International Beauty Report: Hydra Life Saver

Korean women have a reputation for being among the most beautiful women in Asia, and they take their skincare seriously. So when a Korean friend of mine gave me Dior Hydra Life Moisturizing Mist as a going away present, I knew I was in for a treat.

After living and working in South Korea on and off for nearly three years, the time had come to say goodbye, and now I’m currently on the road, making my way home to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico via a jaunt through torrid Southeast Asia. Last month was Indonesia and Singapore, the next two months will see me in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Cambodia, and Thailand. With all the traveling in hot and steamy countries, it’s not like I need a thick and goopy moisturizer, the humidity ensures my face is glisten-y enough as it is.

As it turns out my Korean friend was clairvoyant. As she hugged me goodbye, she said, “You’re going to need this,” as she slipped the goodbye present in my hands. She explained that she and all her friends use the Hydra Life spray to keep their skin cool and comfortable during the extremely humid South Korean summers.

Curious as to the ingredients of this mystery mist, I checked out Dior’s website. “A trilogy of flower extracts from the Dior gardens,” it explains, make up this fragrant spray: Jisten from Uzbekistan to moisturize, mallow from Anjou to stimulate the renewal of epidermal cells and centella from Madagascar to restore the skin’s bounce by activating collagen synthesis.

Nearly two months into my trip, and while I can’t say for sure I’ve noticed the specific results that the trilogy of flowers has promised, my skin does feel balanced and delightfully cool. I stash the pretty, skin-saving bottle in the fridge whenever possible for an even more refreshing spritz. It’s also a blessing in a bottle on airplanes, protecting my face from the dry, stale air.

Now that I’ve traveled with a bottle of Hydra Life in by purse, it’s likely I’ll never leave home without it again.

Japan’s Eyelash Obsession

Every country has a national obsession. England’s is football, Argentina’s is tango and Japan’s is eyelashes. Pardon me? you might say. But you heard me right. Every convenience store, pharmacy and even vending machines stock false eyelashes and mascara and a bevy of other eyelash related products to ensure that the eyes of Japanese women are perfectly aflutter.

Not being a fan of smearing glue near my eyeballs, I opted out of the falsie craze. But a Japanese friend clued me in on a mascara with false eyelash results, and I immediately knew I had to try it. Produced by one of Japan’s most popular makeup labels Kate Tokyo, the brand’s black feather lash mascara is, may I say, an eye miracle.

With a brush that has super short, almost cactus-like bristles, it precisely adheres to every lash with zero clumpiness. Because of the wand’s special design, it can reach even the smallest corner lashes and delivers minimal product for maximum results. And because it’s made to resemble false lashes, the formula means that it’s super long lasting, in fact, my only complaint is it practically needs extra strength makeup remover to rid yourself of its fantastic coverage.

Disclaimer: For best results, I used an eyelash curler first. But on the whole, I’ve never known a mascara to make my lashes look so fabulous—in fact, I’m starting to form an obsession of my own.

I purchased a tube for 1,500 Yen (about $12) at a Japanese pharmacy, and you can find a tube here.

International Beauty Report: Turning Japanese

I’m a big fan of beauty oils—particularly argan and coconut—but on a recent trip to Japan I was introduced to a beauty oil I had never before heard of. Tsubaki oil (also known as Japanese camellia oil) has been used in eastern Asia for centuries to smooth skin and hair. In fact, it may be one of the most multi-purpose oils I’ve found on my travels to 40-plus countries. It’s incredibly moisturizing and renowned for its antioxidant effects. It’s anti-microbial, thus a good choice for acne sufferers. It can be used as a hair conditioner, nail softener, makeup remover, and even as a sunscreen—on its own it’s about SPF 5. 

The top brand of this miracle-in-a-bottle—Oshima Tsubaki Oil—sells at Japanese drugstores for 820 Yen, or approximately $7. After scouring the aisles of slenderizing socks, baby foot peels and row upon row of false eyelashes at an endlessly entertaining drugstore in Tokyo, I spotted the ubiquitous red and yellow box containing the prized, champagne-hued liquid.

