Let’s play a game. You’re on a desert island and you can take only one treasured skincare item with you. Which do you choose?
A. Cleanser B. Toner, Essence or Lotion C. Serum D. Cream
Ok, so the title kind of gives it away, and it’s a really unfair question... but I’m willing to bet that your gut instinct was C or D! In the west, we place a high value on treatment heavy products like serums, masks, and night creams. But sometimes we write-off cleansing as a not-so-important step. Remember those Friday nights when we passed out, eye-makeup, contacts, and everything?
In Japan, cleansing is considered one of the most important, in fact sometimes the most important step in your skincare routine. When you don’t have a cleansing ritual in place, it can be hard to know where to start and which product to use. So here’s the lowdown on the different types of Japanese cleansers, demystified.
Foaming cleansers are like Starbucks in Japan. They seem to be at every corner! Men and women, teens and the elderly alike have embraced them. Why are they so darn popular? Japanese foaming cleansers are designed to protect the skin from the many unintentional mishaps of cleansing. The foam forms a protective barrier to guard against abrasion, scratches, or pulling at the skin. Foaming cleansers are suitable for any skin type, but especially normal to oily.
J-Beauty tip: To activate the foam, work the product into a lather with your hands or a foaming net until it forms a nice foam cloud. Don’t be afraid of wasting product - you should actually notice that just a little goes a long way and the lather saves you product. Plus, the foam micro-bubbles seep into pores for deep cleansing, so all you have to do is gently swirl the foam on your face and rinse off. The key here is to not make direct hand-to-face contact. Let the foam do the work!
Use: Daily day and/or night as a one-step cleanse, or after removing makeup.
The Edo Cosme Rice Bran Facial Wash is a gentle facial cleansing exfoliant scrub that contains rice bran to improve dull skin and unclog pores for brighter, more radiant skin. This facial cleansing polish gently removes dirt and impurities while moisturizing the skin.
The Real Bell Black Charcoal Facial Wash is a facial cleansing foam made of Kishu Binchotan (natural mineral cleansing ingredient). With great absorption and cleansing power, the gentle foaming cleanser will remove makeup and dirt from your pores.
Although our impression of bar soap in the west tends to be negative – loaded in drying agents that leave your skin parched and itchy - this couldn’t be less true for traditional bar soaps in Japan. Japanese soaps are prized for their unique formulations and century-old soap-making processes. An eco-friendly, cost-effective, long-lasting and natural cleansing option, bar soaps remain widely respected with Japanese locals.
J-Beauty tip: Look for J-Beauty facial skincare soaps formulated with natural ingredients like milk, seaweed, clay, charcoal, hinoki oil, horse oil, and persimmon, which make for an ultra-nourishing wash.
Use: As an all-over cleanser on face and body, 1-2 times daily.
The Hakutsu Handmade Daiginjo Facial Cleansing Soap is a cleansing bar soap made with pure rice Daiginjo sake. The dipotassium glycyrrhizinate gently cleanses the skin and helps prevent breakouts and dry skin. This soap helps protect the natural moisture of the skin while smoothing the skin’s texture.
Bar soaps handmade by artisans in Hyogo, Japan. Mutenka Sekken are handcrafted soaps made of luxurious all natural ingredients. From Yuzu to Hinoki to Cherry Blossoms and more! There are 8 different types of bar soaps made from different ingredients. Choose what’s best for your skin.
Cleansing creams are an ideal year-round option for dry and sensitive skin types but can be used by all skin types in colder climates and seasons. Cleansing creams dissolve makeup, dirt, and other impurities without stripping your skin of its natural moisture, so the result is hydrated and soft skin. They make for great massage creams as well.
J-Beauty tip: Apply the cleansing cream and gently massage onto the face. Remember to avoid direct contact with the skin. Rinse off with lukewarm water or remove with a tissue.
Use: Daily day and/or night as a one-step cleanse.
We suggest: KITAO Matcha + Chia Cleansing Cream
This rich cleansing cream effectively dissolves makeup and excess oil, transforming it into a soothing cleansing milk when water is added. The creamy formula leaves moisture on the skin and helps to protect the skin barrier. Enjoy the sweet, mild scent of matcha.
Enzyme Powders are exfoliators in their own right, but very different from their western counterparts. Japanese beauty isn’t big on abrasive scrubs and harsh chemical peels, which are seen as damaging to the skin. Instead, exfoliators like enzyme powders gently slough off skin to reveal a youthful, healthy glow.
J-Beauty tip: Apply the powder on wet palms, and work the product into a lather. As with foaming cleansers, the key here is to whip up a dense foam, and gently swirl it on your face without directly touching your skin.
Use: 1-2 times weekly after a gentle cleanse.
