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9 best Japanese skincare products you need in your beauty regime

From peeling powders to jelly cleansers, say konichiwa to some beauty heroes from across the pond

Christopher Cunniff
Wednesday 21 August 2019 12:58
Korean beauty has nabbed all the airtime in recent years but Japanese skincare deserves just as much attention
Korean beauty has nabbed all the airtime in recent years but Japanese skincare deserves just as much attention

Japan is home to a lot of our favourite things throughout the ages. The Walkman. Karaoke. And in our research for this introduction, we found the “butter grater” for when you can’t spread it on your toast straight out the fridge. Who knew?

Most importantly in this case, vanity desks across the globe have some serious thanks to send to the Asian isle for showering us with some serious contenders for skincare top-spots.

Korean beauty has in recent years nabbed all the airtime but Japan could be described as the Jennifer Hudson to her Beyoncé. The complexity of K-beauty rituals such as the seven skin method are traded in for something much more harmonious and simplistic.

J-beauty is all about nourishment. The cleansers are gentler, opting for oils and gels with facial massage and luxe moisturisers front and centre. It is also, not so surprisingly, a much more curated skincare culture. Harsh chemicals are scarce and instead double cleansing is a much more common affair to balance complexions.

So if you’re after shaving off some of the calamity that your current regime conscripts, take a dip in the serene waters of our Japanese roundup. From baby soft cleansers to a literal workout for your face, there’s something in here for everyone.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Shiro tamanu oil in serum: £135, Shiro

Luxury brand Shiro docked on UK shores back in 2017 and have since opened three branches in London. The products are composed using natural, state of the art ingredients and this is no exception. Tamanu oil has been used in Japanese skincare for centuries and is the primary ingredient here. It works on improving skin texture as well as being a premium hydrator too. Liquorice root extract is thrown into the mix to help balance and protect skin while ginseng works on keeping oily skin at bay.

Applying this feels incredibly comforting and a little is all you need. It spreads wonderfully, veiling the visage in a soothing blanket of moisture. We noticed an immediate improvement in fine lines and our face felt calmer. This can be applied both before or after moisturiser, depending on how it might best work for you. A great option for those looking to use one product to do it all as this really is a potent multitasker. Shake well before use.

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Shiseido waso quick gentle cleanser: £26, Feel Unique

Small and mighty, this honey coloured gel is a unique addition to your cleansing curation. It foams directly on skin without water, so no need to take your face to task to get a decent lather going. Quite a good one if you’re naughty and wash your face with water that’s too hot. We know who you are. The gentle cleansing agents along with a heavy dose of glycerin leave you feeling fresh but not stripped of any natural moisture. It’s also oil and alcohol-free so perfect for oily and combination skin types. There is even a twinge of honey and royal jelly in the mix for some extra nurturing.

For more stubborn make-up, we experienced that you might want to pre-cleanse or swoosh some micellar water over your visage prior. For the most part however, this is an enjoyable alternative option to traditional gel based cleansers if you want something mild and fuss-free. Slap on dry skin and rinse off. Easy.

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Sensai silky purifying silk peel powder: £56, Harrods

We’re not going to lie, we were sceptical about this one. Exfoliators shouldn’t really feel like exfoliators. They should be smooth and not grainy on the skin. So as the miniscule, quite rough feeling balls were shook out of the Sensai bottle in the palms of our hands, we were afraid they were going to shred our faces off. Fear not however, as with a few drops of water these dissolved almost immediately into the most wonderful consistency. The paste is creamy and luxurious on the skin thanks to its enzyme and silk focused formula. No friction whatsoever.

There’s also no waste as you simply turn the bottle upside down to get the perfect amount in your mitts. Those of us with normal skin types should give this a go once a week but if you have rougher or uneven texture, go up to three times a week post-cleanse. The peeling powder is a gem of a product that falls into the ever popular brightening category. It leaves your skin feeling restful and also has a satisfying moistness about it after patting down. Regular use saw some significant evening of skin tone and a more refined canvas. Gentle but means business. J-beauty to a tee.

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SK-II facial treatment essence: £53, Cosme De

Essences and lotions are an integral part of the J-beauty routine. Even though they vary for specific concerns, one of their main sells is to prime skin for maximum penetration of other products after your cleanser. Like a hydrating cushion for your heavier products to perch on. This offering from SK-II is arguably the product that lead the charge.

One integral ingredient is a yeast-based extract, stumbled upon after researchers delved into the reason why sake brewers’ hands were so soft. It’s full of vitamins and amino acids to balance the skin’s PH and bring skin clarity. A few shakes into the palm of your hands all what you need and press onto a clean face. Results are marathon length rather than sprinting here but it’s not hard to see why this is so iconic. Dull skin be damned.

