I love hitting up the drugstore whenever I’m in Japan to browse all the new and uniquely Japanese products available. Some never even make it to the U.S., so it’s a treat to scoop up the latest. Above are some of my recent finds:
1. Pukkuri Faux Gel Nail Topcoat With CalGel nails being the norm amongst the nail-art-loving Japanese, some girls want to give their natural nails a break, but still have the plumped-up, glossy, smooth look to their nails. This topcoat promises to create a similar look to gel nails, and yet is removable with regular nail polish remover.
I admit I don’t notice much of a difference between this and a regular topcoat, but it certainly is thick and seals in glittery polishes well.
2. BYS Color Change Nail Enamel I had to sneak this one in, but I think it’s actually an Australian brand. (Aussie readers, correct me if I’m wrong!!) I remember color change nail polishes being popular back in the early 90’s (I think TOMA made a good one), but I haven’t seen one for ages. This went on rather pink to my dismay, but I found that exposure to cold turned it purple. It didn’t quite produce the “gradient” color that the bottle advertised, even though my nails are med-long.
3. KOSE Concentrated Whitening Mask I believe one component in the average Japanese girl’s skincare routine that is essential to their beautiful complexions is the frequent usage of facial masks. Collagen-Infused; Vitamin-Enriched; Whitening; Smoothing; Softening; Brightening; Hyaluronic-Acid-Filled; Packed with Minerals – there are so many different types available I couldn’t ever detail all of them. This one makes my skin feel like Lil Tot’s bottom (which is a good thing!!;-)
4. Odango Cushion Though it reminds me of a tawashi scrubber (usually used for cleaning toilets in Japan!!), this is a base for a nice, fluffy bun.
I don’t yet have a good picture of me wearing it, but it takes my sad little topknot into puffy, fluffy mayhem. Lovely!
5. Cooling Gel In the unbearably hot Tokyo summer, cooling products are rocketing off the shelves of the stores. Hub has a cooling body spray with menthol in it that he’s partial to, and this cooling gel works similarly. I spread it on the back of my neck and on the insides of my elbows for ultimate relief. (Of course, they only provide cool relief for about 10-20 minutes until you start to feel the sticky, oppressive heat again.)
6. “Glamorous” gum A gum created as a collaboration between fashion designer KEITA MARUYAMA and Lotte (I think). It’s apricot-flavored. Imagine if Marc Jacobs or Michael Kors collaborated with Hubba Bubba!!
7. Cooling Neck-Wrap It’s so true that your body temperature is affected by what you wear on your neck!! I never really thought about it but once I experienced this wrap it’s like a difference of night and day. Inside the cloth is water-absorbing cooling particles (similar to gel ice-packs), and they plump up when soaked in water. I’ve been wearing it whenever I’m out and about, and though not exactly fashionable per se, it definitely keeps me cool!
8. Gradation Eye Pencil Creates the smoky eye perfectly; one end is a wedge-shaped kohl pencil; the other end is a large wedge-shaped hard rubber tip (not a sponge, that tends to soak up the color you just laid down) that you rub over the line to create a smudgy smoky eye. Why have I never seen this before in the US??!
And in addition, here are a couple more products I’ve seen:
Stick-on Body Jewels with Dangling Chain and Charms: Perfect for when Carnivale comes through your town.
Stick-on Faux Mustaches and Goatees: For when you just can’t seem to grow facial hair.
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I think Physician’s Formula did make an eyeliner pencil like that a few years back, but I’ve never been able to find it again. It worked so well, in fact, that even when the eyeliner side ran out I kept it because the other ‘smudger’ side worked better than anything else I’d ever used before (or since!)
The trinket/accessoire shop “Claire’s” has/had some great Mood Polishes too.
Along with Toma, china Glaze had some great ones too 10 or 15 years ago 🙂
As a long time reader of your site, I am shocked and franky appalled of your choice to feature a skin whitening cream without even at least a bit of critical concern about what it stands for in a larger context.
The idea that lighter skin is more appealing or attractive is both ridiculous and dangerous. You must be aware you have young readers, and while I generally respect your critical look at taboo topics (most recently, the designer knock-off issue) to say: “I believe one component in the average Japanese girl’s skincare routine that is essential to their beautiful complexions is the frequent usage of facial masks” is at best, irresponsible and at worst, accepting & promoting of an old-fashioned yet still growing culture of white (or, in this case, light) supremacy.
Skin whitening, sadly, is not just prevalent in Japan but across Asia, the Caribbean and South America (at least that I have heard directly about). I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic, and hope that this was merely a slip of consciousness rather than an acceptance of what is a destructive, Colonial attitude. Not chic at all.
