What is Japanese bihaku?
While the literal translation of bihaku is “skin whitening,” traditional skin whitening utilizes chemicals, going as far as bleach, to dial down the skin several shades. On the other hand, J-Beauty bihaku products work to revive our natural skin tones, radiance and texture. J-Beauty bihaku targets
- brightening dull and tired complexion
- correcting pigmentation from UV damage
- smoothing out uneven skin tone
- fading discoloration
It’s understandable that the “skin whitening” misnomer came about, as historically pale skin was a symbol of beauty and status in ancient Japan, but we can see that J-Beauty bihaku is truly better defined as skin brightening. Let’s take a closer look at an example of how bihaku improves overall skin quality and why it’s so popular in Japan.
Kojic acid: The skin-brightening superstar of J-Beauty
Though there are many amazing bihaku ingredients, kojic acid is one of those bihaku superstars that has been flying under the radar for some time in the west, so we feel it deserves a little extra attention. This lesser-known acid is a byproduct in the fermentation process of rice, soy sauce, and certain types of mushrooms. Though named an “acid,” kojic acid is one of a kind. Unlike traditional acids that exfoliate dead skin cells, kojic acid prevents pigment production. It does this by inhibiting the secretion of tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for producing melanin, which is linked to hyperpigmentation especially in medium to deep skin tones. This helps to counter the effects of sun damage and uneven complexion, including acne scars, melasma, and hyperpigmentation. Although sometimes referred to as a “skin-lightening” agent, kojic acid’s gentler results are more suited for these targeted issues, unlike chemical skin-whiteners that are specifically used to lighten overall complexion and come along with aggressive side effects.
In fact, kojic acid’s natural and mild nature is what makes it most appealing as a skin brightener. Take hydroquinone, for example. While hydroquinone is regarded as the gold standard of pharmaceutical-grade depigmenting agents, it’s notorious for its side effects such as burning, dryness, redness and other skin irritation. People with sensitive and dry skin often find that they tolerate kojic acid much better. Kojic acid also proves effective in combination with other brightening agents such as glycolic acid, and we see it as an active ingredient in dark spot correctors and discoloration treatments.
But the benefits of kojic acid don’t stop at skin brightening. Not only does it have brightening properties, but it carries antibacterial properties that help to combat acne as well. Kojic acid also contains its fair share of antioxidants, that help slow down the clock on the skin-aging front. That said, as a skin brightener, kojic acid can make skin more sensitive to sunburn, so it’s important that you liberally apply sunscreen (which we hope you’d be doing anyway, for a million reasons!)
Who should use kojic acid-infused bihaku products?
Japanese bihaku isn’t about dramatically altering your skin color or bleaching your skin, but if you’re looking to brighten up dark circles, reverse hyperpigmentation, or just enjoy a healthy glow, bihaku products might be for you. It’s more about correcting the effects of sun exposure, hormones, age, and damage that happen with time – a cross between skin brightening and anti-aging. If that sounds up your alley, kojic acid is the perfect place to start your bihaku journey.