There is so much to love about Japan’s fascinating culture. The country’s deep sense of custom and tradition, sashimi, sake, the way its slick skyscrapers blend seamlessly with ancient Buddist temples, magnificent Mount Fuji, and the beauty of cherry blossom season. Speaking of beauty, at the heart of the Japanese way of life is a devotion to beauty, skincare, and bathing rituals. We asked the gurus behind coveted Japanese beauty brands and renowned beauty editors to share their favorite products, treatments, and why Japanese beauty is hot right now.
Japanese beauty, a culture lesson
“In Japan, the act of cleaning the body is associated with purifying the soul. This belief is influenced by Shintoism and Zen Buddhism, which values purity and minimalism. This is why we wash our hands before entering a temple or wash the body before soaking in an onsen or our bathtub. Bathing goes beyond its physical function to become a meditative practice – a time to renew the body and revive the soul, “ says Giselle Go, co-founder along with Philippe Terrien of clean Japanese beauty brand DAMDAM. The brand, like many leading the J-Beauty charge, was created to honor traditional skincare rituals, heritage ingredients, and the Japanese philosophy of achieving the balance between our inner and outer worlds.
One only need to look to Japan’s beloved ryokan culture (traditional inns where yukata-robe-clad guests sleep on tatami-mats and indulge in communal baths), the famed kimono-clad geisha girls’ of the Edo era (1603-1868) with their white-painted skin, red rosebud lips, dramatic black eyeliner, and nihongami hairstyles and the love of Japanese Olsens (natural hot springs) to understand the significance beauty, bathing, and reclaiming your inner zen has played in Japanese culture since forever.“Living in a country with a deeply reverential skincare culture that is imbued in the idea of taking a little bit of time to take care of yourself inspired us. The pandemic also forced us to slow down and retreat within ourselves and for many in Japan, bathing which extends to skincare provides the space to reconnect to and reset the body, unpack our thoughts and wash the day away, we are dedicated to using ancestral ingredients and Japanese production, supporting local culture and craftsmen to take a holistic approach to create products that are beautiful, effective, and honor inherited craft in a sustainable, modern way, ” says Terrien of DAM DAM which he says takes a holistic approach to high-performance skincare through its use of ancestral ingredients native to Japan and support of the local culture and inherited craftsmanship – everything is created and produced in Japan.
Japanese Beauty, ancestral ingredients
To that end, Japanese beauty brands like DAMDAM come infused with ingredients common in Japanese meals and skincare routines; komenuka (rice bran), konnyaku (root crop), matcha (green tea), shiso (Japanese mint), and vitamin C (derived from yuzu or kaki). Komenuka, which is packed with antioxidants and essential nutrients, has long been used in Japanese facial treatments to soften the skin. In the old days, women used to wash their faces with the water left over from washing rice. Konnyaku meanwhile has been used in detoxification and cleansing diets since the 6th century and is turbocharged with high quantities of fiber and has a gently grained texture so it was traditionally used as a physical exfoliant.
The explosion of J-Beauty
While Japanese beauty standards have certainly loosened up from the outlandish looks of the geisha – the chalky white faces have given way to a new ideal that celebrates ultra-natural dewy complexions and minimalist beauty looks – Japan’s ritualistic-like commitment to creating skincare, cosmetics, and spa treatments that honor eastern healing techniques and ingredients has fuelled the rise of lust for J-Beauty. Demand for it has reverberated around the world. Just ask those in the know, aka influential beauty editors, and they will be quick to extol the growing popularity of the J-Beauty aesthetic, in all its minimalistic, less is more, quality over quantity glory.
“J-Beauty is definitely having a moment right now. As much as I love taking the time to do the full K-Beauty 11-step skincare routine now and then, J-Beauty’s more understated approach to skin is extremely appealing. The J-Beauty idea of ‘skinimalism’ feels far more achievable at a time when a lot of other things have become very complicated. The ethos is about plump, hydrated, fresh bouncy skin that looks and feels healthy which is what our skin prefers – in short, to look fresher and happier, “ says George Driver, acting beauty editor for British Elle.
