With skincare launches happening left and right, it's easy to miss out on beauty products that are true gems. Take the Japanese skincare lotion for example. Because of its often minimalistic bottle and straightforward description, it's often overshadowed by other skincare products with novelty packaging or those that promise multiple skin benefits. But the beauty lotion segment has recently been growing a low-key niche cult-following and making us do a double-take.
What is it for, what's in it and can it really help your skin be better? Your burning questions answered below.
Not a toner
A common misconception about skincare lotions is that they're a type of toner. But they're in an entirely different category. Think of this "lotion" as a moisturising essence. It's primarily used to bring back moisture and, as many claim, "balance" after doing a double-cleanse. Now that that's settled, let's take a closer look at the formulations.
A closer look at the formulation
While the signature watery texture is consistent in almost all Japanese skincare lotions, the formulation itself still varies greatly from brand to brand. We asked Dr. Francesca Sumilang Sy-Alvarado, a board-certified dermatologist under the Philippine Dermatological Society to examine two popular Japanese skincare lotions. The verdict? It's clear that there is a notable difference in the formulations. One "contains different kinds of moisturising ingredients including different forms of hyaluronic acid while having some surfactants to remove excess oil on the skin surface," she observed, noting that while hyaluronic acid is a good moisturising ingredient in humid climates, in colder weather it can draw water from the skin and should be used with a more occlusive moisturiser.
Meanwhile, another beauty lotion "incorporates different antioxidants, both with well-established effectiveness and safety data (like Vitamin E) and with limited data on effectiveness and safety (like dipotassium glycyrrhizate and extracts of Angelica acutiloba root, Adlai, witch hazel, Melothria heterophylla root)" which makes it great for those looking to boost their skin's antioxidant intake.
However, Dr. Francesca cautioned that some ingredients in the formulas have "comedogenic potential". Other ingredients may also cause sensitivity in certain individuals. This is why doing a patch test for a few days — where you apply the product on a small portion of your skin, preferably on the neck or chin — shouldn't be skipped; it will help you determine whether or not you're allergic to a product.
Benefits of using Japanese skincare lotion
When you've found the right one for your skin and use it correctly, Japanese skincare lotions can be beneficial. Take it from Rica, a skincare enthusiast with dry and sensitive skin. "Normally, I wake up to skin that is parched and just craving for moisture. When I introduced a Japanese lotion to my routine, it changed my skin in a good way. I think the key ingredient of the brand I'm using which is hyaluronic acid deeply hydrated my skin, making it look smooth, plump, and healthy. The product totally blew my mind but it did take about a few weeks of using it to notice a change," she shared. During her "bad skin days," when the weather is too hot to handle, her Japanese beauty lotion of choice and a moisturiser that she uses to "seal in everything" are the only items she uses until her complexion bounces back.
This is in line with Dr. Francesca's professional opinion. When asked about the benefits of these products, she said that versions of skincare lotions that are packed with moisturising ingredients can be used "during hot and humid summer days instead of cream moisturisers that could be too heavy". However, she also highlighted that for dry and irritated skin, it should not be used alone and a moisturiser that restores the skin barrier would be more advisable.
Another appeal of the Japanese skincare lotion is its budget-friendly price tag. "They're affordable and effective and you can buy refills. Skincare doesn't need to be expensive to be effective," shared beauty blogger Cai who swore that this type of product made her skin "soft, hydrated, supple, plump, and glowing".
What to look for in a Japanese skincare lotion
When shopping for this particular product, look for those with a simple ingredients list. "The more the ingredients in the label, the higher the chances of irritation. Do remember that only one to five per cent of our topical medications pass through the stratum corneum, the topmost layer of our skin. The remaining percentage just sits on top of it, causing potential irritation," Dr. Francesca said.
In our quest, we found these products you may want to add to your routine.
For those who prefer a non-sticky beauty lotion: Naturie Hatomugi Skin Conditioner Lotion
A product that prides itself in being a non-sticky lotion, this toner-essence received a lot of positive reviews from beauty gurus who claim that it gives a cooling effect and reduces breakouts. You can also use this as a mask by soaking cotton pads in this lotion and leaving it on the skin for a few minutes.
For those with sensitive skin: Hada Labo Hydrating Lotion
Packed with hydrating ingredients, four types of hyaluronic acid to be exact, this remains a favourite amongst those with dry skin. What's more is that it's one of those beauty lotions that are free from fragrance, mineral oil, alcohol and any additive colouring, making it suitable for sensitive skin.
For those looking to make their skin brighter: Kose Sekkisei Lotion
Formulated with different types of antioxidants, this beauty lotion offers multiple benefits and can make your skin brighter thanks to the incorporation of potentially brightening ingredients like Job's Tears.
For those who like rich moisture: Shiseido Senka White Beauty Lotion
This one is a little bit hard to come by if you're not in Japan. But if you do get your hands on this, chances are you'll be amazed by its rich moisture that helps give you that coveted glass skin.
Want to learn more about Japanese skincare? Check out our deep dive on fermented skincare products.