It’s the natural next step of Western interest in Eastern beauty that kicked off in earnest a couple of years ago with K-beauty (Korean beauty) – J-beauty’s zany, trend-led younger sister, who is all about instant, Instagrammable beauty gratification, be it snail-slime serum or flawless selfie skin from cushion compacts. J-beauty, by comparison, is discreet, intelligent, sophisticated, hard working. She is older, wiser and spectacularly knowledgeable. This is not to say, however, that J-beauty is by any means new to the UK: cutting-edge Japanese beauty brands including Shiseido, SK-II and Sensai (formerly Kanebo) have been gladly consumed by the British for decades. But as we begin to understand and appreciate not only the philosophy but also the craftsmanship, technology and history behind these brands and their products, the love affair intensifies. Let’s start with the philosophy. It begins with huge respect for and love of crystal-clear, flawless skin, dating back centuries. This in itself creates the demand for exceptional skincare, innovative ingredients and smart treatments. “Japanese women believe that beauty is grounded in healthy skin,” explains Kumagai. “This belief, and all the subsequent care routines, are embedded from a young age.” Leading facialist Debbie Thomas observes that Japanese women specifically covet soft, plump and clear skin. And in order to achieve this, rather than seeking out the wacky new fads that come to market, they rely on established brands that have poured decades of research and the very latest scientific breakthroughs into their formulations. They then weave these techy products into carefully considered, methodical but simple skincare regimes.
“Unlike K-beauty, which was known for its 10-step routines, the average Japanese skincare routine tends to be based on three to four very targeted products,” explains Osborne. “Their routines put a lot of emphasis on rigorous but gentle cleansing, followed by layered hydration, targeted treatments and SPF,” Thomas explains. Cleansing is key – a modern-day legacy from ancient traditions of purification, which were said to make one more susceptible to spiritual enlightenment. And something that is critical to a Japanese cleansing routine is toner, or essence. “The use of an essence is common for Japanese women, but it’s a relatively new concept in the UK,” says Osborne. “But we are definitely going to see more of them with brands beginning to launch essences this year.” What’s all the fuss about? Put it this way: once you use a toner or essence, you will never look back. A few swipes of a cotton pad doused in something such as SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence after your regular cleanser will make you realise just how dirty your skin still was. Afterwards, the complexion looks like it has been deep cleaned, brightened and evened out, with pores tightened and wrinkles reduced. There’s no good reason not to add this step to even the simplest skincare routine.
NATURAL AND NOURISHING
As far as the preceding act of cleansing goes, Shiseido (which, incidentally, was established in 1872 and has been a pioneer in skincare ever since) has recently upped the ante with its cleansing formulations in the new Waso line. All of Shiseido’s Waso products are developed with naturally derived and nourishing, but also technologically advanced, ingredients. “These products combine traditional extractions and ingredients such as tofu and honey with cutting-edge science, no added nasties and great textures,” explains Thomas.
The Soft + Cushy Polisher, for instance, is inspired by the lecithin found in soy. The cleanser contains plant-based cellulose granules in a whipped, tofu-like formula that smoothes and refreshes the skin. This can be followed with the honey-inspired Quick Gentle Cleanser, which contains the antibacterial properties, amino acids, vitamins and minerals from royal jelly extract to break down dirt, excess oil and make-up. There’s not a baby wipe in sight.But it’s the science behind Shiseido’s new moisturiser that is really mind-blowing – the kind of innovation that reinforces precisely why we are so diligently looking to J-beauty right now, and hanging on to its every word. Shiseido’s Essential Energy Moisturizing Cream contains ReNeura technology, the result of the brand’s research into not only dermatology, but also neuroscience (yes, neuroscience). In a nutshell, this formulation gives the skin a new energy to better decipher the messages it receives from the body, and as a result be better equipped to defend itself against external aggressors, helping maintain that so-loved plumped-up complexion. And with the option of either the Moisturizing Cream, the Moisturizing Gel Cream or the Day Cream SPF20, it’s easy to incorporate or ‘layer’ this formula into an existing skincare routine.
DRENCH THE COMPLEXION
And so to the notion of ‘hydration layering’. It’s not uncommon in Japan to swap moisturiser for a lighter lotion or emulsion in hot weather, or even use the lotion with moisturiser during the colder months. Japanese women very much listen to their skin when it comes to supplying it with the correct amount and type of complexion-drenching moisturisation. Cult Japanese brand Suqqu has been all over hydration layering this season, launching its Moisture Skincare range that was developed to not only give skin the moisture that it needs but to improve its own function of producing and retaining moisture, thus helping to plump up the skin. The two latest products in the line – Moisture Hydro Lotion and Moisture Serum Cream – can be layered on top of one another (recommended for use after Suqqu’s Moisture Repair Essence) to improve the skin’s water flow, thanks to watercress and poria cocos extracts.
As far as targeted steps go, after cleansing, toning and evening the skin’s texture, as well as moisturising (which can sometimes also involve layering a serum or oil such as Decorté’s Vitality Tincture Soft-Oil Infusion Essence under moisturiser or lotion for ultra-hydrated plumpliciousness), Japanese women get busy waging war on fine lines. More than a century old, master beauty brand Sensai has the benefit of wisdom while still being one of the market’s most scientifically exploratory brands. Its new triple-collagen Wrinkle Repair Essence combines an innovative new compound with powerhouse botanical ingredients that work together to break down old collagen and encourage new growth. Sensai’s Silky Bronze line, meanwhile, offers myriad options for damage-limiting and skin health-promoting sun protection – such as its Cellular Protective Cream for Face SPF 50, a water-resistant formula that addresses any damage done by the sun while protecting the complexion from further effects.
And while sheet masks have been a well-documented K-beauty phenomenon, Japanese women have been using them as a targeted rejuvenating facial treatment for decades. In fact, a pioneer in sheet masks is SK-II, whose Facial Treatment Mask launched in 1981, addressing everything from fine lines to radiance. Today, SK-II’s latest innovation in the mask category is its Overnight Miracle Mask, a leave-on gel formula that infuses the skin with an intense hit of the brand’s signature nutrient-rich Pitera complex, helping you wake up with the luminous skin of your dreams. So, if nothing else, 2018 is certainly the year to look to the Far East as far as our skincare routines are concerned.