Part 1: Building an Asian skin care routine

Clique aqui para português.

Part 2.

It’s been 3 months since I started my blog, and many followers have asked me tips on how to make an Asian routine, so I decided to create this post to help everyone who is wondering how to make one, which products to use, where to buy, doubts about pH, acids, the order of application, and more. As it is a very big subject, I will divide it into two posts.

Before I start, I want to make something very clear because I think some people still do not understand. All of the products reviewed here have been tested on my skin. When you see me praising a product it’s because this product has provided at least satisfactory effects for MY skin. I test, I spend a lot of time researching about the actives to further reinforce my opinion, and then I make the review available. In addition, I review products that I’ve used for at least 1 month. Products reviewed prior to this period are mostly products that some brand/store sent me and set a deadline to post the review. I emphasize at the beginning of the review that I tested the product for X days (like it was done with Benton’s Cacao Moist and Mild Cream) and I keep testing the product for longer. If I have some irritation or something bad about using the product, I come back, edit, and repost my review on my social networks notifying that there has been an update in the review (fortunately, so far this has never happened).

There is another point I want to make clear before we start, about the products I receive for free. I NEVER let the brand/store influence my opinions and reviews in any respect. If I do not like the product, I’ll say it. If I love it, I will also say it. Most of the products reviewed here have got a good rating because they were products that I had the opportunity to choose. I, as a good self-respecting cosmetic lover, analyze the formula and texture before requesting/buying a product and this is already a good path toward “success.” The only thing I get for “free” is the product and honestly, most of the time I have to pay fees because the importation tax here in Brazil is over 60% of the parcel’s price. Everyone who knows me knows how honest I am. I hope that everything is clear in relation to the products that I receive for “free”. Let’s move on.

In this post, you will learn about nomenclature, most used actives and what they treat, and a little about the importance of pH in some acids.


Let’s start with the meaning of the various names that exist in Asian products. There are many -Toner, Cleansing Water, Booster, Skintoner, Ampoule, Softener- but do not be scared because most of these names mean the same thing.

Cleansing Oil/Milk/Liquid/Cream/Balm/Butter: This is, in my opinion, the best differential of the Asian routine. This product is similar to a make-up remover here in the West, but it is made up of oil/lipid. There is the liquid version (Cleansing Oil/Milk/Liquid) and the solid version (Cleansing Balm/Cream/Butter). It’s meant to remove any type of makeup and residue that a water-based cleanser can’t remove. It cleans the skin thoroughly, removing even blackheads and dead cells. It is suitable for ALL skin types, even the extremely oily ones. What do you mean, Rafael? Oily skin using an oil based product? That’s right, people. Similar removes similar, remember? This type of oil contains surfactants that allow only the running water to remove it without difficulty. However, it is highly recommended that you end this cleansing step with a water-based cleaner such as a foam, gel, micellar/cleansing water. The name given to this technique is “Double Cleansing” and has to be used at the end of your day.


Cleansing Water: It is known here as micellar water. You know that one from Bioderma? So, we call that Cleansing Water. It is a water with surfactants that gently remove dirt from the skin without damaging it. It is generally used as the morning facial cleanser by many people (like me). Some brands ask to rinse and others don’t, like Back to Iceland Cleansing Water, which also works as a toner.


Clay Mask/Mud Mask/Clay Pack: They are usually used after washing the face with a foam/gel. It’s meant to purify the skin and give it minerals. I usually use the clay mask after the cleansing oil and I skip the foam/gel. This is personal. Many people use the clay mask after doing Double Cleansing.


Bubble Mask/Bubble Pack: Masks usually containing clay and carbonated water. A few seconds after the application, the product begins to foam on the face, as you can see here. They are meant to make a deep cleansing in the skin, mainly inside the pores.

I love the design of the right one, from Swanicoco.

Modeling Mask: It’s a type of mask that does not come ready. Usually, the powder comes along with the liquid and a bowl so it can be mixed. Some brands provide only the powder so that you mix it with water. Once mixed, you apply on the face and wait to dry. When it’s dry, it looks like rubber, and you have to peel it off. It’s usually meant to moisturize.


Peeling Pads: These are cotton discs soaked in a liquid that contains exfoliating acids. They do both physical and chemical exfoliation. There is also an anti-acne (Pimple Pad) version.


