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10 Japanese Skincare Brands That Epitomize the ‘Skinimalist’ Trend

Photo Courtesy of Tatcha

Last Updated

Nov 24, 2021

Japanese beauty brands have much to offer, from the best, carefully sourced ingredients to attractive packaging that imparts a feel of science meets luxury. While Korean beauty brands (or K-Beauty) have grown rapidly both in Asia and in the West thanks to a more conspicuous marketing and social media push, Japanese beauty brands are just starting to generate increasing interest in the West.

Japanese celebrity makeup and beauty expert Ayako tells us that J-Beauty is “matte and modest versus western beauty, which is glowing and sexy.” That said, Ayako believes that J-Beauty is moving closer to Western concepts. “Japanese beauty has become much more fun and westernized these days, she says” According to Clare Varga, Head of Beauty for trend research firm WGSN, “The key elements of J-Beauty increasingly chime with wider shifts in beauty and speak to many of the new beauty and skin concerns of North American consumers. J-Beauty is founded in science and nature—the top two drivers in health-conscious beauty consumers post-pandemic—but it’s also about ancient traditions and time-honored wisdom, which consumers find reassuring. J-Beauty also epitomizes the ‘skinimalist’ trend which was accelerated by the pandemic. This smart and minimalist approach rejects ten-step routines and multiple single ingredient products in favor of multi-taskers that save time, money and the planet,” Varga tells us. So you know we did the heavy lifting for you, below, with our list of the ten best Japanese skincare brands worth exploring.

Tatcha was founded in 2009 by a Taiwanese-American Vicky Tsai, who left Corporate America disillusioned and with skin in need of serious care. The brand’s roots are in Kyoto, Japan, inspired by the “the culture of beauty and harmony” Tsai discovered there. The brand purports to fuse science with traditional Japanese ingredients and Japanese concepts of healing in its formulations. Its products are formulated at the Tatcha Institute in Tokyo, where leading scientists, “balance timeless Japanese botanicals with proven clinical ingredients.”

Moisture is the name of the game with Tatcha. The line consists of a range of restorative products, including such items as The Dewey Skin Cream—a replenishing and plumping moisturizer, Indigo Overnight Repair, which they call ‘a serum in a cream,’ designed to restore and protect the skin’s barrier from overnight moisture loss, and The Essence, a serum intended to resurface, soften, and plump the skin with the help of three fermented Japanese superfoods.

Tokyo-based KoGenDo traces its roots to makeup formulated for the demanding pressures of the movie industry but is now accessible to all. The brand brings a combination of active botanicals and Japanese skincare technology to support your skin’s natural ability to regenerate. Its Oriental Plants series of cleansers moisturizers that use fermented food ingredients, which the brand asserts helps in the absorption of skin softening and conditioning nutrients, similar to how fermentation helps in digestion.

KoGenDo Spa Soft Gommage Gel uses four types of fermented fruit extracts to dissolve dead skin cells and rough patches. This powerful, but non-irritating exfoliant can be used to polish or buff the skin, removing dull and dead cells to reveal a healthy, smooth complexion.

SK-II was founded in the 1970s by a group of skin scientists who “began a fervent quest” to uncover the secret ingredients to beautiful skin. Their quest led them to, you guessed it, fermented foods, which they combined in just-right proportions to create their proprietary PITERA blend. According to the brand, the blend consists of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and organic acids aimed at maintaining supple, moisturized, and youthful skin. Among the brand’s best-sellers are its Facial Treatment Essence, a moisturizing serum that purports to be thinner but more absorbent than most others, and its GenOptics Aura Essence serum, a skin brightener designed to reduce dullness and eliminate dark spots.

Makanai began to produce beauty products in 2004, inspired by the youthful hands and beauty secrets passed down from laborers of the Yoshitaka Gold-Ieaf Foundry. The women who worked as artisans in the factory dipped their hands into a mix of fermented liquids, as well as gold, of course, to create the gold leaf, and as a result, had strikingly youthful-looking hands. As a result, Makanai uses gold leaf in its formulations, along with its “secret” KaESS blend, derived from the gold leaf paper-making process. Products that stand out from this line include its Skin Jewel Oil Serum, which contains several essential oils for moisturizing, 24K gold leaf flakes for elasticity, and rosemary leaf and persimmon oils for high amounts of Vitamin C; and its Pure Botanical Charge Lotion Toner, used for a base before applying serums, moisturizers and makeup.

