AAPI Beauty Traditions Are So Much More Than Just K-Beauty

15 beauty & wellness practices from across the Asian diaspora.

by Isis Briones
Originally Published: 

Korean Beauty may continue to dominate the beauty space, but in actuality there’s so much more to the vast Asian continent than these particular products and rituals. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s time to go beyond K-Beauty and unmask the AAPI beauty and wellness traditions that deserve a spotlight of their own. Whether it’s something as simple as incorporating chrysanthemum tea into your daily routine or how the dated concept of colorism has negatively affected generations of people in the Philippines, these personal stories run far and wide among the brand founders who are bringing these traditions to the forefront of modern beauty.

The culture couldn’t be more different across the countries that make up the Asian diaspora — not to mention that many beauty brand founders and creators grew up in the U.S., which adds another complex layer to their experiences. It’s not always easy to be proud of where you come from, and to say assimilating into a Westernized world is a challenge couldn’t be more of an understatement. Constantly feeling different than those around you can be discouraging, and even prompt you to turn away from your history; however, these incredible individuals celebrate what makes them (and their culture) special, and are doing what they can to keep their traditions alive.

Read on to discover their unique truths and join in on the celebration by learning more about these notable AAPI beauty and wellness practices — plus, longstanding traditions that require dismantling in modern beauty.

AAPI Beauty Traditions: China

Getty/ Kilito Chan

Keep The Chrysanthemum Tea Coming

For Pink Moon body care founder Lin Chen, you could always find her with chrysanthemum tea, but her uses for it evolved as she got older. “I grew up drinking chrysanthemum tea, and my first memory is drinking it from a yellow juice box,” she tells TZR. “It’s a fundamental herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine as it supports healthy, youthful skin and also helps reduce stress and anxiety — lulling you into a deep, more restful sleep. Chrysanthemum is also lovely for a facial steam, just brew the flowers for a second or third time and you’ll see how radiant your skin looks afterwards.”

Don’t Underestimate Hats

Caire Beauty founder Celeste Lee learned the first of her skin care tips from her mother, whose own beauty rituals evolved after she immigrated from China to the U.S. when she was 18 to begin a career in nursing. “As a young girl in Shanghai, my mother incorporated egg whites as part of a homemade mask because it offers exfoliative qualities, tightens the pores, and removes impurities,” she says. “[But after] my mother came to the U.S. she strongly advised me and my sisters against these masks as egg whites can be dangerous. [Instead] she said to keep age spots, melasma and freckles from happening, the best thing to do was to be like the Taiwanese (where she lived after escaping soon-to-be Communist China in a boat overnight), and wear wide-brimmed hats all the time outdoors.”

A Practical Post-Birth Approach

Carmen Chen Wu, the co-founder and creative director of Caraa, a line of luxury fashion basics, recently gave birth and called onto her Chinese heritage for guidance. “My most recent experience with a Chinese tradition is the one-month confinement after giving birth,” she shares. “Confinement is a period in which another woman helps take care of a mother and her baby during the first month immediately after giving birth. Chinese tradition emphasizes the importance of healing and wellness for the mother so that she has the energy to take care of her baby and herself once she is rested up. The food and drinks she [the helper] prepares — such as meat broths and ginger and walnut tea — is geared towards cleansing the body, and she helps the mother get the restful sleep she needs to recover. It’s a wonderful tradition that makes a lot of sense.”

You Are What You Eat

Being cognizant of what you eat is a huge part of Chinese culture as there’s a strong belief that a poor diet will harm your skin. “My mom particularly promoted this idea of food for beauty, so we were always eating things like fish cheeks for the rich fatty acids, and seaweed for the belief that it's beneficial for shiny, healthy hair,” says Amy Liu, founder of clean beauty brand Tower 28. “Eating foods that American kids would call ‘weird’ is definitely something that was a challenge.”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: India

Makeup With A Deeper Meaning

Kulfi Beauty founder Priyanka Ganjoo has managed to create an entire makeup line based on her cultural traditions. “Wearing kajal eyeliner is so embedded in my South Asian heritage that often it's not even considered makeup,” the entrepreneur explains. “Our launch campaign, Nazar No More, was inspired by a tradition in my culture associated with kajal eyeliners. Traditionally kajal is worn to deflect Nazar or Evil Eye. Often, babies are dotted with kajal when they are born as a symbol of love, care, and protection.”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: Japan

Don’t Sleep On More Sleep

Apart from a proper skin care routine, BOMA Jewelry CEO Suzanne Vetillart always prioritizes getting good sleep. “My mom is Japanese and one of her beauty traditions was to stress the importance of good sleep,” she says. “She took hot baths for relaxation just before going to bed using Japanese bath salts (nyuyoku-zai) that make you feel like you are at a Japanese onsen. Even today, I love taking a hot bath, crawling into bed, and falling asleep within minutes.”

Add Seaweed To Your Diet

Kiko Eisner-Waters, the CEO of The Cura Co., a line of eco-conscious apparel and home goods, always valued her mom’s advice when it came to beauty. “There are three rules my Japanese mother instilled in me: when it comes to your face, less is more — wash with water only because soap dries out your skin; stay out of the sun; and eat seaweed for glossy, healthy hair,” she says. “My brother and I just wanted to be like our white friends. I didn't understand how special it was when I was growing up, but I know now. I feel so blessed to be of Japanese heritage with my own ‘Hapa’ American twist.”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: Korea

Getty/ xijian

A Mask A Day

Lapcos beauty brand co-founder Jennifer Lee was taught the importance of face masks — which are wildly popular in K-Beauty — so much so that, she created an entire company around them. “My skin care regimen roots back to familial traditions that have been passed down through generations,” she reveals. “Although now a standard part of the American skin routine, sheet masks have long been a part of the Korean skin care tradition. I personally mask twice a day. Sheet masks are soaked in different nutrition-packed serums for all types and LAPCOS sheet masks are packed with extra serum for you to apply on your neck, arms, and hands, because true skin care goes beyond facial care.”

