Our introduction to Japanese skincare is a brief, but concise look at a self-care regimen that enhances one’s natural beauty through healthy, vitalized skin. As with other facets of aspects of Japanese culture, Japanese beauty ideals (“J-beauty”), and its cosmetics industry have roots in traditional values and concepts.

Introduction to Japanese Skincare

Cultural History

Worldwide attention has been drawn to the concept of J-beauty in recent years. Yet, there is a widespread, erroneous assumption that  Western influence on Japan from the late 19th century is a contributing factor to the Japanese desire for “white skin.”

However, this quest for fair skin (and the Japanese beauty industry as a whole) extends back more than 1700 years. 

There is evidence that women of the Kofun Period (circa 300 to 538 AD), the earliest era of Japanese recorded history, adorned their faces with red pigmentation to ward off calamity and misfortune. 

The Asuka (592-710) and Nara (710-794) Period mark a shift in the approach to the use and application of pigmented products. Japanese missions to Sui China during this time returned to Japan with tales of women wearing white face powder and “florid” lips in patterns like cherries and flowers. To complete the look, “[t]wo dots were usually painted outside the corner of the lips to strengthen the image of dimples.” (Yi, 2009)

During the Heian period  (794-1185), Japanese culture shifted from Chinese influence to home-grown Japanese aesthetics. This is best seen in the depictions of Heian court life in the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji:

“[W]omen wore their hair very long and straight, almost reaching the floor; applied white face powder, plucked their eyebrows and repainted them higher on the forehead, and blackened their teeth.” (Cultural History of Cosmetics | 日本化粧品工業連合会, n.d.)

White Skin and Japanese Skincare

Beauty trends shifted with the passage of time, but pale skin remained fashionable. An immaculate, clear skin tone became interlinked with the concept of beauty and femininity, culminating with the phrase: “white skin covers the seven flaws” (iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu).

Modern-day Japanese beauty standards no longer resemble the heavily powdered women depicted in woodblock prints. Nevertheless, achieving “white skin” remains the key goal of a Japanese skincare routine.

Bihaku, “beautiful white [skin]” and bihada, “white skin” are phrases typically found on Japanese skincare products.

This near-obsession with “white skin” can certainly feel off-putting to many. However, this quest for white skin is a reflection of cultural beauty standards that have little to do with Western imperialism in East Asia.

Bihaku, the heart of Japanese skincare, is not an attempt to drastically alter one’s skin color. On the contrary, it is all about obtaining flawless skin that has three important characteristics: 

An even, luminescent tone; smooth, with minimized pores, and mochi hada, a bouncy, and slightly sticky texture reminiscent of a freshly pounded rice cake. (Wada, 2019)

How is this flawless skin achieved?

Functional Simplicity

J-beauty largely eschews injectables, intensive chemical treatments, invasive surgical procedures, and time-consuming multi-step skincare routines in favor of a very simplified, streamlined approach to achieving skin that glows from within. 

There’s a reason why Japanese lifestyle brands are globally recognized. They represent a minimalist, Zen-like state of aesthetics where contentment emerges from less, rather than from more.

Likewise, an effective Japanese skincare routine does not rely on numerous products and multi-step skincare regimens in order to achieve clear skin skin.

One must simply adhere to three basic tenets of beauty: adequate sun protection, double cleansing, and moisturizing.

A Japanese skincare routine involves:

Sun protection includes protective clothing and extensive use of sunscreen to block UVA and UVB rays in order to prevent premature aging of the skin. They are used alongside “whitening” products to inhibit the production of melanin, thereby tackling discoloration and hyperpigmentation.

Double cleansing is a means to gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin in order to improve cellular turnover and brighten the skin.

This technique was pioneered in the 1960s by legendary makeup artist Shu Uemura whose namesake Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil reflected a personal philosophy that “beautiful makeup begins with beautiful skin.”

Daily moisturizing is essential for a healthy, vibrant complexion. Skin that lacks moisture is dull, dry, and flaky, but hydrating skin products lock in moisture and form a barrier between the skin and the elements. 

The Japanese approach to clear, glowing skin is refreshingly simple. Its effectiveness lies in its adaptation of tried-and-true classic ingredients that brighten, exfoliate, and hydrate the skin.