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RMK smooth milk essence: £50, Look Fantastic

Another essence that made our roundup is this lush option from RMK. If you’re after something a tad more moisturising, this dash of milk is a particularly delectable offering. It melts into the skin deliciously with notes of earl grey and is a luxurious alternative to lighter formulas on the market. This is perfect for warmer weather as you can follow up with only a lighter moisturiser or an oil and still feel adequately hydrated. Rice bran extract and white tea are big players in the moisturising game here with a tinge of bilberry leaf extract for extra antioxidant benefits. RMK’s essence is particularly good for normal or dry skin types looking for some loving.

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Suquu musculate massage & mask cream: £66, Selfridges

As we mentioned, the gym isn’t just for the bod in Asia. Facial workouts are firmly believed to boost circulation and tighten muscles, giving you a lift to rival a few of your favourite skincare heroes. Gravity will always prevail, but we came across this lavish number from Suquu and immediately wanted to find out more regarding massage mania.

The gankin technique can be traced back to Japanese make-up artists. Pressure points are given some love to stimulate the muscles and prime the face for perfect application. Suquu then aggregated these techniques and put them into a more digestible format which we mortals can follow via a friendly YouTube tutorial.

The ethos is simple: you detox the face by draining lymph nodes and awaken by applying more pressure than usual in certain areas using distinct massage techniques. This luxurious cream allows you to continually move around the face due to its wonderfully rich consistency. It doesn’t dry out which means you won’t drag the skin as you move. We tried this with some alternatives and didn’t get the same effect.

While you may feel pretty extra and somewhat question yourself for trying to perform your own face life, we did this three times a week over a month period and can say we noticed a firmer face. The cheekbones in particular looked perkier and ultimately a tad more awake. The cream also works as a pretty nifty winter overnight mask too so if you can’t be bothered to carry out the gankin routine, you can go to bed knowing you’re in safe hands.

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Boscia charcoal pore pudding: £31, Boots

Boscia, pronounced "bo-sha", was originally launched stateside but is rooted in Japanese heritage. It’s founder Gen Inomata moved with his family in 1996 and the hybrid of botanicals and science was passionately built as the foundation of the brand.

Masking also plays a prolific role in the Japanese skincare game and this is a multitasking detox-fest. What makes it special is the hybrid of both white and black charcoal. Traditional masks build for sucking out impurities have a focus on clay and can be drying on the skin and sometimes a tad harsh. While the black charcoal here acts as the antibacterial toxin stealer, the white charcoal hydrates and balances skin.

Scoop out with the handily provided spatula onto the skin and rub gently to mix the two together until you’re grey in the face. It’s a surprisingly creamy texture and when left on for the allocated 20 minutes, hadn’t hardened or cracked. It still feels moist which was a nice surprise. Skin afterwards felt clean and refreshed but not overwrought or aggravated. It’s not going to make your pores disappear, but it’s certainly going to give them a good telling off.

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Beauty Pie Japanfusion deep-treatment serum: £75 or £8.17 with membership, Beauty Pie

The Beauty Pie concept is a little hard to get your head around at first. Essentially though it’s like a backstage pass to the labs where all your favourite beauty bits are manufactured. They cut out the middle-person and go direct to you.

This serum for under a tenner is a pretty sweet deal for those craving a little extra hydration. The super fresh scented gel consistency is humectant heavy and silky to the touch thanks to its emollient texture. Grape and citrus antioxidants are here to add a bit of zing to the mix and brighten up badly behaved babes. Sticking firmly to a J-beauty ethos, it’s a clean and simple booster that would be decent for any skin type to add a quenched burst of hydration to your base.

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Decorté environmental day cream: £170, Harrods

Decorté is one of Japan’s best selling beauty brands and after testing its environmental day cream we can safely cheerlead alongside. This is a gorgeously silky, super charged moisturiser that works on brightening and clarifying the skin while acting as a barrier against environmental pollution. Great if you’re not the kind who likes to layer your skincare but wants it all.

Squalene and glycerin work on keeping the skin hydrated while algae extract targets elasticity. Various plant and fruit extracts have been added here to ensure your mug is fully protected from the British smog. This felt light, breathable and wore perfectly under make-up. Decorté’s cream certainly helped our skin look glowy but without that dreaded heavy feeling. After using for a week we noticed a brighter, more refined complexion.

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The verdict: Japanese skincare products

Shiro was our winner because of its all round benefits and authentic Japanese influence. Suquu is an interesting and worthwhile addition to add to your kit while Boscia is an awesome weekly treatment. A bit like hoovering at the end of a long week.

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