We suggest: KITAO Matcha + Chia Enzyme Powder
This exfoliating washing powder transforms into a dense foam when applied to wet skin. Its gentle granules help buff away dead skin and impurities trapped deep within the pores, while gentle papaya extract brightens and refines.
Micellar Waters / Cleansing Waters
Micellar waters aka cleansing waters are purified soft water filled with micelles or microscopic cleansing oil droplets that mop up dirt and oil from the skin. The water/oil combo allows them to remove trapped debris and wipe away excess sebum while hydrating and conditioning at the same time. This makes them a great makeup remover or pre-cleanser. J-Beauty micellar waters are designed to double as essence toners, but unlike traditional toners, they never contain alcohol so they’re ideal for dry and sensitive skin types.
J-Beauty tip: You’ll want to soak a cotton pad with the cleanser and gently sweep across areas you have makeup or buildup. Be extra attentive to the eye area, and first press the cotton pad down on the eye to help loosen the makeup before sweeping it away. You do not want to harshly rub or tug at the skin, but just enable dirt and debris to lift off naturally. Since micellar water formulas are so gentle, there’s no need to rinse them off.
Use: As a makeup remover or first step in a double cleanse. Also makes for a convenient post-workout wipe down or elegant solution in sweaty situations.
The Bifesta Micellar Cleansing Water collection comes in three different varieties (SENSITIVE, MOIST, and BRIGHTUP) to support sensitive, dry, and lackluster skin types. Ingredients like pullulan for skin-tightening, Vitamin C for brightening, and lactic acid for gentle exfoliation make each product a multi-tasking hero, and they function as a cleanser, essence lotion, and treatment all in one.
Cleansing oils are the first step in the famous double cleanse process. The cleansing oil gently lifts off surface impurities such as makeup and sunscreen, and preps the skin for a deeper cleanse with a foaming cleanser. You don’t want to be rubbing and tugging at the skin to remove layers of foundation - they’re easily broken down by oil in just seconds.
J-Beauty tip: As with all J-Beauty cleansers, the goal is to let the product do the work. Gently massage the oil on your skin, starting with your cheeks (the driest region of your face) and moving upwards to your T-zone (the oiliest). Rinse off with lukewarm water.
Use: Many brands now offer cleansing oils as a one-step cleanser. However, for cleansing oils offered as part of the double cleanse method, feel free to follow up with a gentle foam cleanser as your second step.
Cleansing balms are buttery balms that melt when activated by your skin’s heat. Since they’re oil-based, they’re exceptionally effective at dissolving sunscreen, makeup, dirt, and other hard-to-remove substances without stripping your skin. This includes waterproof mascara and heavy eye and lip makeup. Cleansing balms can be useful for all skin types, but if you run on the oily side, you may want to look for one formulated with lighter plant-based oils like soybean and sunflower seed oil.
J-Beauty Tip: Scoop a quarter-sized amount with a clean spatula and gently massage with fingertips onto dry skin. Once it starts to melt, use a splash of lukewarm water and emulsify into a milky liquid. Rinse off completely with lukewarm water or cold water.
Use: Balms effectively remove makeup and unwanted residue in one go. But if you prefer to double cleanse, feel free to follow up with a gentle foam cleanser of your choice.
We suggest: UNNATURALLY NATURAL Clarify Cleansing Balm
Formulated with sunflower seed oil and a unique combination of plant extracts, the UNNATURALLY NATURAL Clarify Cleansing Balm is gentle enough to remove stubborn eye makeup. Its lightweight hydrating formula leaves your skin soft, smooth and supple. Vegan and cruelty-free.
Thanks to their unique function and texture, enzyme powders are a category of their own, but we can’t forget other J-Beauty exfoliators that are equally worthy mentions. Gentle exfoliating gels, cleansers, polishes, essences and even emulsions are popular in Japan, but one thing they tend to have in common is that they are often formulated with natural ingredients like matcha, rice bran, and hatomugi.
J-Beauty tip: Japanese exfoliators are often multi-purpose and offer benefits beyond exfoliation, so look for one that addresses concerns for your skin type. For example, products containing purifying clays and charcoal are excellent for oily skin types, while rice bran restores radiance and soothes sensitive and acne-prone skin.
Use: 1-2 times weekly or as recommended.
We suggest: KITAO Matcha + Chia Exfoliating Gel
The KITAO Matcha + Chia Exfoliating Gel is a classic all-in-one J-Beauty exfoliator that not only detoxes impurities and removes the buildup of dead skin cells, but hydrates, brightens, and helps to minimize the appearance of pores. Witch hazel and artichoke extract tighten the skin, while antioxidant-rich superfoods matcha, chia, quinoa, and acai help to retain elasticity and reduce inflammation. The formula is also perfect for use on dry elbows, cracked heels, and other rough spots all over the body.