USA: wash-off cleansers
The backstory: “History is responsible for how we cleanse,” enthuses Leslie Harris, global GM of SkinCeuticals. “We’re a nation founded by purity-obsessed pilgrims and puritans: in the 1800s, immigrants received hygiene lessons. Clean became synonymous with being American!”
The go-to formula: cleansers are a $33-million business, with wash-off gels that dissolve dirt (traditionally until skin ‘squeaked’) being the method of choice. “Formulas have been refined but still we love a deep clean,” explains Harris. Modern-day favourites like SkinCeuticals and Glossier’s cult Milk Jelly combat tightness by using gentle ingredients but still fight dullness and blocked pores.
The must-try technique: “Americans love efficiency,” says Harris “I recommend using two products at once. A cream cleanser to get rid of make-up and an enzyme gel to break down dead skin. Let them sit for 30 seconds before washing off. This gives the perfect modern-American balance – fresh and clean without the squeak.”
China: gel-to-oil cleansers
The backstory: tried and tested over 4,000 years, cleansing in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on strengthening skin. “Meridian points in the face are where chi (energy) passes,” explains facialist Su-Man. “In TCM, massaging these while cleansing is vital as it prepares the skin for other products.”
The go-to formula: “Chinese women prefer lightweight gels that convert to oils as they maintain the skin barrier and prevent irritation,” says Chinese medicine expert and facialist Nataliya Robinson. “They’re also perfect for getting rid of pollution, a major concern in cities.”
The must-try technique: recreate a TCM facial at home by massaging key meridian lines using a deep tapping movement. “Start around the eye socket to brighten circles, before concentrating on the middle of the cheeks, above the Cupid’s bow and up along the jaw to lift and firm,” says Su-Man. “This will improve chi flow and restore the skin’s balance.”
Australia: botanical-rich creams
The backstory: “Australians have an innate affinity to the environment, so we have always been drawn to skincare that champions the healing power of nature,” says MV Organics founder Sharon McGlinchey. “Australian botanicals are particularly potent because of the unique phyto-nutrients – a result of plants adapting to our harsh climate.”
The go-to formula: “Creams are beautifully effective at delicately melting away grime without stripping the skin,” explains McGlinchey.
The must-try technique: “While you can remove them with tissue or water, using a steamy compress creates a nurturing and ritualistic experience out of an otherwise mundane task,” advises McGlinchey.
Japan: foaming cream cleansers
The backstory: the Japanese four-two-four method, where you massage in an oil for four minutes, then a foaming cream for two and then wash both off for four minutes is still popular. “The length of rinsing is unique,” explains Shiseido’s regional marketing manager Miyabi Kumagai. “It’s part of the traditional and spiritual cleansing ritual called ‘misogi’, which means purification.”
The go-to formula: creamy, extremely gentle formulas that turn to foam upon contact with water – like Shiseido’s Creamy Cleansing Foam and SK-II’s Facial Treatment Cleanser – are what women reach for daily. To the uninitiated it’s a novel sensation – a cream that bubbles but leaves skin moisturised.
The must-try technique: invest in a foaming net. They’re hugely popular as they create ultra-light, fluffy foam that penetrates pores without aggravating skin.
India: exfoliating pastes
The backstory: “Ayurveda believes that the more emotional toxins we release, the clearer our skin looks, so it’s not simply about superficial cleansing,” explains Mauli Rituals founder Anita Kaushal. “The Ayurvedic approach is to mix ingredients found in the home – like honey to reduce scarring, antioxidant green tea and amla [Indian gooseberry] for its vitamin C content, which is 20 times that of an orange.”
The go-to formula: “Traditionally the preserve of kings and queens, ‘ubtans’ (botanical-rich pastes) are still the most widely used beauty staple in India,” says Kaushal. Today’s versions, like Mauli’s award-winning Radiance Exfoliant, mix in face-specific ingredients like rare Kashmiri saffron (to even skin tone) and anti-inflammatory sandalwood.
The must-try technique: “Ubtans can be blended with other liquids to supercharge skincare. Mix them with a gel cleanser to create an exfoliator or rose water to form a five- to ten- minute mask to remove toxins.”
France: micellar waters
The backstory: the French penchant for relaxed elegance has led to a love affair with cleansers that are “simple, gentle, effective and efficient,” says Parisian skincare brand La Biosthétique’s Lena Zurloh.
The go-to formula: “In the blink of an eye, micellar cleansers (which are made up of tiny drops of oil suspended in water) remove impurities while leaving the skin ideally moisturised,” explains Ingrid Pernet, scientific communication director at Nuxe.
The must-try technique: as an antidote to hot, French summers, women often store their micellar waters in the fridge for an added cooling and skin-tightening effect.
Korea: two-step oil and water cleansers
The backstory: “An obsession with skin and decades of scientific advancements mean that Korean cleansing is less a ‘routine’ and more a lifestyle – one that has turned into a global phenomenon,” explains Charlotte Cho, co-founder and chief curator of K-Beauty destination Soko Glam.
The go-to formula: “The Korean method is a two-step process, beginning with oil (a balm or liquid) and followed with a water-based cleanser. Ingredients-wise, collagen-promoting moringa seed and dullness-fighting AHAs are very popular.”
The must-try technique: the rule is, if you spend 15 minutes putting on your skincare and make-up, you should spend the same time removing it. “Oil cleansers are effective because they extract oil and impurities deep in the pores. Always massage them into a dry face as oil and water naturally repel each other.”
UK: hot cloth cleansers
The backstory: “Cold creams that our grandmothers tissued off have given way to hot cloth cleansers,” says facialist and skincare founder, Amanda Lacey. “Their point of difference is that they maintain the skin’s 5.5pH, so don’t completely disrupt the acid mantle.”
The go-to formula: nourishing balms removed with a cloth. Cult examples include Lacey’s own Cleansing Pomade, Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish and Emma Hardie’s Moringa Balm. Their hydrating formulas dissolve make-up while the cloth leaves skin ‘polished’ and clean.
The must-try technique: “Take a coin-sized amount, warm slightly between fingers and massage into dry skin. Dip the cloth in warm water, hold over your face to dissolve dirt and wipe product off. You don’t need to splash with cold water – pores don’t open and close like doors. Instead pat skin dry and immediately press in a teardrop of serum to protect the acid mantle, which takes 45 minutes to replenish post-cleanse.”
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