Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably tried Asian skincare products already. Skincare culture is a bit different in Asia, so there are lots of awesome products that we don’t really get in Western countries, plus they’re usually quite budget-friendly.
Today I’m going to be reviewing some really awesome Korean and Japanese beauty products I’ve tried recently, as well as some that were pretty bad. A lot of these are with a lot of hype around them, that some of you have recommended to me. Yes, it is mostly sunscreens – there are five in there – but there’s also some cleansing products, as well as makeup.
(The video is sponsored by Stylevana, although the blog post is not. You can use the code INF10MUFFIN (non-affiliate discount code) for 10% off your order, or 15% off if your order exceeds $39 USD/$49 CAN/£29 GBP/$54 AUD/€34 EUR.
The video (showing application of the products) is here on YouTube or you can watch it below, keep scrolling for the text version…
Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV
Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV SPF 50+ PA++++ was a holy grail sunscreen of mine, but then they reformulated or repackaged it (I’m not entirely sure). It looks like the old version I really loved became the “Clear” version, and there’s now a Whitening version that one purposely makes your skin a bit whiter (a popular feature with some Asian sunscreens).
This sunscreen is really beautifully light on the skin. It’s also unscented and not too siliconey in texture. Sunscreens that have a lot of silicones often become quite oily on my skin throughout the day, so this avoids it nicely.
It also doesn’t have alcohol – while alcohol isn’t really a problem for me, and it’s not going to cause any long-term harm, I know some people prefer not to use it. It works really well under makeup, there’s zero white cast (on my skin at least), and it doesn’t sting around my eyes.
The filters in this are octinoxate, DHHB (Uvinul A Plus), zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and BEMT (Tinosorb S). I reviewed the old version and this is the same, so this is back up to holy grail status! I highly recommend it.
Nivea UV Super Water Gel 50
Nivea UV Super Water Gel 50 SPF 50 PA+++ is a little bit lower in protection than the Canmake sunscreen. It’s also a super lightweight sunscreen, with a similar effect where it feels like it bursts into water as you rub it into your skin, so it feels super refreshing.
It’s pretty lightweight after it dries down, but you can still feel it a bit on your skin. I used the 80 g bottle which has a twist top lid, but the slightly larger version comes in a convenient pump.
The filters are octinoxate, DHHB and octyl triazone. It does have a pretty strong alcohol smell when you put it on at first. My main issue with it is the slightly lower protection, but as an everyday sunscreen it is really nice.
Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Perfect Sun Block
Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Perfect Sun Block SPF 50+ PA++++ (recently discontinued) and Watery Sun Gel SPF 50+ PA++++ are two of the more confusing sunscreens I’ve tried lately. They look pretty much the same, which is where the confusion came in.
I saw Julian (@scamander14) review one of these on Instagram – he has dark skin, and one of these looked fantastic on him, so I was really excited to try it.
Of course, I grabbed the wrong one – the Perfect Sunblock. This packaging is really not friendly for those of us who are usually in a rush, and not super observant!
The Perfect Sunblock pilled massively on my skin. The first time I used it, I was rushing off to a picnic with one of my friends who has brown skin who asked me for a new sunscreen to try. I packed a spare tube of this one, and of course I didn’t notice it turning white on my skin until I was driving (he didn’t turn up to the picnic anyway, so I guess it was fine…). I did end up using it on my arms, and it works quite nicely there.
The Perfect Sunblock uses titanium dioxide as the sole sunscreen ingredient, which is why it has this whitening effect.
Some people have asked me if titanium dioxide alone can achieve a PA++++ claim – in other words, can titanium dioxide actually be broad spectrum, with good UVA protection?
The answer is yes! A lot of older books and papers say that titanium dioxide can’t give good UVA protection, but there are newer titanium dioxide ingredients now that tick off the criteria for broad spectrum on their own, giving a good spread of UVA and UVB protection.
Titanium dioxide is a particulate mineral sunscreen ingredient, which means it’s made up of lots of little solid particles. There are lots of things that can be changed (particle size, surface treatments) that will alter how that ingredient interacts with UV, such as which wavelengths it’ll absorb.
Related post: How Do Sunscreens Work? The Science (with video)
For example Croda gives an example formulation that uses their titanium dioxide ingredients that achieves SPF 65 and UVAPF 26, which would translate to the same SPF 50+ PA++++ rating. I don’t know the exact titanium dioxide ingredient that this sunscreen is using, but that rating is certainly possible with just titanium dioxide.
Unfortunately, the white cast and the pilling disqualified this for me, and overall it was a very rude experience.
Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel
But it turns out the sunscreen I was meant to get was the Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel SPF 50+ PA++++. This is a really nice sunscreen, with a whole bunch of organic sunscreen ingredients: octisalate, homosalate, BEMT, MBBT, polysilicone-15 and DHHB.
It’s light and hydrating, although not as ridiculously light as the Nivea or the Biore sunscreens, but it’s really good for oily skin. It could probably stand to be a little bit more hydrating though.
Thank You Farmer Sun Project Light Sun Essence
Thank You Farmer Sun Project Light Sun Essence SPF 50+ PA+++ applies with a similar sort of silky feeling as the Canmake Mermaid Gel, but it’s a bit heavier. It’s a chemical sunscreen, with DHHB, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate and octocrylene.
