Cosmetics have always been one of Japan’s biggest and most popular industries. We grew up hearing about the geishas and their tedious beauty routine. In college, we talked about Shiseido (資生堂) and Shu Uemura with our friends while gazing longingly at the glossy pages of Seventeen.
Even to this day, despite all the K-beauty hype going on, Japanese brands (drugstore or not) have managed to hold their own with innovative products and high-quality ingredients. Indeed, some Japanese cosmetic companies are very well known and sought after in western countries. Similarly, many foreign tourists come to Japan with a clear aim to purchase cosmetics they can’t find outside of Japan.
Japan is a treasure trove of cosmetic gems just waiting to be found, so when shopping for beauty products, it is imperative to have a clear idea of what you want – make a list if you have to.
With walls and walls of beauty products staring right back at you, it is very easy to get overwhelmed; add that to the fact that most of the store signs are in Japanese characters and shops with English-speaking attendants are pretty hard to come by, and you’ll find yourself wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.
The trick is to do your research beforehand. Japanese brands are popular enough that you can definitely find a beauty enthusiast (or two) who’s tried the product you’re curious about. With that said, below are 12 products you might want to add to your beauty shopping list.
Want a healthy, acne-free skin but not into the whole 10-step skincare routine? Then, the ORBIS Clear Oil Cut series is for you!
A firm believer that what the skin needs is water and not oil, ORBIS Inc. prides itself with its 100% oil-free skincare line and is currently one of Japan’s leading companies in mail-order cosmetics. After 25 years of extensive research, ORBIS has discovered the fundamental cause of acne (especially hormonal acne) and has developed a way to fortify the skin’s defenses against it with the use of antimicrobial peptides. What they came up with is a 3-step routine that includes the CLEAR Wash, CLEAR Lotion, and CLEAR Moisture.
The CLEAR Wash unclogs the pores to allow the active ingredients to penetrate and nourish the skin, the CLEAR Lotion ensures the deep absorption of active ingredients into the skin to treat the root cause of acne, and the CLEAR Moisture provides a hydrating layer to enhance the skin’s natural barriers without drying it. The CLEAR Lotion and CLEAR Moisture have M and L formulas – M for dry to combination skin and L for normal to oily skin.
Unfortunately, this one can be a bit pricey as you have to buy the whole set to get the best results. But fear not, they have a trial set (Japanese only) for only about 2,000 yen (approx. 18 USD).
Ask any dermatologist in the world and they’ll tell you how important sunscreen is in one’s daily beauty routine. Not only do they protect you from various skin problems, they also shield you from the sun’s harmful rays that cause photoaging.
When it comes to sunscreens in Japan, Bioré holds the crown for being the best in the business. They have approximately 30 kinds, but their UV AQUA Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen is particularly awesome. It’s light and watery, non-greasy, feels cool on the skin, and best of all, it’s super effective.
If you have oily skin, this product is a must-try. Just four drops of this primer after some light cleansing is enough to brighten the skin and keep oil (even on the T-zone) at bay throughout the day. It has an incredibly light texture and is easily absorbed by the skin. It’s got SPF, too. After all, you can never have too much SPF.
A full-coverage foundation that becomes ONE with the skin and gives you that no-makeup look and feel – who wouldn’t want that?! ONE BY KOSÉ WATER-LUXE Gel Cream Foundation is the first solid foundation that’s 70% liquid. What kind of sorcery is this? Apparently, its Hydra-Emulsion Technology locks the liquid actives to a very soft liquid-like state that blends seamlessly into the skin giving you a flawless and moisturized finish sans the greasy feeling.
CANMAKE is a brand known for its wide selection of affordable but good quality makeup products. Their Cream Cheek Blush for one is especially popular abroad and is even used by makeup artists. Its gel-like formula allows it to adhere to the skin giving it the prettiest of glows that doesn’t melt even in hot humid temperatures. Retailing at 580 yen, it’s affordable enough that you can easily buy all eight colors – no more buyer’s remorse! It’s also small enough to fit in your purse if you’re a jet setter or the type who likes to go straight for a cocktail with friends after a hard day’s work.
If you love cats as much as cats love fish, then you would definitely love PAUL & JOE’s limited feline-inspired collection. Just recently, they released a new line to celebrate their 15th anniversary and it is cat-studded! The collection includes a peachy pink classic lipstick in the shape of a cat with a top hat, six tiny cat eyeshadows that double as cheek tints (except for the blue and black ones of course), and an eared pouch and vanity vault in a pretty floral design.
