Skin-Care Secrets From Around The World

From the pristine, blue waters of Greece to the skyscrapers of Tokyo, the world we live in is a vast and (at times) overwhelmingly varied place. Sometimes, our differences are subtle. (You say tomato, I say tomah-toh; we say potato, they say pomme de terre.) And, other times, they’re pronounced. Just look at global beauty routines. The way a certain area of the world approaches the art of looking good can change greatly from one passport stamp to the next.
While Americans may think they know their beauty, anyone who’s ever witnessed the detailed skin-care program of a gal from Korea knows there’s, um, always room for improvement. Read on to discover the many, many ways women around the globe are light-years ahead of us in the States when it comes to taking care of their skin — and then steal some of their secrets. From Finland to Japan, here's how girls around the world get gorgeous.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
Japan: Youth Culture
Innovation and newness are biggies with the beauty-obsessed Japanese consumer, and Japanese women are up for pretty much anything to combat the signs of aging, says model, blogger, and Tokyo transplant Cynthia Popper. “Japan is obsessed with youth — maybe even more so than the States — and anti-aging products sell like mad here,” she says. Popper notes that even gimmicky offerings like drinkable collagen (also known as “beauty drinks”) and collagen supplements are extremely popular, even though the concept of topical collagen is questionable at best.
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Exotic-sounding “cocoon shells," or actual silkworm cocoons, are one of the more popular methods in Japan for removing dead skin and unclogging pores. “The amino acids and proteins in the silk are similar to those in skin, which makes them a great natural exfoliator,” Popper says.
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Compared to American women, who tend to take a more “restorative” approach to aging, Japanese women are more focused on preventing damage before it occurs. “The array of SPF 50 products, including sprays, lotions, wipes, creams, and even powders, is staggering,” says Popper. “Most women carry lightweight parasols with a special UV reflective lining any time they’re outside — it’s not uncommon to see women wearing long arm covers with T-shirts on even the hottest days.”
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Vicky Tsai, founder of skin-care brand Tatcha, agrees. “Anti-aging is a universal area of interest, and Japanese women are diligent about staying out of the sun from an early age, so wrinkles only become an issue much later in life,” she says. “Western women are primarily focused on wrinkles, but in Japan the emphasis is on achieving a poreless, creamy complexion.”

Tsai also says Japanese women take more of a ritualistic approach to skin care and spend more time each day caring for their complexion with daily exfoliation, masks, and sun protection. “This daily ritual helps fend off issues like acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation before they arise,” says Tsai.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
China: Light Bright
Bottom line: Chinese women are way ahead of their American counterparts in terms of protecting their skin from the elements. Dr. Yuanhong Li, professor and vice chairman of the department of dermatology at China Medical University, says Chinese women are typically more concerned with achieving whiter, brighter skin as opposed to combating wrinkles, which she says is a result of careful planning (and a bit of genetic luck).
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“Thanks to the inborn yellow color in Chinese skin, which acts as a natural barrier to photo-aging, Chinese women typically don’t worry about fine lines and wrinkles until their 40s,” she notes. She adds that, unlike American women, Chinese women are taught from a very early age to worship the sunscreen, not the sun. “They’ll wear a thick layer of sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and even an umbrella in the sun,” says Dr. Li.
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Indeed, the Chinese ideal described by Dr. Li — a porcelain doll — is far different from a sun-kissed model strolling along a Malibu beach. “Chinese women love snow-white skin,” she says. “As the Chinese proverb says, 'The whiter, the prettier.'” To help patients achieve this luminous effect, Dr. Li prescribes whitening agents such as hydroquinone cream as well as vitamin C serums and chemical peels, laser toning, and resurfacing.

For targeting enlarged pores, Li recommends cleansers with glycolic acid, to be used with a motorized cleansing brush like the Clarisonic model. Other methods like fractional lasers and IPL are also popular in China for boosting collagen production.
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Judit Galambosi, lead therapist of The Institute Erno Laszlo in New York, who sees many clients traveling from Hong Kong, notes that pollution is another chief concern for Chinese women. “Their skin is exposed to more pollution than in the U.S., and they’re willing to take the time to invest in their skin,” she says. To combat the effects of environmental stressors, Galambosi starts with a thorough cleansing and microdermabrasion to take away any accumulation of dry and dulling skin cells. Then, she recommends the client use a hydrating mask like Erno Laszlo’s Hydra-Therapy Skin Vitality Treatment at least twice a week to maintain hydration and radiance.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
U.K.: Ahead Of The Curve
Our friends in the U.K. are often the first to catch on to many trends, be it the latest reality show or the next boy band. But, they can also teach us a thing or two about beauty, says Jane Cunningham, editor of blogs British Beauty Blogger and The Beauty +.

