During my first years living in Japan, I did something that many expats around the world tend to do: bring multiple products from home which I assumed I could not live without. One of these products was my favorite moisturizer from the United States. Therefore, each time I would go back to the United States to visit my family, I would return with three or four bottles of this fantastic moisturizer.
I had good reasons to be such a loyal and devoted consumer. Before I found that moisturizer, I would switch back and forth between brands. To me, a moisturizer was a moisturizer, no matter what. However, one winter my skin suffered what appeared to be an allergic reaction that the moisturizer I was using at that time had just exacerbated. After consulting a dermatologist and getting some medication, my skin was back to normal. However, something had changed. For some reason, my skin had ended up becoming far more sensitive, getting irritated and drying up with ease. As a result, I knew I had to look for a better product, one that would keep my skin from drying up like a raisin. That’s why, when I found what would end up becoming my favorite moisturizer, I ended up using it religiously. There were times where I would forget to pack it when going on trip, and thus would have to use a different brand just to feel my skin dry up afterwards. Quite simply, no other moisturizer felt right for my skin.
That’s why I continued to refuse trying a local product in Japan even though getting my moisturizer during each trip to the U.S. was not the most convenient thing. A problem I have when it comes to moisturizers is that I finish them very quickly. And thus, after having spent some years in Japan, I decided it was time for me to check similar products that were available in Tokyo. It was a hit-and-miss. Many times, the staff working at drugstores would give me lotions instead of moisturizers, and the few products that would actually be moisturizers were not even nearly as good as the one I was used to.
And then I found it: “bayu” (馬油). When I first saw this product at the famous Welcia drugstore I was not certain of what it was. However, it had the word moisturizer, so I knew it was the next product I had to try. I bought it, and fell in love with it. Putting it simply, it was exactly what I had been looking for, and the perfect replacement for the moisturizer I was bringing from the United States.
It felt like I had made an enormous change in my life. It was as if I had made a decision that officially announced that I had settled down. I guess letting go of those products you can only find back home is a similar step to renting a property, buying mattresses, and furnishing one’s apartment or house: it indicates that you are truly settling down and that the city is going to be your new home.
Surely, this new product said “horse oil” next to the word moisturizer, but that could have meant anything. Jessica Simpson rose to pop culture stardom in the 2000s after asking on her reality show if tuna was indeed chicken since the tuna cans in front of her said “chicken of the sea.” No, Jessica, tuna is not chicken; and just because this product says “horse oil”, it does not mean that it is. So even though 馬 DOES mean “horse”, and 油 means “oil”, it could just be the name they chose for this given product. After all, the very famous Tiger Balm ointment is not made from tigers, so why would “bayu” be made from horses? It’s just branding. The good, old magic of branding!
… Except that, horse oil is indeed horse oil.
I ended up discovering I had been wrong in assuming the product I was using to take care of my skin could not have horse DNA after a Japanese friend revealed this information to me during one of our conversations.
Naturally, I knew I had to read more information to truly understand what this product was.
The idea of slaughtering horses for any purpose is frowned upon in many Western countries. However, there are multiple countries that farm horses for meat consumption, and many of them actually import horse meat from Western nations.
Japan is one of the countries that consumes horse meat, and “bayu” is created by extracting oil from fat. Ergo, there is not an industry that farms horses so people can have a wonderful skincare product. Instead, “bayu” is created after using what’s not meant to be eaten. Why waste when they can make a product using that horse fat?
“Bayu” also happens to have a very long history. It was initially manufactured because it was believed to be a remedy for such things as burns. However, its usage this day has changed completely. Horse oil became extremely popular in Hokkaido because it is very easy to absorb and provides great moisturizing-agents, meaning that it was a perfect product to keep one’s skin smooth during the incredibly cold and dry winters, which also explains why I fell in love with “bayu” as soon as I applied some horse oil on my face and body.
“Bayu” has become an incredibly popular product across East Asia, and one can sometimes see tourists at Japanese drugstores getting many boxes just like I used to do in the United States when searching for my then favorite moisturizer. “Bayu” keeps one’s skin healthy and smooth, and it’s not incredibly expensive. Sure, saying that you are buying horse oil does not have the same cachet as purchasing one of The Ginza’s 100,000 yen creams, but “bayu” does the trick.
The quality of “bayu” can differ greatly. The one’s priced higher do not have additives and fragrances, but the cheaper ones also do wonders. So you can go either way when buying some “bayu”.
Those living in or visiting Japan might find “bayu” to be the answer to their skincare problems. So unless one is very reluctant to use a product that comes from horses, “bayu” is THE product to keep one’s skin healthy. Consider me a fan for life.