A Pox Upon My Face

I have always struggled with my skin. For as long as I can remember I was always treating one or another break out. When I was 21 it was at its worst and my dermatologist and I both agreed to give Acutane a try. Yeah, the stuff that if you get knocked up while you’re taking it makes your baby have crazy deformities. It’s no joke. At the time there was no generic either. My initial dosage started at $800 a month and by the end of the 6 months I was up to $1200 a month… and I didn’t have insurance. I paid it. Happily. I was desperate. The battle continued after that but, the Actuane helped tremendously. Oral birth control reined in the few break outs that continued after that. Unfortunately good old breast cancer put the ixnay on that since I’m never again allowed to take any oral medication that contains any kind of hormones. So that battle was lost but, the war continues.

Living in southern Virginia, I had found a cleansing and topical treatment routine that was working… mostly. It was good enough I wasn’t self conscious and I was happy with the results. But, everything effects my skin; mood, water intake, diet, exercise, weather, stress, regional allergies, seasonal allergies, washing with city water vs well water, time of the month, time of the year, Zeus coughs on Mount Olympus and I get a cystic volcano on my cheek…  So when we began our journey first up to Ohio, I knew I’d have a new but, temporary battle. My parents’ well water messes with my skin. It used to be naturally SUPER soft and have a bunch of iron in it. It used to wreck my skin. Since those years of me living there though, they have gotten a water softener so, I held out hope that would help. False. Well, it isn’t as bad as it used to be and we were only there for a week so I had come prepared with various washes, scrubs, creams and lotions to combat the inevitable flux. One week of driving in the RV only stopping to sleep in the RV at rest stops was another one. I was prepared for that too. I mean, I did my best using facial wipes and being the crazy lady doing a full face wash routine in the rest stop bathroom that has a push and hold faucet but, whatever. It’s that or look like Acne Amy by the end of the trip. Our month in Tacoma was the final US travel hurdle. Usually my skin mostly likes the WA weather and my allergies are less exhausting there. It’s just a couple reasons I love the Pacific Northwest. So a couple of tweaks to the usual daily facial routine and I was OK.

Japan, I was clueless on. I had no idea on how my skin would react. I assumed the first couple weeks would be a shit show. Unfortunately a shit show on my face is not easy to hide. Using makeup to camouflage the trouble spots gets tricky when it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity. AKA it melts right the hell off within minutes of walking out of the air conditioning. Le sigh.

We’ve been in Yokosuka now for over a month and a half. 99% of that time I’ve looked like I have chicken pox, no joke. My face and my neck are ANGRY with this place. I’m assuming it’s a combination of sweating ALL THE TIME, changes from AC to heat to AC, base water, stress (hi, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I need a job please) and diet changes. Plus lets face it, I never can seem to drink enough dang water. So, I started researching. Digging into how Japanese women (and men) keep their faces looking porcelain. First I found, they are just graced with beautiful skin genetics. Which I’m jealous of frankly because obviously, I am not that blessed. What else I found is that Japanese women don’t mess around when it comes to taking care of their skin and hair. They follow a double cleansing process that has no less than 6 but up to 12 steps. No joke. And their products are geared towards that. Most beauty blogs and articles state that cleansing your face at the end of the day should take approximately the same amount of time as applying your makeup… Dude. Applying a full face of make up, not even a formal event style, just a, “hey we are going out to dinner for some burgers with friends and I want to look fab,” takes at least 30 minutes. I mean, for me longer because I have all my splotches and spots from breakouts to camouflage. This statement alone has left me reeling. OBVIOUSLY I am failing in the eyes of my Japanese sisters when it comes to the first and most crucial aspect of my night-night face routine. This nightly process lead to a simpler less intense morning process not surprisingly.

So, here is what I have gathered the in Japan is the norm for  facial routines.

Morning

  1. Cream Cleanse
  2. Lotion/Essence
  3. Serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Eye Gel
  6. SPF

Night

  1. Oil Cleanse
  2. Foaming Cleanse
  3. Exfoliation
  4. Lotion/Essence
  5. Mask
  6. Serum
  7. Massage
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Eye cream
  10. Spot treatments

Yep. If you’re keeping tally, that 3 types of cleansers a day. My Japanese beauty enthusiasts are not. Messing. Around. I can’t say I am surprised though. I mean, I spent 6 months getting to be a certified Esthetician. I used to give people expensive facials for a living. And really, while the order might be ever so slightly different and the US terms are slightly different, it’s conceptually the same. Basically Japanese women give themselves full facials every night.

Armed with this new knowledge I took a little walk over the the Exchange to check out the little beauty section to see what I could find that would be a US equivalent to the descriptions in all the articles on Japanese facial routines. I still have a few products that fit the bill in certain steps like a foam cleanser and a cream cleanser, exfoliation etc. I was basically looking for an oil cleanser, a lotion, a light day moisturizer (I have a neutrogena one that is almost empty) and a pimple patch spot treatment. And I found… not much. Whomp whomp. They had one oil cleanser and it was mostly coconut oil which I already know makes me break out BAD, like possible allergy type rash and pimples. There were no real products that fit the description of the Japanese lotions. Even the traditional US toners were limited. I already have Clinique Lotion 3 which is a clarifying toner. I like it. It works. It’s expensive. I planned to continue to use it after cleansing but, before the lotion. I also hoped to find a nice Japanese alternative since I hadn’t found a decent dupe in the US for it. No pimple patch covers (they sounded so promising in the articles and blogs!) They had my usual Neutrogena day moisturizer but, meh, since they didn’t have the other items I just was over it.

Back home I started an intense search on must try products. I read blogs, reviews and articles. What I found is the beauty of this J-beauty (yeah, that’s what fancy beauty bloggers and writers call it) process is that while there are a lot of products obviously, the process, the ritual itself, was what seemed to be important rather than the fanciest most expensive products. OK, I can really get behind this. I found amazing reviews for products like SK-II Essence and Albion Skin Conditioner Essential but, I certainly don’t have over $100 for one product. So I narrowed my search down to just drugstore products. Thankfully I found that Japan has a plethora of these that are highly rated and most had received coveted Cosme awards which is similar to the Allure and Elle beauty awards that we see on products in the US. I also found that Japan, as a whole, takes regulation of ingredients in their products and claims made on what a product does very seriously. So if a product claims to lighten age spots, you can rest assured that it has really truly proven to do just that. It’s that exact reason why you don’t see a ton of creams and lotions claiming to reverse aging like you do in the states… because they just don’t have products that they feel REALLY actually “reverse” aging.

After several hours of of going down the rabbit hole of J-Beauty blogs, reviews, announcements, reddit boards and lists, I had over 2 pages worth of possible products to try. My lists were nice and organized by type and I had even snapped screen shots of what the packaging looked like since I obviously can’t read Japanese and was concerned the Japanese drugstore might only have kanji signage. I even looked up the best drug stores for beauty products. Basically I am all set to adventure out into town for a little shopping trip. The drug store, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, that I want to try and hit up is about an hour and a half walk which sounds far, but really isn’t.  The Sailor has agreed to walk with me so stay tuned for that adventure!

 

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