Peeling Gel/Cream: They are exfoliating in the form of a gel or cream. They don’t contain granules. Cellulose is used instead. When applied to the face, the cellulose agglomerates and forms several particles, which exfoliate the skin in a “physical” way. They also have a percentage of acid to be able to exfoliate. They are products for sensitive skin and should be used on a clean face.


Wash-Off Mask: These are masks that need to be rinsed after a certain period on the face. They may contain charcoal or other ingredients. They generally serve to purify and moisturize the skin.

Untitled-8Peel-Off Mask/ Peel-Off Pack: Do you know that black mask to pull blackheads? So, that’s a peel-off mask. They are “pull” masks that exist for various purposes. The most common is the black one, which contains charcoal. There are versions with whitening and anti-aging ingredients, such as Sulwhasoo Clarifying Mask and Missha Cho Gong Jin Peel Off Pack. They are usually used after washing the face, before or after the clay mask if you use one on the same night. Sulwhasoo’s, for example, is recommended to use after emulsion.

Love the details on the Missha’s peel-off mask (on the right).

First Treatment Essence/Facial Treatment Essence/Fermentation Essence: I think you’ve already seen the acronym “FTE” out there, right? This acronym stands for First Treatment Essence, which is nothing more than a product, usually with a consistency similar to water, which is applied quickly after washing the face. This product is often constituted of ingredients that undergo a fermentation process by a chosen bacteria. This fermentation process reduces the particle size, which allows the liquid to penetrate deeper into the skin. The first brand that introduced an FTE in the market was the Japanese SK-II, which in the last century launched a product with rice fermented by the fungi of the genus Galactomyces. To summarize all this, FTE serves to moisturize and, depending on the ingredient that has been fermented, may have anti-aging, antioxidant, and even whitening functions. It is generally a very light product and doesn’t weigh on the skin.

This SK-II Sakura limited edition bottle is gorgeous, isn’t it?

Toner/Booster/Skin/Conditioner/Softener/Skintoner/Water: There are several names that mean the same thing, that is, toner. But pay close attention! What comes to your mind when you read the word toner? A product we use after washing the face to “complete” the cleaning and regulate the pH, am I right ?! Forget it! In Asian terms, a toner is a liquid similar to FTE, however, it is usually not based on fermented ingredients. It comes after FTE and generally has the major role of moisturizing. It may contain brightening ingredients (such as niacinamide), anti-aging ingredients (such as adenosine), and exfoliating acids (AHA/BHA/PHA). There are “two” types of Asian toners, the one with the very acidic pH that will prepare your skin for exfoliating acids (usually the pH is less than 4), and that moisturizing toner you use after exfoliating the skin with acids. In Japan, the toner is called Lotion. But do not confuse with the term Lotion in Korean, which means a moisturizer type an aqueous cream (I’ll explain later what a Korean lotion is). Rafael, do I need to use two toners? One to lower the pH and another to hydrate? I’ll explain this in part 2.


Essence/Serum: This step is usually used after FTE and toner. They are products that aim to treat a specific problem (or more than one), be it wrinkles, blemishes, pores, blackheads, and so on. In Western products (European, American…), serum is usually the product with the highest concentration of active ingredients in the entire range. However, in Asian products, this rule doesn’t exist. Don’t be surprised if you see a toner or a cream of a certain line being more concentrated in active X than the serum. Another point I highlight is texture. Here in the West, the serums are usually products with a liquid or fluid texture. In the east, you will easily find serums with a thicker texture and that is why I always repeat: Don’t stick to the name of the product but to the formula, texture, and pH.

jSheet Mask/Hydrogel Mask: It is a fabric mask (usually cotton) that is soaked in a liquid. There is also the Hydrogel Mask, which as the name says, is a hydrogel mask rather than cotton. The liquid may have an essence texture, gel, or an emulsion texture. Aqueous liquid masks are generally applied before the essence and those of texture similar to an emulsion should generally be applied after essence/ampoule. But this is personal. Oh, you shouldn’t rinse your face. There are also those that contain extra steps, such as Jayjun’s, which contains cleansing foam, serum, and the sheet mask.


