Forget the zany world of Korean beauty, it’s all about J-beauty if you want clear skin and an even clearer mind. Here’s why the latest beauty trends are hailing from Japan.
From moisturisers infused with snail secretions to cutesy sheet masks that promise glowing skin, last year we couldn’t get enough of Korea’s quirky and innovative beauty products. While there’s no stopping the jaw-dropping amount of brands still emerging from Seoul (for a streamlined selection, take a peek at Melon & Starfish’s online shop) – beauty buffs are now taking note of a quiet revolution happening when it comes to Eastern beauty.
Whether it is Shu Uemura’s make-up brushes or Shiseido’s cutting-edge skincare, it’s true to say that there’s always been a cult following of Japanese beauty brands in the UK. Given its grown-up principles of simplicity, understatement and elegance, it seems, however, as though the time is right for J-beauty to steal the spotlight from what can often be the gimmick-led K-beauty industry.
As reported in The Times, exports of Japanese beauty brands were up just under 30% year on year in 2017 and they are now worth around £1.8bn – indicating a growing surge in popularity. Placing an emphasis on skin clarity, the Japanese approach gives a focus on quality rather than the fun-factor that K-beauty is known for.
Millie Kendall MBE, co-founder of retailer BeautyMART, agrees: “My theory is that we are seeing a return of expertise. We want well-made products that give results, with no room for error. Japanese formulations deliver on every level. A-list makeup artist, Jillian Dempsey tells me, for example, that she has turned to a number of Japanese beauty products, such as eyeshadows by Addiction, skincare by Three and natural cleansers by Naturaglace, as failproof products to have in her kit.”
Launched 27 years ago in the UK, DHC’s Cleansing Oil, says Millie is “the perfect Japanese product” which has now finally become mainstream. “It has simple and clear packaging, a great effective formula anda low price tag.”
Amanne Sharif at DHC gives her view on the Japanese allure: “In Japan, the attitude towards achieving healthy-looking skin is to spend time and care. This beauty philosophy isn’t about covering up what we deem flaws, but rather it’s about a long tradition of self-care rituals that have been practiced by millions of women. Following a consistent skincare regimen, using high-quality ingredients, you can achieve beautiful, radiant skin. The West has always looked to the East for inspiration when it comes to beauty and even more so in recent years. The traditional rituals and natural ingredients which have been passed down through generations are no longer wrapped in mystique as the world becomes a smaller place and travel a constant. The worldwide growth of traditional Japanese companies, such as DHC, has helped to educate the western world in traditional, effective skincare for all skin conditions.”
Considered one of the oldest beauty companies in the world, Shiseido – which was launched in 1872 in Tokyo’s Ginza district – also defines J-beauty as one that is steeped in tradition. Miyabi Kumagai, Shiseido’s operational marketing manager, explains: “Korean beauty is trend-led and there is an inherent passion for ‘on demand beauty’. In Japan, by contrast, a product will never be launched without 100% certainty on its qualities and benefits. Japanese beauty is about innovation with a long term reliability. The Japanese beauty philosophy is very close to healthcare philosophy.
“Western culture is more concerned with correcting damages after they have occurred, whereas Japanese beauty care is more about anticipation. For them, everyday prevention is a natural action. All their care routines have been embedded in their minds from a young age, and they prefer anticipating rather than needing an instant emergency superficial cure. They believe that beauty lies on a healthy skin ground base.”
With this philosophy in mind, many Japanese beauty rituals and most popular products are based around the art of cleansing and bathing, with many Japanese women spending more than one hour per day in the bath. Cleansing the face is key with a ‘double cleansing’ approach widely adopted by Japanese women.
“Cleansing has a spiritual dimension in the Japanese culture, and takes inspiration from ancient times,” says Shiseido’s Miyabi Kumagai. “Purity, and the notion of cleansing, are the key conditions to be as ‘neutral’ as possible to best receive the benefits of natural or spiritual gifts. This can be seen in how much importance Japanese people see in their bathing rituals. For example, the hot springs not only relax, but allow you to cleanse off all superficial imperfections to prepare for a healthy and beautiful skin care ritual.”
Combining science with nature is also at the heart of what constitutes J-beauty, with brands, such as Kanebo’s Sensai blending advanced skincare technology with a signature ingredient of Koishimaru Silk across its product line.
“Sensai’s concept is all about the Saho philosophy,” reveals Nadine Styger, Sensai’s training manager. “Saho is a word rooted in ancient Japanese tea ceremonies, but which translates as following a skincare routine in the right order every day, to achieve truly perfect results. Central to this is our custom of Double Cleansing, Double Moisturising and Double Application. We believe that by repeating this gentle and thoughtful method, you will discover the optimum way of encourage your skin’s own protecting abilities, while this revitalising massage also calms your senses.”
While many established brands which have gained iconic status outside of Japan are at the luxury end of the market – their high price points dictated by the amount of scientific know-how and hi-tech ingredients they use – there is also a wave of newer, younger brands garnering attention. Shiseido’s new Waso line, for instance, has streamlined packaging, a lower price tag and innovative formulas to appeal to a younger customer.
While at the trend-led BeautyMART store DHC remains a best-selling brand, Millie Kendal reveals her other top Japanese brands to put on your radar: “Yu-Be Skincare’s Moisturising Skin Cream is a mass best-seller in Japan, with one unit selling every 7.8 seconds. While Fairydrops Mascara, created by Japanese TV personality Aya Yasuda to achieve the perfect doll-like lash, is a cult sell-out in Japan and has just launched here.”
With three stores in London, and a focus on using, raw natural ingredients, Shiro is another company which is gaining momentum with a hip, knowing crowd. Products such as Aloe & Cactus Face Water and Kombu Skin Serum are created using traditional methods and contain a minimal amount of ingredients for a clean beauty approach.
“There is a centuries-old tradition of beauty practices in Japanese culture,” concludes Amanne Sharif at DHC,“and many people around the world are starting to embrace it. The typical Japanese skincare routine – which is at least four steps – quickly becomes a self-care ritual that produces results. This, coupled with the long tradition of simplicity and a respect for nature’s finest botanicals, translates into the best-kept Japanese beauty secret of skincare.”
Big in Japan
The top five products to put on your beauty shelves
DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, £24
Use this as the first step in your double cleansing routine. The olive oil–based formula emulsifies into a cleansing milk when you rinse, leaving skin super-clean and balanced. dhcuk.co.uk
Sensai’s 10 Minute Revitalising Pads, £100 for ten
These eye pads eliminate sagging, fine lines and dull skin. Leave on for 10 minutes and massage the silk-infused formula for a refreshed look. sensai-cosmetics.com
Shiseido’s Waso Fresh Jelly Lotion, £24
This gel-to-liquid formula contains White Jelly Mushroom, an ingredient treasured in Japan for its moisture-retaining properties, to give deep hydration. shiseido.co.uk
Suquu’s Musculate Massage Mask, £66
This rich cream enables you adopt the brand’s own Gankin facial massage method to strengthen muscles for a super-hydrated and supple complexion. suquu.com
Fairydrops Quattro Mascara, £18.50
With its unique brush and smudge-free formula, this mascara has earnt its cult status due to it also being enriched with five different treatment essences to improve lash condition. thisisbeautymart.com