One of the brands on Neiman Marcus’s beauty market tour was Kanebo Sensai. While I might be fairly fluent in American makeup, Asian makeup is kind of a black box to me — it’s a different language, a completely different set of players. Sensai (which is available in Bergdorf Goodman in NYC, and online at NeimanMarcus.com and BergdorfGoodman.com) is a brand I had a high opinion of… but really didn’t know anything about.
Kanebo is a big Japanese company with many brands (kind of like P&G here in the U.S.). The most prestige, most luxurious of their brands is Sensai — and it’s not sold in Japan. I’ve heard it’s big in Europe (and is currently infiltrating America, clearly). Click here for a nifty map of Kanebo’s cosmetics brands, and where they are sold.
Sensai’s goal is to deliver the best possible experience at every level. Not only do they spend decades researching anti-aging ingredients, but (for example) they do MRIs on the folks testing their products, to make sure that the scent of the product is as calming and enjoyable as possible (brainwaves don’t lie). I know I’m taking the red pill here, but I’m intrigued by everything this brand has to offer.
Their line is built around one amazing ingredient: Koishimaru Silk. Someone observed that the women who spin the silk have beautiful hands, despite working in harsh conditions. More rigorous testing revealed that this particular type of silk (once reserved for members of the imperial court) encourages production of hyaluronic acid in the skin. Once skin is moisturized (externally) and hydrated (internally, by the body’s production of hyaluronic acid), it is better to prepared to receive other anti-aging ingredients — like the seaweed extract in Sensai’s Premier line. Koishimaru Silk in the lipsticks helps both pigment and skincare better adhere to the lips. Every product in Sensai’s line (even the color cosmetics) includes some element of treatment.
Japan has a reputation for excellence in skincare (which many of us might have glimpsed in Memoirs of a Geisha). Sensai’s ritual is called saho (a word borrowed from the tea ceremony, which refers to the steps of the ritual). The gist of it is:
- Double Cleanse: when cleaning your face at the end of the day, you first use an oil-based cleanser (choose your formula according to preference), then a gentle soap (choose your formula according to skintype). The oil-based cleanser takes off makeup and sebum. The water-based cleanser washes away dead skin cells and environmental pollution. The two-step process is neither stripping nor drying, though step 2 alone is sufficient for your morning wash.
- Double Moisturize: There’s no toner after your two-step cleanse. Instead, you apply a preparatory “moisture primer” (which Sensai refers to as a lotion), followed by moisturizer (which is either an emulsion or a cream — creams are a little thicker/heavier). The lotion helps the emulsion absorb more effectively.
- Double Application: Not as crazy as it sounds, double application just means massaging, then patting in both the lotion and the emulsion.
The Sensai skincare line is extensive, but to give a simplified, topline view, the Silk line is meant to delay the signs of aging, the Cellular Performance line (the largest category) is meant to address the first signs of aging, and the Premier line is meant to reverse the signs of aging. (The cleansing products are all called Silky Purifying.)
To use myself as an example, my saho might be oil cleanser (because I love oil cleanser), followed by creamy soap (because I have normal-to-dry skin). Then, because my skin is on the dry side (but not Sahara-esque), I might use either Cellular Performance Lotion II (Moist) or the new Prime Solution (more about Prime Solution in a minute), followed by Cellular Performance Emulsion II (Moist).
Playing around with this table of skincare products really helped me better understand the organization of the Sensai line. Apparently I’m a little too young for their Wrinkle Repair or Lifting categories, which is how I decided on the Standard Series Lotions and Emulsions. You can also get customized product suggestions by phone, from the wonderful people at the Kanebo counter in Bergdorfs: 1-800-558-1855.
If (like me) you’re just dipping your toe into the world of Sensai, some of their star products are:
- their Silk Peeling Powder, a pre-measured dose of powder that (with water) turns into a super gentle exfoliator
- their new Prime Solution, the ultimate “lotion” (first moisturizer) for hydration and anti-aging effectiveness. Any skin type can use this lotion — and even if you’re not ready to switch over to Sensai completely, Prime Solution makes any moisturizer 40% more effective. Not only does it enhance hyaluronic acid production in both the dermis and the epidermis, but hawthorne extract improves cellular communication.
- So when designing my own saho, I could choose either the Cell Performance Lotion II, or trade up to Prime Solution. (Prime Solution is more expensive, but everyone who’s tried it so far says it’s worth it.)
- 38 Degrees mascara (which is available in original, volumizing, and lengthen-and-separating formula. There’s also a mascara primer, aka “base” — prices range from $25 to $32). This is a tubing mascara which comes off in 103° water (no makeup remover required).
- their Sponge Chief. This is such an unusual product. It’s a neoprene, anti-bacterial “sponge”/face towel. You use it (with warm water) to wash off your step 1 cleanser, and once you’ve used it, there is apparently no going back. It pulls off everything (makeup, dirt, dead skin) and dries hard between uses.
Sensai’s color line is probably a story for another day, but I was interested to learn that their color philosophy relies on kasane, the layering of sheer colors (like layering sheer fabrics in a kimono). The idea sounds pretty similar to Le Metier de Beaute’s couches de couleur, doesn’t it?
Do you already use Sensai? Are you a fan of their skincare, their color, or both? And if you’re not already familiar with the brand, would you be willing to practice saho twice a day, if it meant perfect skin?