Victoria Tsai, founder of skincare line Tatcha, has an unusual job title listed after her name: “Chief Treasure Hunter.”
How exactly did a graduate of Harvard Business School end up with a job that sounds like it belongs to an 18th century sea captain? It’s a good story, but it requires going back a few years—first to Tsai’s childhood and then, even further, to the Edo period of Japan.
Tsai was 12 when she first began working in her mother’s beauty boutique, which sold all the top-end brands. Perfect training for a burgeoning skincare expert, no? Except Tsai says that neither she nor her mother ever used the luxury products, instead putting their faith in traditional Asian skincare treatments they whipped up themselves. Her mother told her that all the Eastern world’s beauty secrets had originated with the geisha. “If it’s good enough for the geisha,” she’d say, “it’s good enough for us.”
Years later, those words came flooding back to Tsai on a trip to Kyoto that marked a turning point in her life. While there, a chance encounter with a geisha led a very pregnant Tsai to end up selling all her possessions—engagement ring included—to start Tatcha, an XO Exclusively Ours line of skincare products based on the beauty secrets of the geisha. And despite one or two moments of What have I done? panic, Tsai has never looked back.
Tsai’s first piece of luck was discovering Japan’s beauty bible: a 200-year-old tome published when there were around 10,000 practicing geisha who were considered the height of glamour. The author of this text interviewed countless geisha, and many years later, Tatcha translated it word for word in order to recreate the formulas found within. So why take the advice of the geisha? As Tsai puts it, “If your job is to be artwork, you’re very good at the tools of your trade.”
While the West typically thinks of intricate makeup when they think of geisha, they are actually better known in the East for their flawless skin. How do they do it? One of Tsai’s main takeaways from the book was that geisha rely on three main ingredients to keep their skin baby-soft: red seaweed extract, green tea and rice bran. And sure enough, every Tatcha product contains this trio, along with some other insanely luxurious ingredients, including gold and liquid silk. (Fun fact: Tatcha’s blotting papers are the actual sheets of paper between which gold has been hammered into gold leaf. Geisha knew that these papers are, literally, the gold standard when it comes to maintaining flawless skin.)
It’s amazing to think that, even now, the best skincare regimen is one that has been around for centuries, but Tsai had her concoctions and recipes verified by top laboratories in both Japan and the U.S. She said she worked with scientists who admitted, “We don’t know how they figured it out.” To them, the book was cutting edge—they are still figuring out how and why some of these formulas work. But to Tsai, it made perfect sense.
“Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer,” she says.
— THE RITUAL —
1. PURE One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil
Geisha have used vitamin-rich camellia oil for centuries to remove impurities without stripping the skin of moisture. Massage it into dry skin, then wash off with water.
2. POLISHED Deep Rice Enzyme Powder
Using rice enzymes to add luster to skin, this powder turns into a non-abrasive foam when it’s mixed with water.
3. RADIANT Deep Brightening Serum
Featuring licorice and jujube extracts, and rich in silk, this weightless moisturizer also diminishes the appearance of age spots.
4. SUPPLE Moisture Rich Silk Cream
This rich gel-cream of liquid silk (which dramatically increases the skin’s ability to retain moisture) has powerful anti-aging agents.
5. ABURATORIGAMI Japanese Blotting Papers
These handmade papers are made entirely from Abaca leaf and lift excess oil off the skin without stripping it of moisture or smudging makeup.