I Brought 2 Skincare Secrets Home From Japan — and They Transformed My Complexion

POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio
POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio

The rumors are true: Asia is a skincare paradise, and its women have flawless complexions. I was able to witness this IRL on a press trip to Okinawa with beauty brand SK-II. The company was hosting an event to discover Asia's next top beauty creator, and thus hundreds of influencers from across the continent had descended upon the Japanese island.

I don't think I saw a single blemish, wrinkle, or dry patch on a face other than my own throughout my visit, and I was obviously eager to learn the secret behind perfection. I met with Kazumi Toyama, Global SK-II senior manager, Technical Marketing & Scientific Communications, to unveil the defining differences between Asian and Western skincare regimens. According to her, there are only two distinctions — and they are so simple! — but they are essential for a youthful, glowing complexion.

You're removing your eye makeup wrong.

You've probably heard that ever since you were old enough to understand what eye cream was, it should be applied with caution to this delicate area. But while I've been daintily applying treatments with the pad of my ring finger, I've also been removing my eye makeup like a savage, leaving my skin streaked and slightly sore from rubbing. This is unacceptable behavior overseas.

Kazumi noted that heavier eye makeup is starting to increase in popularity in Asia, as smoky eyes and other Kardashian makeup is migrating there from the states. However, there's more education behind eye care there. "We're teaching them how to do the gentle removal," she said. "Because we know that this area really is the fastest to show signs of aging, we make sure that when we cleanse, it's very gentle."

That means no aggressive rubbing. Instead, simply soak a cotton pad with your favorite makeup remover, press it firmly to your closed eyelid, and hold it there for around 10 seconds. (This will allow the formula to dissolve your mascara, liner, shadow, and any other products.) Then, gently wipe off your makeup in one smooth motion. Repeat as necessary until the cotton pad comes away clean. Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Makeup Remover Pads ($20) are designed for this exact method and are infused with a cleanser with a milky formula, the texture that Kazumi recommends for makeup removal.

Swap out your toner for facial essence.

The other minor skin switch? Put down your toner. For many American beauty junkies, this is the first slot in a skincare regimen postcleanse, but it's creating a stripped, parched canvas for the following products. "It's harsh and removes water rather than adds it," Kazumi said.

After Asian women wash their faces, they use an essence instead. This is not a generalization — according to Kazumi, approximately 95 percent of consumers overseas incorporate essences into their routines. "It's very specific to Asian skin care," she said.

Approximately 95 percent of consumers overseas incorporate essences into their routines.

As you've likely noticed, essences (also known as "clear lotions") have made their way into American skincare markets, but there is still a lot of confusion around these formulas. Essences basically function as a thin, watery serum that is meant to be patted into clean skin as the first step of any regimen. They're packed with high concentrations of powerful ingredients and infuse a complexion with deep hydration.

SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence ($179) contains more than 90 percent of Pitera, the brand's fermented, yeast-derived star ingredient, which hydrates, brightens, and gently exfoliates without stripping the skin. And, like most essences, it absorbs quickly and leaves no residue behind, making an ideal addition into even the laziest of regimens. However, don't use essence as a replacement for moisturizer (in other words, don't be too lazy). You should be following the application of this step with a hydrating cream like they do in Asia.

Seeing the precedence that was placed on proper skincare routines abroad, I gave my own a complete overhaul after returning home from Japan. I also incorporated both of these tricks into my regular regimen. I confess that I am still struggling to be patient when removing my eye makeup, but I am officially addicted to using an essence and don't go a day without using SK-II's. I have always been blessed with good skin, but now more than ever, I am receiving compliments on its luminosity and even tone. Discover more essence shopping recommendations here.

Travel and expenses for the author were provided by SK-II for the purpose of writing this story.