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Skin Whitening Lotions in Japan

The tanning business is not a huge seller here.

By 1 min read 19

Although skin tone varies drastically depending on your racial background (along with time spent in direct sunlight with or without sunscreen), much of the Asian world seems to have an preference for light skin.

I’ve heard bihaku (美白, literally means “beautiful white”) used to describe skin that is beautifully pale and blemish-free in Japan. Since learning the term, I’ve see this marketing term on ads and beauty product in our local pharmacy.

Growing up in Texas, most the people I knew spent their summers by the poolside, working on that perfect tan. Japan is a little bit different.


My husband and I used to just buy whatever facial lotion was on sale. Neither of us realized the prevalence of whitening cream in facial lotions until the third time in a row where we ended up with sometime to make us more pale.

Now I specifically seek out a lotion without a whitening additive.

When I asked my husband about it, he said many people believe “色の白いは七難隠す,” which is an old Japanese saying that “white skin covers seven flaws,” or ‘even if you have unattractive features, as long as you are pale, you can still be beautiful.’

What do you think of the Japanese obsession with white skin?

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  • Sarah Harrison says:

    But most whitening lotions don’t actually make you whiter, they just get rid of blemishes, like scarring and freckles, and make your skin tone more even, which I guess in turn makes it seem brighter. I’m British and super pale naturally, so at first I was like why the heck would I want to buy whitening cream, but now I use it because I have marks on my skin, and it helps. 🙂

    I also hate it when people are like ‘that’s so sad, Asian people are trying to be white people’. They’re not. It’s just attractive to be pale. People who fake tan in the west aren’t trying to be black, are they. It was attractive to have pale skin in Japan before anyone had ever even seen a white person. Beauty standards are just different.

  • Kayli says:

    Every culture is different with their weird beauty standards. I live in America and I’m as pasty as the Pillsbury Doughboy. Multiple friends and family members have told me I should get a tan. I like being outside, but I won’t ‘sunbathe’ like a lot of girls do. I get sunburned before I ever get tan. It just isn’t worth it to me.

    As to your question, maybe it’s the same reason the English used to prefer fair skin? For them, it was because it reflected prosperity. It was a sign that you weren’t outside working in the fields under the hot, sweltering sun. So it’s possible that the Japanese culture once had a similar outlook, but as times changed, the beauty standards didn’t.

  • David Tachibana says:

    Hmm, this seem to hold true for some parts i guess. I’m a Japanese/Chinese mix. My Japanese side doesn’t really seem to care but my Chinese side really likes white/lighter skin.

    My cousin used to have dark skin but recently it became lighter and they would comment on how she’s prettier now although i see no change in features except for the skin tone.

  • Tess de la Serna says:

    Filipinos are obsess with white skin!!! They even take pills that make their darker pigments white! When I visited my parents I went in to one of these beauty salon that does not do anything except douse you with lotion to make you white. Must be common among Asian countries.. or people.. you want what you don’t have.

  • Yumitolesson says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t think many societies are obsessed with “white” skin..Although I am ethnically mixed with a mother from SE Asia, my skin is pretty light..whenever I visit my mother’s home country, people adored me as a child and it was an interesting experience..and of course, my Japanese friends also complemented my skin tone but questioned how come my skin was light?! I don’t know..Japanese society values lighter skin complexion traditionally but I want to embrace all skin tones. ^_^ excellent article.

  • Pami Seo says:

    To people who relate skin color with aging. More than skin pigmentation, skin aging is related to environmental aggressors as well as nutrition. Whether you are a smoker or not can also have an impact on your skin. So it doesn’t really matter if you are Caucasian, Asian, etc. If you have a good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle (plus know how to nurture your skin with the right products) your skin will look more radiant and youthful, and the process of aging will most likely decrease. If Asians look younger is because of their diet, and they usually protect their skin from UV damages. Almost all Asian women use skin products religiously to take care and protect their skins. So if they look younger is not because they are Asians and other people are Caucasian or Black or whatever, is because how they take care of themselves. Some Asians can look older than their age too, and is because they don’t take care of their skin. So my point is anyone can look younger and have good skin regardless of race.

  • noodley says:

    wow, what a great article.

  • Charmine Joy B. G says:

    For people who are already white or have pale skin they may never understand…
    Pale or white skin mostly age lesser or slower than darker skin tone. Having white or pale skin makes some people look more younger,youthful or glowing thats why some people are obssesed with whitening stuff…

    • cmac says:

      I disagree with this. I have several friends who are black and I swear age at half the speed of my caucasion friends and me…. waaaay fewer wrinkles. They’ve shared this clever expression: ‘black don’t crack’

    • fangnificent says:

      Wrong. People with paler skin actually age worse than people with a darker skin tone, Asians are an exception since they have a little melanin while white people who are already pale do not. People want pale skin because the media pushes it and white supremists have tricked them into thinking that. Your comment and others on here are only pushing white supremacy. Its sickening.

    • Moogiechan says:

      I’m white and from what I’ve seen, East Asians generally tend to look younger than whites of the same age.

  • Nadège Lorieau says:

    Le soleil est mon ennemi,je l’évite au maximum,j’aime ma peau claire!

  • Jack Girabaldi says:

    think it also has to do with commoners being out in the sun /working in the fields while nobles stayed inside buildings/out of the shade doing non physically intensive labor

  • Nathan Shanan Crookes says:

    so….that means im beautiful?

  • Josh Radick says:

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I think that in most cases people tend to look better the way nature made them. If you prefer wo look a bit whiter then put on a little bit more sunscreen, if you prefer to be tanner then use a little but less, but I don’t think people should try to do too much that is drastic.

  • iluisa u. tarlit says:

    Me i choosed lotion that i can be brought with me when i am in my country.

  • ローラ呉 says:

    I love it!!! It’s hard here since Japanese sun is so bright… I actually became dark since I came here which I always hated with a passion…. but working on the whitening lotions to going back to white!! Japanese ladies are smart!!!!! (^_^)



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