J-Beauty Is The Next Generation East Asia Beauty Boom

5 Min Read |

Sephora launched a line by Korean skincare brand Dr. Jart+ in 2011 — and that marked the beginning of the K-beauty boom in the United States. Korean beauty products have grown in market demand in the US and Europe ever since. Due to their popularity, a number of retailers now carry K-beauty brands; including Walmart, Target, and e-commerce platforms such as Soko Glam and Peach & Lily.

As K-beauty continues to sell well in the Western market, Japan is also beginning to expand the reach of its beauty products beyond its national borders. So far in 2018 J-beauty has seen a marked rise in consumer activity, retail and investor interest in the United States and elsewhere. In 2015 Japan’s cosmetics market was worth $28.62 billion, and is expected to grow to $45.64 billion by 2020. The Japanese market is driven by the development of innovative new products and the addition of enhanced benefits to existing products — and this fresh approach is being given increasing attention by international beauty industry players.

But there are other factors involved in this new interest in Japanese products. International Trade Administration statistics show that Japan has the highest per-capita spending on beauty and cosmetics, in spite of tight regulations regarding the marketing and sales of such products. This may be largely due to the way in which beauty and wellness are firmly embedded in international perceptions of Japanese culture — so consumers are drawn to notions of minimalism and stylish luxury. Japan has a rich history of beauty tradition, and its personal care practices are highly ritualized. Multi-purpose products are common; and ingredients which support skin health, such as seaweed, rice and green tea, are included in many of the country’s cosmetics.

Tatcha is a luxury J-beauty brand distributed by Sephora. It holds a skincare line inspired by one of the most well known traditions of Japanese culture and style: the geisha. Founded by Victoria Tsai, the brand draws on the simple, authentic beauty rituals and products used by an authentic modern geisha who Tsai met during a trip to Kyoto. The geisha beauty philosophy was written in an ancient, three-volume book, emphasizing the connection between external appearance and the internal state. And Tatcha markets its products with a focus on this history — selling authenticity and the beauty wisdom of generations of geishas to a Western market.

With innovation holding firm as a key driving force in the development of Japanese brands, it’s likely that the growth of J-beauty will push the development of technology within international beauty markets. Shu Uemura, owned by L’Oreal, pioneered the introduction of oil cleansing in the 1960s; and the foundations of stem cell beauty therapies were also laid by Japanese companies. The Japanese cosmetics incumbent Shiseido has recently been investing in new products and patents — including a patent for technology designed to determine the condition of customers’ skin by digitally analyzing video images. Among Shiseido’s more ambitious patents is ‘artificial skin’ technology. This patent was acquired from Olivo Laboratories, and with further development it could be used for testing pharmaceuticals and cosmetics for clinical approval — potentially eliminating the need for animal and human testing.

Shiseido has also successfully completed the acquisition of two AI start-ups, MatchCo and Giaran. MatchCo offers a service providing customized foundation to suit customer skin tone, claiming that “no two blends are ever the same”. This is done by analyzing selfies which have been scanned via the MatchCo app, so that foundation can be blended to suit individual complexions. Once matched with a foundation, MatchCo promises that its products provide an ‘all-in-one solution’, so that no additional primer, moisturizer or antioxidant products are needed. And Giaran is an interactive virtual make up robot which gives users the ability to ‘try on’ make up and cosmetics before purchasing. It’s ‘Beauty Consultant’ feature also offers precise color matching services and personalized product recommendations. The brand has an active social media presence and a warm, open brand voice, welcoming direct contact from customers. Both of these startups promote the sale of cosmetics through mobile apps — which is an avenue which more and more beauty industry brands beyond J-beauty are expanding into.

Don’t Call J-Beauty ‘the New K-Beauty’

The rise of J-beauty is attracting attention from critics who argue that it is based on a multi-player marketing campaign which feeds the exploitative eroticization of Eastern cultures by the West. This criticism has been heightened by articles in beauty magazines which pit J-beauty and K-beauty against one another. Japanese brands are portrayed as the underdog due to their serious, quiet and traditional ethos, while K-beauty brands are described as loud, over-the-top, and attention-grabbing. It has been suggested that the way East Asian products and brands are marketed emphasizes and perpetuates stereotypes of ‘other’ cultures — and neglects to recognize their value for consumers regardless of cultural origin.

Nonetheless, the sharp rise in Japanese beauty exports do point to greater opportunities for brands to reach new markets. The market within Japan has a high saturation level and decreasing purchasing power as a result of more consumers opting for cheaper products; so widening the target audience is crucial for cosmetics companies. J-beauty is also increasing diversity in the global beauty industry — and this is an opportune moment for the introduction of brands which offer products to suit different skin and hair types, as social media and social justice movements call for the industry to become more inclusive. We expect to see J-beauty growing in demand as the trend progresses and Japanese beauty brands gain traction in USA, Canadian and European markets.

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