STYLE & BEAUTY
03/09/2012 08:47 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

The 200-Year-Old Skincare Routine That Still Really Works

When you think "geisha," it's likely you associate powdered white faces and Kabuki makeup. While rarely seen without the visage, geishas are also known for having flawless skin, thanks to a long-held Japanese beauty routine. But the specifics of their rituals weren't always so readily available.

In 2009, Vicky Tsai, the founder of Tatcha, first introduced a line of gold leaf blotting papers (the most glamorous ones I had ever seen) inspired by geishas' technique for absorbing oil while keeping makeup intact. It was during a stint in Japan, working with modern-day geishas doing research for her new product, she couldn't help but notice how incredible their skin was when they weren't wearing all the makeup. When she pressed them to reveal their skincare secrets, none could really detail the exact ingredients, only the concoctions they picked up from local herb shops. Some sleuthing led Tsai to a very rare 200-year-old book that detailed both the traditional Kabuki makeup techniques, as well as the geishas' time-honored skincare routine. Only thing, it was in Japanese. Not her native language. When the ancient book was finally translated, Tsai learned that the core of the geisha skincare routine is actually very similar to the Japanese diet, with a strong focus on green tea, rice and red algae.

Nowadays, it’s not unusual for women to use anywhere from 10 to 15 products throughout the day. In contrast, the geisha regimen (according to Tatcha) is considerably pared down. Four products to be exact: a makeup-removing oil, skin-polishing cleanser, serum and moisturizer. All which contain the good-skin-trifecta: green tea, rice and red algae.

To remove makeup, geishas relied on camellia oil to easily melt everything off, and if they weren't wearing any makeup, they cleansed with a powdery, rice-based skin polish. On the flip side, women in the West (i.e. me) tend to vigorously over-exfoliate their face every week or so, where geishas gently buff their skin everyday. (This non-abrasive approach actually keeps skin balanced without over-irritating.) Hydration consists of a licorice-based serum and a silk-derived face cream for long-lasting moisture, skin-tone-evening effects and ultimately priming the skin for heavy makeup. You would think wearing so much makeup would wreak havoc on your skin, but the geishas manage to pile it on everyday (in the most elegant way) and still have absurdly baby-soft skin. Basically, they are doing something right.

And that might mean that less is more. Further, maybe we should stop assaulting our skin with a barrage of aggressive products. After road-testing Tatcha for a week, I've noticed how insanely soft my skin has become. Also, when I wake up it still feels even and toned, not the usual oil-slick mess that greets me every morning. Even mid-day, when shininess can be at an all-time high, or conversely weird dry patches show up, my skin stays in check all day.

What other beauty routines do you feel have stood the test of time? Tell us in the comments, I want to hear about them.

Tatcha is available at Barneys.com, $12-$150

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