Great, youthful-looking skin is something great to have. However, we all know how a skincare regime can burn a hole through the pockets. Not to worry, the following guide aims to teach those interested in achieving radiant skin while on a budget.

Japanese skincare, or J-beauty, is known for being as straightforward and easy to use while staying gentle and healthy for the skin. You don’t need eleven individual bottles because most of them are multipurpose, such as one product for your toning, moisturizing, and sun protection needs. At most, you would need about three products to complete your routine. What great news!

A typical Japanese skincare routine involves cleansing, cleansing again, toning, moisturizing (which includes serums, essences, creams, and the like), and UV protection. It must be pointed out the Japanese put great emphasis on the last step, especially for the morning routine, because the sun is the biggest destroyer of healthy skin.

With those critical steps in mind, let’s quickly cover the formulations of products that work best per skin type before jumping to the cheap yet ultra-effective brands to try.

Understanding Skincare Needs Per Skin Type

While there are five main skin types, namely normal, oily, dry, combination, and sensitive, we will be covering the top three types that are hardest to pair with a skincare routine on a budget. Normal skin types often respond well to most products, while combination skin requires a mix of formulations that suit oily and dry or a combination of two skin types. Let’s look at the specific skincare needs for those with oily, dry, and sensitive skin.

Oily skin: non-clogging products

When it comes to oily skin, it’s all about products that are non-comedogenic or don’t clog or block the pores. Due to the excess oil produced by the sebum glands, any blockage on this skin type could quickly lead to acne or breakouts. Furthermore, you would want something with extra bacteria-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid, tea tree oil, a natural antiseptic, and benzoyl peroxide.

As for the products’ consistency, you would want foam cleansers, liquid toners, and lightweight moisturizers and serums. It’s best to avoid creamy textures for this skin type as it could lead to pore-clogging.

Dry skin: hydration boost

Due to a lack of skin properties that lock or retain moisture on the skin, those with dry skin need extra hydration. From the cleansers to the essences, take note of ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, ceramides, and natural oils. These are considered the “big four” compounds you’ll need to ensure fully nourished dry skin. The product consistency that works best on dry skin is lightweight lotions and creams for that extra moisturization.

Sensitive skin: no irritants

It is more challenging to shop for skincare products when you have sensitive skin as any controversial ingredient like sulfates, fragrances, and parabens could lead to redness and irritation. A rule of thumb would be grabbing formulations that are hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested, non-comedogenic, and curated specifically for sensitive skin. Curél is Japan’s number one brand for dry and sensitive Asian skin. It utilizes over three decades of research into this skin type under the Kao Corporation name, another big player in skincare.

Given that most of the Japanese skincare ingredients are in Japanese, it will take extra effort to translate or conduct research on the formulation list. Fortunately, most of the popular ones have been heavily reviewed online. You can simply type a name online, and there are articles, blogs, and videos of individuals testing the product and sharing their experience.

Top 10 Affordable Japanese Skincare Products

Without further ado, here is a list of the best skincare products in Japan that won’t burn a hole through your pocket. We will start from the top of a skincare routine such as a makeup remover and move our way down to essences and serums.  

1. Make-up Remover Perfect Oil

  • Formulation: Makeup remover
  • Description: A makeup remover that effortlessly tackles even the most stubborn, water-proof makeup without drying the skin
  • Price: ¥698+tax
  • Amount: 230ml
  • Brand: Bioré
  • Best for: All skin types
  • Main ingredients: Mineral oil, Isododecane, Water

2. Senka Perfect Whip

  • Formulation: Foam cleanser
  • Description: A dense white foam that removes skin impurities while remaining light and gentle on the skin
  • Price: ¥297+tax
  • Amount: 120g
  • Brand: Shiseido
  • Best for: Normal, oily, combination
  • Main ingredients: Water, Stearic Acid, Glycerin

It’s so popular that there are other varieties available. One with a boost of collagen and another for deep pore cleaning.

