My Asian Layering Skincare Technique
Lately I’ve been reading all about the Asian Layering Skincare Technique. While interesting ingredients like snail mucus and bee venom are trending big in Asia (specifically Japan and Korea, according to reports), the basic idea of a layering facial treatment is one I have long recommended for my clients.
The idea is that rather than Western esthetics’ simple Cleanse-Tone-Moisturize regimen, women in Asia are purported to use a systematic layering technique that employs an average of 5-10 skincare (not make-up) products in very specific order.
In my own work I’m not as interested in Asian products as I am in the layering process. But I’m paying attention to these blogs and articles because to me Asian Layering Skincare is simply “skincare.” Allow me to break down for you my interpretation of Asian skincare from an American holistic skincare therapist’s perspective.
What Is Asian Layering Skincare?
A recent Marie-Claire Magazine article reported that fans of the Layering Technique use up to 18 products a day. American consumers are taught a simple Cleanse-Tone-Moisturize routine (and, sadly, most estheticians come out of school learning little more than this themselves). Asian Layering looks more like this*:
- Oil Cleanser or Cleansing Balm used in the evening as the best way to really remove the makeup, sunscreen, sweat, and oil that combine with city pollution to clog your pores and dull your skin.
- Foaming or Milk Cleanser removes excess oil and makes a receptive surface for treatment products.
- Toner (or Lotion, as it translates) is different from Western toner as the point is to add back what the cleanser has stripped away, rather than an astringent or acid toner that dries the skin further.
- Serum (translated as Essence) is a lightweight product that is used to treat specifics of the skin’s conditions. In Asia this is often a skin lightener but can also be a serum for acne, fine lines and wrinkles, rosacea, or any number or other conditions.
- Moisturizer: lighter weight emulsions and, if necessary, richer creams
- Treatment Products There is sunblock for day, sleep masks or clay or cream masks for night, eye creams, spot treatments, and exfoliation.
Products are applied in specific order, from lightest to heaviest. In this way, smaller-molecule ingredients are able to absorb easily and do their work on the skin while heavier ingredients lock in moisture and activate lighter products. Individual products are employed instead of using the same product all over, or using combination products such as moisturizer with sunscreen. In this way, specific areas get the treatment they need: a reddened nose gets a rosacea serum and dry cheeks get a creamier moisturizer while the rest of the face gets a light emulsion moisturizer and the user avoids a shiny T-zone.
Don’t Fear Oil
My skincare methods and product formulation are informed by training that includes looking at skincare from an Ayurvedic perspective. This ancient Indian system of healing relies heavily on liberal use of oils both internally and externally in face and body treatments. The proper oil for the right skin type and condition can be a very powerful ingredient, but Western skincare ideology and advertising have positively terrified most people into an oil-free skincare approach. Unfortunately, oil-free can be very damaging at worst and ineffective at best, and I’ve had to educate every new client who walks into my room about the benefits of proper oil cleansing and treatment before I horrify the un-initiated by touching them with oil on my hands. The exceptions to this are my Asian and Indian clients, who are generally unsurprised by oil treatments because the beauty culture in those places is not centered around “oil-free.”
It’s not only the specificity and the order of products that matters. Application technique matters too. I began my career as a massage therapist, and when I started practicing skincare years later it was impossible for me to provide a treatment that didn’t involve an enormous amount of massage. My hands just couldn’t politely apply products with a clinical little brush. They had to get in there and massage everything in! It turns out this was a good thing: my clients and I soon discovered that not only does the massage make for a totally hedonistic experience, it also gives a circulation-enhancing glow and allows the pores to unclog more easily than product application without massage. Marie-Claire Magazine has a great little gif tutorial on Korean Beauty Facial Massage here.
Spend Money on Skincare, Not Makeup
This is a big one, and of course as a skincare therapist I share the sentiment. It is also something I have heard about for years from my Asian clients. They will go back on a trip, come home with a beauty haul that includes all manner of BBs and CCs and products with swallow nest, bee venom, and even snail mucus. What they don’t bring home is tons of makeup, since my clients who moved here from Asia were taught to prioritize skin health and beauty over skin decoration. My French and Scandinavian clients (I’ve had several over the years) are the same. Another similarity between my Asian-, French-, and Scandinavian-born clients is their seemingly unanimous devotion to sunscreen.
The Method, Not the Medium
I do not use a number of products from Asia since my interest is in holistic, non-toxic skincare that originates as locally as I can get it. My training and research have made clear to me the many benefits of using organic, non-toxic skincare products. Also, other than bee products (because I appreciate raw honey tremendously as a skincare ingredient) I avoid products with animal ingredients. There are so many superior, effective plant-based products being formulated that animal ingredients seem unnecessarily unkind. However, the technique of using multiple products in a specific order to really nourish and protect the skin is something that makes perfect sense, and it’s something I do religiously every day.
In my next skincare post I will share my own routine. In the meantime I would love to read about yours. What do you use? Do you layer or are you into a simple routine? Let me know in the comments!
Beautiful skin starts with what we eat. Would you like to join me in October to learn what foods are right (and wrong) for your individual body? Learn more here.
Kirsten Quint Fairbanks is health coach and holistic living expert who loves offering real-world wellness coaching for people who want to beat the blues and build self-esteem using nutrition and holistic lifestyle methods. Her popular online seasonal Craving-control Real Food Detox is for anyone who wants their body to feel and look its best. She also offers skincare from the inside out consultation for anyone who is tired of the beauty hype and is ready to have vibrant health and glowing skin. Kirsten lives happily, works gratefully, home-schools secularly, dances inexpertly, paints badly, cooks traditionally, and nurses on demand in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more about her here.