The arrival of new luxury Japanese skincare brands here marks a resurgence for the sector, which has quietly returned to the spotlight after years of K-beauty domination.
It has spawned foaming facial masks, 10-step routines and snail slime serums that have dominated Instagram, beauty aisles and headlines. K-beauty is the disruptive, trend-led phenomenon brought on by hallyu, the global popularity of South Korean pop culture that encompasses everything from movies to music to food. The numbers are staggering; according to a report by Allied Market Research, the global K-beauty industry is forecast to reach US$21.8 billion (S$28.9 billion) by 2026.
But its eclipse may soon be shared by Japanese beauty, its more established counterpart that has been discreetly yet steadfastly growing. Now, a new day has come for the industry. Japan is officially taking back the spotlight with a fresh wave of beauty brands that have expanded into Singapore.
Bound by tradition
Where K-beauty is known to focus on the novel, such as snail mucin and snake venom essences, its Japanese counterpart uses everyday indigenous ingredients that have nourished its people’s health and complexions for years. Beauty traditions are drawn from age-old rituals and beliefs that regard well- cared-for skin as the cornerstone of beauty.
The Japanese were among the first to discover the benefits of rice water. Legend has it that geishas would bathe in milky leftover rice water to soften their skin and hair. Today, rice extract is used to calm inflammation and boost the production of hyaluronic acid in skin. Other ingredients of the traditional Japanese diet, such as matcha and seaweed, are seen as restorative for one’s internal and skin wellness.
Meeth, a new luxury skincare brand, incorporates mineral-rich water from Sapporo and Iwanai in Hokkaido, with the plant derivative of pentavitin that draws water into the skin. Its Morerich Essential Lotion contains purified deep sea water from Hokkaido that is rich with skin-healing nutrients.
For Singapore brand RE:ERTH, its formulas use a duo of patented Japanese white and spring turmeric grown in its own farms in the Kyushu region. The latter has been used for centuries in kampo, which is a type of Japanese medicine that treats health and skin diseases. “It’s a story of an untouched treasure,” says CEO and Co-Founder Shinji Yamasaki, who was our Prestige 40 Under 40 laureate last year. “A turmeric farmer from Japan’s Kyushu region couldn’t bear to discard the glossy leaves and sought help from the then Head of Agriculture (Professor Komai) at Kindai University to look into its properties… These plants contain incredible properties, including the ability to brighten tired and dull complexions and firm sagging skin.”
When Shiseido first pivoted to cosmetics in 1897 with its skin-softening Eudermine lotion, it cemented the future for Japanese skincare as a harmonious melding of traditional ingredients with advanced science. Today, J-beauty is known for its research and development (R&D) and innovation.
Due to extremely stringent standards set by Japanese regulatory agencies, products take longer to produce and are fewer – a contrast to the ever-revolving door of new textures and ingredients of Korean skincare. Quality is the name of the game here for particularly discerning consumers. Director of MT Metatron, Nakanishi Masatoshi, counts Japanese celebrities and society elites among the company’s clientele, and says that “Singaporeans are known on a global level as sophisticated consumers with a keen eye for quality items”. On bringing the brand here as a strategic move, he adds: “I want to let local consumers know that we are more than just a brand from Japan, but a Japanese skincare brand with world-class-level products that can satisfy their high demands for skincare.”
Previously available only in aesthetics clinics, MT Metatron recently launched at Isetan Scotts. True to its ethos of cutting-edge dermatology, its star ingredient is DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) that is naturally produced in the body and also found in fatty fish. It is used in facial injectables to stimulate muscle contraction, firming and lifting skin. Its best- selling MT Essential Serum from the Firming Care Line doesn’t just prolong the results of procedures such as Ultherapy, it also visibly improves the appearance of sagging skin.
Another recent addition to Isetan Scotts’ beauty hall is Est, a premium skincare line under chemical and cosmetics giant Kao. Est uses a three-step-serum solution that is anchored on the concept of “Beauty Circulation”, which is based on the protein cycle of skin, to stimulate skin metabolism and encourage circulation of keratin, elastin and collagen. Steering far from a standard routine, the brand recommends a three-step-serum process, called the Growing Power (G.P.) Cycle serum care, for intense all-day hydration. A carbonated foam initiates skin recovery with microbubbles that penetrate deeply, following which is the application of a lightweight lotion in four variants that target different skin concerns. The Enriched Serum is a rich emulsion that concludes the routine by ensuring optimal moisture.
The counter also houses a skin analysis machine for customers to track in-depth visible results of their skin every three months based on factors like texture, transparency and sebum levels.
Less is more
According to Meeth, “Japanese skincare considers the entire experience of the product”. J-beauty is deliberately reserved in its approach that extends to its packaging design and marketing, which are often thoughtful and muted. A statement by Meeth declares that “every aspect of Japanese skincare aims to bring harmony to the five senses so the entire body can feel at ease”.
This sense of restraint also applies to J-beauty’s simple yet effective formulations made for gentle, no-frills routines. “Products don’t need to be invasive or abrasive,” says Yamasaki. In addition, J-beauty does not consider at-home peels and acids, a standard in Western skincare, or K-beauty’s 10-step routines of layering to achieve the glossy sheen of glass skin, de rigueur.
The end goal is mochi skin. Like the smooth Japanese rice cake, one’s complexion is meant to look supple and nourished. Achieving it requires sparing applications of lightweight products like milks and emulsions.
“Instead of forcing the skin to act, be or look a certain way, we emphasise that our own individual skin will naturally be ‘beautiful’ if it is healthy from within,” adds Yamasaki.
Header image: meeth