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5 Japanese Drugstore Beauty Dupes To Try

4 Apr 2018
We put budget beauty products from Japanese drugstores to the test against our enduring cult favourites.

On a recent trip to Tokyo, disaster struck. I had just landed after a 7-hour flight, which had taken off at five in the morning. I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes as I rummaged in my hand carry for my makeup bag. Tragedy! It was nowhere to be found. Only then did I have a flashback of carelessly resting it against my bathroom sink, as I was rushing to catch my 2 AM Uber to the airport.

The moment of mild panic subsided when I remembered I was in Japan, the mecca of drugstore makeup. Here was just the excuse I needed, to go all out, guns blazing. A trip to the drug store elbowed its way up to the top of my itinerary, and I soon emerged with a whole new makeup stash. Japanese drug stores can be dizzyingly overwhelming, with heaving shelves and not much English information. Pro tip: get around this by visiting the flagship branches of big chains like Matsumoto Kiyoshi in any major city. They usually have English-speaking staff who are more than willing to help navigate the aisles of confusion.

I was curious to see how these new products – recommended by those in the know – would stack up in the ring against my ride-or-die products, some of which are colossal cult favourites. Would it be a case of David vs Goliath? My trip would no doubt put my new haul through the wringer, as it involved activities from hiking up mountains to fancy kaiseki dinners (traditional Japanese multi-course meals akin to Western degustation menus).

First up, the ring announcer’s introduction. To the victor, the spoils of laying claim to create the perfect no-makeup makeup look, and helping me fake my way to covetable, dewy skin. But who will take the championship belt in this fight? Well, there goes the buzzer. The ref just called it and the results are in. Here’s a blow-by-blow of the bloody battle to the death.

Round 1: Clé de Peau Beauté Radiant Concealer VS Kanebo Raphaie Moist Up Concealer

The Clé de Peau Beauté Radiant Concealer is the hot favourite of beauty editors and makeup artists. It’s pricey – a tiny stick will set you back SG$116. But I made an impulse decision once to invest at Duty-Free and have never looked back.

The concealer comes in a twist-up stick, with a creamy formula that is both full-coverage and easily blendable. The brand recommends applying the product directly on the skin, but I find even just dabbing on the tiniest amount with my finger will hide a multitude of sin. With how little you have to use at a time, it’s definitely worth the splurge. Also, I’ve put it through marathon cardio sessions and trekking in the tropical rainforest and can say for a fact that this thing does not budge.

A sales representative recommended the Kanebo Raphaie Moist Up Concealer, promising it would easily rival the Clé de Peau. Kanebo’s concealer comes in a nifty compact and is more blendable. It too can be easily applied with your finger. However, the blendability here comes at the price of less coverage. Whilst the Clé de Peau melts seamlessly into your skin, Kanebo has a slightly sticky finish, since you need to pile on more product to get the same amount of coverage. Disappointing, given the lightweight texture of the formula.

Kanebo also offers a very limited range of only two colours that are clearly catered to the Japanese market. On my olive skin, the warmer of the two colours was still a tad too pink and light. I can just about pull it off under my eyes, but it doesn’t quite work anywhere else. I noticed there were limited shade options for most other brands too. For darker skin tones, the Japanese drugstore might not be the place to go to find base makeup.

At ¥1500 (about SG$18.60), Kanebo’s concealer is a fraction of the price of Clé de Peau’s. But in this case, you definitely get what you pay for.

Winner: Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer

Round 2: Smashbox Brow Tech To Go VS Visée Eyebrow Pencil

What I love most about the Smashbox Brow Tech To Go pencil is its soft, waxy formula. The crayon-like, diffused finish of this pencil gives natural-looking fuller brows. The creamy formula gently catches your brow hairs while the angled tip helps to quickly achieve definition, giving a more 3D appearance to sparse brows. The pencil also comes with a clear gel end that delivers a soft hold, helping to keep your brows looking neat.

I was not born lucky in the eyebrow department. My sparse, uneven brows are one of my greatest insecurities that prevent me from being fully comfortable without makeup. I remember the moment in Sephora when I first tried the Smashbox pencil and saw the instant transformation. I knew I was going to be loyal to it for a very long time. But at $49, it isn’t cheap, especially when its double-sided nature means you don’t get very much of each product (the actual pencil is about 2.5cm long). I’ve probably gone through at least 25 of these since discovering it eight years ago, so I am painfully aware I have spent a small fortune. But my stubborn loyalty has prevented me from trying other options.

