Aug 062012
 

When I went to Japan a few months ago, I asked one of my good friends C if she’d like me to bring anything back. She’s the kind of girl who rarely asks asks for anything, so I was surprised when a few days later she had emailed me a massive list. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “But I’m obsessed with Japanese makeup and skincare. It’s so hard to get certain brands here in the U.S.”

Thus before we left, I promised to C that I’d dutifully visit Matsumoto Kiyoshi (a massive chain in Japan, kind of like Ulta) to pick up her requested items. I was curious about what would have driven this very normal girl born and raised in Minnesota to go so crazy about Japanese makeup – after some light Googling, came across a bunch of Japanese cosmetics fan sites. I also discovered a fantastic New York Times article here, describing the craze for Japanese cosmetics in the West. The article was fascinating, with quotes from women who described Japanese makeup as being a) better quality (even at the drugstore level) than what Western brands had to offer, b) produced within a much more competitive market than the West and thus held to a higher standard of excellence, and c) very waterproof due to the humid temperatures in Asia.

Of course after all of that research, I had to pick up some products for myself as well while in Japan. I’ve had a few months to test them all out and see if they were worth of their exhaulted status, and here are my thoughts.

These were five of my favorite products – Dolly Wink eyelash glue (recommended by Christine), Dolly Wink liquid eyeliner, Kiss Me Heroine mascara, Love Liquid liner, and random brand Q-tips.

I had tried liquid liner before, but it never worked on me until I tried Japanese brands. They are indeed very waterproof but wash off very easily with soap and water. The brushes on them are also very small and fine – easy to draw natural lines. Dolly Wink is available at several stores in the U.S as well as here. I loved these little cotton swabs because they were so small and incredibly precise for great attention to detail.

I also bought Cure gel based on the recommendation of friends – it’s become one of my favorite products in my skincare routine! Very gentle exfoliator and it really works. I already bought a refill on Amazon here for what I think is a good price, especially when you take into account how annoying it was to bring this big bottle back from Japan. I actually have no idea what the pink foam things next to the Aqua gel is- but I’ll probably try it out on a homebody day in case the results are disastrous!

Finally I wanted to share with you all the only makeup item I had ever used from Japan prior to this trip – Yojiya oil blotting papers. Yojiya is based in Kyoto and all around the city you can find their shops. They are most famous for their blotting papers and for good reason – I have never found  better blotting papers than those made in Japan (Tatcha’s, another favorite, are made in Japan as well).

After trying a multitude of products over the last few months, my verdict on Japanese makeup was uniformly positive. I loved the products I tried out (especially the liquid eyeliners) and found that there was a great amount of attention to detail in packaging and applicators. I also just felt that the products were gentler to my skin, without unnecessary additives. That being said, I didn’t think there was anything outrageously better than the Western brands I’ve tried (again, except for the eyeliners).

I’m curious now – have you all tried Japanese (or Asian) makeup? Do you love it, and what are your recommendations? Do you prefer them over Western brands?

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  59 Responses to “Japanese Cosmetics – Worth the Hype?”

  1. Hi. I am Asian, Singaporean, and so have large access to Japanese and Korean makeup/skincare. Due to Singapore’s relation with the West, we also have a lot, a lot of Western brands here, Tom Ford, Laura Mercier, Becca, Hourglass, Burberry, Sephora, and standard counter brands are all here. We have little shops selling NYX, Coastal Scents, e.l.f, and more.

    In my very honest opinion, I really do not think Japanese makeup/skincare are exceptionally better than Western. I use from both East and West of course, but I swear by Urban Decay and Make Up For Ever, just as much as I swear by Japanese Majolica Majorca, Dollywink, etc.

    I like MUFE Aqua Smoky Lash better than Japan’s Majolica Majorca. I like M.A.C Pearlglide and Chanel’s eyeliners better than Dollywink. I like Milani’s Baked blushes, Laura Geller’s, etc, etc.

    I swear Western’s drugstore brands are of higher quality and much, much, much, much cheaper than Japanese ones. Japanese drugstore brands are almost the price of Stila, here in Singapore.

    People here in Asia are craving for Wet ‘n’ Wild and Sleek to come. There is still Illamasqua and Inglot that I am waiting for.

    I guess it’s really a case of the grass is always greener on the other side.

    • This was fascinating – thank you Jyoan! I agree that I found Japanese drugstore brands quite expensive (though I wasn’t sure if that was just the exchange rate talking!).

  2. Hi,

    I’m from Hong Kong, where they sell the pink foam everything. It is for you to curl your hair without heating them. Do it with damp hair, so it holds better.

    Put the end of your hair into the line where the foam split in half, roll them up, then secure them with the loop hole at the end. Sleep with it. Then you will get some beautiful curls in the morning.