The slightly heavy texture and the lower UVA rating means that this can’t make it onto my holy grail list. But I think it’s quite a nice everyday sunscreen if you have drier skin, and you want something a little bit heavier than the usual Asian sunscreen that can double up as a light moisturiser.
Iunik Calendula Complete Cleansing Oil
Iunik Calendula Complete Cleansing Oil is a fragrance-free cleansing oil. I’m usually a bit hesitant about fragrance-free cleansing oils that use plant oils, since these oils often go rancid when they oxidise after too much exposure to oxygen and light.
Rancidity causes a slightly sour smell that you might recognise if you’ve smelt a cooking oil that’s been open for too long. Having a mild fragrance in these sorts of products goes a long way towards disguising the smell, specially since it’s the sort of product that ends up really close to your nose.
But this smells just like a fresh cooking oil, with no detectable rancidity, although I’ve only had it for a few months (I can’t find any reviews mentioning rancidity though, which is a good sign).
So this is a really nicely formulated fragrance-free cleansing oil. While I’d still prefer something that didn’t smell so much like cooking oil, this is a great option if you can’t handle fragrance and you prefer plant oils in your cleansing oils. Alternatively, you could also pick ones with more stable oils, like mineral oil, jojoba oil and squalane, and avoid any plant oils that have lots of linoleic acid.
This is pretty good at getting rid of makeup, and rinses off pretty cleanly. It comes in my favorite packaging for cleansing oil, which is a convenient pump bottle. The only issue I have is that I’d prefer a bit of subtle fragrance.
Hada Labo Gokujyun Foaming Face Wash
Hada Labo Goku-jyun Foaming Face Wash is a cleanser that comes with a foaming top. It’s fragrance-free, with a slight “artificial” scent.
Functionally, this is a really nice cleanser. It’s not very hydrating, or very stripping either, and it’s pretty much just fine in every way.
But I found it just a little bit joyless. I didn’t realise this would be such an issue for me, but this cleanser felt like a bit of a chore to use. It feels a bit like the skincare version of soylent – nutritionally, it’s exactly what you need with nothing extra, but a bit flavourless.
I definitely prefer it over a product that’s really nice to use but strips my skin massively, but I’d prefer something a little bit more exciting – perhaps a little bit of fragrance would’ve changed my experience.
(It may have even been too easy to use – I had a fragrance-free non-foaming gel cleanser that came in a screw top tube in my rotation at the same time, and I found myself reaching for that instead, for no apparent reason. Maybe there’s an IKEA effect with skincare where you feel more connected to something that requires a bit more effort?)
But for those of you who just want a really solid cleanser that works well and has no frills, this would be a fantastic pick.
Hera Sensual Spicy Nude Balm
Hera Sensual Spicy Nude Balm in 429 Naked Almond has a lot of innuendo for a lipstick. I’m wearing this in the video.
We don’t really talk about Asian makeup a lot, possibly because makeup is something that’s a lot easier to try in person. This was a bit of a blind buy, but I’m really glad I got it!
It’s a really pretty brick red color. It’s quite similar to my favorite lipstick, Toast of New York by Revlon, but it’s a sheerer color and it looks more like a gloss. It leaves a little bit of a minty feeling on my lips, and the fragrance is really nice – it smells like a cup of tea.
I really prefer this sort of stick format, which is a little bit harder to find with Asian brands – most Asian brands I’ve looked at use doe foot applicators. While they’re okay, I prefer a much more oily stick product. I think maybe I’m just not quite coordinated enough to deal with a doe foot on a daily basis.
Merzy The First Gel Eyeliner and The First Slim Gel Eyeliner
Merzy The First Gel Eyeliner and The First Slim Gel Eyeliner are both wind-up gel eyeliners. These both stay on really well and they didn’t transfer at all on my eyelids, even though my lids are super oily. I’m wearing these eyeliners in my video.
The First Gel Eyeliner is a regular size, while the First Slim Gel Eyeliner is slimmer (to no one’s surprise). Both of these don’t blend that well once you’ve applied them on your skin, so you do have to work quite quickly – I recommend applying it in sections and smudging immediately after application. I didn’t really blend them much for the look in my video, because it is actually quite difficult.
The regular eyeliner comes with a sharpener in the end that you can pull out.
The slim eyeliner is really cool. It’s only 1.5 millimeters in diameter which means it’s really thin, easy to control and you can draw a really good cat eye with it easily. It does tend to break off because it is so slim – the Merzy website recommends winding up only a millimeter at a time.
The big problem is that there isn’t that much product inside the Slim Eyeliner, because the diameter is so small – the total mass of the cylinder is just tiny at 0.05 grams, or 50 milligrams. The regular eyeliner has 10 times as much product at 0.5 grams, and even that isn’t very much product compared to my usual Revlon Colorstay Creme Gel which is 1.2 grams (a bit more than twice as much product as the regular eyeliner, and 24 times as much as in the slim eyeliner).
So while the slim eyeliner is a really cool product and I haven’t really seen anything like that on the market before (disclaimer: I’m really not on top of new makeup launches), the small amount of product is something to keep in mind. It’s probably not going to be the product that you use to draw a really thick eyeliner line on every day.
The video is sponsored by Stylevana, although the blog post is not. You can use the code INF10MUFFIN (non-affiliate discount code) for 10% off your order, or 15% off if your order exceeds $39 USD/$49 CAN/£29 GBP/$54 AUD/€34 EUR. This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.