During a trip to Japan earlier this year, I discovered that the Japanese are capable of many bizarre and wondrous things- for example, an immaculate carpeted subway system and toilets that resemble high-tech thrones.  Their approach to skincare is no different, drawing on nature's finest ingredients and adopting time-reversing lifestyles.  They possess some of the most flawless, porcelain skin on the planet and somehow manage to age more gracefully than everyone else.  I intend to get to the bottom of the Japanese secret to skincare, starting with two face cleansers- Pola Celdie Facial Wash with Charcoal and Seikisho Exfoliating Massage Gel.

Pitting the heavyweight Seikisho ($28) against the low-priced Celdie ($8.50) might not seem like a fair match-up.  Nonetheless, each face cleanser held its own through rigorous trial and scrutiny.  While the Celdie cleanser touts a whipped mousse texture, the gooey jet-black Seikisho gel is reminiscent of octopus ink- and similarly stains clothing.  Seikisho's rich, natural aroma is far preferable to Celdie's overpowering, artificial fragrance.  Though Seikisho lays claim to an exfoliating effect, its mini scrubbing particles are less noticeable than those in Celdie; they do, however, create an invigorating self-heating sensation.

Celdie's formula is gently cleansing, yet harshly drying.  While medicinal carbon absorbs deep dirt and oil, rosemary and sage extracts convey antioxidant benefits.  Natural trehalose protects skin fibroblasts from dehydration, but it is not powerful enough to offset Celdie's foaming detergent agents, myristic acid and palmitic acid, which are so drying that they left my face uncomfortably taut.  In addition to a paraben, Celdie lists a highly corrosive chemical, potassium hydroxide, as one of its main ingredients.  Used as a buffering agent, potassium hydroxide is a known irritant and is classified as toxic/harmful by the EU in lip or mouth products.

Instead of water, Seikisho's formula starts out with glycerin, a skin-identical humectant that increases the amount of water in the epidermis.  Another ingredient at the top of the list is alcohol, unspecified in its type but often irritating and drying regardless.  Although BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) has antioxidant benefits, it also has the potential for toxic effects within the body, as one study found that 13% of it is absorbed through the skin.  The only notable botanicals are extracts from Job's Tears, a plant whose tear-shaped pods are believed to heal blemishes and prevent signs of aging when applied topically, and lecithin, a natural antioxidant that softens the skin and replenishes the acid mantle.  There is also kaolin clay to draw out oil and triethanolamine to potentially irritate.

The saying- "You get what you pay for"- might not apply in this instance.  Celdie offers a decent formula with a balance of friendly botanical extracts and undesirable additives.  Seikisho, on the other hand, does not thoroughly cleanse skin and delivers minimal exfoliation.  I prefer to apply it as a mask, followed up by toner and moisturizer.  Due to the drying effects of both products, I have used them only sparingly.  Surely, these two sub-par face cleansers cannot have sprung from the secret to Japan's fountain of youth.

Ingredients in Pola Celdie Facial Wash:

Water, Stearic Acid, Glycerin, Myristic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Lauric Acid, Butylene Glycol, Palmitic Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Medicinal Carbon, Trehalose, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, PEG/PPG-160/30 Copolymer, PEG-100 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Cetyl Alcohol, Polythelene, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Alcohol, Tocopherol, Paraben, Fragrance.

Ingredients in Seikisho Exfoliating Massage Gel:

Glycerin, Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate, Alcohol, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Coix Lacryma-jobi (Job's tears) Seed Extract, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, BHT, Camphor, Carbomer, Kaolin, Lecithin, Petrolatum, Polysorbate 80, Sorbitan Sequioleate, Triceteareth-4 Phosphate, Triethanolamine, Water, Fragrance, Iron Ixodes (Cl 77499), Titanium/Titanium Dioxide.