• Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums in 2020 - Tried and True! (Haku, SK-II, and More) 1
  • Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums in 2020 - Tried and True! (Haku, SK-II, and More) 2
  • Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums in 2020 - Tried and True! (Haku, SK-II, and More) 3
  • Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums in 2020 - Tried and True! (Haku, SK-II, and More) 4
  • Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums in 2020 - Tried and True! (Haku, SK-II, and More) 5

Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums in 2020 - Tried and True! (Haku, SK-II, and More)

It’s a buzzword in Japan: translucence. It’s similar to Korea’s glass skin–skin so pure that it’s nearly transparent, resembling layers of frosted glass. In the Western world, think "glow" or "dewy finish." In order to respond to that aesthetic, cosmetic companies–both drugstore and high-end–here have been coming out with scores of whitening serums, essences, and ampoules.

As always, it’s difficult to tell what kind of skincare is effective and what isn’t. That’s why, this time around, we ordered the 24 most popular whitening serums from Japan’s e-commerce giants (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and @cosme) and tested them all. We also invited a skincare specialist and had her compare the following:

1. Hydration
2. Application

This is how we tested and found the most exceptional Japanese whitening serums, essences, and ampoules. See why we picked Chifure's Whitening Essence VC as our top choice and more!

This article's specialists

Aiko Kawakami
  • Last updated: 06-23-2020
  • 22,489 views
Table of Contents

What Does a Whitening Serum Do, Exactly?

What Does a Whitening Serum Do, Exactly?
We know it’s called whitening, but whitening serum does not actually cause your blemishes to fade or your skin to grow paler. All it does is contain ingredients meant to inhibit the production of melanin.
In other words, whitening serum should be used as preventive care; if you only use it after you’ve been peppered with freckles and sunspots, then you’re using it too late. The earlier, the better.
Furthermore, though in Asian beauty, we use the word “bihaku” or “whitening” a lot, perhaps a more suitable translation would be “brightening.” That’s because “whitening” skincare mainly aims to help you maintain an even, luminous complexion.
Finally, today we’re reviewing “biyoueki,” which we’ve translated as “serums, essences, and ampoules” because all three are essentially the same kind of product, just with different concentration levels of active ingredients. Generally speaking, ampoules are the most concentrated, followed by serums, then essences, but this can differ depending on the brand.
Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami
Whitening serum contains ingredients that break up melanin and prevent the appearance of future blemishes, so you want to start using it early.

Also, make sure you're constantly protecting your skin against UV rays, regardless of the season. You can care for your skin with a whitening serum, but if you're constantly getting sunburned during the day, then you're wasting all that effort.

Top 23 Best Japanese Whitening Serums

Now to introduce the 23 best Japanese whitening serums, essences, and ampoules available online. They were ranked by how well they did on our tests and given an overall grade ranging from D to A+.

1

ChifureWhitening Essence VC

180ml

$21.99

Japaneseちふれ化粧品 美白美容液 VC
Active ingredientsL-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizinate Dipotassium
HydrationA+
ApplicationB
Overall scoreA+
2
Japaneseエピステーム ホワイトフォトショット
Active ingredientsKojic Acid, Photo Shot Complex
HydrationB
ApplicationA+
Overall scoreA+
3

ThreeBalancing White Clear Essence

$123.20

JapaneseTHREE バランシング ホワイト クリアエッセンス
Active ingredientsArbutin, glycyrrhizinate dipotassium
HydrationB
ApplicationA+
Overall scoreA+
4
Japanese資生堂 純白専科 すっぴん白雪美容液
Active ingredientsm-Tranexamic Acid
HydrationA
ApplicationA
Overall scoreA
5
JapaneseIPSA ホワイトプロセス エッセンス OP
Active ingredientsTranexamic acid
HydrationB
ApplicationA
Overall scoreA
6
Japanese資生堂 HAKU メラノフォーカスV
Active ingredients4MSK, m-Tranexamic acid
HydrationA+
ApplicationC
Overall scoreA
7

Prier NeigeMedicated Place-Rich Seven White Serum

$19.34

Japanese薬用プリエネージュ プラセリッチセブンホワイトセラム
Active ingredientsPlacenta Extract, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium
HydrationA
ApplicationC
Overall scoreB
8
JapaneseSK-II GENOPTICS スポット エッセンス
Active ingredientsDemelano P3C™, panthenol
HydrationA
ApplicationB
Overall scoreB
9

