There are three adages in the beauty world: always wear sunscreen, never fall asleep with your make-up on, and the best innovations always come from Asia.
Take the BB (short for blemish balm or beauty balm) cream trend that has exploded internationally in recent years. Although originally formulated in Germany in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the Asian market adopted it and made it its own that the product became a global phenomenon. Nowadays, the industry is working its way through the alphabet and there are now CC, DD and even EE creams available to suit a range of skin types. All of which goes to show that the influence of the Far East on the beauty industry cannot be underestimated.
Japanese beauty brands in particular have attained a cult-like status normally reserved for Parisian pharmacy favourites. Take a look inside the bathroom cabinets of the world’s leading beauty editors and bloggers and you’ll find an array of products by labels such as Astalift, Suqqu and SK-II.
‘I trust Japanese products because I know they go through stringent testing,’ explains make-up artist Alexa Bui. ‘They are consistent in their quality and I find that the products often exceed my expectations.’
Naturally, not all Japanese beauty brands have been created equal. Many have become household names with signature products that everyone recognises (Shu Uemura eyelash curlers, for example). Others are harder to find, with esoteric packaging that belies their efficacy. However, as Bui concedes: ‘Good things never stay secret for long. One thing my clients have noticed is that 90% of the false eyelashes [I use] are from Japan – mostly by Dolly Wink. I find them to be the most natural and lightweight, and therefore the easiest to wear.’
When pressed to reveal her other must-have items, Bui offers an extensive list. ‘Majolica Majorca mascaras, Maquillage eyeshadow palettes, and – though it’s not strictly a Japanese brand – Tatcha, inspired by the products and rituals of the geisha. I’m a huge fan of the Tatcha One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil and Moisture Rich Silk Cream.’
Camellia oil is Japan’s best-known beauty ingredients. It’s mentioned in one of the oldest books in the world, the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji, as a hair treatment used by aristocratic women. Centuries later, no self-respecting geisha would employ anything else as a make-up remover. Today, pure camellia oil is stocked in most Japanese pharmacies and can be used for everything from preventing stretch marks to nourishing nails.
‘The Japanese are very knowledgeable about skin and [how to] care for it,’ says Shiseido spokesperson Rebecca Chantrell of the country’s approach to beauty. ‘They take time with their beauty routines, focusing especially on hydration. It is very much about prevention through UV protection, [using] parasols, facial massage and layering products.’
Shiseido holds a unique position in Japan’s beauty industry, having opened the first Western-style pharmacy in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1872. The company concentrated largely on research and development until 1897 when it made the shift from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics with its first product: Eudermine. Now, almost 120 years later, this revolutionary skin revitaliser is still a bestseller.
True to its roots, Shiseido continues to invest heavily in research at its new laboratory in Kobe. Here, scientists conduct experiments with the aim of eventually commercialising hair-regenerative medical technology.
Another company with a proven track record in research is C’Bon. Established in 1966, it is known for its Facialist Treatment Masser cleansing cream. As with all of its skincare products, the cream was researched, developed and produced in-house, giving the brand complete control from start to finish. Only a small amount is needed (roughly the size of a cherry), but the moisturising cleanser lifts impurities like nothing else.
Needless to say, there is little point investing in exceptional products without incorporating them into your beauty regime. Japanese women tend to follow a strict daily skincare routine. At its most fundamental it consists of make-up removal, face washing, toning and skin softening. There are infinite variations on this process, and some women even embrace an 11-step programme. Even so, even the simplest routine combined with Japan’s innovative and effective products can produce clearer and healthier skin to last a lifetime.