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5 Biggest Beauty Lessons I Learned in Japan

You'll never find me skipping out on sunscreen again
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When I booked a two-week trip to Japan earlier this year, I knew I'd leave space in my suitcase to bring some beauty goodies back to the states. Japan is known for its cutting-edge products and I was dying to try curl-enhancing fiber mascara, cutesy cream blush and sheet masks galore. What I wasn't expecting as I traveled through Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, though, was all the beauty lessons I would pick up along the way. Here are the five biggest Japanese beauty tips I learned during my vacation.

Image via Getty

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1. Sun Protection Is a Must Year-Round
As a former beauty editor, I know how important wearing sunscreen is (according to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S.) but I'll admit that sometimes I can get a little lax with my application. Japan takes sun protection to a whole other level and it inspired me to commit to a year-round routine now that I'm back home in New York City.

For starters, sunscreens in Japan (like this one from Nivea that I picked up at a drugstore in Tokyo) have more advanced formulas than the ones in America. Sunscreen in the U.S. is considered an OTC drug, so it's regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means only a small number of UV-blocking ingredients are approved for use and the FDA takes a really long time to approve anything new. In Asia, they're able to use other ingredients that haven't been approved here yet, so their formulas are not only more effective (IMHO) but more cosmetically elegant as well (no stickiness, no breakouts).

Beyond sunscreen, people in Japan bring super stylish parasols with them for shade, shielding themselves from harmful UV rays. (Even men are getting in on the parasol game, according to The Japan Times.)

Image courtesy of Nivea

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2. Salmon Is a Skin Superfood
The Japanese are among the healthiest people on the planet. According to the World Health Organization, women in Japan have the highest life expectancy in the world at 87 years. Their diet plays a huge role: Per a study published in BMJ, people in Japan who adhered to the country's spinning top food guide (essentially their version of the food pyramid) had a 15 percent lower mortality rate.

Japan's recommended food guidelines are high in grains, veggies and fish. These foods are great not just for your overall health but for your skin as well. One of the most popular skin-friendly items I ate in Japan? Salmon sashimi (here it is at Nishiki Market in Kyoto). A study published in the journal Dermato Endocrinology explains that salmon is rich in good-for-your-complexion nutrients including CoQ10 and fatty acids, both of which help keep skin looking young. Now I try to cook salmon (or go out for sushi!) at least once a week.

Image via Gregory Leporati

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3. Green Tea Will Boost Your Glow
Fact: You basically can't go anywhere in Japan without coming into contact with green tea. It's served at most restaurants, is readily available at "konbinis" (aka convenience stores) and you can even find many delicious green tea-flavored treats (including Kit Kats and this beer, which my boyfriend gamely tried at Ichiran Ramen in Osaka).

Green tea has proven skin care benefits: A study published in JAMA Dermatology found that green tea has polyphenols (antioxidants) that protect skin against inflammation, while a study published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity reported that the polyphenols in green tea could protect against sun damage. I've started to swap iced lattes for iced green teas when I hit up Starbucks.

Image via Gregory Leporati

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4. Nail Art Is the Best Way to Express Yourself
I quickly noticed that nail art is the ultimate accessory for women in Japan. Everywhere I turned, women had the coolest manicures I'd ever seen. Nail art is huge in the country (here are some awesome nail art salons in Tokyo) and manicurists can draw just about anything on your nails, from cats to flowers to 3D embellishments.

Needless to say, I'm glad I got a chrome manicure (here I am showing it off while holding a gold-speckled ice cream cone at the Buddhist temple Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto) before I boarded my 14-hour flight to Tokyo. While shopping in Shinjuku (a major entertainment district in Tokyo), a salesperson even told me she loved my nails and I similarly complimented her sparkly, bejeweled nail art. Another lesson learned: Beauty has no language.

As soon as I got home, I booked an appointment at Paintbox, my favorite nail art salon in NYC.

Image via Christina Heiser

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