MelanoCC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum

$8.11

JapaneseメラノCC 薬用しみ集中対策美容液
Active ingredientsAscorbic acid, tocopherol acetate
HydrationC
ApplicationA
Overall scoreB
10
JapaneseHABA 薬用ホワイトレディ
Active ingredientsL-ascorbic acid phosphoric ester sodium, glycyrrhizin dipotassium
HydrationA
ApplicationD
Overall scoreB
11
Hada Labo Shirojyun premium W Whitening Essence 1

Hada LaboShirojyun premium W Whitening Essence

$13.11

Japaneseロート 肌ラボ 白潤プレミアムWシミ対策液
Active ingredients3-O ethyl ascorbic acid, arbutin
HydrationA
ApplicationD
Overall scoreB
12
JapaneseONE BY KOSE メラノショット ホワイト
Active ingredientsKojic acid
HydrationD
ApplicationA
Overall scoreB
13
Japaneseソフィーナ ホワイトプロフェッショナル 美白美容液ET
Active ingredientsChamomilla ET
HydrationB
ApplicationB
Overall scoreB
14

CosmeDecorte Whitelogist Bright Express

$159.99

Japaneseホワイトロジスト ブライトエクスプレス
Active ingredientsKojic acid
HydrationB
ApplicationB
Overall scoreB
15
Japaneseフリープラス ホワイトニングモイスチャーエッセンス
Active ingredientsL-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, glycyrrhizinate dipotassium
HydrationB
ApplicationC
Overall scoreC
16
Japaneseアルビオン エクサージュ ホワイト ホワイトニング ターゲット
Active ingredientsTranexamic acid
HydrationD
ApplicationA+
Overall scoreC
17

Soka MockaShirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence

$50.79

Japanese草花木果 白花八草 美白美容液
Active ingredientsTranexamic acid, glycyrrhizin dipotassium
HydrationC
ApplicationB
Overall scoreC
18
Japanese【花王】ソフィーナ ホワイトプロフェッショナル 美白美容液ET
Active ingredientsArbutin
HydrationB
ApplicationD
Overall scoreC
19
JapaneseAQUALABEL シミ対策美容液
Active ingredientsTranexamic acid, glycyrrhizin dipotassium
HydrationD
ApplicationB
Overall scoreC
20
Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence 1

Kobayashi SeiyakuKeshimin Essence

$9.86

Japanese小林製薬 Kobayashi ケシミン美容液
Active ingredientsL-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, glycyrrhizin dipotassium, tocopherol acetate
HydrationC
ApplicationC
Overall scoreC
21

TransinoMedicated Whitening Essence EX

$41.77

JapaneseDAIICHI SANKYO HEALTHCARE トランシーノ薬用ホワイトニングエッセンスEX
Active ingredientsTranexamic acid
HydrationC
ApplicationC
Overall scoreC
22
EBiS Bio White B Whitening Essence 1

EBiSBio White B Whitening Essence

$20.20

JapaneseTranexamic acid, glycyrrhizin dipotassium
Active ingredientsD
HydrationC
ApplicationD
Overall score
23

MujiMoisturising Essence

$18.50

Japanese無印良品 敏感肌用 薬用美白美容液
Active ingredientsVitamin C, 2-glucoside, glycyrrhizinate dipotassium
HydrationD
ApplicationC
Overall scoreD