I am shocked that what I wrote in the post could be interpreted in any such way.
The phrase “I believe one component in the average Japanese girl’s skincare routine that is essential to their beautiful complexions is the frequent usage of facial masks” literally is meant that the average Japanese girl utilizes masks filled with concentrated vitamins, minerals, acids, plumpers, and the like and incorporates them into her beauty routine. Using a cloth-like mask similar in construction the one I featured above, filled with concentrated beautifying agents is a staple in the average girl’s beauty routine – and something that I do believe plays a critical role in creating the soft, smooth, luminous, poreless, even-toned skin that seems to be the norm in Japan. How many average 22-year-old American girls can say that they sit in the bath for 10-15-minutes with a cloth mask soaked with vitamins packed on their face a couple times a week as part of their beauty routine? It’s something uniquely Japanese and thus I chose to include it in my round of “uniquely Japanese beauty products.”
“Whitening” masks are just one of a number of types of masks available on the market. I believe I cited a few different types of masks above; I have edited the punctuation and capitalization of the different types of masks in the list in the post so that it’s obvious that I am talking about the different masks available in Japan. In no way did I mean that Japanese girls have beautiful complexions BECAUSE they use “collagen-infused, vitamin-enriched, whitening, smoothing, softening masks” – as if such a single category of mask even existed. Each item in the list is a separate type of mask – and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of masks on the market here, certainly not all of them a “whitening” mask.
Secondly, though “Whitening” is the correct English translation of these types of products – this word hardly means “Caucasian-ing.” (It may in the other countries you mention, but has a different history in Japan.) It literally means “white”ening, as in the color WHITE. Also inferred from the word WHITE in Japan: “Luminizing,” “Brightening,” “Age Spot Erasing,” “Freckle-Reducing,” “Skin-Tone Even-ing.” Take your pick. There are numerous products on the market in the U.S. (and the world over) that are marketing to consumers with those words plastered on them. Clinique, Olay, Dior, Chanel – they all make products bearing different iterations of the same idea. Though actual skin-bleaching products do exist in Japan (where women actually are trying to give themselves a lighter skin-tone than the one they were born with), in general the products with “Whitening” imprinted on them mean “Skin-Tone Evening,” “Age Spot Fading,” and “All-Over Brightening.” In Japan women are (in general) not trying to make themselves a paler shade than what they are. They’re just trying to combat the darkening of the skin that occurs in spots, patches, with age etc. – and reduce that “dull” look that we all get as our cells age and we lose that luminescence of childhood. (The mask above has “Concentrated White Care Mask” printed on it, and in fact says on the front: “メラニンの生成をおさえ シミ・そばかすを防ぐ” i.e., “controls the formation of melanin; prevents age spots and freckles.”)
Though I’ll be addressing this in a future post, the idea of “WHITE COMPLEXION = CAUCASIAN” is not necessarily true for Japan. The Japanese people, when it comes to social racial bias/skin color preference etc.. cannot be viewed through the lens of Western colonialism as you are trying to apply it. Japanese people referred to themselves racially as WHITE; a monoculture; and descended from the divine – until around the end of World War II. Skin lightening and whitening (to become as close to the color WHITE as possible) has a rich history in Japan, dating back to at least the 11th century, and it never had anything to do with “looking more Caucasian.” It was in fact appealing to people because they wanted appear wealthy – since obviously, the poorer workers who toiled the farms in the hot sun day after day stayed slim with the work and had darker complexions that grew wrinkled, spotty, and aged quickly. To have smooth, plump, white skin meant that one spent all one’s time indoors or under parasols; the ultimate life of leisure, afforded by only the privileged and moneyed.
Japan was never “colonized” by any Western power (though yes, the American Occupation did occur from 1945-52)…Japan had no direct “colonizing” influences upon it during its history. Not in the same sense that European powers colonized much of the Western world, oppressing the indigenous peoples and, in most cases, enslaving them [if not eradicating them]. (Though the Japanese people did colonize Hokkaido and oppress the Ainu people there…which is a whole separate issue…)
To say Japan is completely independent of Western standards of beauty would also be incorrect since it is not; but to say they bleach their skin because they want to “look like Caucasians” is utterly false. The Japanese people can trace their ethnicity back to many different origins; thus, natural skin color in Japan runs the gamut from “porcelain white” to “dark caramel” with everything in-between. In Japan, are there girls lie on tanning beds to get darker? YES! Do girls announce blithely, “I want to get as dark as an African!” YES (and I’ve heard it firsthand)! Do girls use bronzer, fake tanners, buy foundations darker than their natural skintones? Yes, yes, and YES! Do the girls who are of medium complexions try desperately to bleach themselves lighter? Maybe there are some, but bleaching oneself whiter is not a “trend” per se. Perhaps more common are girls/women who slap on the SPF, use a parasol and arm-covers when walking around outside, and use “whitening” (again, read “brightening/skin tone even-ing/age spot-fading”) products to combat the effects of sun exposure. Likely a vestige of that long-held belief that Japanese people are a WHITE people, there doesn’t seem to be the prevalent belief that Caucasians are even lighter-skinned than Japanese. In Japan, the general belief seems to be that when it comes to paleness, many Japanese are on par.
