Light skin in Japanese culture

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Shoulder of a woman from Tokyo, showing her pale skin tone

Bihaku (美白) is a Japanese marketing term meaning "beautifully white" which was coined in the 1990s with the emergence of skin whitening products and cosmetics. The products are mostly aimed as a facial treatment rather than the whole body.


Although skin tone differs based on a person's racial background, those with fair skin have difficulty maintaining skin tone due to melanin production. Bihaku products aim to prevent or reverse skin imperfection and provide a clean and fair complexion.

In Japan the preference for skin that is white and free of blemishes has been around for centuries, long before European and American media were widely known. There is an old proverb "white skin covers the seven flaws" (色の白いは七難隠す, iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu) which refers to a fair-skinned woman being beautiful even if her features are not attractive.

Bihaku products are highly popular among mature women. They are also popular with teenage girls and those in their twenties who desire to look like pop singers, such as Ayumi Hamasaki, and are promoted in numerous youth fashion magazines such as Popteen and S Cawaii!. Bihaku products are also prevalent and a key item in numerous youth subcultures such as gyaru and ageha girls. An opposition to the idea of fair skin beauty grew with the gyaru subculture called "ganguro" in the 1990s although died out by the end of the 2000s.

Traditionally uguisu no fun was used to lighten and balance skin tone although today it is considered a luxury item. The most popular products often contain sake and rice bran which contain kojic acid.


The popular method of bihaku is to use cosmetics that stop the production of melanin.

For skin whitening cosmetics for use by the public, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has recognized a combination of active ingredients. These are mainly arbutin and kojic acid. Other ingredients include Vitamin C derivatives, tranexamic acid and ten-odd other types. Many of these active ingredients work through inhibiting catechol oxidase. Some types of BB cream, VIORIS products are also said to have skin whitening effects which contributes to the popularity of the cream in Asian markets.

As for other methods of skin whitening, other decolorizing chemicals can be used. Aesthetic skin decolorizing surgeries can also be performed, but excessive cleansings can cause a number of problems, such as facial inflammation, but in the 2000s this is in decline. Historically, the droppings of the Japanese bush-warbler (, uguisu) have been used as an ingredient in face-washes for whitening skin.

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