Every time I unpack after a Japan trip, my collection of toiletries has grown substantially. I spend a lot of time in the aisles of what I variously call the drugstore, the pharmacy, the chemist, and the Holy Grail. You won't be able to find the best beauty buys at your nearest conbini, but the drugstore is well worth the effort for so many reasons.
Finding a pharmacy isn't difficult- look for the 薬 symbol, or ask for kusuri. I've found that skincare treats also make excellent souvenirs, and drugstores also always seem to stock the XXX Matcha Kit Kats. I will also throughly do the beauty departments in Loft and Tokyu Hands, and I will always pack an extra bag.
What I buy
Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence
On Trip Three, one of my friends asked me to grab her a tube of this sunscreen, so I decided to buy one for myself. I cracked it out before heading home and immediately stocked up. It's just so good. My experience of facial sunscreen has been either sticky, thick odd-smelling and expensive, or 'natural' and guaranteed to leave you with a high shine. This is the answer. Thin, nice-smelling and effective.
This is now something of a cult product and I have heard of places limiting the amount of blue gold you can buy, so shop early, shop often. If you can't get it, apparently the other sunscreens you'll see stocked with it are also excellent.
LuLuLun Sheet Masks
In Japan sheet masks aren't a 'sometimes' treat, or even a weekly ritual, they will pop on a sheet mask daily. And it's actually an affordable thing to do! You can buy weekly or monthly LuLuLun sheet mask packs and get help with what you're looking to treat.
While there's an idea that too much masking can get your skin used to an unrealistic level of hydration, these masks are specially designed for daily use, so that's not something to worry about. I'm not a religious masker and have bought packs just to use from time to time and find these perfect for a quick boost.
Kanebo Suisai Beauty Clear Powder
These little pods look like tiny laundry powder, but actually contain an enzyme powder cleanser that 'activates' when you add water. It acts as a gentle exfoliant as well as cleansing.
You can buy packs of 15 or 32, every capsule is single-use (but you can definitely just use half at a time). Just tip the powder into your hand and add some water, then mix into a paste and apply. Use less water for more of an exfoliating effect. I know the extra plastic isn't great, so I try to save these for travel.
Hada Labo makes a whole range of well priced, super effective skincare, with a lot of it based around hyaluronic acid. Rather than being a harsh treatment acid, this one is made from wheat and all about hydration.
I choose the essence, although if you were in the market for a new cleanser or moisturiser, I would definitely select from this line. Essence is a bit of an unusual product in Western skincare lines, lighter than a serum, it's designed to be patted into the skin after your toner.
This product is reputed to be a pretty good dupe for the much more expensive SK-II essence. I always have a bottle on the go and have also snagged this at Daiso in Australia, and bought it on eBay. I also like to soak dry paper masks (from Muji) in the essence and create a supercharged DIY sheet mask.
Baby Foot, or the off-brand Milky Foot, is an infamous foot peel that promises to restore your feet to a baby-like state of softness. It's one to do when you get home, not something you want to experience when you're on the road.
The pack contains two 'booties' filled with a peeling serum. You pop your feet into them, tape them up, put some socks on to make sure everything's snug, and soak for a half hour. Over the next week to ten days, you'll see that the rough outer layers will peel and flake off.
It's not for everyone (and there are some health restrictions, especially for diabetics). Learn from my mistakes and don't try it in sandal season. But find a time when your feet don't need to be on display, and you'll come out with the smoothest feet you've seen!
Learn more about building a Japanese beauty routine