Hit The Spa

In Korea, spas are a world unto their own — just ask the founder of natural hair care brand Gloss Moderne Kuen Rameson. “I was born in Seoul, Korea, and am 100% Korean; however, I was adopted by Caucasian parents as a young child when my biological father who had brought me to the United States suddenly passed away,” she says. “While I grew up in a very American family, I’ve always been drawn to Asian beauty traditions. One that I’ve practiced regularly for many years is consistent visits to Korean spas. The tradition is so specific and unlike any American spa experience. I love all of the rituals from body scrubs like you’ll never experience elsewhere (they are very aggressive and very effective) to Korean massages, and all the various spa rooms (Himalayan pink salt and ice rooms are my favorite).”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: Philippines

It’s Time For New Traditions

A part of the culture that the new generation of Filipinos are working to change is the country’s struggle with colorism. “Having lighter skin, paler skin tones, is often seen as a more socially accepted form of beauty,” according to Chinese-Filipina Pinterest creator Kim Saira. “I never really saw Filipina actors or singers with my skin tone on TV. Because of this, one of the main beauty concepts or traditions that I normalized was skin lightening agents such as papaya soaps. I'm of a much darker skin tone, so this has been ingrained in my mind growing up. Celebrating AAPI Heritage month is important to me, because it's important to see various Asian American experiences highlighted, so we can learn more about our different cultures and grow from it.”

Bring On The Bananas

Banana leaves are a traditional way of serving food in the Philippines and since hospitals and doctors are scarce in remote areas, the "manghihilot" — which roughly translates to massage therapist — are also used alongside the pili tree's pili oil to maintain glowing skin and hair. In place of grabbing your own leaves and oil, Pili Ani founder Rosalina Tan made the combination more accessible through her nutrient-rich Filipino skin care brand.

“One of the best Filipino beauty traditions that I recently discovered was the use of heated banana leaves and pili oil for strong healthy hair and all types of skin concerns,” she says. “Filipino locals would always resort to a ‘manghihilot’ or ‘therapist’ for common illnesses they experience like colds, cough, and fever. It had been used as a traditional healing practice, and in the absence of manufactured skin care the locals had glowing healthy skin and healthy hair, especially in the remote villages of the Bicol region in the Philippine islands.”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: Singapore

Gettty/ Olena Ruban

Drink More Soya Bean Milk

Skin Inc’s Sabrina Tan’s family always had this type of milk in her refrigerator. “In Singapore, we were given soya bean milk to drink as it is a good source of antioxidants known as isoflavones,” she explains. “It’s good for your skin as it’s known for reducing the appearance of skin aging and gives skin its bounciness.”

Go All Out With Gua Sha

Not only is Gua Sha a stunning skin care tool, it can have tangible lifting, sculpting, and detoxifying benefits for your skin. It’s a go-to for Singaporean founder and CEO of Allies of Skin Nicolas Travis. “I grew up with Gua Sha, which means ‘to scrape’, and sha refers to ‘dirty blood’, so together it simply refers to detoxification through the removal of toxins in the blood by means of scraping,” he says. “Gua Sha has been increasing in popularity in the West and it’s great to see more people wanting to understand and reap the benefits of this ancient Chinese practice. As I got older, I began to appreciate and value the benefits of this treatment even more, especially during stressful times like the global pandemic we are in now.”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: Vietnam

Getty/ Thang Tat Nguyen

The More Natural, The Better

Jenn Chung, founder of ingestible beauty brand Embody, learned to rely on nature for her beauty needs. “Growing up in Vietnam, my mom learned to use the natural elements around her to maintain her skin,” she says. “There was no access to commercial creams and serums, so my mom relied on plants, herbs, and food sources to treat her skin concerns. When I was young she shared that knowledge with me. I had bad acne as a teen and I remember my mom taking me to the Asian grocery store to buy whole stalks of aloe. When we got home she'd slice it up and refrigerate it and then make me drink the pulp. She was taught from her aunts how consuming and applying aloe vera helped relieve inflammation and hydrate the body.”

AAPI Beauty Traditions: Hawaiʻi

Look To The Ocean

Being born in Hawai’i, VERSED President Melanie Bender has always turned to the ocean for her beauty needs, even at a young age. "As I entered my teens and began to explore what felt beautiful to me, the beach was it," she confessed. "I found an ocean swim to be a natural clarifying treatment. The salty air gave my fine hair volume and texture. For my prom, instead of going to a salon to get my hair done, I spent the day at the beach with my date, letting the naturally salty air do what it does best. I felt relaxed and like my most beautiful self — the $0 price tag didn't hurt, either."

Hawaiian founder of Honua Skincare Kapua Browning also experienced the healing powers of the ocean early on in life and it eventually inspired her beauty line. "Our ‘Ohana had been forced to move away from Hawaii about six years ago and the stress of it took a toll on my skin," she reminisced. "I had luckily never had acneic skin growing up, but was suddenly experiencing terrible acne breakouts. I planned a trip to go home to visit my parents and remember telling myself I needed to get into the ocean as soon as I landed to start the healing process of my skin and soul. Sure enough, after two to three days of spending time in the ocean, my acne began to clear. This memory also inspired the creation of Pa’akai Cleansing Cream."

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