Asians know beauty. I don’t mean this in a “we are the most beautiful species on earth” type of way, but that since birth, it’s been instilled in us to apply our eye cream using our fourth finger, have five-step skincare routines (anything less is considered sacrilege), and avoid tanning like a SARS outbreak.
Case in point: We all know the sun is public enemy #1 to beautiful skin. But my mom’s exposure-limiting equipment makes Nigella Lawson (famously taunted by British tabloids for beach-going in a ‘burkini’) look like a novice. Ever seen a woman wearing a beekeeper hat, full length gloves, long sleeves and khaki pants in 101-degree heat? That’s my mom, looking nonplussed as people around her jog in halter tops and micro-shorts. In Asia, my mom’s sun-avoidance is the norm: you’ll find her beekeeper hat and a full selection of sun-protective face masks and gloves alongside eyelash curlers and blackhead strips in 7-11s.
Anyway, Asians' pre-occupation with beauty means that there are a whole lot of high-quality, not expensive Asian beauty products out there that none of your friends will know about. Then you can say cool things like, “Oh, my mascara is from Japan” when people ask why your eyelashes look so amazing. You can find these products online (Amazon has a surprisingly good supply) and in Japanese grocery stores. Even if you can’t read Japanese, don’t worry: included with each product are helpful picture directions. Click through for my top 5 picks below:
Japanese mascaras have the longest wearing formulas ever. Some American beauty companies have already realized their greatness and repackaged them to sell at Sephora (see: FairyDrops and the now defunct Imju.) But you can save yourself $10 by finding the exact same mascara in its Japanese-language packaging in your local, well-stocked Japanese grocery store.
Heroine Lash and Curl hasn’t been repackaged yet so get on it quick! Asian lashes tend to be a little finer and stick straight, so this mascara gives tons of lift and volume in the blackest of blacks with just two coats (but work quickly as it dries very fast). Once you put this on, this mascara is not. Budging. At. All. It’s great for anyone that has eyelids that tend to be on the greasier side and if you ever sleep away from home sometimes. The rest of your makeup might rub off, but this mascara will not. It’s so strong that the brand started selling its own brand of eye makeup remover alongside the mascara in dual packaging, but don’t worry, Clinique or your standard makeup remover works. Plain water will not, you will really need to scrub to get it off. Don't have a Japanese grocery store in your neighborhood? Get it here.
Shiseido SoftWhip Facal Wash
I love foaming face cleansers for their oh-so-clean feeling, but they tend to leave my skin drier than other types. Not so with SoftWhip, which is a light drugstore cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of your natural moisturizing oils (but removes the bad ones, like sebum, which causes acne) and takes off all makeup. It’s like the Asian dermatologist-recommended version of Cetaphil. The texture of the cleanser is what makes it unique: it’s fluffy, almost like whipped cream, and when you add water, it bubbles up nicely into this soft, sizeable foam that isn’t overly soapy. This wash is such a cult favorite in Japan that it’s been repackaged into four other formulas. Get it here.
DHC Cleansing Oil
Beauty editors swear by Asian cleansing oils like Shu Uemura’s signature. It’s great, but it retails for $80. (True story: I used to have a bottle on my bathroom counter and SHRIEKED when I found out some clueless boy visitors had been mistakenly using it for hand soap and were cutting into my PRECIOUS SUPPLY -- “Kathleen, that hand soap you have is really weird, it doesn’t bubble up but my hands feel super soft.” Ugh. Boys.) DHC, a direct skincare company which is like the Avon of Japan, has a signature cleansing oil, which is just as great and retails for about 1/8 of the price. 2000+ 5-star reviews on their site don’t lie.
The key to good cleansing oil is that it emulsifies quickly after you add water and DHC’s Cleaning Oil does—once on your face, it quickly transforms from a slick oil into a creamy, smooth cleanser that melts off all your makeup. A few splashes of water plus cleanser later and even Lady Gaga would morph back into Stephanie Germanotta. If you visit any skincare counter in Asia, the salesladies will tout double-washing, meaning washing your face twice.
Most suggest using a cleansing oil or milk (not nature’s milk) to first remove all makeup residue. They consider those American one-swipe makeup remover wipes to be too harsh on the skin (as they usually contain alcohol) and laugh in your face if you suggest that a two-in-one makeup remover and cleanser may be effective. This routine may be a ploy by the Asian beauty industry to sell twice as many products. But ask yourself, how well do two-in-one products like shampoo-and-conditioner really work? Get it here.
Kracie Hadabisei Collagen Facial Masks
Asians love home beauty treatments, so home face masks are an essential part of the beauty ritual. Any Asian drugstore will carry upwards of 15+ varieties, and yes, they even make Hello Kitty face masks—that’s how much of a staple they are. Unlike in the US, these masks don’t come in a tub or a tube, but as individually wrapped cotton sheets soaked in emulsion, with holes for eyes, nose, and lips. (The Hello Kitty ones have pointed ears.) You can apply the cool sheet directly to your face, allowing all the good stuff (usually a cooling concoction of coenzyme Q10, ceramide and glycerin) to soak directly into your pores. After five to 15 minutes, your skin will look plush, radiant, and glowy. No rinsing is needed -- after you toss the mask, gently pat your face to let everything soak in. Get it here.
Okay, you’re probably thinking, “So what, who cares what the Japanese use to clean their ear canals?” But seriously, Japanese Q-Tips are so awesome that they can substitute for eyeliner brushes. They feel different from their American counterparts, because their tips are packed a little denser and their stems are sturdier. This means they’re less fluffy and if you swipe one in an eyeshadow palette, the tip doesn’t start to pill away like American ones do. They hold pigment really well and are great when I want to get a lot of control over smudging my lash line to create a nice, smoked out eye. I can use one Japanese Q-Tip to do my makeup for both eyes and three to four wimpy American ones to do the same job. And if that endorsement isn’t enough, in an Allure beauty feature, makeup artist Dick Page mentioned Japanese Q-Tips in his ‘What’s in Your Makeup Bag’ features. Incidentally, yes, they are also great for cleaning out your ears. And they come in two colors: black and white. Get them here.