Hailing from Tokyo’s famed Ginza district, Shiseido is the grande dame of Japanese beauty brands and a dominant player in the West. One of its bestsellers is Shiseido’s Ultimune line of anti-aging products. According to the brand, its Ultimune Power-Infusing Concentrate “strengthens and defends skin against daily damage and premature aging,” and is the recipient of nearly 180 beauty awards. Peeking under the proverbial kimono, the serum contains reishi mushroom and iris root extract, which are rich in antioxidants. The brand says that daily use of this serum combats oxidative stress that can contribute to skin aging. The formulation also includes Bulgarian Rose Water, Aqua in Pool, and Yeast Extract, which are ingredients known to help protect the skin.

DHC pays homage to the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, which says that each of us is “perfectly imperfect.” The heart of the DHC line is the use of an ancient but proven ingredient, olive oil, which moisturizes the skin without clogging pores. DHC uses first press olive oil from Spain, purified in its state-of-the-art factories in Japan, to infuse the oil in a number of marquee products, including its face moisturizer and cleansing oil. The brand recommends a two-step daily cleansing process, because, they explain, there are two types of impurities: those on the surface, and those in the pores. The DHC Deep Oil Cleanse tackles the first layer, removing makeup, sunscreen, and sebum, while one of its foaming cleansers (there are several to choose from) extract the deeper layer of impurities from pores, including sweat and the grit and grime accumulated from pollution.

Hada Labo means “Skin Lab” in Japanese, which is fitting given the brand’s emphasis on science. Founded in 2004, the brand claims to have the “#1 skin lotion in Japan,” with a bottle purchased every second. Having taken the Japanese market by storm, the brand has expanded internationally and is now available in the United States. Hada Labo has a range of moisturizing, brightening, and anti-aging products centered on the key ingredient hyaluronic acid, known for its ability to reduce the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles by retaining moisture in the skin. Hada Labo Goku-jyun Hyaluronic Lotion, is a clear liquid that resembles a toner or makeup remover in consistency. It can be used as either a standalone moisturizer, or as a base prior to using a more concentrated, dedicated moisturizer.

Tokyo-based DAMDAM promises to deliver clean skincare from ancestral ingredients used in wellness rituals. As promised, DAMDAM products are free of parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, triclosan, triclocarban, insoluble plastic microbeads, and a variety of other synthetics. DAMDAM’s Mochi Mochi Luminous Cream is a vegan formula that incorporates antioxidant-rich shiso leaves “to create skin like mochi: soft, plump, with a matte satin finish.” Looking for enhanced brightness? DAMDAM’s Skin Mud Pure Vitamin C Mask is a 5-minute mask containing kaolin clay to detoxify and Vitamin C to noticeably brighten the skin.

Skincare brand Sekkisei finds inspiration from water, which it notes is remarkable in that it can be found in liquid, solid, and gaseous form. Indeed, water is a revered substance in Japanese art and culture, and a great starting point for a brand whose mainstay products are moisturizers. Its Kosé line consists of moisturizers of varying richness, featuring a combination of well-known hydrating ingredients combined with Asian botanicals. A must-try is the Sekkisei’s Lotion. This toner is recommended for all skin types, and it promises to enhance translucency and improve skin texture. Ingredients include fermented rice, Angelica Root, fermented Coix seed, and Melothria, all of which have been used in moisturizers and generally in skincare in Asia dating back to ancient times.

The center of Re-Erth’s products are the restorative powers of Japanese White Turmeric Leaf and Root Extract and Japanese Spring Turmeric Leaf and Root Extract. According to the brand, research has shown these botanicals can visibly improve skin health, and it cites numerous university and peer-reviewed studies to prove it. One of its most popular and best-reviewed products is the Multi-Targeted Elixir, a lightweight serum that promises to rejuvenate skin, reducing the size and visibility of pores and making the skin appear firmer and healthier. After a month of use, the brand says that your skin will have a more even tone, lightened pigmentation, and a more supple texture. In addition to turmeric, the serum is infused with stabilized oil-and-water soluble Vitamin C for collagen synthesis and skin brightening.

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