Basic Japanese Skin Care Guide

Updated on November 7, 2019
samanthacubbison profile image

I am a professional broke girl who loves to get crafty in the kitchen on a dime.

Mochi cakes are made of pounded mochigome and dusted in rice flour, resulting in a pillow-soft sweet treat.
Mochi cakes are made of pounded mochigome and dusted in rice flour, resulting in a pillow-soft sweet treat. | Source

After living in Japan and following beauty gurus religiously on social media for the past several years, I’ve learned a thing or two about skincare. But whether you’re visiting or you call Tokyo home, unless you’re really into beauty, the scene can be overwhelming if not bizarre. Matsumoto Kiyoshi and Don Quijote, among other stores, stock the most popular bang-for-your-buck products on the market. Feeling doubtful about long-term effects? Just look around. The proof is in the skin. This is where the term mochihada, or soft skin, comes from. Because with proper skin care and daily upkeep, your face will feel like mochi—the delectably silky and buoyant sweet treat—for decades to come.

The Importance of a Regimen

While contouring and perfecting the “so sharp it can kill a man” eyeliner wing trends are still going strong in the U.S., skincare seems to be taking a back seat. Makeup and freedom of expression go hand in hand, but many people are unaware of the damage that cosmetics can cause down the line without proper skincare. Of course, if you are willing to shell out thousands of dollars and all of the feeling in your face, there are plenty of quick fixes out there. But if you want truly healthy skin that will hold up longer than Botox, then read on. If you idolize models like Kiko Mizuhara, or television personalities like Rola for their skin, this Japanese skin-care regimen has been perfected throughout the years to guarantee results.

A Routine That’s Anything but Routine

The average routine involves anywhere from 8-12 steps. Sounds like quite the ordeal, right? Some products can be switched out and used on occasion for different problem areas and concerns. The morning routine varies slightly from the evening, but both involve basically the same products:

  • an oil-based cleanser
  • pore cleanser
  • toner
  • facial milk
  • sheet mask
  • serum
  • eye cream
  • moisturizer
  • facial massage

So, despite the low price point on these items, the cost does add up if you are trying to do it right. Luckily, I’ve researched and tested many of these products in search of the cheapest way to great skin. So, now when you ask, “What on Earth are all of these products supposed to do?” Well, I have the answer.

Matsumoto Kiyoshi, a popular cosmetic and home good store in Japan.
Matsumoto Kiyoshi, a popular cosmetic and home good store in Japan. | Source

The Nitty Gritty

Oil is the most effective at removing dirt and grime. Unlike the Western approach that involves vigorous scrubbing until you are raw, Japanese cleansing involves rubbing oil onto dry skin to pick up dirt and unclog pores without damaging the outer layer of skin. Hiptich Deep Cleansing Oil is a great option because not only is it waterproof for shower use, it’s also only about $19.00 a bottle. Then, a penetrating cleanser is used to take out any grime from within the newly opened pores. My personal favorite is the Gatsby Facial Wash: Moisture because although it is marketed towards men, it is very effective at targeting problem spots while not drying out your skin. For a powerful cleanser under $10.00 on Amazon, it’s a no-brainer on my favorites list.

Toner is applied shortly after to shrink those pores down to size, and prepare the skin to accept all of the other excellent products to come. Naturie Hatomugi Lotion Skin Conditioner is an inexpensive but highly popular toner in Japan. In cosmetic stores, this brand is always on display as a #1 bestseller and rightfully so, thanks to its moisturizing and calming properties.

Once the skin is dried and feels tight, facial milk is applied. Facial milk is rarely seen in the West, but it is basically a lightweight skin drink that replenishes any hydration lost during cleansing and toning. For an extra boost, Curel Moisture Face Milk is infused with Eucalyptus extract, which penetrates the skin for maximum hydration. The brand has a whole range of useful skin-care products to try, this one being a reasonable $16.00.

