The Skincare Of A Geisha


A few weeks ago, I told a pharmacist in Tokyo that I had a headache, assuming (hoping) he'd direct me to an off-brand box of extra strength Advil. But no, he handed me a bag of green tea and told me to take a nap. A few days later, I told my friend, a Japan native, that my hair felt very dry and brittle. “Seaweed,” she replied. “Eat seaweed, and then take some more seaweed, boil it into a paste, and put on your hair.” I laughed. But not for long—I took a nap and felt better; the seaweed hair mask did wonders. I blame my New Yorker tendencies for ever having doubted the efficacy of natural, vetted treatments.

It's easy to think of Japanese beauty as the realm of everything cutesy (kawaii!)—from fake eyelashes to brightly packaged face-masks. What many don’t realize is that many Japanese women still adhere to the traditional beauty methods of the country’s original bombshells, the Geishas. So I took a trip north to Kyoto—home of the preserved Geisha—to find out more about how natural beauty continues to thrive.

White makeup and lipstick aside, it’s all about skincare (when is it not?). Seriously, these women have wrinkle-free, blemish-free, perfect complexions. Where does it come from? Their food. Their natural resources work double duty, as food but also cleansers, exfoliants, and moisturizers. I tried out this natural skincare regimen for a week, and within the first three days, my skin was glowing and clearer than before. Here are a few tricks I learned that I can keep doing when I’m in the States. All it takes is a trip to the grocery store.

Green Tea: OK, this one’s obvious, but I’m not talking one Tall Green Tea Latte from Starbucks every few days. You have to be dedicated to drinking the antioxidant and metabolism booster two or three times a day. The Japanese tea ceremony is an important one—not only for the nerves, but for the skin.

Adzuki Beans: You can eat Azuki beans with rice or in mochi, or you can crush up the beans and wash your face to exfoliate your skin. The brownish-red bean is also a rich source of antioxidants.

Rice: Geishas would actually wash their faces with boiled-down rice water. It's an old trick used to keep their skin bright and fair. Rice water helps with your skin's elasticity to even tone and smooth texture. The rice water actually helps gradually lighten the complexion—you can consider it the original skin brightener.

Tsubaki Oil: The tsubaki, or camellia flower, is packed with oleic acids that are extremely compatible with our own skin. Both Japanese men and women commonly use camellia oil to moisturize their skin, face, and hair. You can buy this at a drugstore, or find it in a food market.

—Alyssa Reeder

Photographed by Tom Newton. For more Japanese beauty, check out Alyssa's other pieces here.