With multi-step rituals performed by Japanese geisha, a 500-year-old book on Korean medicine and an Indonesian great-grandmother's face mask made from turmeric and black tea, local beauty entrepreneurs are using the traditional principles of other cultures for a new wave of intriguing product lines.
While many beauty collections are founded on the latest scientific innovations, others are reverting to centuries-old traditions embraced by people in distant lands.
The result is a slew of collections with engaging pedigrees.
Victoria Tsai, founder of the San Francisco-based Tatcha, spent three years researching how Japanese geisha maintain lustrous, unlined skin well into old age. She found the answers within the pages of the 200-year old "Miyakofuzoku Kewaiden" (which translates as "Capital Beauty and Style Handbook"), considered the oldest beauty book in Japan.
Another ancient book is at the heart of Amarte, a line created by dermatologist Craig Kraffert, who mined the rituals prescribed in the "Donguibogam," a centuries-old Korean tome that lists more than 6,000 herbal prescriptions and touts the virtues of purified sulfur and mushroom extracts.
Nyakio Kamoche Grieco gave up a job in the entertainment industry to create a line inspired by two of her Kenyan grandparents — one was a farmer and medicine man, another grew up on a sustainable coffee and sugarcane farm where everything needed for the skin came from the land.
Not that certain things haven't had to be tweaked for the Western market. In Asia, many women are accustomed to an elaborate morning and evening skincare ritual that can necessitate the use of up to 18 products.
"While I have a strong contingent of patients that enjoy having multiple skin care products to choose from, I believe few Western consumers have the time or the patience for such an involved daily regimen," said Talia Emery, dermatologist at Veronica Skin and Body Care in Malibu. "There's also a concern that if a patient has an adverse reaction to a product, it's difficult to isolate the culprit."
Also, while many of the ethnically cultivated product lines have their roots in charming stories and anecdotes, it should still be all about product efficacy, said cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, founder of Beautystat.com.
"Exotic ingredients that are indigenous to other regions can indeed be effective on various skin types," he said. "But these brands should have clinical or consumer testing to validate this."
Here's a synopsis about some of the culturally inspired products.
Inspired by: The porcelain skin of Japanese geisha.
What's in it: Green tea, rice bran, gold flakes, camellia oil.
What it does: It's all about the ritual, four or five steps that include cleansing, polishing, a brightening serum, moisturizing and, for oily skin, luxurious blotting papers.
How much? $125 for the new gold-flecked Camellia Beauty Oil.
Where: Barneys Beverly Hills or Tatcha.com
Inspired by: "The Donguibogam," a book published in 1613 by the Korean royal physician of the day.
What's in it: Mushroom emollients, mallow, caviar, pearl powder.
What it does: Brightens, cleans and clarifies the skin.
How much? $79 for the top-selling Amarte Wonder Cream
Inspired by: The African heritage of the founder, Nyakio Kamoche Grieco.
What's in it: Kenyan coffee, kola nut from the Ivory Coast, marula oil from South Afria.
What it does: It's all about hydration and protection - something Grieco's grandmother was compelled to address after hours in the sun on the family's coffee plantation. She would boil down the coffee beans with honey and use the grounds to exfoliate her skin with a sugarcane rod.
How much? $55 for the Kenyan Coffee Body Scrub
Inspired by: The beauty rituals of Bali, Indonesia.
What's in it: Turmeric, tamarind, kombucha, ginger.
What it does: Turmeric is a potent detoxifier, used here in a mask based on the pre-wedding rituals of Indonesian princesses.
How much: $62 for the Clove Flower and Turmeric Anti-Aging Serum
Where: Beauty Collection, juaraskincare.com
Inspired by: Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old tradition of wellness from India; practice is determined by the user's type, based on elements of nature.
What's in it: Ingredients key to Ayurveda like neem, black pepper, the bark of the Indian frankincense tree and fragrant jasmine.
What it does: Zeroes in on the particular problems experienced by those of a particular type and targets them.
How much: $35 for the Night Light Night Cream
Where: Whole Foods stores, verianaturals.com
Inspired by: Beauty ingredients from cultures that founder Melissa Picoli fell in love with on her travels.
What's in it: Turmeric, cacao, honey, rice from Bali, Mexico, New Zealand and Thailand, respectively.
What it does: The focus is on anti-aging body care, designed for both spa and at-home use.
How much: $32 for the Anti-Aging Body Treatment
Where: Green Line Beauty on Melrose, OC Skin Secrets in Toluca Lake, bijabody.com
Inspired by: Ancient Japanese bathing rituals, for which a bath is considered as cleansing to the soul as to the body. Founder of beauty apothecary Space NK, Nicky Kinnaird, created the line after visiting the Gora Kadan springs outside Tokyo.
What's in it: Minerals culled from the Toyama Onsen hot springs near the Tateyama mountain range, as well as wakame seafood, soy milk protein and water bamboo.
What it does: Encourages a three-step bathing routine: cleansing with a gel, scrub or soap, relaxing in a bath containing milk, oil or marine sea crystals, and finally hydrating.
How much: $40 for the Mineral Retreat Bath Oil
Where: Space NK stores around Southern California, spacenk.com and select Bloomingdale's.
Inspired by: Jjimilbang (Korean bath houses), where the nobility would soak in hot baths infused with ginseng and iris, and then dead skin cells, toxins and impurities would be massaged out of the skin.
What's in it: Mugwort, bearberry, milk thistle and licorice root.
What it does: Primarily exfoliation -- skin debris is said to flake right off
How much: Organic Mineral Peel for the Face is $44.
Where: Skin Camp, Beverly Hills; Waterside Apothecary, Marina Del Rey; Naimie's Beauty Supply, Valley Village; orgskincare.com