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Beauty and the Yeast

2 minute read

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nginx/1.14.0 (Ubuntu) Sake has been a staple of Japanese tables for some 15 centuries. But with sales sliding dramatically in recent years, brewers are hoping to find a new niche for this venerable drink: the bathroom shelf.

As the world’s second largest cosmetics market after the U.S., Japan is a huge consumer of skin-care products. Neither this fact — nor consumers’ liking for beauty goods formulated with natural ingredients — has been lost on sake brewers, who are rushing to develop skin-care lines featuring their rice wines. With high levels of naturally created amino acids, these New Age elixirs are aimed at moisturizing and protecting the skin without irritation.

Moist Moon (www.moistmoon.jp), launched by the 368-year-old Gekkeikan Sake Co. last October, is one example. The product range includes body soap, shampoo, facial creams and serums — all made with a combination of rice, rice bran, sake and the lees left over from brewing. “The company knew that in order to survive we needed to do something more than produce and sell sake,” says Sharon Teach, manager of Gekkeikan’s planning department.

This isn’t the first time sake has been used as a beauty aid. Geishas once applied the drink to their faces before putting on makeup; and the nation’s toji (head brewers) have long been renowned for their soft hands. “It doesn’t sound so funny to us,” says Keiko Takahashi, a Tokyo dermatologist. “We know that our ancestors were using it for hundreds of years.” But nobody expected Japan’s brewing firms to push sake’s alternative use quite so vigorously. “We wanted to promote sake to people who didn’t drink it,” says Yasuko Okitsu of Fukumitsuya Sake Brewery (ff-style.com), which has at least three rice-based skin-care lines, with some products made with nonalcoholic sake. “Sake is good for the skin and health; it has a lot of benefits.”

Endorsement from top Japanese celebrities — like actress Mami Kumagai, who has been using Fukumitsuya’s Amino Rice line — hasn’t done any harm either. Some producers are now trying to boost skin-care goods to 50% of all sake sales, and hope that the current buzz is more than just a passing fad. If it isn’t, they’ll certainly have plenty of sake left over in which to drown their sorrows.

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