Japan vs. the West: Makeup Trends

Japan vs. the West: Makeup Trends

Well, it’s 2021, and COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere. As life around the globe has adapted to social distancing, working from home, and wearing masks, the beauty industry has adapted along with it. It’s tough to make beauty a priority when most of your face is behind a mask and you’re probably not going out anyway, but makeup fanatics have persevered and found ways to express themselves in spite of it all. Even though the pandemic has put the same strains on people all over the world, different cultures have dealt with it differently. J-beauty and Western beauty have found a lot of common ground this past year, but the two industries and their consumers have held onto their distinctive styles.

Coming Together (but Still Six Feet Apart)

COVID-19 upended beauty routines all over the world, and with so many people working with the same constraints, the beauty industry saw a boom in demand for certain products.

The biggest issue? Having to wear a mask. Walking around with a piece of fabric over your nose and mouth isn’t exactly ideal for someone who likes lipstick, bronzer or dewy foundation. So, what to do?

People have adapted to the new normal in both the Far East and the West with lower-maintenance makeup. Natural foundation is having a moment in the spotlight, as are lip tints that feel lightweight but stain the lips with color. Basically, anything that you can apply in the morning and not worry about again is perfect for mask life. Lots of these products were already popular in Japan, but have caught the attention of Western consumers in a big way.

As if life weren’t hard enough with the pandemic raging, people are also combating mask-induced breakouts. ‘Maskne’ is a plague of its own, and it’s made preventative skincare a necessity. Japan was ahead of the game on this one too—J-beauty has always prized healthy skin first and foremost. But Westerners looking to fend off blocked pores have had to get educated in washing, toning and moisturizing their skin in ways they never thought of before. At least we’ll come out of all this with killer skincare regimens.

The pandemic has also changed the way we want our makeup to look. Since our lives have been turned upside-down, lots of people aren’t glamming it up like they used to. No-makeup makeup has taken the stage for its low-maintenance routine and natural look. It’s been a stressful year, and even the biggest makeup fanatics are just trying to look put together. Eyeshadows have gone softer and more matte, eyebrows more natural and unmanicured, eyeliner thinner and barely-there. After all, it’s not like anybody’s going clubbing.

Rising in the East

Japan had a head start on keeping things normal through the pandemic. Over there, masks are so normal they’re embraced as a fashion accessory during flu season, and J-beauty already favored natural makeup and routine skincare over western heavy-glam looks. Their beauty industry has still felt the effects of COVID-19, though, and data on consumer habits can tell us exactly what has changed.

Modern J-beauty trends never really focused on the lips, so Japanese consumers haven’t struggled as much as Westerners with lipstick rubbing off on masks. They also favor lighter foundation and blush instead of full-coverage makeup and contouring, and focus more on soft, natural eye looks. Japanese makeup users haven’t had to change up their style much; instead, they care about products being lightweight and long-lasting.

The beauty industry has seen the biggest shifts in interest in skincare. Uiko Nishihara, a research planner at the Japanese cosmetics portal @cosme, says, “[the ultimate goal for consumers is to] look beautiful even without makeup”. According to data gathered by @cosme, consumers lost interest in typical makeup and are putting all their efforts into skincare. Mask-friendly products with skincare benefits reigned supreme in 2020 and will likely keep doing so in the coming year.

Nishihara also notes that consumers’ stress informs their buying habits. People are looking for comfort and relaxation during these tough times, and products that smell good or feel nice on the skin have sold extremely well, not to mention low-maintenance makeup that eliminates the stress of reapplying throughout the day.

The Best of the West

Western beauty’s affinity for bold lips and heavy foundation has struggled to fit in with pandemic life. But if we’re good at one thing, it’s showing off our individualism, and lots of people have held tight to their makeup routines as an outlet for self-expression.

Western beauty goes big, and since we all started going around with everything but our eyes covered up, naturally, beauty fans started doing up their eyes. Fenty Beauty MUA Hector Espinal says, “We’ve all been forced to really use our eyes to show off our personality and emotions—even the way we communicate!” This shift in focus has led to a boom in dramatic eye looks, from neon shadow to graphic liner to huge false lashes.

We’re also feeling nostalgic for makeup of the past. Who can blame us? The present isn’t much fun. Famed beauty guru Jackie Aina notes that “they’re amping up mattes and making everything look like an ode to the 90s”. Intense cut-creases are also big right now, a total 60s throwback.

The pandemic has really put people in touch with what actually works for them—what’s fun and makes them feel good, and what’s just a hassle. While some are learning to love their natural selves, others have found a source of fun in experimenting with their makeup. In a Huffington Post article about people’s pre-and post-COVID beauty routines, one interviewee said, “I feel like my eye makeup skills have improved and I’ve been more daring with colors and textures.” Another confided, “The pandemic and working from home has made me realize how much I truly love makeup!”

2020 was a wild ride, and 2021 is sure to have twists and turns of its own. One thing is certain, though—no matter where, no matter when, people love makeup, and they’re determined to have fun with it.

Rowan Thompson - March 22, 2021

Demarest, Abigail Abesamis. “People Share Their Beauty Routines Before The Pandemic vs. Now.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 18 Dec. 2020, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/pandemic-beauty-routine-before-and-after_l_5fd28036c5b61d81b33d1ab0.

Lim, Amanda. “Losing Its Colour? Data Suggests Japanese Consumers Have Developed New Make-up Needs and Preferences.” Cosmeticsdesign, William Reed Business Media Ltd., 4 Feb. 2021, https://www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com/Article/2021/02/04/cosme-data-suggests-Japanese-consumers-have-developed-new-make-up-needs-and-preferences.

Maril, Madge. “The 2021 Makeup Trends You're About to See Everywhere.” Harper's BAZAAR, Harper's BAZAAR, 30 Dec. 2020, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/makeup/g35067418/2021-makeup-trends/.

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