Since ancient times, it has been a perpetual desire for us humans to look beautiful — to maintain smoother, spotless skin, keep any sign of aging at bay and find ways to enhance our appearances. That insatiable desire may have not changed — but the tools and technologies that might help us achieve it have.

The first-ever Cosme Tokyo, an international cosmetics trade fair held last week at Tokyo Big Sight in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, provided some insight into what could be the Next Big Thing. More than 100 exhibitors from around the world showed off their latest products and ideas — all related to beautifying the consumer.

Increasingly visible players in Japan’s cosmetics industry are Korean companies, which are perhaps riding on the popularity of hanryu (Korean) TV drama/movies, whose actors’ porcelain-like flawless complexions are something Japanese audiences aspire to.

Dodo Japan, part of the Seoul-based Dodo group, markets product lines using ingredients that could test the intrepidity of some consumers. Its facial cream uses snail extract, which is touted to have reparative effects for the skin, while an anti-wrinkle cream contains a slightly scary-sounding synthetic compound modeled on the chemical structure of snake venom — it works like Botox, the marketers say. The firm also sells cosmetics made from maple syrup.

Korean consumers are generally bolder than Japanese about trying new ingredients,” said official Ayae Kurosawa.

Other international companies eyeing entry into Japan include Dinair Airbrush Makeup, which drew in visitors with flamboyant demonstrations of airbrush makeup. Founded in 1981 by Dina Ousley, a makeup artist for Hollywood celebrities, the company says it’s time for the ordinary consumer to try its stuff. A Dinair kit allows users to apply foundation and other makeup in a fine spray, which, officials said, requires less of the cosmetic product and is good at camouflaging complexion flaws.

The Out of Africa booth, meanwhile, presented producers from Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Rwanda who, with the assistance of Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO, a trade facilitation body affiliated with the Japanese government) exhibited essential oils, including some rarely available in Japan. These included Ravintsara and Saro, both believed by locals in Madagascar to relieve respiratory symptoms. Such essential oils, some of which are organic, could help the countries expand their lineup of exports beyond tea and coffee, a JETRO official said.

Some of Japan’s new products turn to more traditional ingredients — “traditional” in a cultural sense rather than cosmetic. Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Co., a 353-year-old sake brewery known for the eponymous brand, made a foray into the cosmetics industry last year, following the successes of other sake makers. Sake is rich in amino acids, which are said to help moisturize the skin and the brewery’s latest product, “Nihonshu no Keshosui” is a skincare lotion that even smells of the sake it’s made with.

Nishi Sake Brewing Co., which hails from the sh?ch? stronghold of Kagoshima Prefecture, has taken brewery expertise even further in its production of cosmetics by cooperating with the Holistic Beauty Research Center (HBRC). According to Nishi Sake Brewing official Naoshi Sonoda, recent revisions of waste-disposal laws led the company to devise new ways to reduce waste, which includes the lees produced from the sh?ch? distillation process. Sh?ch? lees are rich in fiber and polyphenols, and the company has mixed them into processed foods such as cookies, bread and ice cream. Now, it has developed facial masks containing sweet-potato sh?ch? lees.

Grandeur, part of the Wamiles Group that owns HBRC, also markets a range of facial masks using extracts from locally grown vegetables, such as salty tomatoes from Kumamoto Prefecture, kelp from Hokkaido, plums from Wakayama Prefecture, and ginger from Kochi Prefecture.