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Japan has strong beauty traditions, dating back centuries, that emphasize rituals and simple regimens with multipurpose products.

Many Japanese women still adhere to the traditional beauty methods of the country’s original beauty icons, the geishas. Flawless skin was of the utmost importance to the geishas, who developed specific beauty rituals that are still maintained today. This includes a well-crafted skincare regimen and eating food that enhances skin health.

Beauty ideals remain centered around achieving a light skin tone, historically a status symbol among the aristocracy. Evidence of this ideal dates back to the Nara period (710–794), when women painted their face with a white powder called oshiroi, and in the Heian period (794–1185), when a white facial tone was considered a symbol of beauty.

References to ukkiri, a term for moist, naturally colored skin, were found in a handbook on beauty titled Miyako fuzoku kewaiden (A Manual of Cosmetics in the Capital), which was published in 1813 and remained a bible for beauty through the following century. The book encouraged a range of techniques for making the skin “beautifully white,” including facial cleansing, facial packs made of lead oxide, and herbal treatments for acne.

Throughout this period, cosmetics also played an important role, relying on a palette of three basic colors: red (lip rouge, fingernail polish), white (face powder), and black (tooth blackener, eyebrow pencil).

Wearing makeup was and continues to be considered good etiquette and form. Women were expected to be made up from early morning until late at night, even when home alone. Putting on makeup was viewed as a private act, not to be seen by others, which is likely why many Japanese women today shy away from putting on makeup in public.

The Japanese believe that well-cared-for skin is the foundation of beauty, a notion that lives at the heart of the culture, no matter what trends come and go.

More insight available into The Rise of J-Beauty in the BeautyMatter trend report.

Photo: Tianshu Liu via Unsplash

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