When Shiseido launched as Japan’s first-ever western-style pharmacy in 1872, the brand’s toner was one of the first items to hit it big, says the Cut’s former beauty director Kathleen Hou. But since then, many other skin-care staples — such as blotting papers and essences, also known as “beauty waters” — have become accessible to consumers outside of Japan thanks to brands like Victoria Tsai’s Tatcha, a company rooted in centuries-old geisha beauty formulas. As a philosophy, J-beauty is also characterized by regimens that emphasize translucent-looking skin, which can be achieved by staying out of the sun and following a daily routine of removing makeup, says L.A.-based makeup artist Megumi Asai, who works with Marie Kondo. Other practices, such as oil cleansing and facial blading — which is essentially the shaving of peach fuzz to brighten the complexion, makeup artist Munemi Imai says — also began in the East Asian nation.
Over the years, we’ve written about many standout Japanese skin-care items (like the haul Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton picked up while visiting Tokyo), along with some “I can’t believe it works that well” drugstore buys you can find Stateside. Below, we’ve compiled a master list of the best Japanese skin-care products — all of which have appeared on our site, as recommended by dermatologists, actresses, and aestheticians — plus some favorites tested by our own writers and editors.
Best Japanese cleansing oil
The best cleansing oils remove grease from the skin without stripping it of moisture, says celebrity esthetician Joanna Czech, who recommends this one for its featherweight texture. When mixed with water, it becomes slightly milky, which “leaves the skin nicely conditioned without any tightness,” Czech says. Dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah says all skin types can benefit from its gentle ingredients, but especially those that are drier. “Camellia oil is rich in omega fatty acids, in particular oleic acids, and antioxidants, so it hydrates, nourishes, and protects while cleansing,” Shah says. Strategist editor Maxine Builder — who’s been using Tatcha skin care since 2012 — also calls this oil one of her ride-or-die products because it takes off all her makeup in “one easy swipe” and leaves skin feeling fresh and moisturized but never tight, she says.
Best (less expensive) Japanese cleansing oil
Viera-Newton introduced us to this organic, olive-oil-based cleanser, which she praises for how effortlessly it removes makeup. She also calls it “one of the best products for getting rid of stubborn blackheads,” thanks to its nourishing ingredients that bind with excess sebum to unclog pores. Shah, who approves of the gentle formula for all skin types, points out that the oil blend is water soluble, so it’s easy to rinse off, plus it’s infused with antioxidant-rich vitamin E to give skin a dewy, plump texture. It also contains rosemary, which has antimicrobial properties. (Viera-Newton says it can be found in virtually every Japanese drugstore).
Best Japanese exfoliator
When Strategist contributor Jinnie Lee first reviewed this exfoliator, she noted that it was the top product of its kind in Japan (one sells every 12 seconds, she said). “Ever since using it, my skin has felt softer, fresher, and even more youthful — never dried out or tight,” Lee says, adding that her friends began referring to her as “Babyface.” This is because the non-acidic gel contains 91 percent hydrogen water, which catches dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, oo35mm’s Winnie Zhong says. Along with applying it on the face, the non-stripping formula can be used to exfoliate other sensitive parts of the body, like the bikini line, to prevent razor bumps, Zhong says.
Best Japanese essence
As one of SK-II’s best-known (and loved) products, this essence has many fans, from Chloë Grace Moretz to Victoria’s Secret models, and regularly appears on celebrity must-have lists. The main component is galactomyces ferment filtrate (SK-II calls it “Pitera”), a yeast ingredient derived from sake, which Viera-Newton says is “capable of moisturizing skin while simultaneously calming down inflammation, keeping sebum production controlled, restoring smoothness, and brightening up your complexion.” Despite the steep price tag, Viera-Newton says it’s worth the splurge for its ability to deeply hydrate, retexturize, and plump skin. She suggests opting for the travel size if you’re not completely sold. (Rebel Wilson prefers the sheet-mask version.)
Best Japanese sunscreen
UV Aqua Rich comes recommended by Dr. Michelle Wong, a cosmetic chemist and skin-care blogger at Lab Muffin, who likes that it offers the broadest UV-spectrum filters and that it’s a water-based sunscreen, so it easily absorbs into the skin when applied in larger quantities. While some SPF can feel drying, this formula is infused with glycerin and hyaluronic acid, two ingredients that “can hydrate without the need for emollients that may feel too heavy for oily skin,” dermatologist Dr. Hadley King says. My regular rotation of facial sunblock includes this product, so I can vouch for its thin, glowy finish, which immediately brightens my entire complexion. It’s one of the only nongreasy sunscreens that stays put all day, so I often layer it under my makeup, even on extra-humid days.