Gel/Soothing Gel: It’s a product generally recommended for those looking for a moderate hydration without leaving the skin heavy. Soothing gel, in addition to moisturizing, aims to soothe the skin, as its name says. One ingredient commonly used in the soothing gel is aloe, however, there are several ingredients like snail mucus, roses, cucumber, cactus…


Ampoule: This one is the most concentrated product in a range (I’ve never seen an ampoule with less concentrated in actives than any product of the same range, but it might happen). This product is generally applied after the essence/gel because its texture tends to be thicker than an essence and a gel. It is a product highly concentrated in actives that aim to treat one or more problems.


Lotion/Emulsion: Do not confuse with the Japanese lotion word (which is similar to a toner). It is a light moisturizer that combines aqueous ingredients with oily ingredients, forming an emulsion. The emulsion/lotion is similar to a cream but much lighter than regular creams. It moisturizes and nourishes the skin. Provides both water and oil. It is usually applied after essence/gel/ampoule.

Untitled-19Eye Cream/Eye Serum: The eye cream has a texture that can go from gel to a thick cream. It aims to treat dark circles, expression lines, puffiness… The eye serum, which also aims to treat some of these problems, has an essence/serum texture. It is usually lighter than eye cream and is a good choice for those people that suffer from milium. It is usually applied before the face cream.

These are my dream products to use.

Spot Treatment: A localized treatment. These products are usually small because it is meant to treat a small area, whether that area is a dark spot, pimple, or something irregular on the skin. The order of application is according to the texture. There is texture in cream, serum, powder… If it is a thick texture, it is suggested to apply before the cream. If it is a light/liquid texture, before the serum/essence.

Untitled-21Cream/Deep Cream/Balm/Butter: As the name already makes clear, it is a facial cream. Butter, balm and deep cream tend to be heavier/more occlusive. There is also the gel cream (or jelly cream) version, which is lighter and recommended for combination/oily skins.

14Face Oil/Treatment Oil: A facial oil that is usually applied as the last step of the routine or before the sleeping pack. There are different types of oil for different problems. They can treat acne, blemishes, wrinkles. Some can also be used on the body.


This Shiseido oil bottle is so beautiful.

Sleeping Pack/Night Pack/Night Jelly: These products are meant to be used as the last step of the evening routine. They are usually occlusive products that have textures ranging from gel to cream/butter. The occlusion usually occurs by silicones or oils. They seal the previously added products and decreases water loss. There are sleeping packs for various skin types and different problems.


Eye Patches: They are “adhesives” to moisturize and soften the eye area, usually made of hydrogel. They can also be used on the nasolabial fold area, on the forehead, or anywhere you want. On the packaging comes the information about the time of application. There is also an option of eye patches with micro needles, which helps to deliver the actives deeper and stimulates the synthesis of collagen, like for example Missha Vitalizing Eye Cream & Hyaluronic Micro Needle Patch, that comes also with an eye cream.Untitled-25Mist/Face Mist: They are similar products to the thermal water that sells here, but these do something for your skin other than just leave it wet. They contain various ingredients (whitening, moisturizing, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory) and there is a range of options. They can be used at any time. Over or under the sunscreen/makeup. In Japan, there are versions that decrease the surface temperature of the skin. They can come in a mist bottle and continuous spray.


Dilemma: buy Sulwhasoo and be respected, or buy this cuteness from Tonymoly?

All in One: As the name already says, “All in One”. It’s the famous cosmetic for lazy people (or in case you don’t have enough time). It promises to replace various things (toner, essence, cream and even sunscreen). I particularly do not like this type of product, and I do not recommend using it to replace sunscreen. Some products have All in One in their name but do not replace any other cosmetics, such as CosRX Snail All in One Cream.


Note: You will find in some products (mainly Japanese) a word, being Light, Fresh, Milk, Moist, Rich, EX.

The product with the word Light or Fresh is a light product, generally suited for mixed/oily skin. The word Milk means it is a milky product suitable for normal/dry skins. The word Moist means that the product leaves the skin feeling moister than the regular version. The word Rich means that the product is “richer”, generally having a thicker texture and/or a more powerful moisturizing sensation (usually indicated for normal to dry skin). The word EX (which you find in Sulwhasoo products) means that it is a product with a new formula. I hope that the doubts regarding the nomenclature are solved. If I left something out, or made a mistake, leave a comment right here in the post.

