How Nature Blended in the Ancient East Asian Beauty Rituals

Asian women don’t age. Well, we do, but we get the point of this saying. While beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes, we cannot deny that women with Asian heritage have slowed down the aging process – whether by genetics or pure luck. Beyond the recent craze over Korean skincare, youthful skin of Asian women goes back to hundreds (or thousands) of years history. For this article, let’s loot to the east.


from Chinese drama ‘The Virtuous Queen of Han’

Around 3000 BC Chinese women were already practicing beauty rituals – not just to find a suitable mate, but to maintain an image for society. Here are some examples:

Skin Masks

For their skin, Chinese women took a lesson from Empress Wu, renowned for her beauty and agelessness. Aside from applying her special face mask three times a day, Empress Wu also practiced meditation – a way to calm the mind and to promote a healthy body. Combining her beauty rituals with her meditation allowed her to look very young even when she was 80 years old.

Empress Wu’s special mask – which she applied three times a day – was made of:

  • Mung beans
  • Green tea extract
  • Motherwort

Pearl Powder

In 320 AD, Chinese women started using ground pearl powder on their skin. Aside from its detoxifying and medicinal effects, pearl powder is said to clear skin, remove wrinkles and liver spots, as well as give the user a more youthful appearance.

Jade Roller

Since the 7th century, Chinese women used jade rollers on their skin for various purposes. The most common outcome is a rejuvenation that gives the user a glowing appearance. Experts say that the cause of this immediate change is the coolness of the jade – which must be made from real jade minerals – and the healing properties that the stone possesses. It is not just for immediate beauty effects, however, since jade rollers also promote skin elasticity and fight aging.

Mint Leaves

It is a common practice for women in Asia to purchase products that lighten their skin. In ancient times, they made their own concoctions, or simply used items like mint leaves by rubbing them on their face. Mint leaves have been shown to give the user a brighter complexion. If not mint leaves, women preferred to use thick white powder on their faces and heavy rouge on their cheeks and lips to emphasize the whiteness of their skin.


from Japanese drama ‘Atsuhime’

In Japan, in spite of all the glamorously tanned celebrities on TV, many women are obsessed with keeping their skin soft and smooth. Having acne is troublesome for most because it can give an impression of poor health, regardless of its causes.

Camelia Oil

While many young Japanese women like using various emulsions and masks to keep their faces fresh and smooth, Ancient Japanese women relied on one special oil to keep their skin looking smooth, young, and fresh – Camelia oil, also known as Tsubaki oil. This oil was used by Geishas to remove their makeup, while also moisturizing their skin.

Sheet Masks

Speaking of Geishas, it seems that they may be the origin of Asian facial masks. When they were not out and about mingling with people, Geishas were at home using silk sheets infused with essential flower oils on their faces. Some say this is where the origin of sheet masks came from.

Facial Massage

Apart from wearing oil-infused masks, Japanese women were also a huge proponent of proper face massages. Back then, women made it part of their beauty ritual. With a clean face, they massaged their skin by patting it upwards to promote lymphatic circulation, thereby giving their face a youthful glow. In this regard, execution is more important than just doing it. Consistency helped as well.

Steam Baths

Japanese women were not just concerned about their faces. They knew that a whole-body ritual will do wonders for their skin. That is why many Japanese women preferred to soak in a hot bath because it calms their body, while also beautifying their skin.


from Korean film ‘Masquerade’

These days, Japan and Korea are dominating the beauty market on a global scale. Korea is winning in some ways because of the added marketing from popular K-dramas and endorsements from their international superstars.

However, back then, there were no The Face Shop or Skin Food. Women in Korea had to use their wits and nature to keep their beauty intact. The most common practice is “hanbang” skincare. This means using herbal medicines to practice beauty rituals.


Although Ginseng is also popular in China, it was the central commodity traded by Korea in ancient times. Known for its many medicinal properties, Ginseng became a popular ingredient in most any mixture in Korea – whether it was food, drinks, medicine, and of course, beauty products. Ginseng is full of antioxidants and also has anti-aging properties. Women used ginseng creams or teas to look younger and healthier.

Ground Mung Beans

Women made soap out of ground mung beans for its exfoliant properties. Apart from that, mung beans were filled with Vitamin E. Women mixed it with essential oil like safflower oil to increase its potency. After creating the mixture, Korean women would turn it into oils, lotions, and creams for their face and body. However, mung bean mixtures were mostly used for facial washes and baths.

Rice Products

Rice was an abundant commodity in Korea in ancient times. Women discovered that it had many useful properties that could improve their skin. They made it into scrubs using sea salt or created whipped cream from ground rice to use as a facial cream.

Common Grounds

Photo by Vee O on Unsplash

Since this is Asia, you can expect that the same ingredients are found in almost every part of the continent. The three countries I mentioned above share traditional beauty secrets as well, using some of the most popular ingredients at their disposal.

Green Tea

It’s not just an extract that’s useful for Asian women. They are more likely to drink green tea than use it on their face like Empress Wu. Green tea has many medicinal properties, but Asian women have seen that it can also improve their skin by detoxifying their bodies and helping to calm their minds. No toxins, no problems = beautiful skin.


Turmeric is commonly found in most regions in Asia. It is a primary ingredient in food in India, but women there also know that it has more than just savory uses. The same goes for women in China, Korea, and Japan. All countries have used turmeric for thousands of years as a mask to stave off aging and to even out their skin tone. Turmeric is also known to reduce lines, wrinkles, and liver spots, which is why it is no surprise that women applied it to their skin without any additives.

Rice Wash

Another common practice in all these countries is washing faces in rice water. Not only is it a gentle cleanser, but it also tones the skin. By washing their faces with rice water, Asian women achieved firm and supple skin. The best part is that all you need to do is place a cup of rice in a bowl of water, then use the water to wash your face. Women used it as an exfoliant as well. By washing their face with rice water they managed to perform three beauty rituals in one sitting.

Modern Beauty Rituals

The only difference between ancient beauty rituals and modern ones are the mixtures and processes involved. While women in ancient times worked hard to create their own beauty products, women today have access to thousands of options with the same ingredients our ancestors used. Visit any Asian beauty bar and you will find all of these ancient beauty ingredients pre-packaged and ready to use. Now that is timeless.

Danielle A. Suleik

Danielle is a writer and a licensed physiotherapist in Manila, Philippines. She is passionate about women's issues and open-world gaming like Fallout, Witcher and Skyrim.

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