Although skin tone differs based on a person's race, in general skin color is based on the amount of melanin in the skin. Skin color is affected by the amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells that flow through the capillaries under the skin. Because of this, having pure white skin is difficult, but bihaku aims to bring the skin color as close to white as possible.
In Japan, the preference for skin that is white and free of blemishes and spots has been around for a long time. There is a proverb that says "The color white will hide the Seven Misfortunes. (For fair-skinned girls, although they may have unattractive spots, they don't stand out.)"
While yearning for whiteness as such was not new, it became a fad in mid-1990s, after when Suzuki Sonoko, an already successful "Diet Queen" started to promote the aesthetics of beautiful white, under the word "bihaku". Previously, skin care words that referred to melanin problems like "stain" and "freckles" were used.
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, Labor 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. In many of these active ingredients, an important enzyme called catechol oxidase is present, and it works either directly or indirectly to stop the creation of melanin.
As for other methods of skin whitening, other decolorizing chemicals are used. Aesthetic skin decolorizing surgeries are 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 (鴬?)) has been used as an ingredient in face-washing for making the skin whiter.
The Bihaku movement has been popular mainly among some middle-aged adult Japanese women while it is usually unpopular among young people such as teenagers. Among young people, it is often considered as a "nerdy culture" (根暗趣味), because of the stereotype that having pale skin means being a nerd.
- ↑ Miller, Laura L. (2006). Beauty up: exploring contemporary Japanese body aesthetics. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 35, 54, 170. ISBN 0-520-24509-1.
- ↑ PINKY magazine November, 2005 p.34
- ↑ Popteen June, 2004 p.129