3. Softymo White Cleansing Oil

  • Formulation: Makeup remover and cleanser
  • Description: An oil cleanser that provides a deep clean while removing makeup. A fan-favorite for the double cleanse routine
  • Price: ¥498+tax
  • Amount: 230ml
  • Brand: Kose
  • Best for: Dry, normal
  • Main ingredients: Mineral oil, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Sesamum Indicum Seed Oil

4. Cure Natural Aqua Gel

  • Formulation: Exfoliator
  • Description: Gently removes dead skin cells, leaving the skin soft and moisturized, thanks to the plant extracts in the ingredients
  • Price: ¥2,780+tax
  • Amount: 250g
  • Brand: Toyo Life Service
  • Best for: All skin types
  • Main ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Gingko Biloba leaf extract, Aloe Vera leaf extract

5. Hatomugi Skin Conditioner

  • Formulation: Toner, all-around moisturizer
  • Description: A lightweight, non-sticky toner that loosens clogged pores, clears acne, and tightens fine lines and wrinkles. You can also use the skin conditioner all over the body for an extra hydration boost
  • Price: ¥498+tax
  • Amount: 500ml
  • Brand: naturie
  • Best for: All skin types
  • Main ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Coix seed (job’s tear) extract

6. Hada Labo Goku-jun Super Hyaluronic Lotion Light

  • Formulation: Moisturizer
  • Description: A preparatory moisturizer which helps the skin absorb all the goodies that come after. It’s infused with hyaluronic acid, a dry and parched skin’s best friend
  • Price: ¥698+tax
  • Amount: 170ml
  • Brand: Hada Labo
  • Best for: Dry skin (gentle for all skin types)
  • Main ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Sodium Hyaluronate

7. LuLuLun Face Mask

  • Formulation: Face mask
  • Description: One of the most popular face masks worth trying. They’re easy to apply and actually stay on the face. You can get them in a wide array of colors (specific task of hydration, skin tightening, and the like) and in bigger quantities by the box
  • Price: ¥450+tax
  • Amount: 7 sheets
  • Brand: Lululun
  • Best for: All skin types
  • Main ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Propanediol, Niacinamide

8. Biore UV Aqua Rich

  • Formulation: Sunscreen
  • Description: A very thin, lightweight and non-sticky sunscreen for extra protection from UV damage. Blends well under makeup or for everyday use
  • Price: ¥798+tax
  • Amount: 50g
  • Brand: Bioré
  • Best for: All skin types
  • Main ingredients: Water, Alcohol, Ethylhexyl Triazone

9. Acnes Medicated Smooth Base UV Milk

  • Formulation: Sunscreen, makeup base
  • Description: A versatile formulation which protects sensitive acne-prone skin from harmful UV rays and doubles as a makeup primer or base. It also soothes irritated skin to prevent acne formation
  • Price: ¥798+tax
  • Amount: 30g
  • Brand: Rohto
  • Best for: Acne-prone skin
  • Main ingredients: Water, Butylene Glycol, Alcohol, Aloe Arborescens extract

10. Dark Spot Corrector Melano CC

  • Formulation: Spot treatment
  • Description: Enriched with Vitamin C, this correcting serum will fade acne scars, suppress melanin production (dark spots), prevent breakouts while keeping the skin balanced and moisturized
  • Price: ¥998+tax
  • Amount: 20ml
  • Brand: Rohto
  • Best for: All skin types
  • Main ingredients: Ascorbic Acid, Tocopherol Acetate, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizinate

Note: Prices were derived from Don Quijote and could vary among stores.

Where to go for Great Skincare Deals

While you can find some great skincare products at convenience stores or specialty skincare stores, there are a handful of places where you can get a wide variety of drugstore brands. Examples are Don Quijote, Welcia, Tomod’s and, of course, Matsumoto Kiyoshi. What’s more, all of these offer their own point cards so you can quickly accumulate rewards for future purchases.

Furthermore, you can find some of the big brands such as SK-II, Shiseido, Sekkisei-Kosé, Obagi, and Curél showcased in their own shelves at these shops. Here’s a pro-tip for buying these high-end products on a budget: trial sets. You can often spot mini versions of their popular lineup for customers to fall in love with. Surprisingly, the tiny bottles go a long way, making the purchase even more worthwhile.

Here are a few examples of trial sets or test kits worth considering:

Price: ¥850+tax

Price: ¥900+tax

Price: Price: 1,200+tax

Price: ¥1,600+tax

Creating a Skincare Routine on a Budget

Whether it’s buying full-sized bottles of cheaper (but still effective) skincare brands or going for the test kits from luxury brands, you can quickly accumulate many savings without hurting your budget. Pro-tip: check to see if refills are available. These come in sachets and are cheaper than the bottle.

You can also go for a more inclusive or versatile product, such as the Hatomugi Skin Conditioner, which can be used as a toner and moisturizer. This way, you get two skincare steps in one product. All-in-one gels are also popular in Japan. These are creams or gels that function as a toner, moisturizer, emulsion, or essence. For example, the Hadaomoi all-in-one gel by Suhada is being sold at Don Quijote for ¥500+tax per 290-gram bottle. Now that’s what you call the best buy.