Oil Cleanser Showdown: $4 Softymo vs. $10 DHC

When I started using an oil cleanser (and double cleansing), I nosed in gently with a very budget friendly choice, Softymo DEEP. At about 400 yen for 230 ml and readily accessible here in Japan (pretty much every konbini, supermarket and drugstore carries it), it seemed like a safe bet. It worked amazingly. So amazingly, that I never branched out into the middle or luxury sections of the oil cleanser market.

oil cleanser
If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.

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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.



Cure Gel vs. Daiso Peeling Gel: Is this a Cure Gel Dupe?

Cure Gel, which I reviewed before, is one of the biggest skincare cult classics to come from Japan. A gommage peel, you apply it to clean and dry skin, rub it in, and beads of skin start balling up as you massage your face. You’re left with smooth, soft skin and dry patches are obliterated. Magical. In Japan, a mondo sized bottle of it runs 2500 yennies (around $23 USD give or take) before tax.

Another cult classic product of Japan, Daiso, is an amazing dollar store wonderland of (mostly) 100 yen items, most of which are manufactured in Japan and of much higher quality than their price tag would suggest. Daiso has a modest sized beauty and skincare section, offering hidden gems like plain sheet masks (insert your own essence), false lashes and oil blotting papers amongst the ranks. They also sell three flavors of their own version of exfoliating peel, called Face Peeling Gel (straight to the point–I like your style, Daiso). While it’s a smaller bottle, it’s offered at the standard Daiso price of 100 yen before tax. Much cheap, so wow. But, can it compare to Cure gel’s mystical powers? Is it a Cure Gel dupe? There’s only one way to find out …

Cure Gel dupe
Voila, the peach variety of Daiso’s Face Peeling Gel

There were three flavors as I mentioned at my humble local Daiso. I picked peach because, I don’t know, I like the smell I guess. Also they look like a butt, so that’s fun.

The Face Off: Cure Gel vs. Daiso Face Peeling Gel

Cure Gel dupe
Only one can remain

I double cleansed my face, and dried it and my hands thoroughly. In my left hand, I put half the normal amount of Cure Gel I use (roughly 1.5 pumps), and in the right (somewhat clumsily at this point), a similar amount of the Daiso Face Peeling Gel. Cure is a cloudy clear color with no noticeable fragrance, and the peach variety of the Daiso gel was a cloudy pink color with a light, slightly artificial but still pleasing peach scent.

I applied the gels at the same time to my face, one hand (and product) per side, and massaged it in like I normally do with Cure. Before long, those satisfying little beads (of fibers from the product, oils from your skin and dead skin) sprung up on both sides. I continued massaging the product until I was happy with the number of balled up bits I had created (maybe a minute?), then rinsed everything off.

Results of the Cure Gel dupe duel

Both sides of my face were smoother than before exfoliating. The Cure Gel side felt more hydrated, and the Daiso Gel side a bit more stripped. These were very, very small differences, however. The amount of balled up bits of stuff felt similar on both sides of my face. I would indeed consider the Daiso Face Peeling Gel a worthy Cure Gel dupe.

Of course, you are getting more product in the Cure product. The price per ml is still much higher. It’s a more cosmetically elegant product, for sure, and unscented if scent is an issue for you (though the Daiso gel is only lightly scented). If you are following the peel with a decent skincare routine, I think the Daiso product is a worthwhile product.  What could be an issue for meticulous skincare junkies is that I can’t find an ingredient list (in English or online in Japanese) for the Daiso gel; perhaps you know where to find this information?


Haba Squalane Oil: I bought it for my son’s eczema, and found a real winner for my skincare regimen, too

My youngest has eczema in a bad way, and it’s especially attacking his chubby little cheeks. We have tried a kitchen sink worth of remedies and nothing has reduced it, at all. His doctor always calls it “dry skin” (is something getting lost in translation here?) and recommends moisturizer. Gee, thanks. I got a good product recommend from the skincare community on Instagram though, which got me researching squalane oil, something I hadn’t tried prior. I read some good reviews on (Japanese department store skincare brand) Haba Squalane oil, so we schlepped down to San-A (not available at Aeon, FYI) to grab a bottle. We’d tried everything else so what did we have to lose?

Haba Squalane Oil
The kitchen sink … some of it, anyway.

I’ve been putting it directly on his skin for about three days now, give or take, about three times a day. We follow up with a “sealing” product, either cortisone ointment or Aquaphor depending on how it looks at the time. So far … no change.

BUT … being the vain and curious beauty junkie, I have also been experimenting with it on my own face. I have used beauty oils in the past and liked them, but my current rotation is lacking one.

What is Squalane oil?

Indie Lee, which sells a competing oil, touts squalane oil as ‘promoting skin elasticity, diminishes age spots and hyper pigmentation, and boosts cell regeneration and oxygenation. Improves texture and tone.’ It’s also non-comedogenic, so acne-prone peeps can use it too. In fact, it’s supposed to help inhibit excess oil production and be antibacterial. Whew. Sounds amazing, right?

The oil I purchased is made from shark liver; however, squalane oil is also naturally produced by your skin (and like all good things in your skin, this diminishes with age. Boo). Hada Japan sells a vegetable based Squalane oil as well, Squalane II, made from olive oil (the US site only sells the original). The Indie Lee product is also made from olives.

How did Haba Squalane oil feel on my skin?

Short answer: awesome. I’ve only tried a handful of oils on my face: coconut (not my favorite), argan (blech, sits on my skin and never sinks in or hydrates shit), Fresh Seaberry ($52/50 ml, consists of a variety of oils, and I liked it ok but not enough to repurchase), and Paula’s Choice Resist Moisture Renewal Oil Booster ($36/.67 oz, and another blend of oils, and yes yes yes, so much yes, this stuff is so amazing under the eye, everything is perfectly plumped and moisturized and, just yes).

Haba Squalane oil is my new favorite. It sinks in quickly, is moisturizing without being heavy, and my skin hasn’t freaked out anywhere. I haven’t used it long enough yet for long term results, but as a beauty oil, I think it’s up there as one of the best.

Japanese squalane oil shark liver derived
Haba Squalane Oil, 30 ml

Price (in Japan):

15ml 1500 yen

30 ml (1 oz) 2700 yen ($24-25 USD)

60 ml 5000 yen

… and the big boy, 90 ml 9200 yen

This oil is 100% squalane oil. The vegetable-based version is the same price.


Haba is of course not the only company in this 100% squalane oil market:

Indie Lee: olive oil based, 1 oz for $32 USD.

Peter Thomas Roth: sugar cane based, 1 oz currently on sale for $28.50 USD.

Deciem’s The Ordinary: plant based (specific plant(s) not specified), 30 ml for $12.90.

Haba Squalane Oil Conclusion

Is Haba Squalane oil a magic bullet ingredient for eczema? It hasn’t been an overnight cure, not for us. Eczema is a tricky fish though, and it could work for others.

Is it a cosmetically elegant facial oil? For sure, yes. All of the yes. Will I be buying it again? Most likely, and probably I’ll go for the larger size next time. Haba’s Japanese website says it’s also good for hair and safe for babies and children so if it’s in your budget, it’s a nice thing to have around for sure.

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