Japanese Summer Essentials: What You Need to Survive

Have you been to Asia in the summer? Or for many parts of Asia, anytime? The world’s water crisis could be solved if only the Asian humidity levels could be harnessed … all joking aside, the summers here are BRUTAL. Where I live, in a sub-tropical zone, the winters are cool (ok, I’m from Alaska, so it’s hard for me to not describe them as “winters”) and the summers don’t really climb above the low 90s (low 30s in Celsius), but the humidity … holy hell, the humidity. You know how they tell you when you visit Arizona, oh but it’s a dry heat? Yeah. Not in Asia. The air practically sweats here it’s so saturated. Luckily, Japan is always prepared. For (almost) everything. And they have your Japanese summer essentials covered … follow along and see what you need to not just survive but thrive in the Asian sweatbox this summer. Continue reading “Japanese Summer Essentials: What You Need to Survive”

Collagen: The Effective Beauty Supplement Japan Has Known About For Years Is Finally Hitting It Big In the West

Outside of Japan, particularly in the paleo and clean eating crowds, people have started going crazy over collagen. Moving beyond the uber-hipster bone broth, people are getting serious about their collagen supplementation, stirring collagen powder into their coffee, smoothies, and pretty much anything edible. Japan though, being the ultimate hipster, supplemented with collagen long before it was cool to supplement with collagen. Women here have known for years the kindness that collagen can show your skin, and a zillion and one forms of it are available pretty much everywhere.

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The BEST Japanese Skincare Products You Can Buy From Amazon.com

Korean skincare products are HUGE right now (and for good reason), but don’t let that buzz distract from the amazing stuff coming out of Korea’s neighbor, Japan right now. Japan may not be quite as flashy or in-your-face, but dang girl, have they got just as much amazingness going on over in the land of the rising sun (this cracks me up a bit, as I moved from the “land of the midnight sun” to the “land of the rising sun” … why so many suns?!). If you’re stateside, there are lots of re-sellers that can get you almost any goodie your heart desires … even the oh-so-convenient Amazon.com. Keep reading for my personal favorite Japanese skincare products (so far) that are readily available on Amazon.

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Placenta & CoQ10 Lotion: A Cheap Pick From the Japanese Drugstore

I picked this mondo (500 ml) NID Placenta and Coenzyme Q10 bottle of lotion at a local Drugstore Mori recently, made in Japan by SOC (Shibuya Oil Company). It cost about 600 yen, or $5 USD, and came in three varieties: Placenta, Hyaluronic Acid, and Collagen. All also include Coenzyme Q10. I was immediately drawn to the hyaluronic acid flavor, which was visibly depleted on the shelf, but on a whim decided on the (somewhat icky sounding) placenta variety.

My ginormous jug of placenta

First: the elephant in the room. The placenta extract is from animal sources, but … why? Purported benefits are increased moisturization, collagen synthesis, and brightening/skin tone evening (“whitening” in Asian cosmetics). In fact, I drink a tonic each night (not gin and tonic, unfortunately) from my kampo (Chinese medicine) pharmacist that has, among other things, collagen and placenta extract in it to support the skin.

Is it effective? Well, like a lot of stuff we smear on our face and stuff in our bodies, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of science-based evidence proving it works. And, like many Japanese products (well, beauty products in general, to be fair), even if it does, there’s no indicator of how much of this giant bottle of lotion is actual placenta extract. So, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Though just a $5 crapshoot.

Placenta and CoQ10 Lotion: Feel and Results

This has a similar viscosity to Hada Labo’s hyaluronic acid power house lotion. Thick, transparent, and leaves a slightly tacky/sticky feeling on the face. I don’t notice any scent to it.

It sinks in pretty well, and pretty quickly. I didn’t notice any huge gains in anything; no brightening or crazy hydration increases. It just, was. Not bad; I could apply makeup and it never has reacted weird or balled up on me.

Would I re-buy?  Mmmm. Probably not. This is a good option if you’re on a very tight budget (on one of the Japanese review sites, a reviewer said she had switched to this from another product while saving for her wedding and said it was good for the price). I would personally just buy the $10ish dollar Hada Labo lotion and bite the bullet for a face moisturizing lotion.

Or you can be super, er, thrifty and make your own sheet mask using bulk dry sheet masks from Daiso. But not these ones. These ones suck.

BUT–this isn’t a bad product. You can use it with the dry sheet masks you can buy at Daiso to make your own DIY sheet masks (for pennies), a good option for those on a budget or somebody throwing a slumber or spa party. This lotion is fine for me when I apply it to my face normally, but stung like some snail mucin sheet masks I bought in Taipei a while back when I used it in a sheet mask. FYI, Daiso sells a lot of different dry sheet masks. Don’t buy the ones in the picture. They’re just awful.

For me, what this product is the bomb.com for to use in lieu of water for powdered face washes and masks–by using a lotion like this, you are just increasing the nutrient density of these products, versus diluting them if you were to use plain tap water. Did you ever watch the Rachel Ray 30 minute meals cooking show? No? Well, she always said to add flavor at every possible opportunity, so instead of water into a savory dish she would always use stock. This is the same concept, except you don’t get to eat it after. I use it in my Amore Pacific enzyme peel and it works pretty damn awesome.