Spot treatments are perfect for targeting specific skin troubles.
Spot treatments are perfect for targeting specific skin troubles. | Source

Zapping Those Problem Spots *Pew Pew*

Now, it’s on to the problem-targeting steps. Sheet masks are key to unearthing your best skin. They are sold in monthly packs to cut down on cost and deliver a need-based supercharge to your skin. Lululun is a great starter brand to get accustomed to sheet masks. They come in a set of 36 for $22.99, and the packaging is super cute to boot. There are masks for wrinkles, acne, and redness— among other troubles. You may feel a little silly wearing one, and you might freak someone out if they see you during your “me” time, but they are worth it. After about fifteen minutes, the skin absorbs the mask serum while sealing in all of the products that you have already used.

Next, an actual serum can be applied on top. Serums are the goopy stuff that can be found in a sheet mask, but they are much more potent and contain fresher ingredients. Again, each serum is different, so it is important to pinpoint your specific needs. The price point on serums is often quite high due to their effectiveness, so if you're willing to take the plunge as I did, Shiseido Ultimune Power Rising Concentrate is $67.00. Before you shrug this one off, Shiseido has been a pioneer in Japanese skin care for decades, and despite the shocking dollar amount, their products do show results.

Eye care is key when it comes to preventative skin care!
Eye care is key when it comes to preventative skin care! | Source

Eye Bet You’re Gonna Love This One

Eye cream comes next because prevention is much cheaper than a last-minute call to action. The skin around the eyes is the most delicate and therefore the easiest target of aging and damage. For both younger and more mature eyes, Sana Nameraka Isoflavone Wrinkle Eye Cream has the best moisturizing and uplifting properties thanks to its soy milk ingredient base, and it’s only $12.75 on Amazon. There are eye creams for daytime and nighttime wear, with the nighttime version being much thicker, but this product is advertised to be okay to use from dusk 'til dawn.

Facial cream is a luxurious whipped concoction filled with skin-loving ingredients for optimal results.
Facial cream is a luxurious whipped concoction filled with skin-loving ingredients for optimal results. | Source

Seal it With a Moisturizing Kiss

The same can be said for facial moisturizer, which can be thinner or thicker depending on the time of day. During the day, a thick moisturizer might cause clogged pores or acne, while at night, it is beneficial to have a heavy cream that will keep your face plump and hydrated for hours. Coming from the same Sana Nameraka brand, their Isoflavone Facial Cream is great for nighttime use, though customer reviews state that the cream is lightweight enough to use during the day as well. A two-in-one cream at $13.50 is a great deal in the beauty world, and after daily, continuous use, I don't have any complaints.

Finally, after a long voyage through several creams and solutions, is a simple facial massage. This can be done with fingers or with the current “it” product, a jade roller. There’s no particular brand that sticks out, considering its a rock for your face, but it has a $15.00 price point and there are plenty to choose from across the web. Herbivore Botanicals has a rose quartz facial roller at $45.00 if pink is more your style. The massage is said to stimulate skin cells to produce collagen (which keeps your face bouncy and pliable) but it also just feels dang good.

Dust Me in Flour and Call Me a Mochi

With this handy guide, you can save your skin from the brink and give it some proper love. The important thing to note is that everybody is different, so one routine might not be “the” routine. Experimentation is key, and taking out or bringing in different products is part of the fun. Most of all, take advantage of products that come from a country with such integrity in skin care—your face will thank you. If you get the opportunity to shop directly from Japan, be sure to stock up on your favorites because once you go Japanese skin care, you’ll never go back. You will surely find yourself slipping into a daily routine that’ll make you crave mochi all year round!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Samantha Cubbison


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Interesting article. Do you have any idea how the Japanese methods and products compare with other Asian products?

    • Matt Wells profile image

      Matt Wells 

      17 months ago

      Can you take a screenshot of the reply button?

    • samanthacubbison profile imageAUTHOR

      Samantha Cubbison 

      17 months ago from Oakland, CA


    • Matt Wells profile image

      Matt Wells 

      17 months ago

      Useful info! My skin is smooth AF now.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      You've given some good ideas here on looking after your skin. Oh, I'd love to visit Japan. It's such a lovely country.


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