Eagerly tossing the packaging aside, I tore into the box, then splashed two drops on my hands for a test. The oil is odorless, incredibly lightweight and absorbed into my dry hands immediately. Later, I tried a drop on the ends of my hair, and it too absorbed and left my hair soft and non-greasy. 

To top it all off, the packaging couldn’t be any cuter, and the Japanese writing on the bottle adds a touch of oriental mystique.

Camellia oil, where have you been all my life?

Stateside, a bottle of Oshima Tsubaki Oil can be found on Amazon, and will set you back about $20. 

Balinese Beauty

Southeast Asia may not be considered among the world’s foremost beauty capitals, but after a day spent meandering the streets of Ubud, Bali, I would urge any naysayers to think again. Cleverly merchandised boutiques packed with everything from artisanal soaps to locally made lotions, line the temple dotted streets of tropical Ubud—the rice terrace strewn locale made famous in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. But Ubud doesn’t need immortalizing in a New York Time’s bestseller. With its beauty-minded prowess, this uber-chic town is capable of standing proud all on its own. My favorite among the beautiful bunch? Jamsura.

I nearly swooned upon setting foot in this glowingly gorgeous boutique packed with lusciously scented bathing accoutrements. Towering pyramids of asymmetrical bars lured me deeper and deeper into the lavender, frangipani and jasmine scented shop. It was with great effort that I eventually managed to make my meager selection of a bar of the herbal mint variety. 

My nomadic nature means that in general, I can’t form collections or purchase too many knick-knacks from around the globe. But perhaps that’s why one of my shopping downfalls are luxuriously scented, decadently crafted handmade soaps. Soaps are one purchase that can be enjoyed and used up along the journey, thereby adding no additional weight to my already hefty backpack. The scrumptious variety at Jamusara were immediately snapped up for my imminent bathing pleasure. I’m always hoarding great artisanal soaps because even if I don’t use them right away, I love the clean, fresh scent of a new bar permeating my luggage. Trust me, the olfactory delight of a fresh hunk of soap is worth the extra kilo.

Jamusara is located on Jl. Raya Road, opposite Ubud Market.

International Beauty Report: Bathhouse Love Affair

Korean women have some of the most beautiful skin I’ve seen along my travels to 40 of the world’s countries. Sure this Asian nation is known for off-the-wall products and intensive beauty rituals, but I can’t help wondering if the simple sauna has something to do with all the soft and glowing skin I’ve seen here.

‘Jimjilbang’ means ‘bathhouse’ in Korean, and for more than a thousand years they have been gathering places where steaming saunas, invigorating pools and waterfalls create a blissful world of water. After taking a dip, you can relax in one of the traditional charcoal heated saunas, or get your new age groove on in the jewel rooms where walls of jade and amethyst are said to emit healing rays.

Since living in this beauty-obsessed nation, I’ve discovered there’s nothing like languishing in a Korean bathhouse for hours on end, soaking in the hot pools, steaming to a pulp in the scented saunas and when my fingers start to prune, being scrubbed to a fine sheen by the industrious old women known as ‘ajjumas’ (Korean for ‘Grandmother’).

The most luxurious of these bathing paradises that I know of is found in the suburbs of Seoul. Dragon Hill Spa had me oohing and aahing around every corner, as I discovered the outdoor pool, rooftop restaurant, and giant pyramid shaped saunas proclaiming “training of the mind” and filled with surprisingly passable hieroglyphics. Hot rooms filled with burning coals and cold rooms containing full sized snowmen offered respite from the bustle of Seoul, while cascading fountains and waterfalls wash away the stress of everyday life. Overwhelmed by work? Head to the jimjilbang. Feeling under the weather after a raucous night out? Jimjilbang. Stubbed your toe? You guessed it. 

I’ll use any reason as an excuse to soak away the afternoon, and who knows? If I soak long enough maybe my skin will start looking as supple and glistening as my bodacious Korean sisters. 

Want to try in out but can’t afford to jet over to Seoul? San Francisco’s Imperial Sauna is the closest you’ll get to a Korean style bathhouse in the Bay Area.