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The Best Beauty Products You Can Only Buy In Japan

You know how some people feel when they first enter the Louvre? Emotionally overwhelmed with centuries of artistic tradition, awestruck at seeing these incredible pieces of humanity in the flesh? That’s how I felt in the beauty floors of department stores and drugstores in Japan. Some travel to Japan for the incredible cultural landmarks and well-preserved ancient traditions, others are there for the dizzying array of food. Me? I was unreasonably excited for the skincare and makeup. Japanese beauty products are among the best in the world, imo.

Before there was K-Beauty, there was J-Beauty. Japanese cosmetic tradition might be one of the oldest in the world, experts citing the opening of Shiseido’s first Western-style pharmacy in 1872 as it’s beginning. For the modern skincare addict, Japan is a wonderland. Hit up department stores like Takashimaya, Isetan and Mitsukoshi for mid- to high-end brands like Addiction, Suqqu and RMK. Impeccably mannered staff are usually able to assist you in English too.

The omnipresent drugstore chain Matsumoto Kiyoshi has you covered from Canmake to Isehan, while stores like Ainz & Tulpe and Cosme Kitchen provide further opportunities to annoy your partner while you browse for literally hours.

Japanese cosmetic philosophy is characterised by keeping the skin bright and clear. Achieving this involves cutting-edge SPFs and anti-pigmentation products, layering lighter products like essences and emulsions for optimal moisturisation and a relatively fresh makeup style. All of this is to say: Damn they make some good shit.

Sure, you could order some of this online. But why give up the excuse to travel to Japan to buy it in person? The following are theJapanese beauty products I would get on a plane again in a heartbeat for.

The greatest light-weight sunscreen known to humanity

Classics are classics for a reason, and the Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++ (¥620 / AU$8.30) is truly one of the GOATs. Japan (and Korea) are known for their sunscreens, which are often much lighter and more comfortable than Western variants. The Bioré is no exception: it’s incredibly lightweight, has high sun protection, includes skin-loving ingredients like hyaluronic acid and sits well under makeup. *chef kiss*

The makeup brush I’d sell my kidney for

I spent a weeks’ rent on a makeup brush. And I’d do it again. Visit the Kumanofude select shop in Hiroshima and you’ll find what are widely considered some of the best makeup brushes in the world. Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo brushes (¥17,000 / AU$226) feel like running kitten paws over your face, are produced by craftsman specialising in each step of the process and (usually) feature bristles that are hand-placed instead of being cut into shape with traditional manufacturing. Mmm, natural hair fibre ends – so fine and soft.

The eyeliner that will give you a flick so sharp you’ll cut a bitch

I don’t really get the hype over Kat Von D’s Tattoo Liner, Japanese brands have been doing brush-tip liners for ages. K-Palette 24 HR Real Lasting Eyeliner (¥1,200 / AU$16) is super-inky black, long-wearing, water and smudge resistant and will help you get a line so precise you could… see above.

The hydrating lotion that’s probably the longest most stable relationship I’ve had in my life

Boyfriends come and go, but skincare is forever. The hyaluronic acid-rich Hada Labo Gokujyun Lotion (¥800 / AU$10.65) almost seems too watery and light to feel like it’s making a difference, but one layer on damp skin before moisturiser is like a drink of water for your face. (Don’t stop drinking water though.)

Dalliances with more expensive hydrating serums and essences have occurred, but Hada Labo has my heart forever. Happy ten-year anniversary baby.

The cleanser that’ll remove drag-level makeup in seconds

Do you know what sucks? Climate change and single-use items. Curb your makeup wipe habit and enjoy feeling like a silky baby seal as gentle but incredibly effective DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (¥1,600 / AU$21.30 for 120ml) slides over your face to remove even the most tenacious waterproof and long-wearing makeup.

It emulsifies with water, rinses off cleanly and it’s free of mineral oil because we don’t mess with cheap by-products of the fuel industry in skincare.

The water-proof mascara that will survive the apocalypse

I don’t wear waterproof mascara often, but when I do, it’s ISEHAN’s Kiss Me Heroine Make Long & Curl Mascara Super Waterproof (¥1,080 / AU$14.40). As well as being the most elaborately named and packaged mascara I’ve ever used, it’s flake, transfer and smudge-proof. Perfect for sweaty beach days or that business meeting in a sauna.

The face masks that will wipe away your sins and those strong zeros

There is a sheet mask for literally everything. Hydrating, soothing, brightening, anti-ageing, mending a broken heart – Japan has it all. These Lululun (¥1,300 / $17.50 for 42 pcs) masks are a solid crowd-pleaser, containing the equivalent of four bottles of hydrating serum per box. Pro-tip: keep the tissue-style dispenser in the fridge during summer for maximum refreshment. 

The eyedrops that are kind of like mouthwash for your eyeballs, but in a good way

 

Rohto Digi-Eye Cooling Eye Drops for Digital Eye Strain

So, the working culture in Japan is pretty hectic. However, the extremely long-days in front of computer screens and contact lens use has resulted in a cornucopia of eyedrops for the discerning shopper with eyeballs. Rohto (¥200 to ¥1,500 / AU$2.60 to $20 depending on variety) manufactures tonnes of different types: blue-light harm minimisation? Gently mentholated? Specifically for coloured contact lenses? We’ll take one of each.

While you’re making your wishlist of Japanese beauty products, check out some of the incredible foods you can buy at 7/11 in Japan.

Prices are a general indication at the time of writing.