Top 26 Best Japanese Whitening Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online 2019 – Tried and True!

Top 26 Best Japanese Whitening Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online 2019

It’s a buzzword in Japan: translucence※1. It’s similar to Korea’s glass skin–skin so pure that it’s nearly transparent, resembling layers of frosted glass. In order to respond to that aesthetic, cosmetic companies–both drugstore and high-end–here have been coming out with scores of whitening※2 serums, essences, and ampoules※3.

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 26 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.

※1 透明感: translucence (lit. transparency; used to describe glass skin)

※2 美白: whitening (in this article, that refers to the tamping down of hyperpigmentation and the production of melanin, thereby preventing freckles and blemishes)

※3 美容液: serums, essences, and ampoules (more on how we translated that term below)

Table of Contents

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.

Aiko Kawakami
〈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.

Sorry, but What’s Whitening Serum Again?

Sorry, but What's a Whitening Serum Again?

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's comment
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.

How to Choose a Japanese Whitening Serum, Essence, or Ampoule – Buying Guide

We’ll get into how we tested and compared all the products, but first we’d like to introduce three things you should look out for when choosing whitening serum.

① Choose Something with Whitening Ingredients

In Japan, whitening serums are usually considered over-the-counter drugs (or medicated※4). 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.

※4 薬用: medicated (in Japan, this means that the product was formulated with the intent to physically change something about your body, e.g. suppress the production of melanin)

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※5: 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※6: 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.

※5 ビタミンC: vitamin C

※6 ビタミンC誘導体: vitamin C derivatives

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※7: 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※8: A whitening ingredient many find to be effective. Because it can be irritating, those with sensitive skin should consult a specialist before use.
  • Arbutin※9: A derivative of hydroquinone. Less irritating than hydroquinone and a popular alternative.
  • Ellagic Acid※10: 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.

※7 プラセンタエキス: placenta extract

※8 ハイドロキノン: hydroquinone

※9 アルブチン: arbutin

※10 エラグ酸: ellagic acid

② 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.

③ Choose Something that Feels Good upon Application

Choose 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.

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

Now to introduce the 26 most popular Japanese whitening serums that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.

{The Products We Tested}

  1. HAKU melanofocus V 45 Whitening Serum (HAKU メラノフォーカスV 45 美白美容液 )
  2. Melano CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum (メラノCC 薬用しみ 集中対策 Wビタミン浸透美容液)
  3. ONE BY KOSE Melanoshot White (ONE BY KOSE メラノショット ホワイト)
  4. ISPA White Process Essence OP (イプサ ホワイトプロセス エッセンス OP )
  5. Sofina White Professional ET (ソフィーナ ホワイトプロフェッショナルET)
  6. Transino Medicated Whitening Essence EX (トランシーノ 薬用ホワイトニングエッセンスEX)
  7. HABA Medicated White Lady (ハーバー 薬用ホワイトレディ)
  8. Chifure Whitening Essence W (ちふれ 美白美容液W)
  9. Chifure Whitening Essence VC (ちふれ 美白美容液 VC)
  10. Curél Whitening Moisture Essence (キュレル 美白美容液)
  11. Hada Labo shirojyun premium W Whitening Essence (肌ラボ 白潤プレミアムW美白美容液)
  12. SENKA white beauty serum (純白専科 すっぴん白雪美容液)
  13. SK-II Genoptics Spot Essence (SK-II ジェノプティクス スポット エッセンス)
  14. Episteme white photo shot (エピステーム ホワイトフォトショット)
  15. Medicated Prierneige Place-Rich Seven White Serum (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)
  16. EBiS Bio White B Whitening Essence (エビス ビーホワイト)
  17. Soka Mocka Shirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence (草花木果白花八草美白液)
  18. Cosme Decorte Whitelogist Bright Express (コスメデコルテ ホワイトロジスト ブライト エクスプレス)
  19. naris cosmetics Blanc White Whitening Essence (ナリス化粧品 ブランホワイト ホワイトニング エッセンス)
  20. KOSÉ Sekkisei Recovery Essence Excellent (コーセー 雪肌精 リカバリーエッセンスエクセレント)
  21. freeplus whitening moisture essence (フリープラス ホワイトニングモイスチャーエッセンス)
  22. THREE Balancing White Clear Essence (THREE バランシング ホワイト クリアエッセンス)
  23. MUJI Moisturising Essence (無印良品 敏感肌用薬用美白美容液)
  24. ALBION Exage White Whitening Response (アルビオン エクサージュホワイト ホワイトニング レスポンス)
  25. Aqualabel Bright White EX (アクアレーベル シミ対策美容液)
  26. Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence (小林製薬 ケシミン美容液)

We then tested for each of the following things:

Test ①: Hydration
Test ②: Application

Test ①: Hydration

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.

