Tatcha’s Vicky Tsai Brings Beauty to the Modern Geisha

Vicky Tsai

Vicky Tsai

It sounded like every girl’s dream: testing skincare at a high-end, luxury line. But for Vicky Tsai, it turned into a nightmare. After being a human guinea pig left her with a case of acute dermatitis, she remembered her mother’s penchant for using skincare made from traditional Chinese herbs. From that tradition, she developed Tatcha, a line of modern skincare that draws from centuries of tradition and ritual used by geisha in Japan.

“It was not pretty. My face, lips, eyelids, everything was bleeding and blistering and peeling,” said Tsai. “It took a year of topical and oral steroids and antibiotics, but my skin hasn’t been the same since then. That was a wake-up call.”

Tatcha Original Aburatorigami

Tatcha Original Aburatorigami

As a kid, Tsai resisted the herbal remedies because she felt that they didn’t have the fragrance and allure of Western skincare, but after experiencing the horrible reaction to the skincare she coveted, she began to rethink the remedies. Tsai remembered her mother insisting that her homemade skincare worked, saying: “If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us.”

And soon, Tatcha was born. The line started with beauty papers imbued with gold leaf, a traditional way for geisha to soak up excess oil without disturbing their elaborate makeup. It’s now become a staple for chic beauty mavens looking for a more glam alternative to pulling out their compacts for a quick touch-up. “While I was in Japan, I spent a lot of time with geisha,” said Tsai. “Eventually, I realized that it isn’t until the performance makeup comes off that you see their true trademark: radiant, baby-smooth skin.”

Tsai regularly travels to Japan to study the geisha and their rituals. “Geisha are often confused in the Western world with ‘courtesans,’ ” she said. “In truth, ‘geisha’ translates to ‘art person’ and they are performers, similar to Kabuki actors. As a result, their appearance is an integral part of their artistry.”

Through studying the beauty routine of the geishas, Tsai expanded the line from beauty papers to include an entire regimen of skincare, from a gentle facial wash to exfoliants and moisturizers based on formulas used by the geisha for 300 years. “Through them, I came upon the original beauty bible, written in 1812. Historians recognize it as the oldest beauty book written in Japan,” said Tsai. Each product includes essential ingredients like green tea and algae for antioxidants, silk for its moisturizing properties and rice, which is a gentle exfoliant.

Tatcha Skincare

Tatcha Skincare

Working with two teams of scientists — one Japanese and one American — Tsai formulated a ritual of cleansing that respects the skin as an organ and works to balance it without stripping chemicals or over-heavy moisturizing agents. And if you think that the geisha’s routine is as grueling as their training, you’d be wrong. “Practically speaking, the geisha are extremely busy women, and they have learned to simplify wherever they can,” said Tsai. “Who has time for an extended daily routine? I have a two-year old. I certainly don’t.”

With that in mind, Tsai designed Tatcha as a quick, pampering routine that can be completed in under a minute. But what sets it apart from your typical system is Tsai’s belief that cleansing and skincare should be pampering, relaxing and enjoyable. “We’ve received a lot of feedback from women who say that, for the first time in their lives, they’re looking forward to that minute or two minutes to themselves. It’s a simple, luxurious experience that makes them feel cared for,” Tsai said.

The next phase for Tatcha is still under wraps, but Tsai continues to work on bringing the mystique of the geisha to the  vanity. Said Tsai, “Skin care is only chapter one of the beauty bible, so stay tuned.”

Tatcha is available at Barneys New York locations and www.tatcha.com

Photos courtesy Tatcha

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Author:Christopher Luu for Fashion Trends Daily

Christopher Luu is a Fashion Trends Daily Senior Writer and Menswear Editor.