Just as you’d got your head around K-beauty, we’re nudging you onto the next thing. Don’t worry—you can keep your sheet mask on while you read this, and we’re by no means disregarding the innovations Korea has brought us, but we’re traveling even further East for our next beauty haul: Meet Japanese beauty. Okay, so it’s not like we’ve been unable to get our hands on anything Japanese before: SKII, Shiseido, Suqqu, Shu Uemura, Sensai (anyone sensing a theme?)—it’s just that all a sudden there are lot more Japanese and J-beauty–inspired products and brands cropping up. Here are four reasons we are here for it.
Way Less Complicated
The Japanese way of doing things resonates with Western beauty routines a little bit better than the arduous 10-step Korean palaver we (okay, I) can’t keep up for more than a day or two. Instead, the J-beauty regimen focuses on four steps. The idea is that you cleanse (twice), apply a lotion, essence or toning water and then hydrate with a serum, oil or moisturizer (not all of them).
It’s the middle step sandwiched between cleansing and moisturizing that’s imperative. These lotions and essences are super lightweight and prep the skin for what follows, plus they’re packed with such vast hydrating properties that a radiant, plump effect is the only foreseeable outcome (more on that in a minute). Of course, there are masks and scrubs and treatments, but these are there to dip in and out of.
It's All About Glow
Many Japanese women aim for “mochi skin,” aka luminous skin inspired by the way a geisha’s complexion looks when lit by candlelight, according to Victoria Tsai, founder of the Japanese-inspired brand Tatcha. In a recent Fat Mascara podcast, she revealed that the aforementioned four-step cleansing-and-purification process is imperative and that respecting the delicacy of the skin is paramount.
Forget muslin cloths—geishas use kimono silk to remove makeup and dirt, so there’s as little disruption to the epidermal barrier as possible. They also use gold-leaf papers to blot away shine or grease to create a petal-soft perfection. This is not heavily made-up skin that relies on illuminators, highlighters, and strobe creams to create that glow. You can’t cheat this.
The Key Ingredients Are Natural
Natural beauty is on the rise in the UK: There’s a yearning for seed-to-serum skincare that’s as ethical and organic as possible, so it’s little wonder Japanese beauty has piqued our interest. Silk, gold, aloe—it’s our adoption of these Japanese ingredients that’s leading the way in our acceptance of all things J-based. I can’t seem to get through the day without receiving an email about a product that contains algae or seaweed extract. Then there’s camellia oil, matcha, sesame, and rice powders, while Beauty Pie’s new Japanfusion skincare range features Japanese “super grapes” and citrus fruits rich in vitamin C.
But It's Also High-Tech
“Japanese products are style and substance—the perfect fusion of natural and high-tech,” explains Millie Kendall, co-founder of BeautyMart, which stocks cult Japanese makeup brand Fairydrops. I can reveal this to be true after visiting Japanese brand Shiro’s flagship store in Covent Garden. The range and the interior is all clean lines, minimal packaging and lots of white space—worlds away from the kitsch Korean ranges we’ve seen filling up Instagram feeds.
The same simplistic approach can be said for Muji’s skincare products. All wrapped up in its signature “no-brand” packaging; the brand wanted the focus to be on the quality of the products over bold branding. Containing water that started life as snow and rain on the peaks of Mount Omine in Japan, the natural filtration system means the ultra-soft water absorbs into the skin effortlessly just by pressing it in (the preferred method, as they hate to see any of the products wasted on cotton pads).
Insane Japanese technology is featured in the new LZY range too. The products might not have crossed the Pacific Straits quite yet, but the developers have utilized Japanese technology and carbonic acid to create a unique cleansing foam that looks like a giant ball of cotton wool and is equally as soft on the skin. Ready to try the Japanese method? Here’s what we’d recommend as your four-step starter.
Softening, balancing, and hydrating, this transforms skin into a sponge—softening, plumping, and getting it prepped to receive all the juicy Japanese ingredients that you’re about to smother on top.
The two-step cleansing process that the Japanese women favor usually includes an oil, and this one gently breaks down oil effortlessly and easily. Minimal scrubbing required.
To get the best out of your Kombu, or kelp, you need to activate it in water first then squeeze the nutrients out by hand, which is exactly what Shiro has done. The result is a cleanser that leaves skin feeling fresh and elastic.
For those days when your skin needs an extra step, the rice milk dries into little rolls when massaged onto the face—acting like a hoover by lifting and scuffing away dead skin cells. Weirdly satisfying.
Japanese women are as meticulous about SPF and pollution protection as they are cleansing, and this moisturizer protects skin from both. Super light, it’s the perfect finale to your new four-pronged approach.