The collection has a price tag of 85 USD so it can come across as luxurious and expensive, but if you think about it, the set includes nine items (and don’t forget that the eyeshadows double as blushes) which means that you are basically paying just a little over 9 USD for each item. The only real downside to this collection is that the products are too cute to use that you’d almost feel like apologizing every time you use up an ear.
Being a Shiseido product, this has the impression of being pricey, especially because it can go up to 12 USD a piece online (5 to 8 USD on Amazon); but in Japan, they’re only about 3 USD so you might as well stock up while you’re there.
What’s so great about this product, you ask? While most eyebrow pencils in the shade of ash or taupe are either too red or too yellow, this one’s just ashy which is awesome! It’s a bit harder though than most eyebrow pencils, but that very same hardness is proof that it contains very little oil and will last all day long.
— Kパレット（公式） (@KPalette_net) April 26, 2016
If you want an equally long-lasting eyeliner to pair with your Shiseido Eyebrow Pencil, then the K-Palette Real Lasting Eyeliner 24h would fit the bill. It’s got a nice felt tip for easy application; it’s pigmented and is extremely long lasting – so true to its name. You can play sports, cry over a sappy movie, or take a quick dip in the pool and your wing would still be there.
This Shiseido brand targets younger customers with its pretty packaging, light formula, and affordable pricing. One of their bestsellers, the Lash Expander Edge Meister mascara with its dual-sided applicator has been featured in numerous magazines and beauty blogs. It lengthens and separates the lashes, and gives you that long flattery lashes with some volume.
As the name implies, the brand is all about helping you achieve those doll-like peepers. These durable false eyelashes that were designed by model Tsubasa Masuwaka (益若つばさ) and handmade by Koji craftsmen are said to be reusable for up to a month.
— ルルルン ᵕ ᵕ (@lu3jp) March 2, 2017
Google Asian face masks and LuLuLun would be sure to come up. Boasting of a no fragrance, no coloring, no mineral oil formulation, LuLuLun has taken not only Japan but a good part of Southeast Asia by storm with its effective formula and competitive pricing.
For those who are new to sheet masks, it is a cloth or paper soaked in nourishing ingredients to give the skin the pampering that it needs.
LuLuLun’s basic line has three variants. The pink variant provides balanced moisture for smoother skin, the purple (Yes, it’s purple! To be precise, hex code #5231D5.) gives ”rich moisture” to improve the skin’s elasticity, and the white silvery one has brightening properties to give you that healthy moisturized glow.
Apart from the original line, LuLuLun also has a Precious line that combats signs of aging. And in October 2016, LuLuLun released its Plus line – a collection of 10 power masks which includes an Aroma Care series that nourishes the skin while enhancing the mood, and a Nature Care series that targets specific skin needs – whitening, brightening, you name it, they have it.
Not only is this the go-to product of contact lens users and those who suffer from dry eyes, this is also the secret weapon of avid nomikai (a drinking party in Japan) goers and those with very little sleep. A few drops of this minty cool solution can rehydrate and whiten your sclera making your tired eyes look brighter and more refreshed.
Wondering where to get the products mentioned above? You can easily find them in Matsumoto Kiyoshi (look for their signature mustard yellow and blue colors), PLAZA, LoFt, Tokyu Hands, and Don Quijote (lovingly called “Donki” by some) branches nationwide.
These shops can be found all across Japan, especially Tokyo (東京), but if you wanna hit all of them at once, Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) is the place to go. There’s a PLAZA shop at the B2 level of Shibuya 109. LoFt and Tokyu Hands are also just a few minutes away from the station.
There are a few tips you should remember when buying skincare and makeup products in Japan, particularly if you are from overseas. Here are some things you might want to consider while you are shopping:
One thing to be aware of is that many beauty products in Japan have added whitening and lightening effects, too. In Japan, it is fashionable to be light-skinned, and Japanese people will often want to wear whitening products on their skin, so the industry has catered for this.
Of course, this is controversial in itself, assuming that certain skin colors are more attractive than others. In the western world wearing whitening products is not common at all. Indeed, in many European countries people want to be as tanned as they can, and would be horrified to have to wear a whitening product!
Many products contain whitening ingredients and you should always check the label if you want to avoid this.
Be aware that the prices of skincare products and cosmetics in Japan varies significantly. There are plenty of cheap makeup products around if you look for them, so don’t settle on something which is really pricey. In Ginza you can find painfully expensive products, but don’t assume you can’t find high-quality products elsewhere which are a lot cheaper and still do the job!
Basically, just make sure you shop around a bit before going for the first nice product you see, because some things will be very overpriced!
There you go, 12 Japanese beauty products to add to your shopping list when traveling to Japan!