While American women are accustomed to cutting-edge beauty services being as accessible as a cup of Starbucks coffee, our British counterparts have become far more industrious — and knowledgeable — about beauty. “There isn’t a nail bar on every corner, even in London,” says Cunningham. “And, there isn’t a waxing salon on every high street, which means we’re more likely to tackle those things at home. It makes us very adept at waxing our own legs and doing our own manicures and blowouts.”
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Which is not to say the Brits are missing out in any way. In fact, simple geography means they’re privy to a host of interesting European trends way before they're even a blip on our radar. Cunningham sites the recent popularity of micellar waters, a gentle French cleansing method that uses tiny micelle particles (instead of soap and alcohol) to remove makeup, sebum, and impurities from the skin. “Our makeup artists started using Bioderma Crealine micellar water during Paris Fashion Week, and now the line is stocked in the U.K.,” says Cunningham. “A few years ago, you couldn’t buy it here at all!”
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London-based dermatologist Dr. Eric Toni adds that U.K. women face a variety of unique weather conditions, adding to their hardier approach to beauty. “In areas like Scotland and Northern Ireland, it’s often wetter and windier for more of the year, so women there complain of a lack of radiance and dry skin,” says Dr. Toni. “And, while the U.K. isn’t really known for being sunny, women are surprised to find that they need help with brown spots and patches that may have built up over time due to lack of sunscreen use and holidays abroad.”
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Toni favors antioxidant products from the Skinceuticals line to protect against daily environmental damage as well as peels and IPL to target pigmentation issues. “Antioxidants are a key element of daily skin care,” he says. “And, sunscreens are a must, daily, no matter where.”
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
France: Natural Beauty
It’s not news that French women are ahead of the curve in the realm of aesthetics — beauty being no exception. But, their beauty “secret” might shock most American women, because the way French women stay beautiful is not necessarily a secret — it’s more a state of mind.
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“French women understand that perfection is not possible and accept the good and the bad. They prefer the look of bare skin, to have a healthy glow, and be proud of it,” says Isabelle Bellis, a French-born epidermologist and holistic nutritionist. “French women are more concerned with keeping their skin soft, glowing, and clean rather than treating wrinkles and dark spots.”

And, while Bellis admits that wrinkles and anti-aging are issues, she notes that women in France will focus more on the overall feel and texture of the skin as opposed to erasing the effects of time. “They’re more obsessed with the softness of the skin,” she says, adding that they balance out a “bon vivant” lifestyle with the right products. “French women use a lot of moisturizers in order to offset the moisture-robbing effects of drinking wine and coffee and smoking cigarettes.”
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According to Bellis, the French skin-care regimen is a fairly simple, daily three steps: a milk cleanser to wash the face; a lotion (or toner) to further cleanse the face, oxygenate the tissue of the skin, and allow for better penetration of active ingredients; and finally a moisturizer or serum.
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Sylvie Chantecaille, CEO and president of Chantecaille Beauté, adds that skin care is as much a part of French culture as the baguette. “They’re innately more proactive when it comes to skin care and buy into a routine — one that’s passed down by their mothers and grandmothers — early on,” she says, also noting that milk cleansers, such as Chantecaille Flower Infused Cleansing Milk, are popular with French women. “They have a very simple and tailored routine with little fuss,” she says.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
Brazil: A Sunny Outlook
Brazil is a country synonymous with a certain sultry, sexpot-y, unabashed type of beauty. For instance, Brazilian women are always impeccably (yet nonchalantly) tanned and groomed, right? And, toned enough to stroll the beaches of Ipanema in one of those special Brazilian-style, so-small-it-might-as-well-be-a-thong bikini bottoms? (Remember: Gisele is Brazilian.) So, what’s their secret?
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The motivation comes from year-round good weather, for one, says Brazilian dermatologist Patricia Rittes. “Brazilian women never have wintertime,” she says. “Most of the year, the sun is shining, and they have to show their arms, legs, and so on, so they must be in good shape.” Rittes says her patients tend to favor full-body treatments such as body contouring, a less invasive option to liposuction that works to dissolve fat and tighten skin. They also stick with a three-pronged approach to staying beautiful: a healthy diet, daily exercise, and regular dermatologist procedures, including hyaluronic acid injections to improve skin irregularities and Lipotropic injections to zap undesirable fat.
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One of the more unique offerings available to Brazilian women, according to Victoria Ceridono, beauty editor of Vogue Brazil and founder of the blog Dia de Beauté, is the bespoke skin-care regimen. “In Brazil, dermatologists aren’t allowed to have their own cosmetics line, so they give you a recipe with a specific formula that you can take to the pharmacy and they mix it there,” she says, noting that dermatologists can create formulas for pretty much any product, including a night cream or serum to target specific skin issues.
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Another common practice, according to Ceridono, is weekly sessions of lymphatic drainage, a gentle massage practice that naturally helps with water retention, contours the body, and targets cellulite. “But, overall, I think Brazilians have a good balance between taking care of themselves and embracing natural beauty,” she adds. “Not worrying too much can be a powerful beauty ‘trick.’”
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
Finland: Keep It Simple
Women living in Nordic countries — including Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland — deal with climate extremes, from bitterly cold winters to 18-hour-long summer days, on a regular basis. So, they have no choice but to be practical in their approach to beauty.

