Koh Gen Do is beauty brand from Japan with a cult following of celebrity makeup artists in thrall to a foundation with an “exquisite” flawless finish. It sources water from 5000 meters below the sea’s surface, harvests sap from white birch during a three week period and “inspires you to be the leading actress in your own life”. Anyone know what’s Japanese for pretentious?

I  took a look at Koh Gen Do’s Aqua Foundation ($65) and Cleansing Water ($39) and could only marvel at how it can get away with charging so much for so little. The Cleansing Water's ingredients list simply itemizes water – plain old tap sourced H2O, would be my guess although Koh Gen Do claims that it comes from Yumura Hot Springs in Japan. Perhaps it is especially prone to bacteria as paraben and phenoxyethanol preservatives are amongst this cleanser’s most dominant ingredients.

To be sure, there are some nice botanicals in Koh Gen Do’s Cleansing Water, but before you get to them, there’s the aforementioned parabens, Peg-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, which may contain (due to the manufacturing process for polyethelene glycol, toxic impurities) and a common and garden detergent called Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine. The Aqua Foundation isn’t much better with its silicones, polymers, talc (a possible carcinogen) and irritating aluminum hydroxide, sorbitan sesquiisostearate and zirconium dioxide.

The specially harvested white birch sap is way at the end of the ingredients list of both the cleanser and foundation. It does seem to have potential though. The bark of white birch is about 20% bitulen, which has powerful antioxidant properties. Having said that, the most popular use of white birch sap is as an anti-arthritic.

If the Cleansing Water was able to clean up its act, it has some good things going for it. More persuasive than the birch sap is Japanese mugwort (artemisia Princeps), another antioxidant, as is artemisia princeps leaf  (source). But, despite the endorsement of celebrity makeup artists and all that sea water, the foundation is very far being redeemed.

Ingredients in Aqua Foundation

Actives: Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide

Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Neopentyl Glycol Diethylhexanoate, Isononyl Isononanoate, Hdi/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Peg-9 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, Pentylene Glycol, Sea Water, Peg-10 Dimethicone, Sorbitan Sesquiisostearate, Mica, Glycerin, Phytosteryl / Octyldodecyl Lauroyl Glutamate, Sodium Chloride. Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Aluminum Hydroxide, Acrylates Polytrimethyl Siloxymethacrylate Copolymer, Butylene Glycol. Dimethicone. Phenoxyethanol, Stearic Acid, Aluminum Dimyristate, Silica, Zirconium Dioxide. Talc, Isostearyl Sebacate, Alumina, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Squalane, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Betula Alba Juice, Disodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Glucosyl Hesperidin, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Betula Alba Bark Extract, Kjellmaniella Gyrate Extract, Algae Extract, Alpinia Speciosa Leaf Extract, Iron Oxides

Ingredients in Cleansing Water:

Water, Dipropylene Glycol, Peg-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Lactic Acid, Arginine, Butylene Glycol, Artemisia Princeps Leaf Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Perilla Ocymoides Leaf Extract, Betula Alba Juice, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract, Glycerin