I went to Japan with high hopes of seeing a Blade Runner-esque take on a big city. I fully expected to be awed by the ad-forward culture, the plethora of anime and the food, what I didn’t expect is to haul back an entire suitcase of Japanese beauty products.
Japanese beauty-focused drugstores are as ample in Tokyo as Starbucks locations are here stateside in NYC. You’re bound to hit a drugstore selling beauty products every few blocks while in Japan. In some instances, you’ll see them on every block, depending on the neighborhood. This isn’t confined to Tokyo either- Osaka and Kyoto have just as big of a concentration!
My mornings were spent roaming and exploring (and buying!), while, in the evenings, I meticulously scoured Japanese and English sites, looking for some of the top Japanese beauty products I should bring back.
Most of these have a markup when buying in the US, but it’s really not as bad as I expected it to be. The markups are confined to a few dollars, with the exception of Babyfoot! It already made its way over to the west and got repackaged and sold for $25 instead of Japan’s $15 yen equivalent.
I tested out a few of these products live on my beauty channel at PocketLIVE last Thursday (May 11) at 4 PM (the first episode featured unicorn makeup and a giveaway!). I’ll be testing a new batch of makeup in this week’s broadcast, so make sure to tune in every Thursday!
15 Japanese Beauty Products That Will Change Your Life
This powder enzyme cleanser comes in a package of 32 individual pods that are excellent travel companions! The product is pre-measured so you know exactly how much to use every time. Enzymes and lactic acid slough off the dead skin cells and clear pores while the tofu extract, royal jelly, and hyaluronic acid hydrate the skin and even out the tone. Use this after removing your makeup as the second step of your cleansing routine.
A cleansing oil is the necessary first step of a skincare routine for Japanese women. This one is one of the most popular in Japan because of its olive oil base. It’s not drying and gives you plenty of substance to gently remove all makeup. The thick consistency turns into a watery lather after applying water.
This drugstore cream blush comes in a super cute tin and is Jenna Lyons’ fave blush! I picked up a tin to try it out and ended up ordering 2 more because of how seamlessly it blends! It delivers a completely natural, pretty flush. The colors are sheer and buildable to your desired intensity.
You might’ve seen these things stateside by now. A lot of retailers sell babyfoot in stores (for a heftily upmarked price). The Japanese formula now comes in 30 minute and 60 minute express foot peel times. Basically, this is the most disgusting, amazing and cheapest pedicure treatment for summer-worthy feet. Just soak them in the booties, soak them in water, and watch as the skin peels off over the next week.
Japanese mascaras deliver truly black, curling and lengthening formulas that don’t weigh lashes down at all. The Heroine mascara is one of the top sellers in Japan for good reason! I’m someone whose lashes grow downward. Even after curling meticulously with my Shu Uemura curler, they lose their curl by mid-afternoon. This formula actually keeps my lash curl as if they were freshly done! Not only that, the black is a true black that doesn’t flake and glides on smoothly. I’m never getting a western formula mascara again- and I’m not exaggerating!
Whether you’re already doing this (I am) or not, these little safety razors are specifically meant for shaving off your face fuzz. They safely remove the little hairs, making your face a smooth canvas for makeup application, with the added benefit of gentle exfoliation! These little face and eyebrow razors are sold everywhere from beauty stores to gas stops!
I was a little skeptical about this at first since I don’t wear contacts anymore (woohoo, LASIK). I picked up a bottle to test out, and sure enough, the eyedrops make my eyes whiter and brighter. Bright, clear eyes (and colored contact use) are a sign of beauty in Japan, so you’ll see a hefty selection of eyedrops in drugstores. The only downside is that the drops sting!
THE HOLY GRAIL. That is all. I have never tried a better SPF lotion, and I’m a Shiseido SPF addict. Watery essence is an extremely apt name for this SPF lotion. It glides on without leaving any white cast. In fact, the formula isn’t white in color, it’s clear. It feels more like a nice, watery moisturizer rather than an SPF cream.
An essence or a toner is part of the daily Japanese beauty ritual. Different toners provide different benefits for the skin, and while this one isn’t necessarily a pH balancing essence, it is one of the top selling Japanese products because of its gentle, hydrating properties. Hatomugi is Job’s Tears, known for its hydrating properties, an ability to balance skin and control its sebum production as well as clarify skin. This skin conditioner is unscented and easily applied with a cotton pad.
Another best seller in Japanese drugstores. This is a foaming face wash that doesn’t follow the western rules of a foaming product. The entire point is to gently cushion the face as you cleanse it, so the product is first foamed between your hands or in a little container, after which you apply it to your face and let its kickass cleansing properties clear out your pores with minimal tugging. See below instructions to get the idea:
I’m sure you’ve seen the little red bottles of boscia Tsubaki oil in Sephora. The bestseller is $46 at the online retailer and its primary ingredient is camellia (tsubaki) oil. In Japan, this Oshima Tsubaki oil graces nearly every woman’s beauty counter. The Japanese tsubaki flower’s oil nourishes dry, split-end prone hair in addition to providing ample, balancing hydration for the skin. A little goes a long way with this oil!!
Cure Natural Aqua Gel (alternative: Gommage Rosette Gel)
My husband loves this exfoliating gel so much I had to buy two bottles. One of these bottles flies off the shelf every 12 seconds in Japan! Once you try it, you’ll see why. After cleansing, you gently rub some of the gel in circular motions onto your face, focusing on the rough/dry areas. Within a few seconds, little balls of product+skin start forming. You literally see your skin sloughing off! It’s super gentle though, leaving my sensitive combination skin perfectly smooth without any irritation.
I think we all know how popular sheet masks are in Asia, so this list wouldn’t be complete without an effective, innovative and top-selling sheet mask! This one is SUPER moisturizing, containing both squalene and collagen as its top ingredients. While we may be used to flat sheet masks, this one is 3D shaped, fitting over the face perfectly.
Drawing on the previous point, and continuing the hype for sheet masks, these tablet-sized “sheets” expand into a full-sized sheet mask when you soak them in your favorite serum or lotion! I found several different brands in different stores around Japan. Using a sheet mask with your favorite product allows for better absorption since the product isn’t immediately absorbed/evaporated.
Ingestibles for skin – Hythiol-C Plus + Collagen Supplements like Meiji Amino Collagen
These obviously take a longer tie to see the difference. I started taking Hythiol-C tablets and collagen powder (in my coffee) every morning. Japanese beauty relies not only meticulous topical skincare, but also on the belief that beauty comes from within, sans the corny message. Like, literally, it comes from within, so ingest that collagen! Our body starts reducing collagen production in our 20s, so the sooner we start replenishing it, the better.