Ten-step skin care routines, snail-slime serums, Instagram-ready masks, kitchy packaging—K-beauty trends have done a great job at keeping our attention for years, but according to the pros, a return to Japanese products is on the horizon.
“Japan has always had strong beauty traditions,” says Anna-Marie Solowij, cofounder of BeautyMart. “In fact, many of the K-beauty trends we’re familiar with, such as cute packaging, originated in Japan—a visual representation of ‘cuteness’ infiltrates everything in Japanese culture,” she explains, pointing to Hello Kitty credit cards and ultra-girly makeup. “Now, with the growing movement of ‘clean’ beauty, which includes the use of fewer products, Japan’s minimal and ritualistic approach to beauty is gaining traction.”
Japanese big-shots like SK-II, Tatcha, Shiseido and Shu Uemura haven’t lost their appeal stateside, but it’s been much easier to find K-beauty products than the former. The reason: cash flow, but not from consumers’ pockets. “Korea’s government has invested in the cosmetics category and is encouraging growth via R&D and new business,” Solowij explains, adding that this uptick occured at the same time as Japan’s economic downturn. “For a long time, the cosmetics industry in Japan has slowed while Korea’s has raced ahead. But with Japan’s economy now recovering, it’s about to reassert itself.”
It’s easy to group all Asian beauty products into one category, but the style between Japanese beauty and Korean beauty are stark. Once you know the basics of each, it’s easy to spot the difference from them miles away. “K-beauty is all about the razzmatazz,” says Solowij—Instagram-ready routines and products, 10-step routines and clever packaging backed by serious formulations that don’t look like it on the surface. However, Japan’s main goal is results, and if that means putting flashy packaging on the backburner, so be it. “The Japanese approach to beauty is more about tradition, a quiet seriousness, understated luxury and played-down presentation reinforced by a centuries-long heritage based in beauty.”
“We’re seeing a return to the expert now,” says Millie Kendall, cofounder of BeautyMart. “We’re looking for products that deliver, that are based on performance and not gimmick—Japanese formulations deliver on every level.”
From beauty to body, here are some must-trys that do just that.
The miracle salve
Yu-Be Advanced Formula Pure Hydration Cream with Chamomile Extract ($16)
If this one looks fairly familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of the original orange tube that’s been praised for its thick, Vaseline-like qualities (thanks to a super high glycerin content). This new-and-improved version packs the same punch when it comes to healing from head to toe, but the concentrated formula is infused with chamomile extract to soothe irritation, and parabens and camphor have been removed from the formula.
The falsies faker
Fairydrops Quattro Mascara ($30)
One of Japan’s best-selling mascaras, this eye-opening formula was created by one of Japan’s leading TV personalities, and it delivers on and off the screen. The bubble-looking brush ensures no lash is left behind; the eight different types of treatment essences keep lashes hydrated and nourished, and the film-like formula coats every lash to ensure smudging is a thing of the past.
The skin polisher
Salux Beauty Skin Cloth ($7)
If your cleansing brushes don’t exfoliate enough for your liking, these rainbow-colored textured washcloths may be for you. Made of hygienic, machine-washable nylon and polyester (it’s textured for extra exfoliating power, the prize-winning towels won’t collect germs or mildew and can be used on your face or your body (it’s the perfect length for your reaching your back) to achieve baby-smooth skin once and for all.
The high-tech serum
Adsorb Beauty AntiBody Moist Essence Serum ($140)
Making waves in Japan for being the first and only brand to develop and commercialize antibody technology for skin care—it’s been dubbed the number-one skin care line in the country—this luxe brand is finally available stateside. A must-try from the trio: the #106 Moist Essence Serum, which hydrates skin like a liquid essence would, but thanks to the science in the bottle, also tackles lines, wrinkles, dullness, dark spots and lack of firmness.
The luxe oil
DHC Olive Concentrated Cleansing Oil ($31)
A lush spin on the brand’s original best-selling cleansing oil, this one includes antioxidant-rich olive oil, vitamin E and oleic acid to deeply hydrate and feed dry skin as it gently removes every last bit of makeup and dirt.
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