    I hope this helps!!!!!!! ;)

  3. I don’t use a lot of make up and I’m really really bad at make up application. I tend to visit Sasa, a popular cosmetic and skincare drugstore in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. I’ve only ever used Shu Uemura and it’s as good as any others (say, Laura Mercier etc).

  4. I have only tried the blotting paper you have. Want to try the Dollywink eyeliner though. I am using the Korean brand Super Skin 79 BB cream(hot pink). I have tried other Western brands but find the Korean brand is much much better. More coverage and has SPF, unlike a few of the brands sold here.

    • I have heard great things about Korean BB creams – thank you for the recommendation! Have you tried Skin Food?

      • Aside from skincare, I loveeeee Skin Food’s nail polish. They’re so pretty, all of them! Their skin care line is very gentle. I tried their eye cream before and it was pretty good! The only Skin Food store here in LA is about 30 mins away from me.

  5. I haven’t but I would definitely try the blotting papers, I use the Shiseido ones and can’t leave the house without two tucked in my pockets, I’m ridiculously oily skinned.

  6. The Cure gel sounds really interesting!

    I have very little experience of Japanese cosmetics but I do like the Fiberwig mascara which I believe origins from Japan. I also like the moisturizing skin cream from http://www.yu-be.com.

  7. I love all the packaging…so girly cute!
    Happy Monday Hun xoxo
    http://www.intotheblonde.com/
    Vote intotheblonde BEST LIFESTYLE BLOG in the Cosmo Blog Awards 2012
    http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/blog-awards-2012-vote

  8. I have used kanebo and shiseido in the past and loved using both brands. That said, I am pretty loyal to French skincare (the keracnyl range by ducray) and American makeup (MAC and Bobbi Brown).

  9. depends on what you take: I think the sunblocks are incredibly good, but I also think La Roche Posay is really good so are they better, not sure but they are good.

  10. You can get Koh Gen Do from Barney’s which has a very similar effect to the Cure you mentioned. Here’s the link if you are interested!

    http://www.barneys.com/Koh-Gen-Do-Soft-Gommage-Gel/00505008448095,default,pd.html

  11. Loved reading this post, the comments and the linked Times article! I am definitely gonna check out some of these goodies, though my wallet is gasping and screaming “don’t you spend enough already on domestic cosmetics and skin care???” Ha! 80)

  12. Great post! I love Japanese anything, ie stationary. I use Shu Uemura everyday. I’m dying to go to Tokyo. I could wander around a drugstore for hours.

    The hair curlers sound interesting. Do you know where they can be bought?

  13. Currently the two Japanese cosmetic products I have in my arsenal are Shu Uemura brightening cleansing oil, and Fairy Drops mascara. Both have become bathroom staples for me. My skin is very oily, and I find almost every mascara and eyeliner ends up migrating below my eyes making me look very tired. The Fairy Drops mascara is the first one I’ve found that actually stays put all day. At the end of the day it washes off in solid chunks rather than a smeary mess. You’d think that you’d end up with flakes everywhere with that, but as long as you don’t let it get to old I haven’t found it to be an issue. If these two products are representative of what the Japanese market has to offer, I’ll be all over it.

  14. I bought a couple of items when I visited Japan a few years ago. While they’re cute, I do prefer my usual classic brands (Lancome, Clarins, etc.).

  15. I’ve never used Asian brands. I saw them when I was in Hong Kong last Christmas visiting family, but as a 32 year old, the uber-kawaii packaging is a major turn-off – seriously, I really don’t know of too many women my age, here or there, who would touch stuff with packaging like that (but then again, all of my cousins attended university in the US or Canada). Do local-locals over 25 really wear these brands? Don’t they find the kawaii packaging embarrassing?

    • Yes the Kawaii packaging was an issue for me too – that’s why I bought items that don’t go with me in my makeup case but are used in the privacy of my own home, lol! Would love to hear the opinions of others on this issue!

      • I don’t really care about the packaging. I’m more worried about the prices than to worry about the packaging kekeke

        Love the dollywink eyeliner. Best liquid liner i’ve ever used. I love the paintbrush type tip, it’s, for an artist, very easy to control :)

        Koji is one of my favorite japanese brands. Their facial cleansers work best for my skin.

        I use a similar Gel-like toner with aloe vera, not sure what the brand is, as i’m not able to read Chinsese. :)

        Great review!

    • Yes, people over 25 do. The packaging of Japanese cosmetics is one of the things that actually attracts makeup enthusiasts to buy them, apart from the quality of course. I live in Canada, but grew up in the Philippines. Asians, in general, just love the kawaii look. Japan, of course, being the motherland of all things kawaii. It’s different in Canada. Canadians, in general, aren’t into the kawaii-craze.

