moisturizers into our skin, but this can actually cause irritation and inflammation, wreaking havoc on the skin’s texture and overall appearance.
The Japanese skincare approach involves delicately tapping products into the skin, which is less traumatic but still helps the products to penetrate. This is especially critical when applying cream around the eyes, as the skin there is particularly thin, delicate, and prone to wrinkling.
As an added bonus, tapping stimulates circulation, and good blood flow plays a key part in achieving a radiant complexion.
- Try a facial massage
Facial massages are a common component of the Japanese skincare routine. This relaxing procedure is aimed at increasing blood flow and draining the lymphatic system, which can reduce puffiness and help the skin repair any damage.
A 2017 study revealed that facial massages can evoke an “anti-aging response.”
Need a little help achieving the right massage technique or pressure? Facial rollers are very popular in Japan for this purpose.
- Exfoliate gently
Exfoliation is a crucial part of any skincare regimen, as it prevents dead skin cells from building up and potentially clogging pores or leaving your skin looking dull.
The Japanese tend not to use harsh polishes with abrasive ingredients like apricot shells, which can cause micro-tears in the skin. Instead, they favor gel or rice powder formulas that contain very fine natural exfoliants, such as Adzuki beans, that can gently buff away dead cells for a smoother complexion.
- Be diligent with SPF
Japanese skin care regimens prioritize sunscreen. Many Japanese take out their hats and umbrellas on sunny days, and wear sunscreen daily (even when it’s overcast) to prevent premature signs of aging.
Need extra incentive to slather it on? A study published by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery showed that sunscreen not only prevents damage from the sun, it also can reverse common signs of aging, like hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, fine lines, and sun spots.
5 must-have Japanese skin care products
The core philosophy behind Japanese skin care is minimalism. That means an emphasis on natural ingredients and simplistic formulas that are easier on the skin.
Some key ingredients to look for include rice bran (a gentle natural exfoliant), green tea (a powerful anti-inflammatory that’s packed with antioxidants), and Camellia oil (a highly effective moisturizer).
If you’re eager to integrate some Japanese skincare products into your regimen, here are some standout options that work for all skin types.
DHC Deep Cleansing Oil
This cult-favorite formula, which combines olive oil with nourishing vitamin E in the base, is powerful enough to remove even waterproof makeup, yet is gentle enough that it won’t strip your skin of all its moisture.
Kose Sekkisei Emulsion
The Kosé Sekkisei line is particularly popular in Japan because it leverages ancient Japanese herbs for a variety of skin-enhancing benefits. This product is lightweight, is absorbed quickly, and contains a blend of vitamins that promises to brighten and soften skin while preventing age spots and inflammation.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
As the best-selling brand’s signature product, this facial treatment is aimed at reducing wrinkles, refining the texture of the skin, and boosting both firmness and radiance. The key ingredient in this formula is Pitera, which is derived from yeast and packs more than 50 micronutrients that can benefit the skin.
Shiseido Anessa Perfect Sunscreen SPF 50+
As previously mentioned, preventing damage from UV rays is a top focus in Japanese skincare. Shiseido’s product works well for all skin types and can even serve as a primer for your makeup because it leaves a matte finish but doesn’t leave a white cast.
Cure Natural Aqua Peeling Gel
This water-based exfoliator is safe for even the most sensitive skin but can slough away dead skin cells in just one minute. The product is entirely free of alcohol, coloring, fragrance, and preservatives. Instead, it’s chock-full of skin-nurturing natural plant extracts such as rosemary and aloe vera.
» Ask a dermatologist to help you choose the right products for your skin type and concerns — use Zwivel’s online directory to locate skin care experts in your area.