The Big Takeaway: Serums that Contained Glycerin and BG were Reliably Hydrating

The Big Takeaway: 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

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.

The Big Takeaway: Simple Packaging, Light Textures, and Gentle Fragrances were the Best Received

The Big Takeaway: 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.

The Final Verdict: Top 26 Best Japanese Whitening Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online

Now to introduce the 26 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+.

26. MUJI Moisturising Essence

MUJI Moisturising EssenceMUJI Moisturising Essence

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Visit Muji for more details

Price: $18.50

Hydration was Barely There. Might be Drying on Certain Skin Types

The active ingredients in this essence were vitamin C, 2-glucoside and glycyrrhizinate dipotassium. All are said to be effective whitening ingredients, but because the formulation itself was lacking in moisture, all this essence might do is dry out your skin.

Active Ingredients Vitamin C, 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizinate Dipotassium Hydration D
Application C Overall Score D

25. EBiS Bio White B Whitening Essence

EBiS Bio White B Whitening EssenceEBiS Bio White B Whitening Essence

Visit Global Rakuten for more details

Price: $14.65

The Dropper and Tiny Bottle are Not Convenient

Because we had to use a dropper and the bottle was so small, this was difficult to handle. Even though the essence wasn’t hydrating, it left behind a sticky residue. However, both active ingredients are said to be anti-inflammatory, which helps with irritation and redness, and have skin-lightening effects.

We do have to admit that it smelled like something you’d find in your grandma’s dresser.

Active Ingredients Tranexamic Acid, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium Hydration D
Application C Overall Score D

24. naris cosmetics Blanc White Whitening Essence

naris cosmetics Blanc White Whitening Essencenaris cosmetics Blanc White Whitening Essence

Visit Amazon for more details (Japan only)

Price: $48.83

Packaging was Simple and Convenient. However, the Serum Itself Smelled like Medicine

Maybe it was because there was ethanol in the formula, but there was a quick chill upon application. You might want to use it during summer, especially because it wasn’t that moisturizing. It did smell like medicine, so just be forewarned.

Its active ingredients included everything we talked about above–L-ascorbic acid is just another name for Vitamin C–and spans the spectrum of oxidation suppressors, tyrosinase inhibitors, and anti-inflammatory agents, promising a multi-faceted approach.

Active Ingredients Arbutin, L-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrihizin Dipotassium Hydration C
Application D Overall Score D

23. Transino Medicated Whitening Essence EX

Transino Medicated Whitening Essence EXTransino Medicated Whitening Essence EX

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Price: $41.77

Unique Scent is a Hit or Miss. Is Also, Unfortunately, Not Hydrating

This smelled kind of like alcohol and kind of like medicine. It didn’t really leave skin tacky, but it also wasn’t hydrating. The single active ingredient was the anti-inflammatory agent, tranexamic acid.

Active Ingredients Tranexamic Acid Hydration C
Application C Overall Score C

22. Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence

Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin EssenceKobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence

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Price: $9.86

Smelled of Medicine, Perhaps Because of All the Whitening Ingredients

It featured many whitening ingredients, but this serum only earned a C for hydration and how it applied. The packaging was pretty retro and the smell medicinal. Even though it felt thick and wet going on skin, it wasn’t able to retain that moisture for eight hours.

Active Ingredients L-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium, Tocopherol Acetate Hydration C
Application C Overall Score C

21. Aqualabel Bright White EX

Aqualabel Bright White EXAqualabel Bright White EX

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Visit alpha beauty for more details

Price: $20.95

May be Dense, but This Gel Spreads Easily over Skin. Hydration was Subpar

It was thick and slippery–just as you would expect gel to feel. There wasn’t much of a scent, though some detected a faint cosmetics smell. It’s a readily available drugstore serum, but it doesn’t really hydrate… It featured the same anti-inflammatory agents as our serum in 25th place.

Active Ingredients Tranexamic Acid, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium Hydration D
Application B Overall Score C

20. KOSÉ Sekkisei Recovery Essence Excellent

KOSÉ Sekkisei Recovery Essence ExcellentKOSÉ Sekkisei Recovery Essence Excellent

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Price: $78.16

Has That Half-Makeup, Half-Alcohol Smell

It felt like a gel and spread like butter over skin, and yet there was no sticky residue. The only thing was it had that old cosmetics smell, bit reminiscent of alcohol, which could be a deal breaker. Its sole active ingredient was the popular tyrosinase inhibitor arbutin.

