The BB cream craze? It started in Asia. As did, incidentally, CC, DD and now EE creams. 3D nail art? Skin lightening creams? Asia, too. Bee venom creams? Snail gel facials? Asia and Asia. Infused cloth and hydrogel face masks? Yup, you guessed it right. It’s Asia again.
These days, it seems like Asia knows skincare better than anyone else. And it stands to reason: have you seen those Japanese and Korean women, with their flawless, glowing, envy-inducing skin? In Tokyo, I literally want to cover my face while walking down the street, its ever single blemish and patchy spot seeming magnified ten-fold in comparison. How do they manage this?
Partly, say skin experts, by being especially diligent about their skincare, with a lifetime commitment to natural cures, traditional medicine and healing foods. Glowing, flawless skin is a status marker across most of Asia, and whole tracts of ancient medicine are devoted to keeping it gorgeous. So holistic well being takes the place of chemical-laden short cuts. Result: most Asian beauty brands are built around herbs, botanicals and natural ingredients, as opposed to a lot of synthetics.
And in a cyclical movement, all the money spent on these beauty brands (which is about 7 times more than the average American woman) goes back into R&D in Japan and Korea, to a point where Marie Claire says that Korea is 10 years ahead in skincare innovation. Which may explain why Americans are so fascinated by Asian skin care.
But, finally, whether it originates in Asia or America or Paris or Australia, any skincare product needs one thing to be truly kick ass: it has to be consistently effective. Which is where these 4 new cult classics come in… ready to explore the new (old) wave?
The konjac sponge
These all-natural sponges are made from the root fibers of the konjac plant, which grows in China, Japan and Indonesia. Konjac is naturally alkanine and loaded with skin-boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. As a facial sponge, it can remove dirt and impurities, act as a gentle exfoliant and balance natural pH levels.
Although it may resemble a loofah, the konjac sponge is actually incredibly soft and non-abrasive when wet.You can get the all-natural version or one with added bamboo charcoal or French clay. Use it up to twice a day, with or without cleanser (it will make your cleanser foam beautifully!)… when you are done, just rinse, wring out excess water and let it dry. Added benefit: unlike muslin cloths, it doesn’t absorb dirt or makeup and hence remains 100% hygienic.
It’s quite a minimal product and doesn’t have many bells and whistles – like say, a Clarisonic. But it’s a superb option for gentle exfoliation and deep cleansing, especially if you prefer the natural route. I used one for the first time a couple of months back and my skin was left feeling both moist and velvety. And after a week’s use, my complexion looked visibly smoother and softer.
In Asia, you can find konjac sponges at any pharmacy or beauty store, and they are pretty cheap. Fortunately, international beauty brands are also fast jumping on the konjac wagon, with everyone from Julep to Boscia bringing out a version. Prices hover around $10 for one sponge sponge and it will last up to three months. In my eyes, this makes it an all-round winner.
Sleeping facial masks
Initially, I completely dismissed sleeping masks as nothing but hyped-up night creams. However, a single night with the Korres Wild Rose + Vitamin C Advanced Brightening Sleeping Facial ($48) was enough to change my mind. Forever.
This has to be the most low maintenance way of scoring a glow-y complexion. Once or twice a week, spread a thin layer of the mask over freshly cleansed skin. Go to sleep, and wake up with baby soft, dewy and plumped skin in the morning. That’s it! They even let you skip the waiting and rinsing that other masks need… just apply and hit the sheets.
While you sleep, your complexion works overtime to repair itself, making this the perfect time to slather on the treatments. Sleeping masks (also known as overnight masks) optimise this process by infusing the skin with moisture while simultaneously creating a humectant seal to prevents that moisture from evaporating.
And no, your pillow won’t be covered in goo. Neither will they feel heavy on your skin or subject you to insomnia-inducing hardness. Instead, sleeping masks just feel like a slightly thicker moisturiser, rather than a drippy face mask.
Some to try: Amorepacific Moisture Bound Vitalizing Masque ($60), La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Sleep Mask ($300), Clinique Moisture Surge Overnight Mask ($33), Aromatherapy Associates Overnight Repair Mask ($82), Zelens Stem Complex ($280), Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Mask ($24).
In Korea, bathhouses called jjimjilbang (“healing chambers”) are a common sight. Built with natural clay, salt and semi-precious stones like jade, they are anchored by heated baths infused with sensuous and skin-friendly botanicals like peach flowers, iris and ginseng alongside a load of minerals and antioxidants. You soak for hours, letting the steamy waters work their detox magic, while boosting blood circulation and reactivating the body’s natural rhythms. Finally, you are scrubbed from head-to-toe until there’s basically nothing left to scrub off. Ultimately, your skin is left as soft as a baby’s, with all the dead cells and impurities having been buffed away.
After (literally) centuries, this beauty ritual has been bottled and is now available to enjoy at home. One of the precursors of this trend is the ORG Skincare Organic Mineral Peel for face ($39) and body ($29). Non-abrasive and free of nasty stuff (read alcohol, parabens and sulfates), simply apply this enzyme spray on dry skin, let it absorb for a few seconds and then off the dead skin cells with your hands. You actually see the debris start to rub off, like in the jjimjilbang. Added benefits: active ingredients in the body peel include aloe vera, jojoba oil and vitamins A and B1, while the face peel also contains skin brighteners like milk thistle and licorice root.
And ORG is not the only player in the market. Pelican Deitanseki Clay & Charcoal Facial Cleansing Bar ($12.95), which also come enriched with clay and carbon powder, is again perfect for ferreting out deep-rooted grime, busting dead cells, exfoliating, balancing pH and detoxifying the skin. Genius, right?
To be honest, I vacillated quite about putting in this one, since skin experts are still divided about the benefits of topical or orally ingested collagen. However, my personal experiences with the stuff have been pretty satisfying and collagen-based skincare is popping up everywhere.
As you know, collagen is a type of protein that is produced naturally in skin and connective tissue that plays an instrumental role in keeping skin firm and giving it shape. Collagen breaks down as you age, along with elastin, the substance that keeps skin springy, resulting in increasingly saggy and wrinkled skin. Collagen masks are designed to counteract this effect.
Plant-based collagen masks are extremely popular in Asia (I counted 97 different ones in a single Guardian in Singapore!). Usually, the collagen is blended into individually packaged sheets that have a jelly-like texture and are pre-cut in the shape of human’s face (perfect for giving your cat a massive scare – personal experience).
In Asia, collagen masks are seen as the cure-all for premature ageing, fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, dullness, dryness and acne. While I don’t find them particularly hydrating, they do give my complexion a noticeably smoother texture, radiance and freshness. My skin is just tired since I never sleep and collagen masks (Watsons Collagen Masks, $19 and Mario Badescu Super Collagen Mask, $57 have been the most brilliant) are great for perking it up – at least in the short term. It’s the long term benefits that I am not sure of so much.
Then there are the collagen “drinks”, another Asian must-have. Taut Premium Collagen Replenishment Formula, $110 for 8 bottles, is a major favourite in Japan, with the highest concentration of ingestible collagen available on the market right now. With regular consumption, the orange-flavoured formula promises to boost skin’s elasticity, thicken your hair and strengthen your nails. Are you game?