Compare the Best Japanese Whitening Serums, Essences, and Ampoules

Image
1
Chifure Whitening Essence VC 1

Chifure

2
Episteme White photo shot 1

Episteme

3
Three Balancing White Clear Essence 1

Three

4
Senka White Beauty Serum 1

Senka

5
Ipsa White Process Essence OP 1

Ipsa

6
Haku Melanofocus V Whitening Serum 1

Haku

7
Prier Neige Medicated Place-Rich Seven White Serum 1

Prier Neige

8
SK-II Genoptics Spot Essence 1

SK-II

9
Melano CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum 1

Melano

10
Haba Medicated White Lady 1

Haba

11
Hada Labo Shirojyun premium W Whitening Essence 1

Hada Labo

12
Kose ONE BY KOSE Melanoshot White 1

Kose

13
Sofina White Professional ET 1

Sofina

14
Cosme Decorte Whitelogist Bright Express 1

Cosme

15
freeplus Whitening Moisture Essence 1

freeplus

16
Albion Exage White Whitening Response 1

Albion

17
Soka Mocka Shirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence 1

Soka Mocka

18
Kose Sekkisei Recovery Essence Excellent 1

Kose

19
Aqualabel Bright White EX 1

Aqualabel

20
Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence 1

Kobayashi Seiyaku

21
Transino Medicated Whitening Essence EX 1

Transino

22
EBiS Bio White B Whitening Essence 1

EBiS

23
Muji Moisturising Essence 1

Muji

Name

Whitening Essence VC

White photo shot

Balancing White Clear Essence

White Beauty Serum

White Process Essence OP

Melanofocus V Whitening Serum

Medicated Place-Rich Seven White Serum

Genoptics Spot Essence

CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum

Medicated White Lady

Shirojyun premium W Whitening Essence

ONE BY KOSE Melanoshot White

White Professional ET

Decorte Whitelogist Bright Express

Whitening Moisture Essence

Exage White Whitening Response

Shirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence

Sekkisei Recovery Essence Excellent

Bright White EX

Keshimin Essence

Medicated Whitening Essence EX

Bio White B Whitening Essence

Moisturising Essence

FeaturesMost Worth Your Money; A Se...The Darling of Countless Be...The Oriental Fragrance That...Hydrates as it Brightens fo...Leaves Skin Like Velvet Aft...Hydrates and Leaves Your Sk...Pure Placenta That Seeps St...Application and Hydration w...Formula was as Slick as Oil...Contains Some Potent Vitami...You Can Trust That it’ll be...Felt Like a Moisturizer but...Felt like a Cream and Left ...A Silky-Smooth Gel Serum, b...Leaves Skin Feeling Smooth ...Features Tranexamic Acid, a...Lightweight and Disappears ...Has That Half-Makeup, Half-...May be Dense, but This Gel ...Smelled of Medicine, Perhap...Unique Scent is a Hit or Mi...The Dropper and Tiny Bottle...Hydration was Barely There;...
Price$21.99$169.98$123.20$13.77$69.00$84.70$19.34$225.00$8.11$14.65$13.11$50.95$45.67$159.99$37.37$57.89$50.79$71.88$20.95$9.86$41.77$20.20$18.50
Japaneseちふれ化粧品 美白美容液 VCエピステーム ホワイトフォトショットTHREE バランシング ホワイト クリアエッセンス資生堂 純白専科 すっぴん白雪美容液IPSA ホワイトプロセス エッセンス OP資生堂 HAKU メラノフォーカスV薬用プリエネージュ プラセリッチセブンホワイトセラムSK-II GENOPTICS スポット エッセンスメラノCC 薬用しみ集中対策美容液HABA 薬用ホワイトレディロート 肌ラボ 白潤プレミアムWシミ対策液ONE BY KOSE メラノショット ホワイトソフィーナ ホワイトプロフェッショナル 美白美容液ETホワイトロジスト ブライトエクスプレスフリープラス ホワイトニングモイスチャーエッセンスアルビオン エクサージュ ホワイト ホワイトニング ターゲット草花木果 白花八草 美白美容液【花王】ソフィーナ ホワイトプロフェッショナル 美白美容液ETAQUALABEL シミ対策美容液小林製薬 Kobayashi ケシミン美容液DAIICHI SANKYO HEALTHCARE トランシーノ薬用ホワイトニングエッセンスEXTranexamic acid, glycyrrhizin dipotassium無印良品 敏感肌用 薬用美白美容液
Active ingredientsL-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizinate DipotassiumKojic Acid, Photo Shot ComplexArbutin, glycyrrhizinate dipotassiumm-Tranexamic AcidTranexamic acid4MSK, m-Tranexamic acidPlacenta Extract, Glycyrrhizin DipotassiumDemelano P3C™, panthenolAscorbic acid, tocopherol acetateL-ascorbic acid phosphoric ester sodium, glycyrrhizin dipotassium3-O ethyl ascorbic acid, arbutinKojic acidChamomilla ETKojic acidL-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, glycyrrhizinate dipotassiumTranexamic acidTranexamic acid, glycyrrhizin dipotassiumArbutinTranexamic acid, glycyrrhizin dipotassiumL-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, glycyrrhizin dipotassium, tocopherol acetateTranexamic acidDVitamin C, 2-glucoside, glycyrrhizinate dipotassium
HydrationA+BBABA+AACAADBBBDCBDCCCD
ApplicationBA+A+AACCBADDABBCA+BDBCCDC
Overall scoreA+A+A+AAABBBBBBBBCCCCCCCD
Link

Introducing the Expert Who Lent Us Her Knowledge

This time around, we borrowed the expertise of a skincare specialist, who’s a well-known face both in magazines and on the web.
Introducing the Expert Who Lent Us Her Knowledge
〈Aiko Kawakami〉
Skincare Specialist

She's a skincare specialist who's got over 20,000 consultations under her belt. She approaches skin with a combination of scientific evidence and experience, using her knowledge of dermatology and cosmetic ingredients to help women become even more beautiful, down to their fingertips.

