If you have not heard already, J-beauty is most definitely on the rise. Otherwise known as Japanese beauty, Japan has actually been influencing the U.S. beauty industry for decades with longstanding brands like Shiseido, SK-II and Shu Uemura. The second largest beauty market in Asia (behind China), Japan generated more than $25 billion in revenue from personal care products in 2017–with $2.75 billion in beauty exports last year, according to the Japanese Cosmetic Industry Association. A report from the International Trade Administration also found that per capita, Japanese consumers were among the most prolific, spending $223 on cosmetics annually, compared to $139 by the average U.S. consumer.
Although J-beauty brands have a history of influence in the U.S. market, in recent years, K-beauty (or Korean beauty) has gained both market share and far-reaching trend influence–particularly in the skincare market. Characterized by unique ingredients like truffle oil, propolis and snail mucin, K-beauty products are recognizable for their playful packaging and distinctive formulations à la two-tone lipsticks and waterless products. To help prevent the early signs of aging, it’s common for Korean skincare aficionados to adopt a comprehensive, 10-step skincare regimen.
And while we have K-beauty to thank for bringing fan- favorites like BB creams and sheet masks to the U.S., our beloved cleansing oils, kabuki brushes, color correctors and essences originate in Japan. J-beauty is marked by the use of traditional ingredients (think rice extract, silk protein, green tea and cherry blossom), luxurious formulas, minimalistic packaging and innovative manufacturing processes. Here, we delve deeper into what makes J-beauty so special–and why stocking the hottest Japanese products will become increasingly more important to your store’s success.
WHAT CONSUMERS WANT
Japanese and U.S. consumers may have different buying habits, but their skincare needs will always remain the same. “Japanese and U.S. consumers have the same end goal of having beautiful, moisturized and healthy-looking skin–as do all women around the world,” says Adsorb Beauty founder Osamu Maeda. “Asian women covet porcelain skin, so whitening products are much more prevalent in Asia and the Middle East. In the U.S., women desire healthy and vibrant skin, which is more brightening than whitening.”
“Japan is known for minimalism represented by the Zen spirit as well as high craftsmanship.”
–Osamu Maeda, founder, Adsorb Beauty
Jim Azama, president and founder of skincare brand Yu-Be Inc, agrees, saying, “I believe most consumers the world over are always looking for something that simply does what it says it does and is affordable. That is a constant and will never change.”
But while beauty trends in the U.S. are constantly evolving, the Japanese market is less focused on what’s new–and more focused on what works. “Japan is known for minimalism represented by the Zen spirit as well as high craftsmanship. In Japan, we look at the long-term health of our skin and do not focus on trendy, of-the-moment products. In Japan, we do not use ‘marketing ingredients’ solely for the purpose of label claims that do not actually have any positive effects for your skin,” Maeda says.
With a concentration on minimalism and efficacy, J-beauty brands also tend to focus on 100 percent pure ingredients. “Japanese women appreciate the proven results of simple, natural ingredients,” says Amanne Sharif, DHC USA’s communications manager. “Japan has a rich history of ancient beauty rituals that have proven results, and well-cared-for skin is the foundation of beauty. Skin care is about taking the time to really enjoy the moment and take care of your skin. In Western culture, women tend to view skin care as a chore that needs to be done every night and often look for ways to make the process more efficient. There’s less of a self-care attitude.”
Azama also believes that the use of indigenous ingredients that provide creative and pragmatic solutions is what differentiates J-beauty from K-beauty. “The Japanese market is so super competitive that it mandates you to bring a new product with cutting-edge innovation–or at least be able to sell that perception. Otherwise, why bother?” he says.
STEEPED IN TRADITION
Victoria Tsai, the founder of Tatcha, was inspired to create her own beauty line after an encounter with a geisha while visiting Kyoto, Japan. Tsai, who was suffering from acute dermatitis due to harsh Western skincare products, learned Japanese beauty rituals, such as cleansing with an oil-based cleanser and an exfoliant, passed down for generations. She implemented those ideas into her line after gaining an appreciation for Japan’s holistic approach to beauty. Tsai says that in Japan, people approach skin care much the same way they do food: If you think about sushi, it’s only comprised of rice, seaweed and high-quality fish; yet if you can master those ingredients, you can make something effortlessly delicious and healthy. Applying this “less is more” attitude to beauty, she formulated Tatcha’s products with time-tested, minimally manipulated ingredients like green tea, algae, camellia oil, rice enzyme powder and akoya pearl extract.