Explanation of some actives

One question that people always ask me is regarding actives. More precisely which actives should they use to treat problem X. Below, I will list the main actives used in the Eastern products and their purpose(s).

Niacinamide: Also called nicotinamide, niacinamide is an effective skin whitening compound that works by inhibiting the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes to keratinocytes. Improves the stratum corneum barrier, reduces the loss of transepidermal water (TEWL). Niacinamide also provides a potent anti-inflammatory activity in the treatment of acne. In addition to lightening the skin, niacinamide also improves skin texture. It is an ingredient normally well tolerated and is easy to find in Asian products.

One comment I see a lot out there is about the combination of niacinamide with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) causing the cancellation of the benefits of each other. There’s no evidence, no study points to this. What can occur when niacinamide is mixed with vitamin C in the same routine is a flushing, which is when the skin becomes slightly red. When the two actives come in the same product, what can happen are chemical reactions that take a long time to occur and depend on the product being at a high temperature and right pH.

It is suggested to use one active at night and the other during the day, or to wait a few minutes between them. I, in particular, use both actives in the evening routine. However, I give a wait time between one product and another. They do not cancel each other’s effect if used at the same time, but they’ll probably cause you flushing. I use niacinamide, at a high concentration of 10%, at the beginning of the routine and vitamin C at the end, since I use anhydrous vitamin C (I explain below what it is).

This active treats: oily skin, blemishes, acne, weakened skin barrier.

Click here to read reviews of niacinamide-containing products.

Must read: Can you use Niacinamide and Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) together?

Ascorbic Acid (Vit C): Ascorbic acid has been shown to have many functions such as enhancing collagen synthesis, protecting the skin against the effects of ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A radiation, inhibiting melanogenesis, stimulating ceramide synthesis, stimulating the synthesis of cytokeratin.

There are two types of formulas with ascorbic acid, the one that contains water and the one that does not contain water (which we call the anhydrous formula). In the formula that contains water there is a pH because where there’s water, there’s a pH. Now, in the formula without water, which usually uses silicone, oil or wax as the vehicle, there is no pH. In this product with anhydrous formula, the pH concept does not apply (since it does not exist) and we do not have to worry, because once this product is applied to the skin, the pH of the skin, which is slightly acidic, quickly becomes more acidic than the normal, favoring the absorption and effectiveness of vitamin C. In the formula with water, it is very important to check the pH of the formula, because if it is not acid enough, the absorption and effectiveness are impaired. The ideal pH in a product that contains vitamin C is between 2.5 and 3.5.

We know that vitamin C is highly oxidized when in contact with air and also with water. However, the oxidation of a vitamin C formula in a nonaqueous vehicle is almost unlikely. Now, in the vitamin C formula with water, you may notice that it begins to darken, turning ascorbic acid into dehydroascorbic acid (DHA). DHA is not only ineffective but can also be dangerous. Instead of providing an antioxidant effect, DHA can increase the production of free radicals. If you have an ascorbic acid product that turned orange, throw it away.

Another disadvantage of water is that it can cause the product to generate a certain irritation in the skin because this irritation is mainly provoked by the hydrogen ions that are generated by the dissociation of acid in water, not by the concentration of vitamin C itself.

One important thing about vitamin C is the concentration. One study showed that, in an unknown way, the skin absorbs less vitamin C content (talking about aqueous formula) when the product concentration is higher than 20%. That is, your skin will absorb less vitamin C from a product with 25% concentration than it would absorb if the product had 20%. In addition to spending more on a product with a concentration greater than 20%, this product, if formulated with water, will tend to oxidize faster.

Look at the chart below, which shows the absorption of different levels of vitamin C at pH 3.2.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 6.00.42 PM

In the case of anhydrous vitamin C (without water), the best effect occurred at a concentration of 23%, according to a study to compare the effects of anhydrous formulations of 20% and 23%. A negative point of the anhydrous formula is the texture, which can be oily or silicony. Because vitamin C is not soluble in silicone or oil, the formula becomes a kind of suspension and, when you apply the product on the face, you feel the vitamin C particles dissolving in the skin, which can cause a slight sensation of discomfort.

This active treats: wrinkles, blemishes, aged skin. It is recommended not to use at the same time as niacinamide. If you do so, wait at least 20 minutes.

Click here to read reviews of vitamin C-containing products.

