All cultures have them: strange beauty products that make you go huh and hmm? Let’s admit that Snooki’s “candy and driftwood” scent (is driftwood an attempt to infuse the Jersey Shore?) and Paris Hilton’s 16 (yea, 16, check it) fragrance launches cause some befuddlement abroad. And accept that all of us (the American us), have enabled a trio of humble, non-publicity seeking reality show starring sisters whose last name rhymes with ‘Schmardashian,’ to build a $65 million lifestyle brand. Thinking about that might make some of the strange (and effective) Asian beauty products I’ve encountered on my travels, appear downright normal by comparison. Click through to judge for yourself:
Charcoal Face Wash and Shampoo
These are not your briquettes from the Memorial Day BBQ. In Japan, you frequently find charcoal based face wash and hair care products at ryokans, traditional Japanese inns where you soak in mineral hot springs, eat 9 course omakase meals (included in room fare), listen to seaside waves, and sleep on the ground atop tatami mats. They’re heavenly Japanese spa-cations. (John Lennon and Yoko Ono were big fans and stayed at a famous one in Kyoto, where they did not emerge for four days.)
As travel amenities, many of these ryokans feature their own skin and haircare lines in their rooms (like Cowshed in the Soho House.) Many of them are black, because they include specially processed activated bamboo charcoal, reputed to absorb impurities and remove toxins. As a result, you leave your multiple day ryokan stay with clear skin and shiny, bouncy, weightless, super-clean hair. Hoping to recreate this post-ryokan glow, beauty companies in Japan also sell charcoal based cosmetic products outside of ryokans.
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Earl Grey and Macaron Mask
If you thought macarons were reaching an over-saturation point like cupcakes circa Sex and the City, well, at least, they haven’t been included in a face mask yet stateside. MyBeautyDiary is an immensely popular Taiwanese face mask company that sells a luxury and natural line of use-at-home treatments, each with a signature ingredient. Some of their top sellers are the Japanese Cherry Blossom mask or Aloe mask. But a recent addition to their natural line made me scratch my head: this Earl Grey Tea and Macaron mask. With English tea inspired ingredients like black tea ferment, bergamot essential oil, sweet almond protein, and sugar cane extract, the masks purports to brighten and liven dull skin. I have heard of applying a homemade avocado mask and then eating it with chips, so in theory the idea of an edible and topical facial treatment isn’t so strange. But until Laduree issues a press release about the physical benefits of macarons, I probably won’t be trying this particular mask.
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What? You didn’t know bee-keeping was a culturally accepted hobby in Asia? Just kidding. That isn’t a bee keeper mask you see at left, that’s a hat sold in Asia for protection against the sun. Mopeds are a popular way to travel in Asia, so people like to make sure they are completely covered from head to neck. Get it here.
Diamond V-Fit Mask
You know that scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron character says, “I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently, there’s lot of things that can be wrong with your body”? That’s how I feel reading the product description for this mask.
Chin fat? Not having a V-shaped face? I didn’t know that these were afflictions! But apparently, there is an 8-step process to address these issues, which includes strapping this seatbelt-like contraption (with helpful holes cut out for your ears) around your face. My roommate gazed thoughtfully at this and said, “Well, I guess it’s like a bra for your face?”
And here’s a mask that Hannibal Lecter could have hissed, “Clarice” out of, while enjoying the purported benefits of an “elastic fibre containing germanium [that] deeply stimulates fat with heat, quickly burns fat and promotes circulation of the facial skin.”
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If you’re a sports novice like me, you’ve wondered, “Why is Carmelo Anthony wearing those really dorky leg and arm warmers? Is it a fashion statement?” Then you will be told by someone with the basic sports knowledge of a first grader that those “leg and arm warmers” are actually compression socks, designed to increase circulation and assist vein flow. Athletes wear them to soothe heavy and aching legs, caused by being on their feet all day long.
SlimWalk, a Japanese hosiery line is like the Hanes of compression stockings. They take compression technology and infuse them into pantyhose, so in 7-11s across Asia, office ladies can buy compression leggings, fancy thigh highs, fishnets, and stockings. Their purpose is to make legs look slimmer, minimize leg swelling, and reduce varicose veins when you’re commuting or walking around all day in heels. I kind of think that Sara Blakely of Spanx should consider adding this to her product line.
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Collagen is youth, and what accounts for the young, supple skin in babies and children. As we age, our natural levels of collagen start to decrease and our skin loses that dewy youthfulness that beauty companies spend millions of dollars trying to re-create.
The jury is out on whether this works, but all over Asia you’ll see collagen in a variety of edible forms, including powders, and yes, marshmallows, specifically Hello Kitty marshmallows.
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