Another renowned J-beauty skincare brand known
for its simple, effective ingredients is DHC. Founded in Japan, DHC is adored all over the world–so much so that every 10 seconds, the company sells one of its best-selling Deep Cleansing Oils. An olive oil-based facial cleanser that breaks down makeup and leaves skin refreshed, it perfectly complements DHC’s first product, which debuted in 1980: Olive Virgin Oil. “This product remained our best-seller
for 37 years and is still one of our most popular products today. In 1997, DHC USA started a catalog business and the rest is history!” Sharif says.
Dedicated to offering antioxidant skin care that utilizes the latest technology, DHC has four research and development labs in Japan. “We continually work to improve the efficacy of our products by integrating technologically advanced and unique ingredients,” she says.
“Japan has a rich history of ancient beauty rituals that have proven results, and well-cared-for skin is the foundation of beauty.”
–Amanne Sharif, communications manager, DHC USA
DHC’s formula for success, much like many other J-beauty brands, has been to stay true to its founding principles. “Today’s J-beauty is the perfect blend of centuries old Japanese beauty rituals, proven ingredients and innovative technology. These are the same core values that DHC was founded on and continues to strive towards every day,” Sharif says.
REVOLUTIONIZING THE INDUSTRY
In 2011, Osamu Maeda founded Zeal Cosmetics, the makers of the revolutionary Adsorb Beauty–the first and only company in the beauty industry to commercialize the use of antibody technology. Based on research conducted by Professor Tsukamoto at Kyoto Prefecture University Graduate School, it was discovered that ostrich egg yolks contain a high concentration of antibodies, which give ostriches one of the strongest immune systems of any animal on Earth. Using a humane process that doesn’t harm the ostriches, the yolks are extracted, purified and processed into Adsorb Beauty’s patented AntiBody complex.
“As you go through everyday life, your skin is exposed to environmental factors that can be damaging: pollution, sun exposure and artificial climate fluctuations that can create antigens on the skin’s surface. These antigens are often the root cause of premature skin-aging signs such as microlines, wrinkles, dullness and skin discoloration. AntiBodies target these antigens to help counteract their negative effects on the skin’s well-being without breaking the pH balance,” Maeda says.
In addition to its AntiBody complex, Adsorb’s products feature: ceramides, or lipids that help the skin retain moisture; a Prodew complex made from 14 amino acids for increased collagen production; Eldew, an amino-acid-type emollient; and Matrigenics, a type of seaweed extract that helps repair skin. The products are also formulated without parabens, phenoxyethanol, petro-synthetic surfactants, mineral oil, alcohol, colorants, fragrances or carbomer.
“Our company began with a focus on developing products for individuals with severe skin troubles and, as such, we are extra careful not to include any ingredient that may cause undue skin stress. I believe our combination of minimalism and high standard of quality, safety and innovative technology backed up by high craftsmanship is what set us apart and has become the new standard and symbol of J-beauty,” he says.
“The Japanese market is so super competitive that it mandates you to bring a new product with cutting-edge innovation—or at least be able to sell that perception.”
–Jim Azama, president, Yu-Be
Maeda partnered with Tom Winarick of BioBoutique Beauty Lab to distribute three of Adsorb Beauty’s 11 products in the U.S.–the AntiBody Cleansing Wash, AntiBody Gel Cream and AntiBody Moist Essence Serum. Additional products will be added to the lineup soon. In the meantime, Maeda is working on another revolutionary skincare series, which will debut at Cosmoprof North America this July (find him at the BioBoutique Beauty Lab booth in the Discover Beauty section).
Yu-Be Skin Care is another beauty brand leading the J-beauty movement in the U.S. Created in 1957 by Japanese pharmacist Yoshikiyo Nowatari, the brand has become one of the longest-selling skincare lines in Japan and is available in over 60,000 stores. Yu-Be’s hero product, the original Moisturizing Skin Cream, combines a high concentration of glycerin (40 percent), a humectant that retains moisture, with antioxidants, sodium hyaluronate, vitamin E, vitamin B2 and camphor to hydrate and soothe parched skin–without the use of artificial colors or fragrances.
