As a beauty editor, one of the most common questions I hear professionally — from brands, executives, consultants and pretty much anyone in the industry — is “what’s the next Korea?” As in, which country is going to revolutionize the beauty world in the way that BB creams and sheet masks once did?
A few news stories have posited that the Japanese market, aka J-Beauty, is the heir to the K-Beauty throne. But experts who are fully immersed in the Japanese beauty scene take umbrage with that correlation. “In comparison to Korean beauty, which is known for its fun packaging and of-the-moment formulas and colors, J-Beauty is centered around quality manufacturing, understated opulence, and groundbreaking science and technology,” explains Frances Grant, senior vice president of marketing for ShiseidoCosmetics America.
Korean comparisons aside, there is clearly a renaissance of sorts happening around J-Beauty. Makeup artist Troy Surratt, who works with Japanese labs to create his Surrattbeauty line, feels that part of this can be attributed to the current social and cultural climate. “While so many of the Korean products were whimsical and appealing in their cheekiness and playfulness, I think that globally we’re taking on a more serious tone — people are looking for substance and integrity,” he explains.
“There are things from certain countries that are considered best in class: German cars, Italian shoes, French handbags, Swiss watches — and Japanese cosmetics,” says Surratt. “I truly believe that Japanese skin care and cosmetics are the best, and that was my catalyst, my desire for making all my products there.” In fact, it’s so highly regarded that many pros travel to the country frequently to study the market. “Within the beauty industry, executives from the U.S. and Europe have always made a pilgrimage to Japan to see what’s happening,” says Vicky Tsai, founder of skin-care brand Tatcha. “The school of thought is that Japan is always one to three years ahead of the Western world in innovation in both color and skin care. It’s a long-kept industry ‘secret’ that Japan is where to go for innovation.”