The Four-Step Japanese Skin Care Regime For Busy Women

Asian cultures are fastidious about skin care, but each country has a different take. In Korea, it’s all about the famed 10-step routine. The approach in Japan is markedly different. “Even geisha keep their skin ritual to three-steps, four max,” says Vicky Tsai, founder of skin care brand Tatcha. This simplified routine is what Tatcha calls “the ritual”. “When people get to 10 steps I’m like, bless you, but at some point it’s just going to start rolling off, you know? The skin can only take so much.”

Tsai is a straight-talking, American-born Taiwanese woman whose brand is based on Japanese heritage and beauty traditions. The Tatcha journey began nine years when its founder sought to cure her own skin issues.

“I grew up following the American approach to skin care: aggressive,” says Tsai. “When you’re a teen and you get your first pimple, you go straight for salicylic acid, alcohol-based toners and harsh scrubs, drying your skin out.” Later, in their 20s, many women reach for rich moisturisers to address the imbalance. “And they make you break out, and then you think you have bad skin. I ended up with dermatitis, my skin seized up. It was a big stop sign.”

When travelling in Japan, Tsai began experimenting with the gentle products and traditions of modern-day geisha. “My skin came back to normal after about four weeks, after three years of dermatitis. And by doing far less.” Fascinated by her approach, we asked Tsai to share the details on her streamlined regime.


1. Cleanse:
“For my night ritual, I always take off my makeup with an oil cleanser, no matter how much sake I’ve had! It’s the complete opposite of what we do in the US. In the US you wash with a foaming cleanser that strips your skin. In Japan, they cleanse with oil which moisturises it.”

2. Polish:
“Second, I polish my skin with the Gentle Rice Enzyme Powder. It’s a cleanser, but it also gives you that really beautiful glow. The Japanese polish their skin daily, but never with anything that could give micro tears to the skin like a super aggressive scrub can. They always contain nut husks or dramatic acids, which is why you can only use them once a week.”

3. Plump:
“Then I plump with The Essence, which feeds the skin and prepares it for anything that comes after. It’s also a natural lactic acid which helps with skin turnover. When you put it on your skin, it drinks it up. It only takes seven seconds to use, and then everything else works better.” The company devoted seven years to its development, and enlisted a food scientist to maximise the benefits of green tea, rice bran and seaweed. If you only choose one item from Tatcha, Tsai thinks this should be it.

4. Moisturise:
“Lastly I moisturise. Japanese formulas are more delicate than buttery, so they absorb much better. If there’s a serum I want to use, I put it in between, but that’s more of a Sunday night thing. I usually moisturise the delicate skin around my eyes with a separate eye cream, and I have a lip balm next to my bed that I use at night. It makes me wake up with Angelina Jolie lips. But I don’t feel like those steps count. They’re more of a pre-sleep routine."


1. Cleanse:
“In the morning, I use The Deep Cleanse. It’s like our Cleansing Powder and the Enzyme Oil had a baby. You can take it in the shower with you, and it contains Japanese loofa fruit, so it has a little more physical exfoliation in it to really clean out the pores.”

2. Plump:
“The Essence is step two in the morning.”

3. Moisturise:
“Always one with an SPF. Sun protection is important.” she says.

4. Prime:
“There is a new piece from the collection called The Silk Canvas. It ’s pre-makeup, and it’s the last step of your skincare before your makeup. It keeps all the makeup out of your pores and the pollution out of your skin, and it make your makeup stay on. It’s a primer, but it was made by scientists who don’t know how to do makeup. We had to bring in a pigment specialist to work with them.”

Photography by Esteban La Tessa
Words by Alexandra Whiting
April 2018


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