“Finnish women are quite rational about their beauty routines,” says Tiina Isohanni, vice president of innovations and development for Finnish skin-care brand Lumene. “They prefer a low dosage of perfumes in their facial creams — even totally fragrance-free creams are popular, as are products for sensitive skin, and they traditionally don’t use many body-care products.”
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In addition, Isohanni says Finnish women are becoming more concerned with sun protection and the role of UV radiation in aging. “In Nordic countries, women of course want anti-aging products, but they also want anti-aging products that are very moisturizing because they live in a harsh environment with a colder climate,” she says. “They tend to prefer textures that are a bit richer and protective, especially during the winter.”
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Lumene’s Bright Now Vitamin C Day Cream with SPF 15 is a popular choice in Nordic countries, according to Isohanni, as is the brand’s Complete Rewind collection, which features omega fatty acids and Arctic sea buckthorn to protect the skin’s protein, elastin, and collagen.
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Beyond the realm of topical treatments, another popular beauty pastime for Finnish women is visiting a sauna to relax and soak in beauty treatments. “Saunas are an omnipresent feature in traditional beauty-care methods of Finnish people,” says Isohanni. “In the old days, Finns used the sauna as a place to cleanse the mind and rejuvenate and refresh the spirit. Today, the relaxing aspect of the experience is still highly valued.”
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
Russia: More Is More
When it comes to beauty, Russian women aren’t exactly known for their minimalistic approach. Words like exotic and glamorous and phrases like over the top are often used to describe the way Russian women approach makeup and style — skin care is no exception.
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“Russian women are all about the total look — they want to buy the best and most expensive, and they are always dressed to the max,” says Chantecaille, pointing out that, because of severe weather conditions, her Russian clients tend to favor rich and comforting creams, such as the Chantecaille Nano Gold Energizing line.
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Russian-born dermatologist Julie E. Russak says maintaining fullness in the face and combating spots and pigment issues are also of particular concern to Russian women. “Russian women characteristically have round, plump faces and full lips, which they consider ‘youthful,’ and they want to maintain that volume,” she says. “They also value their creamy, white complexions, so they take hyperpigmentation very seriously.”
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Russak adds that Mesotherapy (tiny vitamin injections), as well as homeopathic methods, are used, and they often blend their own skin-care masks using egg yolks, cucumber, and honey and apply this mixture from head to toe. “Russian women pride themselves on good skin care and appearance — to them, it’s a sign of high status,” says Russak. “Most Russian women have standing appointments with their dermatologist or cosmetologist, not necessarily for a procedure but to check on their skin. They’re eager to try new trends and are very educated in clinical treatments and skin care.”
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
South Korea: Step By Step
So, we’ve already established that women around the world can teach us a thing (or 50) about taking care of our skin. But, when we talk sheer effort — and product knowledge — no one comes close to Korean women.
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“Many Asian women follow a complex skin regimen using multiple products, and Korean women do this to the extreme,” says Chantecaille. In fact, a typical Korean beauty routine can include a mind-boggling number of steps, including eye-makeup remover to take off waterproof cosmetics, double cleansing with oil and foam cleansers, toner application, a face serum, an eye serum, and a separate eye cream followed by a face moisturizer as well as a neck cream. At night, most Korean women reapply a neck cream and use a mask once or twice a week, according to Chantecaille.
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While all of these steps certainly don’t hurt in combating signs of aging, Korean women actually benefit just as much from genes as they do from careful beauty routines. “Melanin pigments protect skin from ultraviolet rays, so in general, aging starts a bit later in Korean women than Western women,” says South Korean dermatologist Yu Jin Kim. “But, once it starts, thick and crooked wrinkles may occur, as well as big pores, rough skin, and pigmentation.”
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To treat these concerns, Kim says many Korean women depend on dermatological procedures, including whitening treatments like scaling, razor toning, and IPL, and lifting treatments such as Thermage, fractional lasers, and fillers; plus, they use at-home cleansing treatments like the Clarisonic brush.
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