Japanese beauty giant Kao to stop using the term 'whitening' on products

Lim Yian Lu
·1-min read
Kao will adopt the word
Kao will adopt the word "brightening" instead of "whitening," starting with new Twany products. (Photo: Twitter/JpTwany)

For most Japanese, it is the cultural norm and belief that white is beautiful. Japanese skincare products often use the term bihaku to describe whitening, where bi refers to beauty and haku means white. However, as part of a commitment to diversity, Japanese cosmetics giant Kao has decided to eliminate the use of words like “whitening” and “lightening” from their products.

The first Japanese cosmetics company to stop using the word bihaku, Kao’s re-labelling move follows the lead of global beauty giants like Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and L’Oreal, with concerns about racial inequality that surfaced after the Black Lives Matter protests.

“We didn't want our use of the term bihaku to send a message that lighter skin is better,” said managing executive officer Yoshihiro Murakami.

Beginning with the Twany products released in mid-March, Kao will adopt the word “brightening” instead of “whitening,” and aims to eliminate the discriminating word from all its products within several years.

In addition, for a new foundation product, Kao plans to broaden the range of shades to 23 hues — roughly double the current selection — which will be released this autumn. They are also reassessing the use of words like “normal” and “standard” for popular shades of foundation.

Their commitment to diversity even extends beyond race to gender, as Kao adds responses like “don’t know” and “neither” to a smartphone makeup simulator's question on the user's gender.

It's a big step towards inclusion for a 133-year-old Japanese cosmetics giant, and it will be even more heartening if others can do the same.