I did not promote a skin-bleaching mask as something that people should use in order to be beautiful. I did not say that people need to be white for me to think them pretty. I never ever said that (nor do I even believe that!!) I merely shared a photo of an age-spot-fading, skin-brightening cloth mask that is commonly sold in Japan and a unique product that I thought readers of my blog might not have seen often before. And it’s for my own personal use.
As you may have noticed, I am a very pale redhead of Northern European descent. I have tons of freckles. When I go in the sun, they multiply and darken. As I have grown older, I also have found age spots and a blotchy, uneven skin tone. I use lightening, brightening, whitening – whatever you want to call them – products in my daily routine to prevent more age spots forming, boost cell turnover, create radiance, and lighten my freckles. Freckles I think are fine in general and it is totally a personal preference – but I’d really like to limit the ones on my face to just across my nose. And I’d love to get rid of the ones on my shoulders and upper back, elbows, and eyelids. ESPECIALLY the eyelids.
I’m not trying to become paler than I already am (Egads! why on earth would I want that?) but am merely craving an even skintone, uninterrupted by brown spots everywhere. It’s what I want for myself, and I’m saddened you think it “irresponsible” of me to post a photo of a product I bought for personal use, to address a beauty issue I personally have, without including a critical analysis of the etymology of skin whitening and colonialism in the world, and the Japanese attitude towards this.
I try to be as least judgmental as possible towards common products/beliefs/attitudes etc. in Japan. I’m always on the outside looking in, and am certainly in no position to claim “This is wrong, and that’s wrong…” etc. since I’ll always be looking at things from my own personal, Americanized standpoint.
Ah, I have written this comment twice and accidentally deleted it, so forgive me if the third attempt is less eloquent.
First of all, thank you, thank you, thank you for your well-thought out, respectful and informative response. I am the first to say I have obviously jumped to a very large conclusion about what this product is, what your intent was and what the culture of using similar products is like. That being said, I think it is an interesting and worthy discussion to have- there are only a few steps from saying brighter skin is better to saying that brighter skin tends to be lighter. I want to reiterate that I am a long-term fan and I hope that I did not offend you, as I did not mean to question your integrity as a blogger but instead question your motive for featuring something like that mask. I really respect you for giving me such a detailed response, which frankly, I’ve learned a lot from – and am inspired to do more research about going forward.
My reference to this being a Colonial attitude was not from a historical bias but instead a postcolonial presupposition by the Western world about “the Orient”. In this school of thinking, the West believes Eastern traditions are fundamentally different and therefore not as good as the West, and make assumptions based on their own (largely made-up) ideas about the East (this is a very rough and inelegant explanation of Edward Said’s work if you’re interested in more). While it is obvious you know a lot about Japanese culture and history, I am going to take a large leap to say that I believe a lot of your readers may not (and like them, I am generally fascinated by your reviews and explanations of Japanese culture, trends, products, etc). So while in Japan a whiter complexion doesn’t always mean more Caucasian, I was suggesting you as an American were putting a Western bias on it. While I was obviously wrong about your intent on posting the product, I do still believe that your Western readers may also misinterpret the white = more Caucasian dichotomy.
For full disclosure, I am from the Caribbean but am very pale with freckles like yourself- very few people here have complexions like mine (as I don’t really tan). There is a growing number of people using skin whitening products to get a lighter complexion- which is sad, but like you said, the major beauty companies also encourage it.
There is a huge hole in the Western beauty industry that doesn’t include ethnic brands or targets dark-skinned girls with products that don’t work for them. Skin luminizing/brightening products may not be skin bleaching products, but their method of evening out skin tone does tend to be lightening the skin slightly- by doing things like controlling the formation of melanin! I think that there is a big binary in the world that clear skin means devoid of any extraneous pigment- as a fellow lady with freckles, I have had to come to love my spots and strongly tell the beauty counters that I do not, in fact, want to cover/hide them with a foundation. I understand your preference, and support your decisions regarding it- but think that it is media-based ideals of beauty that make us insecure/unhappy about something that is natural and (I believe) beautiful. I suppose the beauty industry is one that makes its money based on insecurities, but many products that deal with skin do tend to eschew in favour of whiteness- whether it is 15 shades of ivory, beige and 2 shades of cocoa foundation or if it is something designed to make your skin “brighter”.
