Japan - the land of onsen, or hot springs. Each region of the country is known for a particular spring quality or effect, and there are plenty! You likely think of onsen as a serene place of relaxation that heals both body and mind, and you would be right. That's most probably why they remain a beloved and favorite destination for many travelers to Japan.
Among local Japanese, onsen are often associated with beauty and supple skin as well, so you can be sure there's going to be a whole culture about how to get the best beauty treatments from an onsen trip - and that's what we're here to delve into today!
We roped in Ms. Hiroko Ishii, a hot spring beauty researcher to help us dig deeper into the Japanese style of hot spring beauty treatments. Ms. Ishii is an onsen specialist who views this research as her life work.
She visits hot springs, searches for the health and beauty elements in them, and goes on stayover trips at spa resorts to deepen her understanding on the subject. What sort of helpful beauty regimens has she discovered through her experience that she can share with us? Let's find out!
Start your Japanese skin care routine immediately after coming up from the hot spring!
Generally, hot springs in Japan contain plenty of components known to make the skin more smooth and supple. That means your skin will feel refreshed and reinvigorated immediately after coming out from the bath, almost like you've pressed a reset button on it!
As such, your skin is in optimal condition to quickly absorb the nourishing ingredients found in beauty products within a short period of time after emerging from the bath. It's therefore highly recommended that you start your skincare routine in the dressing room of the onsen right after your dip for best results!
Use your regular skincare products if possible, or something your skin is already accustomed to. The skin will absorb these products much faster than usual, and the good effects will be much more pronounced as a result! Even though this may be a routine you've been going through every day, applying creams and lotions after a hot spring bath somehow makes everything feel special and so much better.
Steamed onsen towels, a gensen kakenagashi (free-flowing natural spring water) specialty
Some hot springs in Japan contain just natural spring water that bubbles out from a fountainhead without anything added to it. These are known as gensen kakenagashi and are a Japanese skin care secret. If you happen to be visiting one, here's an onsen beauty treatment you might want to consider trying: Steamed onsen towels!
Fill a bucket with some natural spring water from the fountainhead and wait for it to cool down to a nice, warm temperature you're comfortable with before washing your face with it. Dip your towel into the bucket of warm spring water, wring out the excess water, and place the towel on your face for a quick-and-easy steamed onsen towel facial mask treatment, fresh off the hot spring itself!
More commonly, people tend to do the steamed towel treatment right inside an onsen bath itself. Put a hot towel of moderately warm temperature on your face. Once the towel turns cold, the steamed onsen towel treatment is complete. This Japanese skin care beauty regimen can be quietly carried out while you're enjoying a hot spring soak at the same time. What's not to like?
Onsen face masks, another gensen kakenagashi specialty
Here's another gensen kakenagashi specialty that we think you should consider trying out too: Onsen face mask! You'll need a portable plastic bottle for this. Scoop up some water from the fountainhead to bring back home or to your room at the resort, and you'll be able to do your own indoor onsen facial treatment at leisure!
Soak a plain sheet mask in the spring water you've collected to create an instant onsen face mask. It's basically going to act like sheet masks sold on the market that come presoaked with nutritious serum! While face mask application can definitely be done at the bathhouse itself, there's always the risk of feeling lightheaded if you stay in the bath for too long, so bring the water back home or to your room at the resort if you want to try out this onsen beauty treatment at leisure.
Note that leaving a sheet mask on your face for too long may cause it to dry out instead, which would defeat the purpose of the beauty treatment altogether, so here is a helpful piece of advice from Ms. Ishii. She proposes to keep the length of the treatment to about five minutes. Also, don't let the spring water sit for too long in the room. Use it while it's still fresh for the best effect. If you're bringing it back home, then ensure that all the water you've collected is used up within three days from day of collection.
Japanese skin care exercises help to combat fatigue and detox the body
Swelling and blood circulation problems are common enemies to fitness, and while hot springs are already known to enhance health and beauty by improving blood circulation and warming up the body, Ms. Ishii has a suggestion that will bring all those benefits to the next level: Onsen beauty exercises! They're not complicated at all, so everyone can follow along.
Here are the three sets of exercises she proposes doing at the onsen.
1) First, pump up the slow blood circulation around the feet or lymph nodes on the sides of the body
Sit down on the first lowered step of a bath pool and twist and stretch your ankles for about 10 times, or until you feel the back of your calves or the muscles in front of the shin start straining or tensing.
2) Stretch the lower half of your body
Place your hands on the edge of the bath and slowly twist your waist while supporting your body. Stretch out the leg opposite of the side you're twisting to (for example, if you're twisting to the right, stretch out your left leg), towards the back, and hold the position for about 10 seconds. Change sides and repeat a few times.
3) Stretch the upper half of the body
Lower yourself into the bath until the water covers your shoulders and slowly raise your arms up into the air and let your back bend backward slightly. Slowly lower your arms to your sides while taking care to engage the muscles around your shoulder blades.
The area between our shoulder blades is apparently an important channel of lymphatic movement. Moving the area therefore rejuvenates the body's cells and boosts its fat-burning ability. This will have a good effect on relaxing stiff shoulders and improving the body's general wellbeing, and it's a great beauty treatment too!
The Japanese skin care beauty regimen introduced in this article are minor things you can try out quietly at an onsen near you without much fuss. Remember, however, that whatever you do, always be considerate of the people around and do not disturb them in any way. Take your time to open your senses to the beautiful landscapes and pleasant natural sounds unique to each onsen you visit. Your enjoyment will be multiplied and your healing, accelerated.
Written by Naho Jishikyu. English translation by Huimin Pan.