For years there’s been a trend for Korean beauty (or K-beauty) products that sport a 10-step routine and aim for “glass skin” that’s so dewy and blemish-free it resembles, you guessed it, glass. It paved the way for Asian skincare and makeup to become so much more widely available in the UK market, and we took to the essences and sheet masks in a storm of selfies. In the last year, however, it’s J-beauty that’s taken centre stage.
Japanese brands feel more clinical and scientific in comparison. The heavyweights like DHC, SK-II and Shiseido have simple branding, not necessarily something you would want to take a picture of, but their products are regularly cited as being among the best available.
J-beauty is all about skincare with a focus on prevention rather than fixing a problem. They use scientific results instead of trends so that’s why we see much less product being churned out of Japan, and instead, a smaller, highly effective range. It’s also why Japanese beauty products tend to be more expensive. Moisture is at the heart of the routine with a simpler set of steps that use carefully formulated products to nourish. The textures are the opposite of the usual Western brands, with heavier cleansers and light moisturisers and SPF. They like to layer good products together rather than buying one expensive cream and hoping for the best.
If you’re building a routine around J-beauty, you need to remember a few things: lotion means something completely different – it’s an extra surge of moisture in the form of a liquid serum instead of the runny creams bearing the name over here. Face masks are part of a weekly luxury that focus on even more moisture to achieve that mochi skin that has a soft bounce without the extreme dew that Korean trends usually go for. Facial massage plays a big part too, there are various tools around and we all got a jade roller when they had a phase last year, but it’s easy to do with just your hands and a good instructional Youtube video. Make-up is natural with fresh skin. Colours tend to come in stains or jellies to sheer everything out and create a lit-from-within kind of glow.
DHC’s products are a firm favourite with professionals in the beauty industry. TV make-up artist Zoe Cowell says, “I absolutely swear by DHC cleansing oil as my first step when double cleansing.” The Deep Cleansing Oil is a mainstay in MUA kits and must-buy lists. Using a mixture of olive, fruit and rosemary seed oils, it effortlessly removes even stubborn makeup without stripping skin. J-beauty has a ritualistic quality to it that takes mental health into account, too. Bathing is actually a really big deal there, as becomes obvious when you look into the onsen tradition. It makes sense why cleansing is such a focal point, and the double-cleanse is standard practise. Cleansers tend to be heavier, with oil consistencies rather than the foamy, soapy texture Western brands usually offer.
Kat Von D’s former beauty brand had the brush-tip liner market cornered for years, but Koji is J-beauty’s answer to the much-hyped Tattoo Liner. The brand has a lot of eye products on offer including pencils, eyelash curlers and a great range of more natural, understated false lashes, but the Dolly Wink brush tip liner is their standout. It mimics a brush pen to have control over the thickness of the line with deep, even colour.
Skincare Youtuber James Welsh is a lover of J-beauty and has sung the praises of the Rohto Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion for its supreme hydrating effects with a light texture. “It leaves your skin looking super glowy and hydrated,” but he warns “a little bit goes a long way (…) it’s very easy to use too much”.
Asian brands just do SPF better than us in the UK, and as one of the most important steps in a skincare routine it’s worth trying out a few. Generally, they are lighter formulas and sit better with other products while also having a higher protection factor. Bioré has graced British shops for a while and probably popped up during your teenage years with their sticky tape-like blackhead-removing strips, but they have much better products on offer. The Aqua Rich SPF is a light, gel-like consistency that doesn’t leave the white caste that so many others do. The formula means it works for oilier skin without drying it out, and can sit under makeup without it melting away.
Clé de Peau is the brand that no-one realised is Japanese. The French-sounding name has tricked many a fan since it arrived in the UK last autumn. It’s high-end and has an avid celebrity fanbase including Kate Hudson, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and their current muse, Felicity Jones. The concealer is hugely hyped – described on the brand’s website as having “icon status”, it’s a full-coverage formula that claims to have skincare benefits too. The shade range leaves something to be desired (there’s only six and they don’t cover much of the spectrum) and it’s a pricey product at £54, but the countless 5-star reviews speak volumes for how good it is.
Fairydrops’ best selling mascara is the pinnacle of girly packaging but it is infinitely effective. The waterproof formula holds a curl while depositing tiny fibres on the lashes for extra length. The ergonomically curved brush makes application a bit easier, although it is one of those plastic spiky bristle heads which splits opinion. You’ll need a decent oil to remove it though, as it really doesn’t budge throughout the day.