Former Vogue beauty director and founder of Beauticate Sigourney Cantello agrees, the demand for Japanese beauty has grown enormously in the past several years, which she puts down to consumers being more focused on skin health than ever before. “Maybe it’s more time spent at home; seeing oneself on Zoom or just a greater need for self-care but we are taking more time with our beauty routine and have a better understanding of the importance of clean, effective ingredients, which is essentially what J-Beauty is all about, “ says Cantello.
The best Japanese Beauty Brands according to the gurus
Once known for caked-on-white powdered faces, today Japanese beauty is all about applying multiple light layers – think mists, waters, lotions, and serums rather than just one heavy cream – and we’re embracing this method with gusto. Discover what Japanese beauty brands and products the editors have gone crazy over:
Sigourney Cantello, founder of Beauticate
“Skincare-wise, Shigeta Awakening Moisture Lotion which is so beautiful and Tatcha Cleansing Oil are two of my favorites. I also love Japanese sunscreens; Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV is super lightweight and Biore UV Aqua Rich 50+ is a light gel-cream that feels more like a cooling moisturizer than a greasy sunscreen. I’m also a big fan of Japanese lash products: I use the Shu Uemura Lash Curler every single day – something about the way it’s engineered gets the perfect curl, without hurting too much. The Fairydrops Tokyo Scandal Queen II Mascara is my favorite tubing mascara, it coats each lash in a sock-like coat of pigment that stays put (no panda-eyes) The tubes just slide off your lashes with a bit of warm water at the end of the day.”
George Driver, acting Beauty Director, British Elle
“I’ve been obsessed with Suqqu Liquid Eyebrow Pen for years – it’s genius, just the right shade of brown and the most natural way to fill in your brows that I’ve come across. I also love DHC’s Deep Cleansing Oil (as does my very parched skin) and I’m also dying to try some of the Tatcha skincare line. I need to find out if the hype is real.”
Add these Japanese beauty products to your travel bag
When it comes to keeping your skin clean and hydrated during a flight and protecting that precious complexion on vacation, look to these Japanese beauty brands and skincare savers.
Tatcha The Dewy Skin Rich Cream
Trust us the Tacha hype is indeed real, especially around their The Dewy Skin Rich Cream. A chance encounter with a geisha during a trip to Kyoto took founder Victoria Tsai on a journey deep into the world of Japanese beauty rituals. Drawn to the craftsmanship, heritage, and gentleness of Japanese formulas she launched Tatcha in consultation with the best scientists and a manuscript of beauty rituals written in 1813. What started as handmade blotting sheets infused with 24k gold leaf, Tatcha is now a lusted after Japanese beauty brand that combines modern technology and centuries-old geisha culture. Also on our must-pack list are Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist, and Tatcha Violet-C Radiance Mask.
DAMDAM Nomad’s Cream Purifying Cleanser
Rich in antioxidants and infused with the Japanese root crop konnyaku DAMDAM Nomad’s Cream Purifying Cleanser has a gentle exfoliating texture and konnyaku’s sponge-like absorbency gives it water-retaining properties, so it will cleanse and purify while providing deep hydration on and below the skin surface. We also love DAMDAM komenuka based Paradisi Mist Hydrating Essence which also contains grapefruit oil and rose water to improve circulation and even skin tone, and spicy cardamom to keep skin clean and clear thanks to the antibacterial. We also love their Mochi Mochi Luminous Cream, a cocktail of komenuka and Japanese Shiso, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids to amplify the skin’s moisture barrier and keep it plump and dewy all day.
Kitao Matcha and Chia Cleansing Cream
Japan is the land of matcha and beyond the drinks and desserts, this antioxidant-rich green powder has made its way into skincare like the luxe Kitao Matcha and Chia Cleansing Cream which deeply cleans while nourishing your face with ceramides and chia seed oil.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
Apply the long-time Japanese beauty cult favorite SK-II Facial Treatment Essence mid-flight or whenever you need to bring back the dew. Deeply hydrating it contains the signature ingredient Pitera, which is derived from yeast, which when pressed gently press onto the skin gives an instant long-lasting glow.