She's the representative of the board of directors over at ANSEM (Association of Nail & Skin Experts Maestro) and an instructor at the JCLA (Japan Cosmetic Licensing Association). She's also made numerous media appearances.

How We Tested the Products

We then tested for each of the following things:
Test ①: Hydration
Test ②: Application

Test ①: Hydration

Test ①: Hydration

First, we checked for hydration. We applied three drops of each serum on our arms. We then used a moisture analyzer and compared the state of our skin before application to its state eight hours after application.

Serums that Contained Glycerin and BG were Reliably Hydrating

Serums that Contained Glycerin and BG were Reliably Hydrating
Our most hydrating serums usually featured both glycerin and GB as ingredients. Other serums we found to be properly moisturizing contained trehalose and tranexamic acid.
Then there were ingredients like 4MSK, glycyrrhizinate dipotassium, and L-ascorbic acid phosphoric ester sodium, which both hydrated and brightened. It was like killing two birds with one stone.

Test ②: Application

Test ②: Application

Next, we just looked at how each serum applied. We rounded up members from various departments and had them use all the serums. They then shared their impression about the texture, scent, and packaging.

Simple Packaging, Light Textures, and Gentle Fragrances were the Best Received

Simple Packaging, Light Textures, and Gentle Fragrances were the Best Received
We preferred clean, simple packaging, and we didn’t like bottles that made the serum look like an OTC drug. We also liked light, spreadable textures–think of something like an emulsion. You want something silky that doesn’t leave the skin tacky after application.
Finally, we leaned towards scented serums, often choosing them over unscented products or ones that smelled like medicine. However, you don’t want the fragrance to be overpowering. Look for something light and relaxing.

How to Choose a Whitening Serum – Buying Guide

Here are three big things to look out for when choosing your own whitening serum, Japanese or not.

Find Something With the Right Whitening Ingredients

In Japan, whitening serums are usually considered over-the-counter drugs (or medicated). This means that companies are not obligated to list all ingredients, which does make it difficult to judge how effective a product will be simply by reading the box.
However, it helps to know what ingredients are whitening. While the overall formula is what makes the product, the presence of a few researched ingredients is the most obvious indicator of effectiveness. (By the way, all of the products we tested contain skin lighteners people swear by, and it’s difficult to say which single ingredient is the best.)
There are two main types of whitening ingredients. The first suppresses the oxidation of melanin. The second inhibits tyrosinase, which is an enzyme that catalyzes the production of pigments.

Ingredients that Suppress the Oxidation of Melanin

Ingredients that Suppress the Oxidation of Melanin
The following ingredients are said to suppress the oxidation of melanin.

  • Vitamin C: The first thing that comes to mind when one talks about whitening ingredients. It is, however, difficult for Vitamin C to penetrate the epidermis and permeate throughout skin.

  • Vitamin C Derivatives: Another famous ingredient. Vitamin C is naturally unstable and oxidizes rapidly; derivatives are more stable and also work to suppress melanin production. May be irritating for some.

Ingredients that Inhibit Tyrosinase, which Catalyzes the Production of Melanin

Ingredients that Inhibit Tyrosinase, which Catalyzes the Production of Melanin
The following ingredients are known tyrosinase inhibitors.

  • Placenta Extract: Helps with cellular turnover, which slows as you age. This makes it difficult for melanin to set in skin, which in turn prevents new blemishes.

  • Hydroquinone: A whitening ingredient many find to be effective. Because it can be irritating, those with sensitive skin should consult a specialist before use.

  • Arbutin: A derivative of hydroquinone. Less irritating than hydroquinone and a popular alternative.

  • Ellagic Acid: A natural ingredient found in many berries. Though it’s gentle on skin, it suppresses the production of melanin.

In addition, anti-inflammatory agents such as glycyrrhizinate dipotassium, 4MSK, and tranexamic acid are also said to brighten the skin. There are also ingredients unique to specific brands.

Choose Something Hydrating

Choose Something Hydrating
If we can’t focus on whitening ingredients, then how are we supposed to compare serums? Well, how moisturizing a serum is is just as important as how whitening it is. You’d be going about it wrong if you packed a bunch of whitening ingredients into your face, but then you let your skin dry out. After all, dehydration is one of the culprits behind hyperpigmentation and freckles.
However, as we mentioned before, because serums are OTC drugs, companies don’t have to list all ingredients on packaging. Therefore, it’s hard to tell how moisturizing a serum is going to be just by reading the ingredients list. We’ve gone ahead and tested all the products we ordered for hydration, so use our results as a guideline.