“I like to think of our product as a racehorse; a high-performance thoroughbred that just keeps winning and winning. Our hero product is a multipurpose hydration cream ... with a very safe and simple formula, which has yet to be replicated by our competitors,” Azama says.
Azama, a Japanese-American businessman, used to buy Yu-Be products in Japan to bring home to his wife Elena–who couldn’t find a comparable product in the U.S. (many were petroleum-based and too greasy). He started importing the products in 2000, and eventually obtained the distribution rights, trademarked them under a new name and added more items to the collection.
“We first tested a small batch back in 2000 with some local nail salons and ethnic supermarkets, which gave us enough confidence to move up to more established stores and eventually regional then national chains,” he says. As the No. 1 medicated, vitamin-enriched cream in Japan used for everything from dry skin and eczema to diaper rash and stretch marks, this brand is one to watch in the coming years as J-beauty saturates the U.S. market.
A CATEGORY ON THE RISE
In 2017, Japan’s economy grew 1.6 percent–and it’s currently experiencing its longest growth streak in 28 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. With the natural beauty category on the rise, the future of J-beauty looks brighter than ever.
“While I love makeup as much as the next beauty addict, I know that beautiful makeup starts with well cared for skin, and we’re certainly seeing more and more people recognize that,” Sharif says. “We’re starting to see emphasis on skin care as part of overall care.”
Maeda adds, “Slowly, we are seeing consumers understanding the difference between marketing images and truly effective products, which are trending toward minimalism and effective ingredients in beauty care. I also see the industry moving towards higher-quality formulations, with one of the basics being the end of the use of artificial preservatives. I believe that J-beauty is less about creating fashionable trends and more about straightforward formulations combined with proven, effective ingredients. I believe and hope that this direction will positively affect the skincare industry.”
BEST-SELLERS FROM THE BRANDS YOU NEED TO KNOW
J-beauty products emphasize hardworking, efficacious formulas.
- Yu•Be: Formulated to hydrate the face, lips and body, the Moisturizing Skin Cream uses plant-based glycerin and vitamins E and B2 to replenish moisture on even the driest of skin. Nongreasy and quick-absorbing, the cream contains no artificial colors or fragrances. Suggested Retail Price: $25, yu-be.com
- Adsorb Beauty: To reduce visible signs of aging and restore the skin’s plumpness, the AntiBody Gel Cream is an instant hydrator that utilizes the brand’s AntiBody Technology. Apply it liberally in the morning and night on the face and neck. SRP: $130, adsorbbeauty.com
- Decorté: The lightweight Moisture Liposome Serum from Decorté uses time-release technology for long-lasting, all-day hydration. It also softens and moisturizes skin, while helping subsequent skincare products absorb more easily into the skin, which makes any cleansing routine more effective. SRP: $95, decortecosmetics.com
- Milbon: To bring moisture to dry, brittle hair, Weightless Replenishing Mist is made with a blend of 11 amino acids that detangle unruly manes—making styling easier and giving locks added shine. SRP: $24, milbon-usa.com
- Kanebo Cosmetics: Kate Tokyo’s The Base Zero Matte Maximizer is a liquid foundation that turns into a powdery formula when applied on skin—leaving a smooth finish that won’t cake or crease. Available in six shades. SRP: $14.66, kate-global.net
- DHC USA: Formulated for normal and combination skin types, the Deep Cleansing Oil is made from antioxidant-rich olive oil and refreshing rosemary leaf oil. It dissolves makeup and emulsifies into a cleansing milk, leaving skin balanced and soothed. SRP: $28, dhccare.com
- Shiro: The Sake Kasu Lotion from Shiro is made from sake lees, a natural byproduct left over from the production of sake, which are rich in nutrients, amino acids and minerals. The brand's best-selling lotion, it provides intense hydration to dry, dull skin. Gentle yet effective, it also gives off a tingling sensation upon application. SRP: $61, shiro-shiro.us