I get to try out a lot of high-tech beauty gadgets and fancy potions, but sometimes it's the simple things that wow me. Exhibit A: The konjac sponge. Jane Park, the founder of Julep, introduced me to this humble item at a recent event, and it's my new favorite beauty tool.
Like many trends in the beauty world -- think BB creams and infused cloth and hydrogel face masks -- konjac sponges originated in Asia. They're made from the root fibers of the konjac plant, which grows in Japan, China and Indonesia.
Cindy Kim, the co-founder of Peach and Lily, a recently launched e-commerce site dedicated to Japanese and Korean beauty brands, picked it up for the site when she saw how popular it was in Asia. "You can find it at any pharmacy, at any beauty store, and it’s relatively cheap," Kim says.
The sponge exfoliates gently, unlike harsh chemical scrubs or the terrifying loofah. It's an unassuming and rather homely product, especially when compared to say, the snazzy Clarisonic. But I'd argue it's a damn good substitute if gentle, daily exfoliation is your goal, particularly if you are interested in natural products.
The sponges often come infused with charcoal, too. "Charcoal provides deep pore cleansing and clarifying benefits," Julep's Park says. "It is the ideal ingredient for all skin types and concerns." People have used binchotan charcoal for centuries in Japan because of its purifying properties.
You can use the sponge up to two times a day, with or without cleanser. All you need to do is add water and massage your face in a circular motion. The Julep version comes with a string and tiny suction cup so you can hang it in your shower. Alternately, Kim recommends storing it damp in a plastic bag in the fridge to make it last longer (they generally last anywhere from four weeks to three months). You should toss it when the sponge starts shrinking or no longer becomes as soft as it used to.
The sponges are still under the radar here in the U.S., but that will certainly be changing. Just this morning, Teen Vogue's assistant beauty editor Phil Picardi Instagrammed a picture (at right) of some sponges with the caption: "EcoTools is now launching Konjac Sponges for drugstore, which is so great." Park noted strong sales at Julep, and Kim says, "We have some customers who live in California and they order six at a time. Once people are educated about it and know about it and try it, they’re hooked."
Interested in trying one? Here are some options:
• Binchotan Facial Puff, $15.50, Peach and Lily
• Konjac Cleansing Sponge, $12, Julep
• Boscia, $18, Sephora