  16. omg, yojiya blotting paper! i remember when we went to japan my sister made us hunt down this store just for those blotting papers! they’re great :)

  17. oooh! i love this post. i have tried fairy drops scandal queen mascara. it has this cool lumpy brush that is supposed to catch every eyelash. it was expensive though, but totally worth it!! how did your friend like the kiss me heroine mascara?

    as for liquid eyeliner – i never liked anything i’ve tried either until i found the stila liquid liner. it is amazing! dark, black, easy to apply, and stays on for days!! i will have to try some of the japanese liners .. i like that you mentioned it doesn’t have additional additives. any ideas on where to get them in the bay area?

  18. Hmm I haven’t tried many Asian cosmetics for a couple reasons 1) price 2) when I swatch anything the products seem to be pretty comparable to Western brands. What I have heard is that Asian mascaras hold curl better – take that with a grain of salt though, because I don’t curl my lashes on a regular basis.

    What I do have a weakness for? Asian skin care. For all over face care & masks I go with Korea brand The Face Shop. Their blemish zero line has been doing wonders for my skin and I’ve enjoyed the samples I’ve tried too – everything just smells and feels fantastic! I’ve dabbled a bit with Liole’s acne line (this is my area of concern so I focus) and it’s not bad either. I don’t know, just something about Asian skin care products makes me feel safe – maybe it’s the same ‘brainwashing’ that make women feel the cosmetics are better, lol? Either way I’d recommend both brands along with The Face Shop & My Beauty Diary face masks – they’re great treats after a long week!

    And thanks for sharing your thoughts – I love hearing other people’s opinions on stuff like this!

  19. I actually really like the japanese cosmetics! I found them on my trip to HK and I love the dollywink eyeliner! It comes off really well and doesn’t smudge! I also tried their mascara – kiss me one which I think is better than the drugstore ones such as Maybelline or Covergirl. I don’t know if its because I have asian lashes? Either way I love them!

  20. Haha, I have noooo shame when it comes to purchasing overly cutesy Japanese (and other Asian) makeup. Two of my favourite drugstore Japanese brands are Lavshuca and Majolica Majorca. I’ve heard great stuff about that Dollywink liner but I always forget to pick it up when I’m in Asia.

    xo, alison*elle

  21. I am an American-born Asian girl and I LOVE Japanese cosmetics (favorite brands include Koh Gen Do, Shu Uemura, and Suqqu) and am now itching to try out the eyeliner you recommended. Thanks for being an enabler!!! ;)

  22. Hi. Happy to know you liked Japanese Makeup products!

    I do use both Western and Japanese cosmetic brands for makeup. Both are good.

    For skincare, I rely on Japanese brand… My skin is on dry and a bit sensitive side, I need a lot of face lotion, that kind of lotions western brands do not offer, after washing my face. I may try new skincare routine but for now, I do the same when I was in Japan. So I bought and brought a lot of Japanese skincare products.

    Regarding package… I think Japanese females just love anything cute. Once you remove outside package, it should be fine. Even I feel sometimes embarrassed when I buy since I feel I’m old for these ‘cute’ ones.

    Do you know Western brand offer somewhat different products between in Asia and in USA ete especially for skincare? They know the difference between them so they have to… in order to sell more in Japan!

    • Fascinating, SS! Thanks for lending your expertise :) What ar some of these US brands and products? Would love to hear more!

      • Let me name a few.

        Some mascaras from Lancome (OK, it is french) are special for Japan since Japanese have more straight eyelash. You can get face moisture lotion from L’occitane in Japan but they don’t sell that products in other countries. Clinique do not say officially (I guess) but their skincare sold in Japan is more for sensitive skin than in Western countries. Regarding skincare, people often say even the same products, the one sold in Japan is more sensitive-skin friendly than the ones sold in others maybe just because of regulations… but not sure.

  23. Hi Katherine! I’m not a big user of Japanese products, but do tend to purchase many skincare products from Asian brands. I’ve found that the ingredients, such as licorice, green tea, rice bran, ginseng and fruit extracts, tend to fare much better on my sensitive skin than the Western brands. Over the years, I’ve developed a routine that includes multiple products that have really made a difference on my skin.

    My favorite brand is from Korea – Amore Pacific, and more specifically, Sulwhasoo. I came across the brand on a recent trip to Neiman Marcus in SF (although I think the Korean boutiques carry the brand too, without the mark up). The sales associate was incredibly helpful, and gave me enough samples to last 6 months (it certainly helped that she speaks Vietnamese!). The products have a bit of a ginger scent, but the effects have vastly improved the texture of my skin. It’s a bit on the shiny side, but I’ve used less foundation and powder. I also use their BB cream, and notice that my makeup glides on more smoothly. The brand runs a bit on the high end, so I’ve also looked into other brands, including Face Shop and Iso Knox to see what sort of ingredients make one product better than the other. I think staples like SKII and Koh Gen Do are probably great bets too.