AHA: Alpha-hydroxy acid is a family of highly water soluble acids. They can be obtained naturally or synthetically. The most famous is glycolic acid, which has the highest bioavailability because of its low molecular weight, and because of this, it penetrates easily into the skin. There are also other types of AHA like lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, mandelic acid, and tartaric acid. Mandelic acid has a higher molecular structure than glycolic acid and does not penetrate so deeply, making the chances of irritation low. Some contain antioxidant properties (such as citric acid) and antibacterial properties (such as mandelic acid).

The biggest mistake made is when you think that the higher the concentration of the product, the greater the effectiveness. Not quite! There is no point in having 15% AHA and a high pH. The pH of the formula is what will tell you the level of effectiveness. A product with 10% glycolic acid at a pH of 3 is stronger than a product with 15% glycolic acid at a pH of 4. The more acidic the pH, the greater the effectiveness of the product and the greater the chances of causing irritation and discomfort. It can be combined with BHA depending on the strength of your skin. They do not cancel each other’s benefits. It’s recommended using it after the BHA.

These actives treat: aging skin, blemishes, uneven textured skin, dull skin, fine lines.

Click here to read reviews of AHA-containing products.

BHA: Do not confuse with the preservative butylated hydroxyanisole. Unlike AHAs, beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) is an oil-soluble acid. Salicylic acid functions as a keratolytic (dissolves the corneous layer of skin), comedolytic (dissolves comedones) and bacteriostatic agent (it detains the multiplication of bacteria but doesn’t kill them). It cleans the pores, neutralizes the bacteria, and gives room for the growth of new cells. In Japan and Korea, salicylic acid is limited in over-the-counter cosmetics, with a maximum allowed concentration of 0.5%. In Taiwan and China, according to a friend who lives in Singapore, the maximum allowed concentration is 2% (same in Brazil and the United States, for example). Naruko, an Asian brand from Taiwan, has products with 2% salicylic acid.

An active substance that is highly used in place of salicylic acid is betaine salicylate, which is an active substance formed by the reaction of betaine with salicylic acid. To have effects similar to those of 2% salicylic acid, 4% betaine salicylate is required. Like most acids, pH is also important for exfoliation to occur. The lower the pH, the greater the exfoliation and higher the chances of irritation. Can be combined with AHA. It’s recommended using the BHA before.

These actives treat: oily skin, congested skin, acne, clogged pores, blackheads, uneven textured skin, dull skin.

Click here to read reviews of BHA-containing products.

PHA: Polyhydroxy acids are a type of special AHA that is on the rise in the cosmetics market. In addition to providing the effects of AHAs, they don’t cause the irritation that some AHAs often cause. They are compatible with sensitive skin, including rosacea and atopic dermatitis, and can be used after cosmetic procedures. PHAs provide additional moisturizing properties compared to AHAs and can enhance the barrier function of the stratum corneum, thereby increasing the skin’s resistance to acids. Most PHAs also have antioxidant properties. PHAs such as gluconolactone or lactobionic acid may be used in combination with other products, ingredients or clinical procedures.

The PHA-containing products showed to be compatible with African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian skin and provided significant improvements in the fight against photoaging in these populations. Lactobionic acid showed better performance on the skin when compared to glycolic acid, particularly for lack of skin irritation and weakening of the skin barrier. It can be used in conjunction with AHA and BHA, depending on the strength of your skin. The BHA should be used first. The choice of which to use first (AHA or PHA) is personal. Remembering that PHA is a type of AHA.

These actives treat: aging skin, blemishes, uneven textured skin, dull skin, fine lines.

Click here to read reviews of PHA-containing products.

Snail Mucus: Snail goo is used in various Asian products. The main function is to hydrate. Some people report that it reduced scars, however, I used two products containing this active and didn’t see improvement. They may improve the appearance, but decrease depth, I think improbable.

This ingredient treats: skin dryness, minor damage repair, sunshine/heliosis relief.

