Fermented foods have long been a central part of Japanese cuisine and culture since the Stone Age. Even today, fermented foods like miso, natto (fermented soy beans), and tsukemono (Japanese pickles) continue to be found at nearly every Japanese meal. Not wanting to waste precious natural resources, women back in the day found creative ways to incorporate leftover fermented food products into their beauty regimens as well. Even the glamorous geisha entertainers heeded this “mottainai” (or “minimal waste”) culture. With just a few simple but potent fermented ingredients, Japanese women attained plump, baby soft “mochi” skin (or “rice cake” skin).
How fermentation works
To really understand the benefits of fermented skincare, it helps to know how fermentation works. Fermentation is a process of food preservation that has been used throughout the centuries. In Japanese cuisine, the main catalyst for fermentation is a cultured grain called koji. During the fermentation process, hundreds of enzymes and compounds are released, altering the food’s molecular structure. This increases the nutritional content of the food, making it higher in vitamins, probiotics, and peptides.
Fermented rice water (aka sake) is probably the most popular Japanese fermented ingredient that has received well-deserved attention in the beauty industry. Known for its ability to prevent wrinkles and water loss from the skin, promote collagen synthesis and brighten the skin, sake is being hailed for its anti-aging benefits. Examples of other local fermented ingredients include soy milk and kombucha, a fermented tea drink that is said to have its origins in China and Japan.
How do J-Beauty fermented skincare ingredients give you Mochi skin?
They’re better absorbed by the skin
When an ingredient like rice water is left to ferment, its nutritional value multiplies. Not only does it contain more vitamins, probiotics, and peptides, but the ingredient is more readily absorbed by the skin. No matter how amazing an active ingredient, if its molecular size is too large, it won’t be able to penetrate your pores and truly benefit your skin. Fermentation breaks down molecular compounds, so that the fermented ingredient can easily sink into your skin and do its job at a deeper level.
They’re highly concentrated in active ingredients
Fermented ingredients tend to have a high concentration of ceramides, peptides, hyaluronic acid, and lactic acid – exactly the kind of gentle yet potent actives you’ll find in J-Beauty skincare. Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids that strengthen the skin barrier and protect the skin from environmental stressors. Peptides are derived from amino acids and help to boost collagen production. Hyaluronic acid is a clear, gooey humectant that retains over 1000 times its weight in water within skin cells, so it’s no wonder that it’s a mainstay ingredient in moisturizing serums, creams and treatments. Lactic acid is an AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) specifically used to combat hyperpigmentation, age spots, and dull complexion. It also helps to smoothen out skin tone and reduce the appearance of pores. Although a chemical exfoliant, lactic acid is a mild AHA and therefore suitable for sensitive skin types.
They balance the skin microbiome
A talk about J-Beauty fermented skincare wouldn’t be complete without the mention of probiotics. Though we often equate bacteria with germs, our skin hosts a variety of both beneficial and harmful bacteria, much like the gut. This environment is known as the microbiome. When our skin microbiome is out of balance, good bacteria are killed off and bad bacteria take over. This makes the skin vulnerable to acne and all types of inflammation. Fermented ingredients help to raise the level of good bacteria in your skin and balance its microbiome. When your microbiome is in harmony, your skin is better able to secrete its own natural humectants as well as heal scars, strengthen the skin barrier, and soothe irritations like eczema and dermatitis.
TLDR? J-Beauty fermented ingredients are simply awesome - not only because they’re naturally potent, but they help to restore the skin to its innate self-healing and nourishing capabilities.