Lululun Balance Moisture Masks
Hugely popular in Japan thanks to its kitsch packaging and effective formulas, Lululun Balance Moisture Masks are a tissue box-like package featuring 36 serum-soaked sheet masks infused with honey, aloe, and passionfruit to help soothe and nourish mid-flight skin fast.
Japanese Spa Treatments Worth Traveling For
Destination: Tokyo, Japan
Spa: The Ritz Carlton Tokyo Spa
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo Spa blends eastern and western traditions for ultimate renewal and wellness. Set on the 46th floor of the hotel, with panoramic views of the pulsating Tokyo skyline, the warm, sleek, zen-like space is the place to book in for rejuvenating Japanese treatments like the Sakura massage which incorporates rose quartz crystals and essential oils or Zenrenity, a deeply purifying body treatment that uses plant-based products and marine algae.
Destination: Kyoto, Japan
Spa: Aman Kyoto Spa
A secluded luxury resort and spa with a tree-lined drive, acres of forest, and flowing natural hot springs flowing the Aman Kyoto Spa offers Japanese-inspired therapies like the traditional onsen sauna-and-bathing rituals followed by green tea or local sake and shinrin-yoku (aka forest bathing), an ancient Japanese healing technique that takes you deep into the forest to connect with nature and listen to the bird song.
Destination: New York, USA
Spa: The Shibui Spa, The Greenwich Hotel
A 250-year-old Japanese barn dismantled and rebuilt by hand, the Shibui Spa – is a tranquil sanctuary in the city. Situated in the basement of the A-list favorite The Greenwich Hotel, the dimly lit zen-like space has its lap pool, steam room, saunas and the treatment incorporates ancient and modern treatments inspired by traditional Japanese and Thai rituals and Chinese medicine. Book in for the Shibui x In Fiore, a 90-minute facial, that incorporates the luxury botanical ‘Made in Japan’ collection, it starts with e breathwork, followed by cleansing, exfoliation and a soothing, hydrating two-step masque sequence and facial massage. Bliss.
Destination: Sante Fe, USA
Spa: Ten Thousand Waves Spa
Taking its cue from Japanese bathing culture and mountain onsens (hot springs) Ten Thousand Waves Spa, Sante Fe is a 20-acre spa retreat and wellness resort where you can enjoy long outdoor soaks in wooden tubs and massages performed by a therapist trained by a real-deal Japanese master.
Destination: The Hamptons, USA
Spa: Shou Sugi Ban House
A Japanese-inspired spa and wellness retreat, Shou Sugi Ban House embodies the spirit and principles of wabi-sabi – the acceptance of transience and imperfection through exploration – and specializes in integrated wellness, healing arts practices, holistic treatments, spirituality, hydrotherapy, meditation, and traditional tea ceremonies. Just strolling through the Japanese-inspired gardens will help you unplug, but you should also try the Purity of the Moment ritual which starts with a therapeutic bath followed by a curative botanical massage.
Destination: The Maldives
Spa: Kudadoo Maldives Private Island
A touch of Japan awaits at the Indian Ocean paradise Kudadoo Maldives Private Island Resort designed by Japanese architect Yuji Yamazaki. Inspired by Japanese ryokan style and culture, there are 15 cedar villas steps away from the beach and each features a meticulously designed bathing area with a stand-alone soaking tub, surrounded by lush greenery and a decadent outdoor rain shower. The Sulha Spa at the Retreat, suspended over the ocean, offers holistic, therapeutic treatments from a mix of global cultures. Be sure to experience the Lonu Cave, a salt chamber lined with mineral-rich 1000 year old Himalayan salt renowned for its healing qualities, before surrendering to the Himalayan salt stone therapy.