Having no access to my trusty favourite; this was my chance to hunt for a more economical alternative. An Internet search brought up the Kose Visée Lisee Eyebrow Pencil, touted as dependable yet affordable. At ¥1500 (about SG$9.90), this product could well change my life and bank balance in a big way.

Visée’s option is also double-ended, with a twist-up pencil and a spoolie brush for grooming brows and diffusing product. The pencil has an oval-shaped pen tip that allows you to draw thin or thick lines to suit your brow shape. However, the formula is far less creamy than Smashbox’s, which means you have to press significantly harder and go over your brows repeatedly to achieve the same effect. Because the formula is so powdery and dry, the spoolie brush doesn’t do much, and you’ll still need a brow gel if you have unruly brows.

All in all, the Visée Eyebrow Pencil is a decent option but not particularly outstanding. Sadly for my wallet, it looks like Smashbox still takes this one, and I’ll have to continue my hunt for a cheaper alternative.

Winner: Smashbox Brow Tech To Go

Round 3: Diorshow Iconic Waterproof Mascara VS Heroine Make Volume and Curl Mascara

The Diorshow Iconic Waterproof Mascara was recommended to me at Duty-Free when I was looking for a mascara which would give me natural-looking, but fuller and fluttery lashes. The waterproof version of Dior’s bestseller has a conical plastic comb with short, skinny teeth that catch onto and coat individual lashes. The end result is a feminine fan of long lashes that never look plasticky or clumpy.

But as for its waterproof claims, I will say that it has taken me through humid days and sweaty gym classes, but there is at least one boy out there who apparently can get the better of Dior. Yes, very tragically, if you cry hard enough, you still will end up with black streaks with this one.

Heroine Make has a reputation for making mascaras that give amazing volume and length. The Heroine Make Volume and Curl Mascara hold up this reputation in a spectacular fashion. From the first coat, lashes instantly look fuller and longer. My stubborn lashes usually aren’t able to hold a curl but with Heroine Make, they stay skyward all day.

This mascara claims to be “super waterproof”. I can safely say that Heroine Make is the real MVP.  It firmly kept its cool throughout a sake-fueled meltdown over the same boy. I made it through that one completely streak-free.

Winner: Heroine Make Volume and Curl Mascara

Round 4: NARS Multiple Tint VS Canmake Cream Cheek

As someone who’s always trying to achieve the perfect I-wore-up-like-this look, the Nars Multiple Tint has been the stuff of makeup dreams – perfect for evoking the je ne sais quoi French girl look.

The formula is lightweight. It can be blended out to create a barely-there wash of colour or build up to create a more dramatic pop. The twist-up stick is foolproof and can be applied directly to skin and quickly blended out with the fingers, even on the move. Such is its ability to be relied upon in every situation to enliven my skin, that I know it will be a makeup bag staple for a long while to come.

Question is, will it hold up against the Canmake Cream Cheek, much beloved and raved about by my girl crush, Jenna Lyons.

The Cream Cheek comes in a small, clear plastic compact. The formula is a lightweight gel-cream that can also be easily blended out with fingers to give a sheer flush. At ¥626 (about SG$7.80), this is pretty hard to beat.

Clearly, Jenna can do no wrong so this round is down to the wire. Canmake just barely inches out Nars because of the unbeatable price point.

Winner: Canmake Cream Cheek

Round 5: Ellis Faas Creamy Lips VS Canmake Lip Tint Jam

The Ellis Faas Creamy Lips in L102 has become my go-to my-lips-but-better shade. The formula is moisturizing and as a stain, this deep plum wine shade gives your lips that just-bitten look. I also get this strange sense of satisfaction as the colour pushes through the flocked tip of the applicator in tiny dots, as you twist the chrome pen.

Dabbing your lips lightly with the flocked applicator and blotting them a couple of times will result in an even application with no mess. It is for this reason that it is a mainstay of my makeup bag. A sales representative recommended the Canmake Lip Tint Jam in Plum Jam as a close dupe to my Ellis Faas. However, the colour payoff is less intense than the Ellis Faas.

All in all, the Ellis Faas Creamy Lips delivers a knock-out punch in record time in this round.

Winner: Ellis Faas Creamy Lips

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