What’s the secret to soft, smooth and flawless skin? Just ask Asian women, writes Lizzie Turner
Soft, smooth and blemish-free, flawless skin is something women around the world aspire to. For those in Asia, however, it's almost a rite of passage.
And, as a look at their skincare routines and popular products reveals, a perfect complexion is down to more than just good genes.
'Genetics certainly play a big part,' says Dr Grace Lam, MSc in dermatology, but she adds lifestyle factors make a difference, too.
'Awareness of the need to take care of her skin at an early age, sun avoidance, and a diet of low-fat and little processed food all play a part in [an Asian woman's] good skin,' Lam says.
Asian skin is less prone to premature ageing and because it contains more melanin, it burns less easily than white skin. Nevertheless, sun protection is a tried-and-tested practice among Asian women and a factor in their ability to look years younger than their white counterparts - a constant source of surprise to the latter whose skin often reveals the tell-tale signs of years spent seeking a golden glow.
'Ultraviolet rays from the sun are a major factor causing all kinds of skin conditions such as uneven pigmentation, ageing and wrinkle formation,' Lam says.
Products that smooth over pigmentation - freckles and dark spots caused by external factors such as the sun - are some of the most popular among Asian women.
Anti-ageing and hydrating products are also highly sought and these form a major part of their daily beauty rituals, according to experts from cosmetic brands.
Carmen Wong, assistant training manager of Shu Uemura in Hong Kong, says the Japanese brand's age-prevention range, Red:juvenus, is a best-seller, with essences and serums the most popular products in the collection.
The product range contains a 'high-performance Phyto-Red Energy Complex' combining amalaki, pomegranate and lycopene capsule 2x, all of which have powerful anti-ageing actions, according to the brand.
Wong recommends the Intense Vitalizing Concentrate to rejuvenate skin and correct fine lines, and Red:juvenus Nutri-essence Oil to give all-day nourishment to skin.
Moisturising essences and serums are also among the biggest sellers at Isa Knox, a Korean brand launched in 1995 as part of LG Household & Health Care.
Isa Knox sales and marketing manager Iris Cheung says products such as the Te'rvina Concentrating Serum are popular because 'they can help women achieve elasticity in skin and Asian women like the light texture'. The serum is said to deliver nutrients to the skin's inner layer, helping to achieve smooth elasticity.
Andy Wong, operations manager for Japanese brand Cle de Peau Beaute, says whitening is a regular part of many Asian women's skincare routines. Using a combination of high-quality sun protection and whitening products can help keep the complexion clear, according to Wong.
She recommends Cle de Peau Beaute's UV Protection Cream, which contains hibiscus extract said to help repair epidermal cells damaged by the sun's rays, and the Brightening Serum Supreme to help even out the complexion and give skin a luminous glow.
Japanese skincare brands such as Kanebo, SK-II and Shiseido, which this year celebrates the 140th anniversary of its founding as Japan's first Western-style pharmacy, and Korea's Laneige and Hong Kong brand Two Girls remain established skincare options among women. But a growing band of niche beauty companies is competing with the established names to provide skin-specific formulations for Asian consumers.
Predominantly Japanese and Korean, some are turning to ancient knowledge for solutions to the modern woman's skincare needs.
Kinka Cosmetic - from Japan's Kanazawa region, or 'marsh of gold' - draws on the healing powers of gold to moisturise, brighten and firm skin. Gold leaf manufacturer Hakuichi's first skincare innovation was oil-blotting papers containing gold leaf, which absorbed oil without drying the face and led to a range of skincare products infused with nano particles of gold, silver and platinum.
Wei Beauty looks to ancient beauty secrets from China, incorporating herbal medicine and other natural treatments into modern skincare products. Its four product ranges - featuring ingredients such as pomegranate, goji berry, white lotus and gingko leaf - are designed to help the skin achieve balance and maintain a youthful appearance.
Also harnessing the nourishing properties of Chinese herbs is custom-blended skincare company MTM. The Japanese brand recently launched a Reishi Mask containing red reishi extract, ginseng root extract and five other herbal extracts said to have anti-ageing properties. The herbal medicine formulation is also designed to regulate the internal flow of qi and blood.
Sulwhasoo developed from the Korean medicinal skincare system and combines Asian wisdom with scientific technology to form its core ingredients.
Ginseng, applied almost entirely throughout its range, contains properties said to tone and balance, and penetrate the deeper layers of skin, stimulating and reviving cells.
Maggie Ho, assistant public relations manager at Sulwhasoo, says hydrating and whitening products are the most popular. She says they are always on the best-seller list, with women using them to correct damage caused by external factors such as the sun as well as ageing.
Hydrating products are popular because Asian women tend to have combination skin that is dry on the cheeks and oily on the T-zone. Ho recommends the Hydro-aid Moisturizing Lifting Cream, which absorbs quickly and delivers medicinal seaweed deep under the skin for hydration.
Many researchers believe botanical plants such as ginseng, licorice and turmeric have excellent antioxidant and anti-ageing properties.
But while some Asian brands are using their locality and historical evidence to create core ingredients for their product lines, others are turning to the human body.
Isa Knox collaborated with the Cha Placenta Institute at Cha University in Korea to find a technologically advanced ingredient to regenerate skin. Scientists at the institute analysed the key functions of placenta, recombining its key agents and applying new components to create a protein called rHPP-8.
According to Isa Knox, the protein is highly effective in revitalising skin and increases moisture levels, elasticity, smoothness and firmness. The ingredient is used across the brand's premium Te'rvina range of skincare products.
This new breed of skincare brands is giving consumers even greater choice but it also means they are using many more types of skincare products in their daily routines. 'This may or may not be a good thing,' Lam says. 'Applying too many products to the skin increases the risk of irritation and allergic reactions.'
She says antioxidants, sunscreen and moisturisers are three groups of products that are generally helpful to the condition of skin but reiterates that avoiding the sun 'is the single best way to keep skin healthy'.
Lam also says the Japanese diet of green tea, which is rich in antioxidants, and fish containing high levels of protein and omega-3 essential acids are good sources of nutrients for skin. A low-sugar or sugar-free diet helps prevent glycation, or destruction of the skin's collagen and elastin, 'which is another major factor in causing skin ageing,' according to Lam.
Cle de Peau Beaute's Wong says facial massage is also a typical beauty ritual for Asian women. 'Most Japanese women regard it as a daily skincare step and there are many benefits of doing daily massage of the face,' she says, such as improving the metabolism of epidermal cells and helping blood circulation. Massage also encourages skin to generate the collagen fibres that give skin its elasticity.
Sulwhasoo's Ho says one of Korean women's best-kept skincare secrets is to wash the face in cool water every day.
'Koreans believe that ageing is closely linked to skin temperature and even with a one degree celsius increase, skin ageing accelerates,' she says. 'Heat energy is lethal to the skin. Cool water helps lower and stabilise skin temperature, as well as tighten pores.'