Just as with full-fledged geisha, it’s customary for maiko, as geisha apprentices are known, to wear a layer of white face powder, called oshiroi. But those who’ve seen one of Japan’s traditional entertainers close up often marvel at their smooth, healthy skin, remarking that they would be just as beautiful with all of those cosmetic coverings washed away.
But in much the same way that their polished speech and refined mannerisms are the result of years of training, maiko also have a careful routine they follow to keep their skin looking as delicate and pleasing to the eye as it does.
At first, the idea of maiko with beautiful skin might seem counterintuitive, given that their professional pursuits involve far more liberal use of cosmetics than most women use on a daily basis. However, oshiroi is oil-free, and as such doesn’t leave a maiko’s cheeks and brow greasy.
Still, it’s important to make sure they wash all of that off when their day is done. Rather than harsh cleansing products, though, it’s said that maiko prefer using baby oil, which is gentler on the skin.
▼ After all, it’s made for babies.
Many also use disposable makeup-removing moist towelettes, but while those are a modern invention, there’s an old-time, and time-consuming, secret technique many maiko employ when washing their faces.
They rinse 100 times.
▼ One down, 99 to go!
Aside from being a nice round number, those 100 rinses, using hot water, help to open up all the pores and ensure a deep cleaning of the facial skin.
As we mentioned, maiko and geisha face powder is oil-free, so it’s unlikely to cause pimples. However, the traditional cosmetic can leave the skin too dry, which is why many maiko apply the lustrous hair oil pomade to their faces, too.
It’s not just pomade that maiko put to clever double duty as part of their beauty ritual. Many use scraps of silk left over from the sewing of their elegant kimono to wipe their faces. This helps to remove keratin residues, and some even say it polishes the skin by imparting it with silk proteins. Other maiko instead use the small, silk fingertip coverings called mayudama, softened through steeping, dabbing at and wiping their faces with them like cotton balls.
And while it’s unlikely that many maiko are so hirsute they’re moonlighting as the bearded ladies in a travelling circus, like a lot of women, they’ll occasionally sprout a small whisker or two. That’s why many geisha-in-training make a trip to a barber once every three weeks or so, having a professional shave their faces and necks.
Finally, there’s no discounting the simple yet constant diligence maiko put into their appearance. Maiko spend hours in front of a mirror every day, whether applying the makeup of their trade, meticulously arranging their hair in one of the accepted styles, or checking their ability to move with grace and poise. As such, they’re quick to notice a blemish or bags under their eyes forming. Quite often, these are signals of sleep deprivation, improper diet, or some other slowly accumulating beauty-impacting issue, and many will quickly take the proper countermeasures to nip them in the bud.
In other words, it’s part of a maiko’s responsibilities to treat her skin with the same attention and respect her job requires she give to her clients.