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NOW READING Japanese Beauty: A Quick Primer on What You Need to Know About K-Beauty’s Sister
July 15, 2019

Japanese Beauty: A Quick Primer on What You Need to Know About K-Beauty’s Sister

This ain’t no competition! This is all about finding what works best for your skin. Here, a quick rundown on the basics of Japanese beauty (it’s more like K-beauty than you may think!).


Last year, the beauty world pit two skincare and beauty superpowers against each other: Japanese beauty (or J-beauty) versus Korean beauty (aka, K-beauty). Seemingly out of nowhere, everyone was declaring that K-beauty was OUT and J-beauty was in. It’s not exactly a fair fight in my opinion, as I believe there’s room for both at the table. But what exactly is J-beauty? Is it really all that different from K-beauty? What makes J-beauty special? Let’s get down to the bottom of this, once and for all!


What is J-beauty and how is it different than Korean beauty?


I like to think of J-beauty and K-beauty as sisters from a different mister. They are related, but there are some key differences. Though there is plenty of overlap, generally speaking, K-beauty is seen as the younger, more modern sister who loves bold design, innovation, and product/ingredient development and experimentation — think DIY sheet mask machines, snail secretion filtrate, adorable collaborations with ramen companies, and lipsticks that look like popsicles.


Japanese beauty is like the understated older sister who prefers simplicity and minimal yet highly effective skincare. Like Korean beauty, Japanese skincare is focused on the long-term health of your skin instead of quick fixes like we see in a lot of Western beauty. Instead of focusing on what we can fix now, J-beauty is all about preventative skincare and how we can set ourselves up to have great skin through the years.


japanese beauty


Like K-beauty, the goal of Japanese skincare is to brighten dull skin, reduce dark spots, attain that coveted lit-from-within glow. Natural ingredients like green tea, rice extract, a focus on hydration, and a heavy, heavy focus on sun protection are the cornerstones of the J-beauty philosophy.


J-beauty ingredients


Where K-beauty is all about experimentation, J-beauty sticks to the traditional. J-beauty has a focus on “natural” ingredients that are drawn from the culture’s heritage, like rice bran, green tea, sake, algae, and seaweed. J-beauty product formulations are heavily backed by innovative science and technology research and tend to be a bit no-frills. You know how K-beauty is like, “Oh hey girl here’s a serum with bee venom and snail filtrate GET YOUR LIFE!” Well, Japanese beauty is like, “Here is your fermented rice bran cleanser. Hope you enjoy.”  Again, it’s all about that understated, minimalist vibe.


The most popular J-beauty product type


Besides sunscreen, the defining product of J-beauty is the lotion, a slightly viscous, watery type toner that intensely hydrates the skin (aka, an essence in K-beauty terms). Japanese women live and die by the lotion — it’s applied liberally day and night after washing your face, it’s soaked into cotton pads and used like a mask, and for some people, it replaces the need for a moisturizer all together.



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The Japanese skincare routine


K-beauty catapulted into the global beauty domain with its infamous 10-step skincare routine. Japanese beauty follows the same concept of making sure your skin is well-cleansed, hydrated, and nourished, but by condensing the steps. This older sister doesn’t have time for the games, OK?!


One of the most important steps of Japanese beauty is the double cleanse (sound familiar?). You can’t accomplish any skincare goals without a clean canvas. Oil cleansers and gently foaming cleansers are the key here. After that, comes the all-important lotion that we mentioned earlier. This lotion is gently patted into the skin, sometimes in multiple layers. After that, an oil or a moisturizer is massaged into the skin, and then comes the SUNSCREEN.




Japanese sunscreen and sun care is in a league of its own. I am an avid K-beauty fan, and I can admit that Korean sunscreens don’t hold a candle to their Japanese counterparts. I mean, there are entire websites dedicated to finding the best sunscreens while traveling in Japan. For years, I only used Japanese sunscreens, mainly the cult-favorite Biore Watery Essence and the Nivea Water Gel.



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What makes Japanese sunscreens stand out? Well, for starters, they offer some of the most advanced sun protection formulations on the planet — no white casts, no greasy, heavy textures, no pore-clogging ingredients. They also offer protection against BOTH UVA and UVB rays and come in a variety of texture types. Are you a fan of gel texture? Lotion? Super hydrating? Tinted? A balm? Stick? Spray? An ultra-heavy-duty that will not come off while sweating or in the water? There’s a sunscreen for you.


Have you dabbled in Japanese beauty? What is your favorite product? Let us know in the comments!



Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.