Embrace the sensual, science-driven world of Japanese beauty
Korean beauty landed in the UK in 2015, with an explosive, eye-popping arsenal of innovative ingredients and whimsical packaging. Editors and influencers couldn't get enough of Korea’s cure-all sheet masks, gel creams and 10-step routines, as we slathered our skin in snail extract and firming jelly.
Five years on and the cultural attitude has shifted. The novelty of a complicated regimen has worn off and consumers are now craving a less-is-more, natural approach to skincare. Step forward J-Beauty: K-Beauty’s sophisticated, serene older sister with a highly developed edit of effective, botanical-rich products.
The Japanese beauty industry is one of the oldest in the world, with a commitment to time-honoured rituals and natural ingredients. These include calming camellia oil, restorative, antibacterial green tea and anti-ageing cherry blossom, which are developed using ever-advancing extraction techniques and science-driven formulas.
The Japanese beauty routine is big on oils, emulsions and, for older skin, potently rich moisturisers. A calming sense of harmony surrounds the products, while packaging is refined and elegant. J-beauty primarily focuses on cleansing and hydration, with the aim to use natural, effective ingredients in as pure a form as possible.
As the rise of Japanese beauty shows no signs of slowing down in London, find our pick of the best products below.
The best Japanese skincare and beauty brands
Cle de Peau Beauté
Clé de Peau Beauté is considered the most exclusive brand within the Shiseido portfolio and is Japan’s bestselling luxury skincare line. Its highly effective skincare and beauty products are loaded with innovative, active botanicals, hence the high price tag. The Foundation (£250), as it is simply known, is a much-feted make-up/skincare hybrid that genuinely acts like a filter for the skin, while the highly praised Concealer (£54) has reached cult status for its ability to dramatically reduces dark circles without being cakey. La Crème (£520) is an extraordinary, near magic overnight cream, which you can read more about here.
Sensai is illustrative of Japan's unique ability to seamlessly blend science and sensuality. Its core anti-ageing line, the Cellular Performance series, renews, smooths and deeply hydrates skin by countering the signs of ageing at a cellular level. Its recommended two-step routine starts with a lightweight Lotion (£56), followed by the signature Cellular Performance cream (£107).
An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, which is considered a healing tonic for both mind and body. Onsen water is also the signature ingredient in all products by Decorté, the Japanese skincare and beauty brand that counts Kate Moss as a global ambassador. Decorté's deluxe AQ Meliority line blends botanical ingredients with the latest dermatology, with striking packaging by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. The hardworking collection includes cleansing creams, foaming face wash, lotions and emulsions. The pièce de résistance is the AQ Meliority Intensive Regenerating Multi Cream, which is priced at £950 and referred to by many as a fountain of youth in a jar. Beauty bestsellers include Sheer Brilliance Tint (£90), which offers a light, dewy coverage and includes an SPF35, and the Lip Oil (£22), which deeply nourishes and is available in a spectrum of subtle, sheer tints.
SHAQUDA specialises in tactile make-up and skincare brushes for face and body, made using ancient Kumano techniques. Each one is handmade by expert Japanese artisans using natural hairs and synthetic bristles, set on ergonomic walnut wood handles.
During the late seventies, a group of scientists happened to notice that the workers in a Japanese brewery had wrinkled faces, but youthful hands. It led to the development of Pitera™, a nutrient-rich liquid that has since served as the base ingredient for all of SK-II's luxuriant skincare products. The Japanese brand's multiple-step skincare rituals include cleansing oils, hydrating lotions and the bestselling Facial Treatment Essence – the original product that put SK-II on the map in 1980.
DHC is Japan's No.1 selling skincare brand. Offering key products at a lower price point, its scent-free Deep Cleansing Oil (£24) uses organic olive oil to effectively remove make-up and dissolve dirt, without stripping the skin.
Founded by Victoria Tsai, Tatcha draws on the time-honoured skincare and beauty rituals of Kyoto. While the brand has not yet fully launched in the UK, you can pick up its beautifully packaged Aburatorigami blotting papers, which are made from abaca leaf with 23kt gold flecks to remove excess oil. Ideal for midday touch-ups, these offer an instantly oil-free complexion, without drying out your skin.