Best Japanese waterproof sunscreen
“Nobody does sunscreen better,” Megan Rapinoe says of this Japanese sunscreen she’s used for at least six years. It has a clean, nonoily finish, Rapinoe says, plus it stands up well to sweat when she’s playing soccer. It also offers hours of protection in the water, says dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Howe. Howe’s wife, who’s an avid surfer, along with Julee Wilson, Cosmopolitan’s beauty editor-at-large and the executive director of Beauty United, both like the soothing formula because it has a light, fluid consistency that doesn’t leave a white cast. “It works on everyone in my family, so I usually bring a few bottles,” Wilson says. It also contains eco-friendly mineral blockers (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).
Best Japanese sunscreen stick
Strategist writer Ambar Pardilla calls this sunscreen stick one of her “smartest purchases” because it doesn’t leave a Casper-like cast; instead, “the effect is almost highlighter-esque,” she says. She also recommends it because the roll-on glides easily for quick, mess-free reapplications throughout the day. And if you often ditch your sun hat, Pardila reports that the stick works well for covering the scalp with SPF and, in a pinch, for slicking down flyaways, she says.
Best Japanese eye cream
Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner recommends this Tatcha eye cream because it contains white peony to strengthen barrier function, along with silk extract, an ingredient known for creating a protective “seal” to improve hydration and shield the skin from the environment. It doubles as a primer and helps makeup apply more smoothly and stay put throughout the day, Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst says.
Best (less expensive) Japanese eye cream
In our guide to the best drugstore eye creams, celebrity aesthetician Joomee Song recommends this super-hydrating formulation for treating under-eye bags. It’s full of caffeine to tighten sagging skin, but Hada Labo is also unique for its use of “super hyaluronic acid,” which contains twice the moisture-retention capacity of regular hyaluronic acid, Song says. Combined, these ingredients help restrict blood vessels, retain moisture, restore radiance, and lessen dark circles, she says, which in turn reduce the appearance of discoloration. The texture is also very light, so Song says you can reapply throughout the day without worrying about ruining your makeup.
Best Japanese makeup primer
Viera-Newton has written a full-length review of this product, which is one of the only primers she’s willing to use. “Not only does this never, ever make me break out, it also keeps my makeup looking frighteningly fresh and flawless — like I’ve just applied it — all day long,” Viera-Newton says. The velvety balm is made with squalane and glycerin to quench dryness, dermatologist Dr. Hope Mitchell says, along with silk powder to reduce the appearance of dullness. This means it’s a solid option for mature skin because it blurs fine lines and fills in any large pores, says makeup artist Lucky Bromhead (the personal makeup artist to Catherine O’Hara).
Best Japanese skin tint
Thanks to her decade-long enthusiasm for skin tints, Strategist contributor Mbiye Kasonga says she uncovered this Shiseido product, which is her favorite all-day formula because the coverage is light yet buildable, and it melts into her darker skin tone with a matte finish. Kasonga says the formula lasts through 40 minutes of commuting, hours of client meetings, and post-work drinks with no transferring and minimal creasing. Beyond its 20 SPF sun protection, the tinted makeup also contains skin-care ingredients like hyaluronic acid (to deeply hydrate) and squalane (to lock in moisture), making it worth the steeper price tag, Kasonga says.
Best Japanese pimple patch
In our roundup of the best pimple patches, we named these Bioré ones our top easy-to-apply pick. Dermatologist Dr. Carmen Castilla is a fan because the perforated packaging ensures each dot-shaped patch can be applied without contaminating the side that comes into contact with the blemish. And like our best overall option from Hero Cosmetics, these only contain medical-grade hydrocolloid, which removes excess fluid and oils from spots. And because they’re fragrance and alcohol free, they shouldn’t dry out sensitive skin, Castilla says.
Best Japanese cotton pads
Japanese and Korean beauty companies have created superior skin-care cotton pads for years, Viera-Newton says — which is why she recommends these ultra-gentle ones from Unicharm that she describes as spongy puffs that transfer every single product drop to your skin. “If you use pricey skin-care items like P50, and you want to make sure you’re really getting all that magic liquid into your skin, this is the cotton pad for you,” Viera-Newton says.
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