Japan's obsession with white skin.


Japan's obsession with white skin.



When you look at it from a historical point of view, white skin has been a key sign of beauty in Japan for centuries. Japan amongst many other countries in Asia, have a long history of skin color being connected to social status and hierarchy. In japan specifically, it was often thought that if you possess a darker complexion you belonged to a working class family. One reason for this, is that ‘Ceruse’ (a paste made with white lead and vinegar applied to achieve a fairer skin tone) was quite expensive.

When walking down the street in Hiroshima and crossing the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, it’s impossible to avoid the advertisements on billboards, bus stops, and kiosks that are trying to sell makeup or skincare. When you take a closer look, however, it is always a model with fair skin. What is subconsciously being advertised, is the lifestyle and social status that comes achieving the look seen as 'desired'.  

Nowadays, it is common to see an array of different ethnicities when it comes to advertisements and magazine covers. The world of magazines and advertising, is slowly getting more diverse. For the most part there isn't one look or beauty ideal that is more preferable over another….. But why is Japan still obsessed about achieving fairer skin??!! These are some theories based on facts and personal knowledge - 

  • Pop culture/celebrity culture - whether you admit it or not, we all get influenced by the media. The days of teens fawning over music videos and the stars of TV shows are over, and have been replaced by the people we follow on Instagram. For many people in Japan this isn’t the case, and the people that represent beauty ideals are the stars of J-pop and K-pop, all of which maintain fair complexions. 

  • Conformity - conformity is common, and very encouraged in japan. Many girls of the 'Harajuku' region, fake tan their skin. The Japanese word for not complying with norms regarding physical appearance is called 'Ganguro'. Ganguro is described as a form of self expression and rebellion, and is when young girls fake tan their skin and dye their hair a color other than black or brown. This beauty practice is often the subject of ridicule amongst locals, as it isn't seen as admirable to look different to everyone around you. 

  • Kawaii o´〰`o♡*✲゚* -  Kawaii  culture !!! Kawaii means cute in Japanese. Purity and youth is often is associated with the color white, and the best way to stay looking young and pure forever is to adopt the exact same physical characteristics that you had when you were a newborn!! This includes fair skin, bangs and rosy cheeks (all of which are VERY common is Japan).

What is not discussed, however, are the harmful effects of the chemicals put in many of these products. Most skin whitening creams are really bad for you!

It is common for creams advertised to 'lighten your skin' or 'brighten your complexion' to contain chemicals that slow down the production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a natural UV shield and is produced by OUR body’s melanocytes. Hydroquinone, mercury and steroids are all ingredients that are in some creams. When my grandmother was growing up, her dad brought back a cream from the UK (circa 1950). She used this cream day and night and yes, it worked and her skin transformed to the color of paper.... but the cream contained mercury and caused serious damage to her skin. It created holes in the second layer of skin, and to this day she can't go out in the sun because her skin burns. Most skin whitening products nowadays contain carcinogens which can lead to skin cancer and liver damage, and are often not included on the list of ingredients. The rule of thumb is to only use products from well established and global brands. Stay away from products which include, oxybenzone, parabens, and triclosen.

    "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder" 

Beauty in Japan permeates many areas of Japanese culture. From the historical Geisha's to the modern photos booths, it is hard to ignore the influence that cosmetic appearance has had and continues to have on Japanese society.






During the 18th century, female entertainers who hosted parties, sang, and danced, were named Geishas. These were women who epitomized beauty and grace. Geisha would apply layers of powder and white paste to their faces in order to achieve a porcelain fair complexion. Vicky Tsai, the founder of 'Tatcha' a Japanese skincare and cosmetic company that is sold worldwide in outlets such as 'Sephora' and inspired by Geisha beauty, explains how 'the average women in Japan wanted/wants to emulate Geisha beauty in any way possible'. Despite being thoroughly exaggerated, every beauty ideal in Japan is seen on Geisha. Red lips, rosy cheeks, black hair and fair skin.

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Angelic and pure



Fairer skin is often associated with being pure and angelic. Research from the University of Toronto, states that ' people with lighter skin are associated with being ethereal and innocent'. Almost every single painting of angels or women from the Renascence era had fair skin. History and past standards of beauty, all have a say in what is considered desirable in common day culture. As mentioned before, the rules of beauty that Geisha possessed (red lips, black hair, fair skin) have transcended down to the modern day women of Japan. A newly sought-after concept is too look youthful. Not only youthful but cute and innocent. The culture of 'cuteness' is called Kawaii. A study by Kanebo, a cosmetic company, found that Japanese women, in general, favored the "cute look" with a "childish round face".Women also employ a look of innocence in order to further play out this idea of cuteness and purity. Having large eyes is one aspect that exemplifies innocence; therefore many Japanese women attempt to alter the size of their eyes. To create this illusion, women may wear large contact lensesfalse eyelashes, dramatic eye makeup, and even have an East Asian blepharoplasty, commonly known as double eyelid surgery.




'Purikura' machines are the craze in Japan

What is the difference with a normal photo booth and a Japanese one? Well, with the photo booths in Japan, you can hardcore edit your face. You can enhance your features, and make yourself look more 'Kawaii' by increasing the size of your eyes. Did I mention that you can also lighten your skin? There was NO option to make yourself more tan, but their was an option to lighten your skin by up to seven shades !!!


Do people actually go to photo booths? 





The answer is, yes. In Japan photo booths are a serious affair. I can't count the amount of times I have spotted groups of young teens in their school uniforms, packing into one of them. It's a form of socializing.