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What is J-Beauty? Best Japanese beauty skin care products

We break down popular Japanese beauty and skin care trends, including moisturizing masks and lotions.
Japanese Beauty
Oils are a common staple in Japanese beauty routinesGetty Images Stock

Korean beauty, or K-Beauty, has made its mark on the Western beauty scene and shows no signs of going away. But more and more Americans are turning their attention to Japanese beauty for its focus on simplicity.

We asked skin care experts to break down the basics and benefits of J-Beauty, how it differs from K-Beauty, and ways to begin incorporating it into your skin care routine.

What is Japanese beauty?

According to Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist, the term "J-Beauty" most commonly refers to regimens developed and marketed specifically for Japanese skin types in Japan that are being picked up by, or specifically marketed to, Western consumers.

These regimens focus on simplicity, maintaining freshness and protecting and striving for a "translucent" complexion, according to Susie Wang, skin care expert and co-founder of 100% Pure.

“A morning and evening cleansing routine is a hallmark of Japanese beauty," she said, "with a focus on revealing one’s natural beauty."

Rin Rin Doll, a fashion and beauty influencer in Tokyo, added, “Usually the skin care is focused on prevention and maintenance for your skin. You’ll find a lot of sunscreen and cosmetics containing SPF."

According to Dr. Rita Linkner, a board-certified dermatologist, brightening ingredients are also common. “The ultimate goal is for your skin to be so healthy that it is luminous and there’s little need for makeup,” she said.

Because minimalism is such a focus in J-Beauty, Wang says you’re not very likely to see much contouring. "Instead, women tend to wear light powder and sometimes a touch of rouge on the top of their cheeks,” she said.

How did Japanese beauty start?

Wang says some of the roots of Japanese beauty date all the way back to the Nara period (A.D. 710-794), when women would paint their faces with oshiroi, a white powder.

"Makeup was a symbol of status and restricted to aristocracy early on," she said. "The ideals were to maintain the lightest complexion possible and later on black-stained teeth, which were common up until the 19th century."

“Japanese beauty has always been popular and well-known in Asia," said Doll, who says that the K-Beauty trend has helped spark an interest in Asian beauty overall. “Western consumers are now more interested in a minimal skin care routine using single products packed with multiple, efficacious ingredients,” she said.

Some experts also credit Japanese brands like Shiseido, which was founded as Japan’s first Western-style pharmacy in 1872, for helping to shine a light on Japanese beauty, and especially skin care, here in the U.S.

How is J-Beauty different from K-Beauty?

K-Beauty focuses on products that create trends and routines that have many different steps, said Wang. “In Japan, it's not about brightly colored packaging or trendy sheet masks, but rather following tradition and not adding anything beyond what's necessary," she said.

“J-Beauty emphasizes ... cosmetics to enhance natural beauty with a focus on having a good base makeup in place,” added Doll.

K-Beauty tends to have more colors and steps, along with more variety when it comes to its formulas and textures — as well as unusual ingredients like snail mucin, according to Linkner.

A typical Japanese skin care routine

According to Wang, the first step in a traditional Japanese skin care routine is to use onsen water (or water from a hot spring) to purify and moisturize skin with minerals in a spa.

This is followed by a cleansing oil.

"The next step is using a hydrating toner to brighten skin," Wang told TODAY Style.

"Follow it with a green tea moisturizer that's full of antioxidants and will protect against environmental damage," she said.

Finally, if using a mask, she advises picking one that offers significant benefits. "Caffeine (brightening, calming) and ginseng (collagen-boosting) are both common in Japanese beauty," said Wang.

The best Japanese beauty products

  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream SPF 50+, $36, Nordstrom

This sunscreen protects against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays, according to Campbell.

  • Baby Foot Deep Exfoliation Foot Peel, $19, Walmart

“This peel contains glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids to help exfoliate dead skin," Campbell said. The baby foot peel is also a TODAY favorite.

  • Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Serum Concentrate, $70, Sephora

Linkner is a big fan of Shiseido, especially when it comes to this serum that is chock-full of antioxidants.

“Used twice a day, this serum is a fantastic way to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles and leaves the skin with an amazing sheen,” she said.

Doll is also a believer, adding that “it improves the condition of your skin by strengthening your skin and defending it from the pollution we face every day.”

  • SK-II Facial Treatment Clear Lotion Toner, $76, Sephora

SK-II is another J-Beauty brand staple that both Linkner and Doll can get behind. “This lotion removes impurities and brightens the face,” Doll said.

  • DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, $28, Amazon

“A J-Beauty routine would not be complete without an oil-based cleanser,” said Linkner, who loves how this cleansing oil from DHC uses oil olive to deeply nourish the skin.

  • Ipsa Creative Concealer, $46, Amazon

Doll calls this customizable, SPF-clad concealer from Ipsa a must-have for makeup artists. “You can mix and match according to what you want to conceal or brighten. It's very buildable for light to medium coverage and the finish assimilates to your skin for the no-makeup look,” she said.

  • Shu Uemura Hard Formula Eyebrow Pencil, $25, Amazon

Another must-have for makeup artists and beauty lovers, this pencil is known for its long-lasting, realistic effect. “The powdery finish enhances the natural eyebrow yet still gives a defined look,” said Doll. It also has a 4.3-star rating on Amazon.