Natural Ingredients

“Made in Japan” is perhaps the most appealing quality of Japanese beauty products. It’s a simple phrase that celebrates the country’s high manufacturing standards and strict adherence to industry regulations. Above all, “made in Japan” focuses on ingredients that celebrate Japan’s abundant natural resources and regional delights.

The appeal of Japanese skincare products lies within its approach to tried-and-true ingredients that brighten, exfoliate, and hydrate the skin. Some classic J-beauty ingredients include: Adzuki beans; Camellia oil; Green tea; Gold; Rice; Pearls; Sake; and Seaweed.

Here at [EDO BEAUTY LAB], our key ingredient is komatsuna (Brassica rapa var. perviridis).

Komatsuna is an leafy green vegetable rich in antioxidants, and it has been cultivated in Edogawa City, Tokyo, Japan since the 12-13th century. In fact, the name “komatsuna” is derived from the Komatsugawa district in Edogawa City, located in eastern Tokyo. 

Our goal at [EDO BEAUTY LAB] is to share our founder’s appreciation of Japanese skincare to a global audience. We wish to spread a “green beauty” movement throughout Japan, all while highlighting the goodness of komatsuna and shining a new light on Edogawa, Japan.

Introduction to Japanese Skincare — Sources and Further Reading:

98 江戸川生まれの小松菜 日本一. (n.d.). 江戸川区. Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.city.edogawa.tokyo.jp/e016/sports/kankomidokoro/edogawa100/edogawarashisa/machinami/098.html

Cultural History of cosmetics | 日本化粧品工業連合会. (n.d.). Japan Cosmetic Industry Association. Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.jcia.org/en/info/history 

Feminine beauty in the ukiyo-e. (2017, March 7). Arte in Giappone. http://arteingiappone.altervista.org/en/feminine-beauty-in-the-ukiyo-e/

Inoue, M. (2019, December 18). To Understand J-Beauty, You Have to Understand Its History. Beauty Tap. https://beautytap.com/2019/12/history-of-japanese-beauty/ 

J-Beauty Debrief. (2018, June). Beauty Matter. https://beautymatter.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/j-beautyreport.pdf

Katsushika, H. (1805). Woman Applying Makeup in Mirror [Woodblock Print]. Japanese Woodblock Print Search. https://ukiyo-e.org/image/mfa/sc223663

Murata, T. (2016, December 28). 化粧文化、いにしえの素顔 美の移ろい研究・展示. Nikkei Style. https://style.nikkei.com/article/DGXKZO10884730Q6A221C1BC8000/ 

Norris, R. (2018, August 14). I Tried a Japanese Skin-Care Routine for a Month: Before & After Photos. Allure. https://www.allure.com/story/japanese-skin-care-routine-month-results 

The Associated Press. (2008, January 11). Shu Uemura, 79, Makeup Artist, Dies. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/11/business/11uemura.html?scp=1&sq=shu+uemura 

Wada, T. (2019, July 30). The Truth About Japanese Whitening Cosmetics. The Wagamama Diaries. https://thewagamamadiaries.com/the-truth-about-japanese-whitening-cosmetics/ 

Wada, T. (2020, September 14). Learning From the Japanese Approach To Anti-Aging Skincare. The Wagamama Diaries. https://thewagamamadiaries.com/learning-from-the-japanese-approach-to-anti-aging-skincare/     

Yi, W. (2009, June 18). Chinese makeup for lips. China Daily. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2009-06/18/content_11569665_2.htm 

なんで小松菜って言うの? (n.d.). 江戸川区. Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.city.edogawa.tokyo.jp/e032/shigotosangyo/jigyosha_oen/nogyo_suisan/hana_calendar/k/komatsuna.html

小松菜. (n.d.). 語源由来辞典. Retrieved September 13, 2020, from http://gogen-allguide.com/ko/komatsuna.html 

美しさの象徴であるメイクの始まりが「呪術」としてのメイクだったって知ってますか?. (2016, July 24). モアリジョブ. https://relax-job.com/more/26632 

Introduction to Japanese Skincare

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