Three Ways Asians Practice Self Care

Find out how and why many Asians take care of themselves.

Posted Apr 04, 2019

Have you ever wondered why Asian beauty products seem to be all the rage these days? Is it because a lot women and men in Asia are perceived to age much better than people in other parts of the world? It turns out that it’s a combination of things that helps many East Asians look younger than their age.     

Cynthia Kim Beglin
Japanese ladies avoiding the sun
Source: Cynthia Kim Beglin

First and foremost, people in East Asia, mainly China, Japan, and Korea, have traditionally valued pale skin, so they go to great lengths to protect their skin from the sun's damaging rays. (In Asia, pale skin is associated with wealth, while tanned skin is associated with manual labor.) Walk down the skincare aisle of any major drugstore in Beijing, Tokyo, or Seoul, and you’ll find that most of the products contain SPF and UVB protection, except of course night creams. From primers to day creams, from BB creams to lipsticks, Asians aim to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Even the ultra-popular cushion compacts, which dispense their tinted makeup through thin sponges for easy application, now routinely contain sun protection. All this added sunscreen means that the average Asian woman, and increasingly the men too, wear layers of SPF and UVB every time they leave their home.

Not surprisingly, many products also contain whiteners, which are a staple in most Asian woman’s beauty routines—as opposed to the bronzers and self-tanning products popular in the U.S. The latest Asian beauty products also address multiple issues and often contain anti-pollution and anti-aging ingredients, in addition to moisturizing the skin and protecting against sun damage. The average Asian woman incorporates several more skin care products into her day and night routines than the average American woman, making skin care an even bigger industry per capita in Southeast Asia than in the U.S.

If you stroll down any street in East Asia in the summer, you’ll see that most every women is wearing a wide-brimmed hat, or at the very least, a visor. In Tokyo, it’s even common to see women wearing light brown tailored cotton gloves that cover their hands and forearms. On Chinese beaches, full-face cover-ups that look like balaclavas, called “face-kinis,” are all the rage. And some Chinese women even wear lightweight bodysuits that look like full wetsuits when they go swimming. In Japan and South Korea, sun parasols with SPF are the preferred beauty staple for protection from the sun.

When we were staying in Hong Kong a few years ago, I stopped at a nearby drugstore for some sunscreen before heading up to the hotel’s rooftop pool. When I asked for SPF 15, the saleslady chastised me, as is common when traveling in China. “So sorry for you. You got too much sun in your life. You got too many wrinkles!” I ended up with an SPF 45 product. Later, as I sat reading under a pool umbrella, I surreptitiously observed a group of British twenty-somethings gleefully comparing their sunburn lines. I briefly considered telling them about the lady's advice back in the drugstore, but I figured that surely some well-meaning Chinese person would do it for me.

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With the highly publicized Korean 10-step skincare routine, it’s no wonder that Korean beauty products are among the most popular, in terms of sales volume, with Asian consumers. While there are shortened versions, for when you just don’t have time, the full routine consists of an oil-based cleanser, a water-based cleanser, an exfoliator, a single-use sheet mask, an essence (intensive moisturizer,) a serum, an eye cream, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen. The products are used in that order, from the thinnest to thickest, and are supposed to nourish and pamper the skin to achieve a dewy, moist, and healthy look.

With more and more Asian men taking better care of their skin, especially in South Korea, some companies have even come out with a line of skin care products targeted to men in the military. Typically, Korean men are less concerned with being “pumped” and are more focused on being slender, well-groomed, and even “stylish”—the more sought after male attributes, especially in Korea and Japan.

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But beauty is more than skin deep in East Asian countries, where people typically eat a healthier diet, and fast food is not nearly as popular as here in the U.S. The average Chinese, Japanese, or Korean is smaller than the average American. But even though Asians are smaller in general, the average American is still heavier than the average Asian, even when you take into account the height differential. (The obesity rate based on percentage of population is 7.0 in China, 3.7 in Korea, and 38.2 in the United States*.) These statistics aren’t surprising, given that portions are also smaller in Asia.                                                            -----

The average Asian likely has a healthier lifestyle than the average American. In terms of overall beauty, Asians favor the healthy look that comes from a lifestyle geared toward self-care. Time with family—very Confucian—and friends, a balanced diet and smaller food portions, combined with moderate exercise, meditation, herbal cures for minor ailments, regular trips to the local spa, and an emphasis on natural beauty, are things most Asians aspire to.

While the spa experience in the U.S. tends to be on the expensive side, reflexology foot massage spas in China, mineral water onsens spas in Japan, and jimjilbang bath houses in South Korea are all affordable and popular with the average person. Each country’s spa experience offers different services and amenities, but most offer an opportunity for its customers to relax and pamper themselves for a reasonable price point. 

So if you want to look younger, limit your sun exposure and take good care of your skin; eat a healthier diet and eat less; and lead a healthier lifestyle by taking more time to exercise and relax—preferably with family and friends.

*According to OECD Health Statistics - 2017 Report