Botanical Extracts: The extracts of leaves, stems, roots, fruits et cetera are in almost every Asian cosmetics. There are so many of them, however, I’ll only highlight the following:

  • Ophiopogon japonicus: Rich in saccharides, known to moisturize the skin. It protects the skin from dryness, increasing the moisture retention capacity of the skin and brings a more refined (smooth) texture;
  • Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Licorice): It has several useful pharmacological properties such as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-cancer and so on. Licorice also has flavonoids that have inhibitory effects on tyrosinase (the enzyme that controls the production of melanin) so it is also a whitening ingredient;
  • Camellia sinensis (Green Tea): It is an antioxidant, moisturizing enhancer, UV protector. Works great on oily skin, and against acne;
  • Panax ginseng: It has several skin benefits such as effects on photoaging, skin cancer, dermatitis, hair loss, alopecia, and others. Ginsenosides (active compounds present in Panax ginseng) exhibit various biological effects, including anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic;
  • Coix lacryma-jobi (Job’s Tears): Contains an adenine derivative called 9-β-D-glucopyranosyl adenine. Seeds are a rich source of important phytochemicals that reduce melanin production (whitening effect). It is also an anti dull skin ingredient;
  • Aloe vera: It is a traditional medicinal plant, whose gel has been widely used in skin care because it soothes sunburns, moisturizes the skin, reduces the appearance of swelling, protects the skin. It has been shown that their steroids have helped to reduce UVB damage in mice. It contains an active ingredient called Aloesin, which has been shown to accelerate healing of the skin;
  • Oryza sativa (Rice): Rice bran contains several polyphenolic compounds with antioxidative activities and has long been known to inhibit melanogenesis (melanin formation). Contains oryzanol, a component that acts as a protective agent against lipid peroxidation induced by UV light. Rice bran contains approximately 500 ppm of tocotrienols, which when applied to the skin, penetrate and are quickly absorbed. They accumulate in the stratum corneum of the skin and act as the first line of defense with its antioxidant property. They stabilize the free radicals generated in the skin when exposed to oxidative rays. They protect the skin against skin damage induced by UV and aging skin and therefore aid in skin repair

There are so many and I can’t mention them all. To learn more about botanical extracts, I suggest you read my reviews of Swanicoco and Sulwhasoo, which are brands that use many types of extracts.

Centella asiatica: Centella is a plant that contains anti-inflammatory and soothing actives. The main ones are madecassoside, asiaticoside, asiatic acid, madecassic acid. This plant helps those with acne and sensitive skin.

This ingredient treats: acne, irritated skin, inflammations.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca): The extract and tea tree oil have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is well used in various cosmetics worldwide, mainly to treat acne skin.

This ingredient treats: acne, oily skin, inflammations.

Fermented: Fermented products are also easily found in products other than FTEs. In my opinion, the brand that most uses ingredients that undergo fermentation processes is Sum: 37. They use a lot of fermented ingredients. They have a product that contains about 80 fermented ingredients (fruits, roots, leaves).

The most famous and studied ingredient is the Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate. It helps in reducing dark spots and helps with oxidative stress. It also strengthens the skin barrier and has beneficial effects on skin barrier proteins. In the link below you will find a review of a highly concentrated product that contains fermented ingredients. I explain a little more about it over there.

These ingredients treat: depending on the ingredient that has been fermented, it can treat dark spots, dry skin, weakened skin barrier, aged skin.

This is my favorite product, so far, that contains fermented ingredients.

Tranexamic Acid: In recent years, TA has been reported to exert skin whitening activity, especially in hyperpigmentation induced by ultraviolet rays, including melasma. It also helps in regaining the skin barrier. It is a very common ingredient in Japanese products. It can be combined with other whitening agents, such as arbutin, niacinamide, and vitamin C. I have explained more about tranexamic acid in the review of this product.

This ingredient treats: skin pigmentations, including melasma.

Click here to read reviews of tranexamic acid-containing products.

Arbutin/Alpha Arbutin: They are two whitening compounds. The arbutin is a very expensive ingredient and the alpha arbutin is even more. The whitening mechanism of alpha arbutin is different from arbutin and can be up to 10 times more effective. Arbutin is also called beta arbutin. Alpha arbutin is extremely sensitive to degradation in the presence of water if the pH of the formula is not optimal. The ideal pH in a formula with alpha arbutin to reduce its degradation is 4.9.

These ingredients treat: skin blemishes, including melasma.

Adenosine: Adenosine is also a widely used ingredient in Asian cosmetics. It treats wrinkles and restores the skin. A study using an adenosine cream showed that it is an effective ingredient in the treatment of periorbital wrinkles (crow’s feet) and glabellar wrinkles (folds between the eyebrows).

