This is the first post in my Intro to Asian Skincare series, where I teach you all of the basics for starting your own unique Asian Skincare routine!
Today, I want to discuss the following questions:
● What is Asian Skincare?
● How is it different from a US style routine?
● Should I choose an Asian Skincare routine?
These were difficult questions for me to tackle. Trying to define such broad topics as “Asian Skincare” and “US Skincare” is a tough task to accomplish without unfairly stereotyping companies, cultures, and people. So please understand as you read that these are general trends and observations, not facts about every company, product, or person.
To try and narrow down the subject, I think it would be easiest to first define what Asian Beauty is not, then go from there.
What Asian Skincare is NOT:
1. Asian Skincare isn’t about fetishizing or stereotyping Asian people. It’s not about saying “Oh, Asian people have such perfect skin. I want to have perfect skin too, so I’m going to start one of these routines.”
It’s important to keep in mind that people in Asian countries are just like Westerners; some have naturally good skin, some have routines and need to work at it, and some people just don’t care about it at all!
Also, the K-Pop stars and K-drama stars that you idealize are just like Western celebrities. They have makeup artists, Photoshop, etc. So, you need to have realistic expectations about what Asian Beauty can do for you.
2. Asian Beauty isn’t about exotic ingredients. The example that comes to mind is snail, which has become a staple in K-Beauty in particular. The thing is, snail really is great for healing, soothing, getting rid of acne, and more. But do you know what’s equally good for those concerns? Honey, which is readily available in Western markets.
The problem is that when you have biases that the rare, exotic product must be better, then you leave yourself open to self-sabotage. Unless you are willing to test both ingredients with an open mind, then you don’t really know whether snail or honey is better for your unique skin. A common mistake that new people make is to ignore allergic reactions because “it can’t possibly be my new expensive cream!”
Also, when you put products up on a pedestal for no real reason other than being foreign, you leave yourself vulnerable to being scammed by companies who say, “Oh, well I can charge consumers $40 for this cream instead of $10, because they’re going to think it’s a luxury item.” (Looking at you, Target)
3. Asian Skincare doesn’t inherently promote consumerism, waste, or a long, time-consuming routine. I know everybody likes to talk about the ten step routine, but in reality, you only need four products to form the base of an Asian Beauty routine, and from there you can build up if you need or want to. It really just depends on your skincare needs and your budget.
4. Asian Skincare is not only for Asian people or women. Even within Asian countries there are lots of different skin types and needs. So really, everybody can find products that suit them within an Asian Skincare philosophy.
And of course, it’s not just for women, either! Men obviously have skin as well, and it needs to be taken care of, just like any other organ in your body.
So, what is Asian Skincare then?
Simply put, Asian Beauty is just a style of skincare, with gentle, single-purpose cleansers, light hydrating layers, and protective sunscreen. Pretty straightforward, right?
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Uh, sounds a little generic. Using a cleanser and moisturizer is nothing really groundbreaking.” So let’s go over the exact differences between a US style skincare routine and an Asian Skincare routine.
Differences Between US and Asian Skincare
● Brand Loyalty– Oftentimes, people in the US who have a consistent skincare routine tend to have a little more brand loyalty. So they’ll either buy prepackaged skincare sets, or all products from one line. A popular example of this is ProActiv. Inside these sets, there’s usually an all in one cleanser, some kind of active(a spot treatment or exfoliator for example), and an all in one moisturizer.
● High pH Cleansers– Even our sensitive skin cleansers tend to have a pH of around 6, and that’s because Americans associate the squeaky clean, tight feeling with cleanliness. Basically, the goal is to completely strip the face of oil. For the same reason, most popular cleansers marketed in the US are gel or foam cleansers, not oil cleansers.
● Stronger Actives– US actives tend have a higher percentage of the active ingredient. This includes AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin C, retinols, etc.
● Thicker, all in one moisturizer. People in the US tend to use a single, thick moisturizer. Many times, it’s the same one that people use for their body.
● Tanning culture– Or at the very least an ambivalence about the sun, so we rarely use sunscreen or any sort of sun protection. Our sunscreens are a thicker texture, and while they do have an SPF rating for UVB rays, they usually do not have a PA rating for UVA rays. Oftentimes they’ll say “contains UVA protection” but there’s no way of telling how much they protect us. Honestly, I think it’s the heavy, kind of greasy texture of most US sunscreens that keep people from wearing them.
