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.

Battle of the Cleansing Wipes

There are two main factors that led to my love of facial cleansing towelettes. The primary reason being that I am lazy with my beauty routine. The second reason is that because I’m always on the go, beauty wipes are super easy to toss in my carry on bag, no 3.4-ounce rule required.

When I lived stateside, my go-to brand was Ponds, until I discovered that for about half the price, the CVS brand of cleansing and make up removing towelettes were as good or even better, and came in different formulations such as gentle and age defying.

But once I moved abroad, I realized that American facial cleansing cloths are useless compared to their foreign counterparts. I’ve tried these wipes in various countries, and the two international best are Skin Food Fresh Celery Cleansing Tissues from South Korea and Bioderma Créaline H20 Dermatological Wipes from France.

The South Korean brand Skin Food is well known in Asia, but it’s only beginning to make an appearance in the U.S. Known for its ‘food therapy’ approach to skincare, all products include edible items on the ingredients list. The Fresh Celery Cleansing Tissues do indeed contain celery extracts and smell like celery. Apparently, celery is an excellent skin hydrator and is loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. These wipes effectively remove makeup and leave my skin feeling cleansed but not tight.

Very chicly packaged in hot pink are the Bioderma Créaline H20 wipes from France. A New York based friend who works at Style.com explained to me that these are a must in the fashion world, and models never leave home without them. Well, what’s good enough for a model’s face is good enough for mine, so I snapped a package up last month at a French pharmacy. Larger and more luxurious than the Skin Food brand, the Bioderma wipes do a slightly better job at cleansing and moisturizing, and do leave my skin hydrated. However, they smell slightly of perfume, and the ingredients while hypoallergenic are less natural than the Korean brand. Another major factor is price. The French ones are more than twice as expensive as their Asian counterpart.

Overall, I love them both, and choosing one over the other would be a Sophie’s Choice style decision. Easy, portable, cleansing and moisturizing? You may never want to wash your face with soap and water again.

Skin Food and Bioderma products are available on Amazon.