My knowledge of skin whitening is from my immediate experience of people using it- dark-skinend friends the Caribbean, a Filipino sister-in-law, a Chinese roommate, etc. While you mentioned the historical reasons for lighter skin as more beautiful (not having to work in the sun, which I think is the universal reason) – the psychology behind that in today’s society is very entwined with Caucasian’s being promoted as ideals and standards of beauty in the media. Beyond that, it seems I have a lot more research to do, so thank you for providing a springing board. I do very much enjoy an intelligent discourse on these types of issues.
I realise this is your own blog, you can write about whatever you want. And so I want to thank you for your response- and apologise for my large assumptions as well as for my demand that you explain yourself. I would be interested in anything more you have to say on the issue- while I love fashion and beauty, I believe the industries are also destructive and hurtful and it is bloggers like yourself that are taking them to task. For that and for all the rest of it, thank you.
(And also- I’m sorry the first time I commented on a favourite blog with a namesake of mine was to have a little rant! Maybe this will help to get me to be more engaged in the future).
Thank you for a thoughtful and well-written response!
It’s always beneficial to have an intelligent discussion about issues, since it truly helps to inform and engage everyone. I agree that evening out skin tone or lightening freckles/age spots is very close to the category of general, all-over lightening or bleaching of the skin. It’s true that beauty companies do aggressively market these products by creating an insecurity among women that to have spots, freckles, or darker patches on the face is bad, and that they must get rid of them in order to be beautiful. Standards of beauty are derived from such a myriad of complex sources – including beauty companies themselves – that often it’s very difficult to distinguish where one’s own standards come from. Certainly growing up in the 80’s I don’t remember seeing products for fading freckles or evening out the skin tone in commercials or in the magazines I read…I just remember being teased by the other, tanned children for have “spotty” skin or looking “pasty and ugly.” I’m not sure if the eyes that I use to regard my face see my flaws through their eyes instead – even 20+ years later. Perhaps they do.
I plan to share a much more researched post on the history of skin lightening in Japan once I get back to the States and have a little more time to look into it. I do feel that populations that have wholly embraced skin bleaching specifically in order to look more “Caucasian,” rejecting their own beauty in the process, is very unfortunate – but I’d love to be able to interview the individuals who ascribe to this practice and really delve into where their preferences lie. Is it really to look more Caucasian? To look like the white models often used in beauty advertisements? To appear wealthy and elite (by staying out of the sun)? To even out their skin or combat the effects of vitiligo? To avoid teasing by classmates? To get a better job? I think that the “preference” for lightening may vary per individual, and I feel somewhat wary of denouncing a beauty practice entirely. For instance, if an individual were affected by vitiligo, I’m not sure I’d feel right blaming them for wanting to lighten their skin to even the color out. That may be an extreme example and may be generally seen as a “more acceptable” reason for bleaching (rather than, say pure vanity or a desire to look like Beyonce or something) – but it’s still something that I’d really like to research more before making general claims that they want to look Caucasian.
This is all very interesting and thanks for being engaged in it!!
Great post on the Japanese products. I applaud you for your response to the above comment. I never doubted you for featuring a whitening mask – your research into the product is impeccable!
BYS is an Australian brand, but I guess I will have to find this mood changing nail polish! Thanks for the heads up, something to look for tomorrow!
Thanks Yolanda! I’m trying to research a bit more into this issue since many beauty standards in Japan have indeed evolved with Western influence, so I’ve always found it fascinating that there are some that have existed for many centuries prior.
I figured BYS was Australian since it was in the imports section – it was pretty fun to play with though the color change didn’t happen as significantly on the tips of my nails as I had hoped.:-( Happy hunting!
Haha, some pretty cute products!
I have my eye on that color changing gradient nail polish.
Great site! I have just found it and am in love!
However, I’d like to say that the bun thing can be a D.I.Y. itself. Just cut the tip off of a tube sock and roll it up. The more socks, the thicker the bun. 🙂
Glad to have you here! You are so right re: the bun thing! A tube sock would work, or even cutting a hole in a scrubby sponge…the Odango cushion is both spongy and kind of textured, so it grips onto the hair where you place it, but is open-weave enough so that you can stab it through with bobby pins.