● Prefer makeup skills to cover flaws and to express personality. So, because of the amount of diversity that we have, and the wide variety of makeup styles- from smoky date night makeup, to natural makeup, to bright summer colors- we have a huge variety of lip colors, foundations, blushes, everything.
To summarize, Americans tend to like conveniently packaged, quick solutions. So, they like high pH cleansers and strong actives to quickly dry out acne, and all in one moisturizers to pack a big punch of moisture all at once. They rarely wear sunscreen, and have a wide variety of makeup shades available.
● Less brand loyal– Pick and choose products from different lines to get ideal ingredient mixes. Companies run seasonal and special edition lines frequently, as well as change or discontinue formulations, so switching products is often both exciting and a necessity.
● 10 Step Routine– The name is actually a little bit misleading, as you only need 4 steps to have a true Asian Beauty routine. This includes an oil cleanser, a foaming or gel cleanser, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen. The ten steps refer to a specific order of products that you can optionally fill, which I’ll go over in another post.
● 2 Dedicated, low-pH Cleansers– The first one, the oil cleanser, is used to remove sunscreen, makeup, and any sort of grime from your face. Then, the foaming or gel cleanser is used to remove any oil cleanser that’s stuck behind, and anything that might be down in your pores. It’s also pH- balanced at around 5.5 to be as close to your skin’s pH as possible, in order to be as gentle as possible. This process is called “double cleansing”.
● Multiple thinner moisturizing/hydrating layers– the fun part of Asian Skincare! Just like a US routine, you can use just one thicker moisturizer if you would like, which is perfectly fine, especially if you’re looking for a frugal or low maintenance routine. But more commonly, people use multiple thinner hydrating layers, each containing different star ingredients to combat different skincare concerns. So, for example, you could use a toner that contains hyaluronic acid for dehydration. Then you could use a sheet mask. Then you could use a light cream that contains snail for soothing redness. The combination makes a routine tailored for your skin’s unique problems.
● Sunscreen and Sun Protection is a Priority– In Asian skincare routines, sunscreen is considered an essential step. It’s really important for preventing sun damage and aging. Since it is regarded as important, there are more options available, and most of them are very cosmetically elegant. Especially with Japanese sunscreens, they almost all contain both a UVB(SPF) rating and a UVA(PA) rating, so that you know how much protection you’re getting in total. However, the bottles that they come in are quite a bit smaller, so that’s a little annoying. People also tend to carry sun umbrellas or wear UV sleeves and sun hats to protect themselves.
● Less Diversity of Makeup– a more natural look tends to be preferred. Due to that, and the fact that there’s less diversity of skin tones, there tends to be the same 4 or 5 shades of BB Cream, lip gloss, etc, across brands.
In short, Asian Skincare focuses on the use of multiple, single-purpose products to treat specific issues over a longer period of time, as well as the use of sunscreen and other protection to prevent skin damage.
Which kind of skincare routine should I pick?
I realize I might come off as a little biased towards Asian Skincare in this post and video, since that’s what I use. However, the fact of the matter is that neither approach is better or worse than the other one. They just cater to different lifestyles, priorities, and budgets.
For example, Asian Skincare works for me personally because I have sensitive skin that likes the gentler products. I have dehydrated/dry skin that likes all the hydrating and moisturizing layers, and I just kind of generally like the meditative me-time that comes with having a longer routine.
I think it’s also really important to note that you don’t have to pick one or the other. You can mix and match as much as you would like. For example, maybe you want to use an Asian style routine, but use completely Western style products from your grocery store. Maybe you want to use a Western style routine, but you like Asian sunscreens. And maybe you want to completely mix and match. It’s really up to you and what you want, and what your skin needs.
Thanks for reading! If you found this helpful, subscribe to receive notifications about the rest of the Intro to Asian Skincare series and other useful posts.
In the meantime, let’s chat below! What’s your current skincare routine, and what skincare is like in your country? I would love to learn something new today!
Intro to Asian Skincare Series
Part 1: What is Asian Skincare? (And How Is It Different From a US-Style Routine?)
Part 2: How to Create an Asian Skincare Routine in 7 Easy Steps
Also published on Medium.