Cult Asian Beauty Products: Are These The Next BB Creams?

BB creams, SK-II, Koh Gen Do, nail art, Gangnam Style: recently, it seems like every successful hit, beauty or otherwise, permeating American culture has come from Asia. But, as the New York Times reported in 2011, the popularity of Asian cosmetics abroad is no new thing, as many Western women have been buying Asian cosmetics online for years, drawn by their high quality and special formulations.
So with an eye on the future, we compiled a list of our current favorite cult Asian beauty products that we think have crossover appeal and the potential to be the next sleeper hit. Read on to find out about liquid eyebrow pencils, a no-rinse moisturizing face mask you wear to bed, and a toner-mask hybrid used by grandmas, moms, and daughters alike. Hey, sexy lady!
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Albion Skin Conditioner

This toner/face-mask hybrid, formulated out of Job’s tears (also known as pearl barley), is what they call a “generational” product in Japan, because it’s used by grandmothers, mothers, and daughters alike.

This product’s uniqueness lies in its dual-use formulation: it’s an opaque, milky-white toner that you can use as a skin conditioner and face mask. Albion sales ladies will actually not let you buy this product unless they are confident that you understand its best use. This means that you must patiently sit through a 25-minute, hands-on tutorial, ending with you sitting in the middle of a department store, looking somewhat like a molting mummy, with thin cotton layers soaked in the toner, applied all over your face as part of the mask demonstration. But, suffering the brief humiliation is worth it when you consider the results: supple, super-soft, plump and refreshed skin that is cool to the touch. It's also great for acne-prone skin because it will soothe irritation without causing more breakouts. It has an immediate effect on redness, and acts as an absorption primer for moisturizer so that it melts directly into the skin. During the demonstration, the Albion sales ladies tend to leave one patch of your face untreated as a “pre-treatment” example, and the difference “pre” and “post” is staggering.

Albion’s customers are such fanatics of Asia’s #1 best-selling toner that they actually pressured the brand to manufacture its own cotton pads, after customers complained that ordinary cotton pads were not absorbent enough and wasted too much of the precious tonic. This product is also something of an Asian YouTube sensation: if you search for Albion, multiple instructional and “haul” videos come up.

Albion Essential Skin Conditioner, $120, available at Amazon.

Photo: Via
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Laneige Water Sleeping Pack

One of the differences between the Asian and Western beauty markets is the abundance of home treatments out East. Face masks are seen as a ubiquitous part of the skin-care routine, so much so that mass-market options are sold at the 7-Eleven. It’s no surprise that people like Pat McGrath have caught on to the greatness of Asian face masks and use them (like this SK-II face mask) to prep models' faces backstage.

This face mask, from Korean skincare line Laneige, is consistently in Sephora China’s Top 10 Bestsellers, and made Elle Singapore’s Beauty It List for 2011. It’s called a sleeping mask because there is no rinsing required and you actually go to sleep with it on. After your usual nighttime routine, you use a little plastic spatula (provided in the product’s packaging, and meant to prevent the oils in your hands from contaminating the formula) to scoop out the light blue, water-based gel and spread it in a thin layer over your face. Like the serum contained in most masks, it feels richer than a normal moisturizer, but its gel formulation and 9-hour working time (or less, depending on your REM cycle) allows it to thoroughly sink into your skin so that you wake up looking like you had a double dose of a full night’s sleep.

Laneige Water Sleeping Pack, $21, available at Amazon.
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Suqqu Liquid Eyebrow Pen

In Asia, liquid pens are not just for eyeliner, but eyebrows too. The bestseller is Suqqu’s line of liquid eyebrow pens, which have already made it to the U.K. beauty market, where they are available at Selfridges and caused quite a buying frenzy when British YouTube star Lisa Eldridge used them in a video. Liquid eyebrow pens are better than their pencil cousins because they’re smudge and oil-proof, and tend to be more precise, while giving a more natural look. We’ve seen Asian makeup artists use these as essential shaping tools, using them to fill in the ends and define an arch, which is especially essential between shaping appointments.

Part of the key to their natural look is their color range. The pen is offered in only two colors: green (this is not a typo) and brown. Before you worry that the green is meant for only Grinch-complexioned people, know this: It's actually more of a mossy green-brown, with a khaki colored effect, meant for those with lighter-colored brows. The pen tints both the skin and eyebrow hairs, so that the drawn-in and natural parts are indistinguishable from each other.

Suqqu Liquid Eyebrow Pen, $23, available at Selfridges.
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Isehan Kiss Me Heroine Volume & Curl Mascara

You need no further proof of the greatness of Japanese mascaras than the several that have already made it to the American market. The now-defunct Imju, as well as Blinc and Fairy Drops, were all Japanese originals, before being sold at Sephora. Asian lashes tend to be fine and straight, so Japanese mascaras are formulated to give incredible length and pigmentation. We like this mascara because you can find it in drugstores and because the color is the blackest of black — even blacker than Maybelline’s Great Lash. It is also incredibly long lasting, so much so that it is sweat-, water-, and oil-proof, and is frequently sold in Asia as a dual package, with the brand’s own makeup remover. In fact, most Japanese mascaras, although not marketed as such, tend to be waterproof and long-wear to accommodate sweltering summers, as raccoon eyes are a beauty don’t in any culture. Oh, and P.S., this is one of the highest rated, and frequently reviewed Japanese mascaras on MakeupAlley.

Isehan Kiss Me Heroine Volume & Curl Mascara, $13, available at Amazon.
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Shiseido Tsubaki Shampoo and Conditioner

In one of our favorite Nora Ephron books, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman, the late author wrote about the rigors of hair maintenance and how she “env[ies] all Asian women — I mean, have you ever seen an Asian woman whose hair looks bad? (No, you haven’t. Why is this?)” We're sad to report that the reason behind this phenomenon is probably genetics — but Asian shampoos, which contain different essential oils than their Western counterparts, probably do their part, too.

Brought to you by Shiseido, Tsubaki is the best-selling mass shampoo in Japan (and a personal favorite of our global editor Connie Wang). Tsubaki is Japanese for camellia oil, which is a frequent featured ingredient in Asian hair-care products and a traditional ingredient for adding shine and smoothing hair, dating back to geisha days. In Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, you might remember the scene in which Sayuri visits her hairdresser to have camellia oil combed through her hair to add luster.

Because of the addition of camellia oil, you’ll notice that Tsubaki’s shampoo is a little more liquid and has more of a serum-like texture. It works particularly well for people with thicker or unruly hair because of its great smoothing properties. People with finer hair should use this weekly to restore shine. Fun fact: Japanese beauty publications traditionally recommend that you rinse your hair for three minutes, so rinse well!

Shiseido Tsubaki Shampoo and Conditioner, $18, available at Amazon.
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SoFina Perfect UV Lucent SPF50

If we had to pick one product that we hope would be the next to transition over stateside, it would be this one. Sun protection is such a beauty concern in Asia that pretty much everyone applies a layer of sunscreen following morning moisturizer and wears hats whenever venturing outside. We’ve heard this product frequently referred to as a “Holy Grail sunscreen” because of its velvety texture and translucent finish. It is 100% non-greasy and leaves zero oil residue, so it's also a favorite for people with oily skin. The texture, straight from the bottle, is milky, but when applied to the face, it dries to a silky, almost-powder finish. Best of all, because of its matte finish, it can almost replace your primer. We were actually unable to find a link to this product for purchase where it isn’t out of stock, which is probably why it is one of the most eBay-ed items in beauty (a recent search revealed 84 listings).

SoFina Perfect UV Lucent SPF50, available on eBay.

Photo: Via