This ingredient treats: wrinkles.

Retinol: Retinol is considered the gold standard ingredient in anti-aging treatment. Retinol prevents the loss of collagen, inhibiting enzymes that degrade collagen. Treats fine lines, wrinkles and “thick” skin as it enhances the skin renewal cycle. It acts as an antioxidant because it fights against free radicals. Retinol does not exfoliate the skin. Retinol is milder than tretinoin (retinoic acid) and needs to be present in larger amounts than tretinoin to be effective. Retinol penetrates all layers of the skin, including the dermis. Tretinoin has been shown to work primarily on the upper layers of the skin. Tretinoin is an active substance sold as a drug, such as Retin A.

I see many comments saying that you can’t use retinol along with AHA/BHA and vit. C in the same routine as they may end up decreasing the effectiveness of retinol. These comments have no scientific basis, since no research, anywhere, has shown or concluded that AHA and BHA deactivate or cause retinol to lose part of its effectiveness. They say that retinol should not be used with AHA/BHA containing products because these acids make the skin more acidic, and consequently disrupt the smooth way of how retinol works in the skin. They also say that when the pH of the skin becomes more acidic (due to AHA/BHA), retinol loses some of its effectiveness, but it does not. Only one study that mentions the effect of pH on retinol activity was done, but this study was performed on proteins in a petri dish (not on the skin). In addition, the study even concluded that this occurrence on the skin was unknown. Do you want to use retinol with AHA or BHA? Use the acid first, wait about 20 minutes, and use the retinol. Do not forget to moisturize the skin well.

Another thing that is very repeated is about the use of retinol with vitamin C. Like the myth of AHA/BHA, this is also based on pH/acidity. However, as explained, acidity does not deactivate retinol’s activity. Retinol works in an acidic environment, especially when we consider that the skin’s natural pH is acidic and retinol is an ingredient that occurs naturally in the skin. Vitamin C actually helps to better stabilize retinol, making its effectiveness last longer.

This active treats: wrinkles, dark spots on the skin, skin with irregular texture, fine lines.

Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is not a type of exfoliating acid. It is an active moisturizer that has the ability to fill the spaces between collagen and elastin. The salt form of hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate) retains up to a thousand times its own weight in water. Its feeling on the skin is more enjoyable than that of glycerin (which can make the skin a bit “sticky”). Nowadays there are several forms of AH with different molecular weights. The lower its weight is, the greater the penetration into the skin (and the shorter the action time on the skin). It is common to find cosmetics with more than one form of AH nowadays, as each of them will act at a different depth on the skin. There is even a product called Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex 2 containing 15 (fifteen) different forms of hyaluronic acid. The most commonly used are hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, and hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid.

I see a lot of people buying serums with hyaluronic acid which contain in the bottle the percentage of 30, 50, 70, 90, 100% and thinking that is the amount of HA in the product. Guys, that’s not the HA percentage! It is impossible to have a product with HA in that percentage. A product with 10% HA already has a consistency similar to a gel, and 25% is like a paste… higher than that, it is like powder. This percentage in the bottle can mean two things:

  1. It refers to the level of purity of hyaluronic acid and not to its concentration;
  2. It refers to a solution of hyaluronic acid (hyaluronic acid + other agents).

These percentages, when not referring to the level of purity, are referring to the concentration of the hyaluronic acid solution. This solution usually contains less than 2% of hyaluronic acid in some vehicle, which may be water, glycerin or glycols. Do you understand? Do not fall for this kind of marketing because the actual content of hyaluronic acid in these products will hardly exceed 2% (and it is safer to stay in that concentration). I’ll leave a video below showing how a 50% serum hyaluronic acid looks like.

Hyaluronic acid serum *WARNING* 5 things to know before buying a bottle!

Guys, that’s it. If I missed anything, or there’s something to be corrected, leave a comment here. I’ll start writing part 2 soon, where I’ll help you with what to choose to start the Asian routine. I’ll also explain why it’s important to use a low pH cleanser and if you really need to use a pH-adjusting toner. Kisses!

Any questions, leave a comment here and I will answer as soon as possible.










5 thoughts on “Part 1: Building an Asian skin care routine

  1. This is outstanding!!! Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve read so many blogs but this is the only article that distils it all into one post.


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