The Japanese language Cosme beauty reviewing website had just a few reviews on this, and most were good, praising the product’s solid performance for price and you can use it freely without worrying about wasting something more precious. The hyaluronic acid variety had many more reviews and 5/6 stars, so it may be the one to buy if you want to try this out. You should be able to find this product at most larger drugstores or Don Quixote in Japan; I haven’t seen it at my local grocery store or convenience store.



A Quality Skincare Routine from the Convenience Store: In Japan, It’s Totally Possible

If you’ve been to Japan, and particularly if you have been lucky enough to live here, you know about the magical outposts on every corner known as konbinis, or the convenience store to us gaijins. Whether Family Mart, Lawson, 7-11, Coco, et. al., you can do damn near anything from a Japanese convenience store. Send mail, pick up an amazon package, forward your luggage, buy tickets or sign up for a race … that’s in addition to the myriad of (useful) products and (tasty and fresh) foods they also sell (for a pretty reasonable price). These are not the convenience stores of the west. In Japan, there’s (quality) convenience store skincare.

What was shocking to me, a frequent shopper and admirer of the konbini, is the quality and selection of skincare items available at my local, humble Family Mart. Honestly, I don’t know why I was surprised. Silliness. So many well-loved cult classics in the west, ordered and hoarded by lovers of Japanese skincare, are literally on every corner here.

So, if you find yourself in Japan sans any elements of your skincare routine, here’s my recommendation (based on my closest Family Mart) for a pretty solid routine, from start to finish.

Convenience Store Skincare: Cleanse
Convenience store skincare
Step One: Oil Cleanser (I know you’re eyeing the hado labo hanging out there)

Step One: Oil Cleanse, Biore Perfect Oil, 1274 yen (including tax), or roughly $10 USD. This was a tough choice, as there were two great drugstore options at my konbini. I sided with Biore here. This product is definitely a little lower priced at other stores, but it’s a solid oil cleanser.

Convenience Store Skincare
It’s Muji! At the corner store!

Step Two: Second Cleanse, Muji Mild Cleansing Gel, price not labeled (it sells for 780 yen (roughly $6.25 USD) before tax at Muji, so it likely sells for that at FM too since the package is labeled as such). YES, Muji is sold at Family Mart. Like, every Family Mart. I told you konbinis were magical! (I have it on excellent authority that 7-11 on mainland Japan has its own exclusive line from Freshel). And you can see in the picture how the Biore cleansing oil was a tough choice, as Muji also has one (and has a travel size, if you don’t want to buy a huge jug while traveling).

Convenience Store Skincare: Tone and Treat


Convenience Store Skincare
Look … just look at it all …

Step Three: Toner, Muji Light Toning Water (High Moisture), price also not labeled (1,200 yen before tax, or $10 USD). Um, I love this stuff. It’s not sexy or fantastical (I mean, neither is Muji), but it’s a good, solid moisturizing toner and I use it everyday. And you can buy it at Family Mart!

Convenience store skincare
Yep, this picture again. But now, it’s totally not ADHD of you to be eyeballing the Hada Labo. Go ahead. Ogle away.

Step Four: Essence/Serum/Treat, Hada Labo Gokujyun lotion, 838 yen ($7 USD) with tax. There aren’t a lot of fancy, well, anything, at the convenience store, but this is a cult classic workhorse featuring super-humectant hyaluronic acid (I reviewed it’s premium variety here). Tap in a thin layer and move on to your last step.

Moisturizer and Sunscreen

If I’ve got a good moisturizing situation going on (like with the Muji toner and Hada Labo lotion), in super-humid Asia I often will skip a moisturizer and use just sunscreen (my local Family Mart did have moisturizers, but I skipped over to SPF).

Since it’s winter (ok, “winter”) in the subtropics, my convenience store didn’t have much of a selection of sunscreen. Typically they all carry (everyone’s favorite) Biore Watery Essence Gel and others, but today, this is all I found.

Convenience Store Skincare
I don’t know how much you cost, but I see FOUR plusses after the Pa … don’t let me down, rando sunblock.

It’s a full SPF 50 (sunscreen here typically aren’t advertised above 50 factor, as the amount of protection you get beyond even 30 factor is minimal) and PA ++++, the highest UVA rating available in Japan so … I haven’t tried this, but when you’re in a bind … try it out! Price was also not listed (apparently my local shop is a little lax on things), but likely under 1000 yen ($8 USD).

Convenience Store Skincare: Extras

Did I mention Japanese convenience stores have everything? Collagen is just making the rounds in the U.S. as a miracle skin, joint, everything cure, but that’s old news in Japan. Forgot your collagen supplement? Or just want a boost after a long, dry flight (or long run)? The konbini has you covered in the energy/vitamin drink section too:

Convenience Store Beauty
Beauty is just one tiny drink away …

So yes. You CAN cobble together a skincare routine even the most jaded Asian beauty aficionado could appreciate from the lowly convenience store (and this is just a neighborhood store; you should see the Lawson Natural stores!). At least in Japan.

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