    And of course, thanks to your recent posting, I’ve also looked into Tatcha. I can’t wait to see how the product feels!

  24. Finally, I see something I am familiar with on your blog. xOXo from Malaysia

  25. I don’t use too much of Japanese skincare/makeup, just Shu Uemura’s cleansing oil as my makeup remover, but I do use quite a bit of Korean products.

    Have to say that I find they aren’t as harsh on my skin as Western products are, and yes, they “sit” better on my skin because they are formulated towards the Asian skin and Asian temperature. On days that I use Clinique’s BB cream, it starts “melting” off my face by noon. But when I use my Holika (Korean brand) BB cream, it stays put nicely throughout the day.

    The kawaii packaging bothers me a lot too… I am not one for that much “cute” in a package. I hide it in my makeup bag and will discreetly touch-up, hopefully with no one else looking! (:

  26. I’m not found of asian make up brands as to western but I do rely on their skincare products. The only make up brand that I use from Japan is the Shue Uemura, love their blush and cleaning oil together with the eye curlash tools which is famous here in the Philippines. But I I would love to try koreans bb cream which sells like hotcakes here.

    I swear by western products like Mac powder, lipstick, hd foundation and blush, Loreal lipgloss.But for now I can’t live without Estee Lauder’s face primer, mascara and brush on illuminator together with Guerlain Meteorites. They help me to achieve the make up no make up look.

  27. I’ve tried Asian beauty products – particularly blotting papers. It’s amazing how much oil they soak up and how long they last but I don’t typically go around blotting myself so the utility is a bit low for me. It seems like you can find a lot of this stuff on Amazon though?

  28. This post is so interesting, Katherine.
    I never tried Japanese cosmetics (well, with the exception of those from big Japanese brands that can be easily found in Europe such as Shiseido and Shu Uemura, which I really like), and I’m very curious about them.
    Actually, thinking of it a Japanese friend of mine once brought me some oil-blotting paper from Japan and I remember it was very good (I don’t remember the brand, though).
    I’m sure if I ever visit Japan, I’ll bring back a suitcase full of local products. I wont be able to resist the novelty (and the oh-so-cute packaging!)
    xx

  29. Very informative! I got pink eye recently and was told to throw out all my eye makeup including my liquid liner. So I might try Dolly Wink. And I have been looking for a good exfoliator, will try the Cure gel.

  30. There are a number of online stores in the US that sell Japanese beauty products. I use iMomoko.com.. It doesn’t have all the brands you mention in your blog. Shu Uemura is sold online in the US at their official website.

  31. I definitely prefer Japanese brand eye make up (eye liner, mascara, eye make up remover) over Western brands. They are really lasting and easy to remove. Over here in Singapore, we can get Japanese brand make up fairly easily which is great.

  32. Hi, I too use western and asian cosmetics. I find Shieido powder works best for my skin. Japan has so many store that carry make up and cosmetics and other funny stuff– cute! As for the BB cream I use it when in a hurry– Misha brand from Korea is the best.

  33. I’ve tried Asian cosmetics and sometimes I think it’s just a trend. I wouldn’t say Japanese makeup is better in terms of value. After exchange rates and shipping rates, it ends up being the equivalent to mid-range priced Western makeup. The skincare is unarguably some of the best that I’ve tried (*eyeing Hadalabo*) though!

  34. When I travel to Asia, I always haul Asian brands and Asian exclusives when I am there. I think both Asian and Western brands have different things to offer and they are equally good.

  35. [...] reading Feather Factor’s post on Cure Natural Aqua Gel, I had to try it. Of course I did a little preliminary research first and [...]

  36. hi, i m Kyoko living in Japan.

    This is beauty paper of a brand made in Kyoto Japan.

    “Youjiya”it was very good!!

    plz look!

    http://bit.ly/10gqmL0

  37. I have everything you posted here. Love love love Japanese cosmetics!

  38. I believe Japanese and Korean cosmetics are one step ahead when it comes to skin care. I am now far away from my two home countries, the sun is amazingly damaging in NZ. I popped into one of cheap Japanese dollar shop and bought one eye shadow pan with12 colors in it for 3.5 dollars. Oh my this eye shadow was the nearest to mac s i ve been using for ages, if not better. It was not even low range cosmetics it was just labelled as Lj. Then I kept visiting this little Japanese and Korean shops, recently i bought a sunscreen with a research on makeupalley, it was spot on. This is followed by Shiseido, Kao and Naive skin care staff, mainly as foaming cleansers. As these brands are kinda cheaper or the same price as Rimmels and maybellines that you can not trust as skin cares.
    However I experienced there is nothing can protect your fair medium nc 20-25 skin from sun damage in here. So the perfect sunscreen search continues.

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