By: Emi Schemmer
For Your Inner And Outer Glow
From daily practices to essential beauty items, here are a few secrets that have kept the women of Japan feeling youthful, toned and beautiful from centuries ago.
Every season, a new beauty product comes around and we’re instantly showered by advertisements about how buying it is going to make our lives that much better: you’ll look 10 times younger, your skin will be nurtured, and, Mr. Right will finally knock on your door. Cool. Miracles happen. Most of the time though, it comes down to our daily practices that keep our bodies relaxed and in shape — and no, those don’t always have to be costly.
Here are seven easy daily routines Japanese women have practiced that have proven long-lasting beauty effects.
1. Exfoliate with azuki beans
Since as early as the Nara period (710-794), Japanese women have used this red little bean not only as part of a healthy diet, but also for healthy-looking skin. Ground into a fine powder or a slightly coarse scrub, azuki beans are a wonderful natural remedy for those who are prone to acne or blackheads, or who wish to diminish fine lines. These legumes are high in antioxidants and contain a naturally occurring foaming agent known as saponin that helps to cleanse and tighten pores. It has an immediate effect when used as it helps to gently remove dirt and dead skin cells, unclog pores and brighten the skin by stimulating blood circulation.
Making your own azuki anti-ageing scrub is fairly easy. Use a coffee grinder and grind ½ cup of dried azuki beans to a semi-fine powder. Transfer the mixture into a jar and store it in the fridge for a few hours. Then, take ½ teaspoon of the powder in your palm and mix with a few drops of water. This should form a rather thick paste. Spread over a wet face in a circular motion. Allow to sit for two minutes then rinse with warm water. Repeat two to three times a week and you’ll notice the difference.
2. Maintain a traditional balanced diet
We often forget that what we put inside our bodies is directly connected to how we look on the outside. A traditional Japanese meal is usually made under the ichijyu sansai principle, (one soup with three vegetable dishes plus rice and fish) to assure good balance. These spreads are rich in vitamins and high in omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce the body’s production of toxins that can cause inflammatory skin conditions and premature ageing. Seaweed (wakame) and kelp (kaiso), found in almost every Japanese dish (and supermarkets) are rich in iodine and keratin — both highly essential for healthy skin, nails and shiny resilient hair. Fish is rich in protein and lower in fat than red meat, while small portions of a variety of vegetables will supply much-needed vitamins and minerals. Japan is also home of a number of superfoods — such as konjac, kinako and natto — that are readily available and cheap in comparison to other superfoods in other countries.
3. Nourish the skin with rice bran
For centuries, the Japanese have known and appreciated the wonderful benefits of komenuka, or rice bran. Full of antioxidants (more than 70 in fact!) and other essential nutrients, rice bran powder has been used in scrubs, facials and even body treatments to help reduce the signs of ageing, resolve blemished skin and leave the skin toned, tight, and soft.
Komenuka products have been popular for decades and are widely available at drugstores, but it’s also very easy to make at home. In a small pot, boil three large tablespoons of rice for a few minutes or until the water becomes slightly cloudy. Strain the rice but be sure to keep the water as this will be part of the facial treatment. Add one tablespoon of milk to the rice and mix well. Next, mix in one tablespoon of honey. The mixture should be sticky enough to stay on your face when put on the face. Apply the rice mask on clean, dry skin and allow it to dry. To remove, use the rice water that you kept aside. This not only helps moisturise the skin, but also improves its circulation. The rice water can also help brighten any dark spots or sun damage.
4. Use green tea for various purposes
High in antioxidants, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, green tea is a significant part of the Japanese lifestyle. Japanese women have also included green tea in their beauty routines — from incorporating the extracts in various lotions and tonics to adding ground leaves to bath salts and even adding concentrated powders to body compress treatments and hair masks. The ground form of green tea leaves, matcha, is known for its high concentration of catechin polyphenols, which have countless health and beauty benefits. The high concentration of tannins is also known to help tighten the skin. Green tea powder can counter damage caused by UV rays, reactivate dying skin cells, reduce inflammation (especially with acne-prone skin), and help balance skin tone.
5. Bath daily, go to onsen frequently
Bathing in Japan is more than a cleansing routine: it’s a beauty ritual. Onsen (natural hot springs) and sento (public bathhouses) are scattered throughout city centers, resorts and even random unattended open-air spots, offering people plenty of opportunities to soak, scrub, and relax in nutrient-enriched and mineralised natural waters. But the home bath (not shower), or ofuro, is also an essential part of every Japanese woman’s daily life. A steaming bath before bed will not only leave you feeling relaxed, it will also help blood circulation, prevent shoulder stiffness and back pain, relax muscles and prevent leg swelling. For extra moisturising and replenishing skin effects, infuse your bath with oils or natural salts. The steam is also a great way to detox, further helping to clear pores and promote bright skin. A bath will speed up the body’s natural production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for not only a good night’s sleep, but also one which has wonderful antioxidant properties.
6. Eat, love & worship tsubaki oil
For centuries, Japanese women have been turning to tsubaki (camellia) oil, for their skin, hair and overall wellness. More often found in hair products, this oil is exceptionally high in omega-9 fatty acids (also known as oleic acids), essential proteins, and glycerides, which result in a combination that is perfect for a healthy head of shiny, voluminous and silky hair. Edible tsubaki oil has been used to boost immunity, lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar levels. It can be applied directly to dry or acne-prone skin or on the hair. One way to use it is when cooking fried dishes like tempura. Tsubaki cooking oil is much lighter than salad oil and much richer in vitamins.
7. Embrace Vitamin C
We often associate vitamin C with our ability to fight colds and rarely make the connection that it works its magic by boosting our natural collagen supply, as well as maintaining bone density and general health. It also helps deoxidize and breakdown melanin, the natural pigmentation we get in our skin from tanning or ageing. It’s the sunny vitamin that brightens things up and helps give you truly natural and glowing skin. Japanese women constantly take vitamin C through food, supplements, drinks, fruit and vegetables, and cosmetic products. Some Japan-only fruit and vegetables, such as the citrusy yuzu, kaki (Japanese persimmon), as well as shiso (a type of wild basil), are all extremely rich in the miracle vitamin. You can find it in any drugstore in supplement forms, while vitamin C-rich products — such as acerola, yuzu, kaki, parsley, bell pepper, broccoli, goya and kiwi — are available at any supermarket in your neighborhood.
Last, but not least…
It’s a common belief across many cultures that true beauty comes from within. In Japan it’s known as mienai oshare, or unseen beauty. The phrase implies that beauty doesn’t need to be physically seen or demonstrated in order to be appreciated or recognised. It reflects the poise and confidence that no expensive product can buy: a smile, bright glow or warm energy that others around you notice when you’re happy, confident and self-aware. This, too, should definitely be a significant part of your daily beauty routine!
What are your beauty secrets? Share them in the comments!