The Essential J-Beauty Skincare Steps

Photography: Emma Palmer

Healthy radiant skin is the goal most of us are aiming for with our skincare routines. Over the past few years, the three-step cleanse, tone, moisturise system that we’ve been brought up on has been influenced by Eastern cultures, Korea in particular (aka the K-Beauty phenomenon). From sheet masks to essences, we’ve been inspired by the Korean demand for lighter textures, buzzy gadgets and double-digit steps. Even more recently though, J-Beauty, or Japanese inspired beauty, has piqued our interest. 

What Is J-Beauty’s Point Of Difference? 

“The Japanese approach to skincare and beauty is perhaps best understood if you look at it through the lens of ‘wabi-sabi’, or a worldview based on the acceptance of the transient nature of things,” explains Erin Niimi Longhurst, author of Japonisme and Omoiyari. “In other cultures, skincare routines tend to be focused on “repairing damage” or “correcting mistakes”, in Japan it’s more about preserving and treating your skin gently.”

How Many Skincare Steps Are There?

In Japanese culture anywhere from eight to 14 steps is considered the norm. “For many Japanese women, the notion of 10 steps from cleansing to applying SPF would be completely normal,” confirms Julia Stewart, Shiseido’s UK head of training & education. “The West has only recently adopted a double-cleansing routine, which has always been present in Japan.” 

If the idea of adding more steps to your routine makes your stress levels rise, fear not, here are the essential J beauty steps you need to follow (and the ones you can skip)…

Step 1: Cleanse & Refine

While it might seem like twice the effort, double cleansing is advocated by most beauty experts, including Caroline Hirons. “A double cleanse is essential, especially in the evening,” says Julia. “It helps to remove all make-up, impurities and SPF, and preps your skin for the subsequent moisture applications.”

For your first cleanse, opt for a balm or oil to help rinse off your makeup. Eve Lom’s iconic Cleanser is a favourite of ours as it melts into an oil as you massage it in. A foam cleanser, such as Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser, is perfect for your second cleanse as it helps to refine pores and lifts away any excess oil.

Step 2: Soften & Prep

Hydrated skin always looks healthier, plumper and more radiant. While a toner usually follows your cleanser, it might be worth considering swapping it out for a hydrating softener. “Traditional toners are seen as the final step of cleansing, whereas Shiseido’s Treatment Softener is more like a first step of hydration,” says Julia. “Using mineral rich water from the Kirishima Spring in Japan, it replaces any lost moisture and repairs the skin’s barrier. It also prepares the skin to effectively absorb the subsequent products.”

You can apply a softener with your hands or a cotton pad. For the first couple of days it might feel like an unnecessary step, but persevere as within a week you’ll notice your skin feels softer and bouncier. It’s one of those products that you only notice the benefits when you forget to use it and your skin feels a little tighter and rougher as a result.


Step 3: Hydrate & Energise

While essences are often championed as hydrating heavyweights, if you’ve chosen well with your serum you can skip one. Look for a serum that is jam-packed with ingredients including hyaluronic acid, antioxidants and peptides. These help to hydrate, protect and repair your skin. Shiseido’s Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate was formulated to moisturise, energise and help defend your skin from daily aggressors, including pollution.

If you want to focus on smoothing out an uneven texture and fading dark spots, try Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum. To protect against city life, Paula’s Choice Resist Super Antioxidant Serum is very good option, especially if you have dry to combination skin.


Japanese makeup artist, Shinobu Abe has a trick for maximising your serum: “Rather than just putting or tapping it on, massage it into your skin. It’s key to achieving that supple finish.”

Step 4: Plump & Protect

“Japanese skincare is about playing the long game. Whether it’s helping your skin retain moisture, or protecting it from the damaging effects of the sun,” says Erin. A good face cream and an SPF, or the two combined, is a non-negotiable step. 

J- and K-Beauty brands are renowned for their feather-light textures. The perfect example of this is Erborian’s Red Pepper Pulp. While it’s lightweight and cooling, the gel texture still manages to leave your skin with that velvety softness that is usually only achieved with a cream. In terms of SPF, Ren Clean Skincare Mineral SPF 30 is one of our all-time favourites as it sits so well under makeup. For the best of both worlds, look to Shiseido Vital Perfection Uplifting and Firming Day Emulsion SPF30.


Step 5: Nourish & Treat

You can get away with just four steps in your day time routine, but in the evening you need to switch in a nourishing night cream. There are hundreds on the market, but we’ve got our eye on Shiseido’s NEW Benefiance Overnight Ultimate Renewing Cream. If you’re someone who regularly misses out on eight hours of sleep, this is one not to miss.

“Shiseido researchers discovered that lack of sleep or ‘sleep debt’ can affect your skin both in the short term and the long term,” says Julia. “The short term effects of a bad night’s sleep were a decline in moisture levels and a decrease in the skin’s barrier function, compromising the skin’s ability to protect itself.” With the help of super-bio hyaluronic acid to top-up moisture levels and ReNeura technology, which was created in partnership with Harvard Medical School, this cream promises to plump, smooth and revive sleep-deprived skin. 

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