Go With Something that Feels Good upon Application

Go With Something that Feels Good upon Application
Most whitening serums are going to cost you a pretty penny. To make sure you use up every last drop, pick a serum that simply appeals to you, whether that be because of its bottle, texture, or fragrance.
A lovely scent can relax you and make you feel like you’re at the spa. If you dislike feeling tacky, then make sure you find a serum that’s light and silky in texture.

Can Whitening Serum Do Anything About My Acne Scars?

Can Whitening Serum Do Anything About My Acne Scars?
In a nutshell, whitening serum doesn’t always work on acne scars (depends on the kind of scarring). Remember that whitening serum is considered an over-the-counter drug; it is not medicine, which would require a prescription, and therefore does not have the power to change what has already been set into your skin.
According to Ms. Kawakami, if the serum contains ingredients that exfoliate skin and then encourage cell turnover, then it can help to a certain extent. If you want to try to lighten your acne scars with whitening serum, then make sure you double-check the ingredients.
Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami
Whitening serums cannot change the state of your skin, nor can it reverse damage that's already been done. However, if the serum promotes cell turnover, then it'll have some effect. How big of an effect depends on how deep the scarring is, so there are no guarantees.

Use Sunscreen in Addition to Your Whitening Serums

Use Sunscreen in Addition to Your Whitening Serums
Even if you the best whitening serum every day of your life, if you bathe in UV rays, it’s not going to make a difference. You can’t prevent blemishes just with a whitening serum.
A lot of people think UV protection is something that only matters in summer, but you need to take care of your skin during winter as well. If you’re looking for pure skin, then protect your skin from the sun’s rays throughout the year and then use a whitening serum on top of that. Think of serum as the icing on the cake.
Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami
<p>I always stress that you can't let your guard down just because it's winter. UVA waves, which are the culprits behind a lot of unwanted tanning and blemishes, are constantly being emitted, no matter what the season.

During the day, it's important to put on sunscreen and protect yourself from the sun. Then at night, use a whitening serum and round out your routine.</p>

Other Products to Ensure Your Skin Stays in Tip-Top Shape

Other Products to Ensure Your Skin Stays in Tip-Top Shape
Ms. Kawakami said it again and again–if you want to keep your skin clear, you need to keep it hydrated. Toners and lotions are two of the most important aspects of your skincare routine, and you’d do well to supplement your serum with them. Learn more below.

Summary

We consulted a skincare specialist, purchased the 26 most popular whitening serums, essences, and ampoules, and tested them all.
As we’ve said time and time again, whitening serum is not meant to treat preexisting scars, sunspots, or freckles (too bad for Aylmer–Nathaniel Hawthorne, anyone?). However, it does work to ensure you won’t see any new blemishes.
Now that you know what whitening serum can and can’t do, make sure you choose something that both hydrates and inhibits melanin production, that both applies well and works well, to keep your skin pure and flawless far into the future.

Author: Yukina Matsuda/Translation: Jasmine Li/Photos: Koichi Miura, Yoshio Yoshida

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    We don’t know when it started, but Japanese women are known–have been known for a while–for beautiful skin. And walking around Tokyo, you can’t help but think “where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.” While there’s no one factor that makes one’s skin what it is, we’d hazard a guess and say skincare is important.The Japanese skincare routine has quite a few steps. There’s cleansing; then the first step after cleansing is toning. To help you ease into Japanese skincare, we ordered the 28 most popular toners※1 from Japan’s e-commerce giants (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and @cosme) and tested them all. We also invited an specialist and had her compare the following:1. Application (How It Feels on Skin)2. HydrationThis is how we tested and found the most exceptional Japanese toners. We also consulted our specialist about skincare–for example, we asked about how to properly put on toner and the order in which we should apply toner, lotion, and essences. We share all this information at the end of the article, so stay tuned.※1 化粧水: tone
    Cosmetics and skincare
    11,137 views
  • Canmake Gokubuto Mascara & Gokunobi Mascara Review
    Canmake Gokubuto Mascara & Gokunobi Mascara Review
    Canmake has two sister mascaras out: Gokubuto, the volumizing one, and Gokunobi, the lengthening one. Both are tubing mascaras, meaning they come off with warm water. But as with all wash-off mascaras, you’re left to wonder–will it smudge? Can it hold a curl? What’s the finish like?This time around, our editing department purchased both the Gokubuto and Gokunobi mascaras and tested for the above. We also made sure they were easy to apply and remove. This is everything we learned.
    Cosmetics and skincare
    417 views
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