Active Ingredients Arbutin Hydration B
Application D Overall Score C

19. Soka Mocka Shirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence

Soka Mocka Shirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence Soka Mocka Shirahana Yakusa Whitening Essence

Visit Amazon for more details (Japan only)

Price: $50.79

Lightweight and Disappears into Skin without a Trace. Just Hope You Like Herbal Scents

It felt light and left behind no sticky residue. The bottle made it a simple matter to tell how much product we had left. Both the packaging and scent were kind of traditional Japanese–you may love it or hate it. This formula, too, featured the anti-inflammatory agents tranexamic acid and glycyrrhizin dipotassium.

Active Ingredients Tranexamic Acid, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium Hydration C
Application B Overall Score C

18. ALBION Exage White Whitening Response

ALBION Exage White Whitening ResponseALBION Exage White Whitening Response

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Price: $57.89

Features Tranexamic Acid, an Important Skin-Whitening Reagent. May Also be Drying

This one also featured tranexamic acid, a skin lightener and anti-inflammatory agent, as its sole active ingredient. It was wet and milky in texture, so who would’ve expected it’d be the least hydrating of all the products we tested? Don’t use this one without a good moisturizer. We were partial to its light floral scent.

Active Ingredients Tranexamic Acid Hydration D
Application A+ Overall Score C

17. freeplus whitening moisture essence

freeplus whitening moisture essencefreeplus whitening moisture essence

Visit Global Rakuten for more details

Visit ichibankao for more details

Price: $37.37

Leaves Skin Feeling Smooth and Dewy (Actual Hydrating Power, However, is Only Average)

This was another gel. It was quite dense, but absorbed easily into the skin, leaving it plump and supple. However, that moisture only somewhat held out over the course of eight hours, and so we concluded that this serum was merely decent.

It featured both an oxidation suppressor (Vitamin C) and the ever-popular anti-inflammatory agent glycyrrhizinate dipotassium.

Active Ingredients L-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizinate Dipotassium Hydration B
Application C Overall Score C

16. Cosme Decorte Whitelogist Bright Express

Cosme Decorte Whitelogist Bright ExpressCosme Decorte Whitelogist Bright Express

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Price: $124.56

A Silky-Smooth Gel Serum. Might Not Be Worth the Price unless You Love Kojic Acid

This was a gel serum, but it felt smooth and light. It left our skin supple and plush, but had no sticky residue. It smelled slightly of alcohol, but not enough to really be noticeable.

It was decently hydrating and featured kojic acid, which is often used by Japanese cosmetic titans such as KOSÉ and Shiseido as a whitening agent and tyrosinase inhibitor. Kojic acid is quite strong–to the point it gets irritating–and has been approved for cosmetic use only in concentrations of 1% or less. We weren’t sure if the overall formula was worth the price.

Active Ingredients Kojic Acid Hydration B
Application B Overall Score B

15. Sofina White Professional ET

Sofina White Professional ETSofina White Professional ET

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Price: $45.67

Felt like a Cream and Left Your Skin Soft and Plump–Like a Cream

It looked and felt just like a white night cream, and it left our skin dewy. It had an herbal scent to it. When it came to the hydration and application, Sofina’s whitening serum was just average. It did feature Chamomilla ET, Kao’s own plant-based whitening ingredient.

Active Ingredients Chamomilla ET Hydration B
Application B Overall Score B

14. ONE BY KOSE Melanoshot White

ONE BY KOSE Melanoshot WhiteONE BY KOSE Melanoshot White

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Visit alpha beauty for more details

Price: $46.41

Felt Like a Moisturizer, but without the Stickiness. Without the Hydration as Well.

This was a bit like a face lotion, but lightweight and silky. It didn’t leave the skin tacky. We also liked that when we applied it, we got a faint whiff of soap. It featured kojic acid, same as Whitologist, in 17th place, but Melanoshot is a drugstore serum available at an accessible price. We only wish it were more hydrating.

Active Ingredients Kojic Acid Hydration D
Application A Overall Score B

13. Hada Labo shirojyun premium W Whitening Essence

Hada Labo shirojyun premium W Whitening EssenceHada Labo shirojyun premium W Whitening Essence

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Price: $13.11

You Can Trust that It’ll be Both Moisturizing and Whitening. All You Need to Do is Get over the Smell of Alcohol

It was watery–similar to toner, actually–and we didn’t like how product cascaded out with a single push of the pump. It also left skin a bit tacky and smelled of alcohol.

However, we quite liked its formula. It featured glycerin and BG, one of the most hydrating combos out there. As for whitening, there’s arbutin and 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, which is a stable Vitamin C derivative that inhibits melanin production and helps with collagen synthesis.

Active Ingredients 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, Arbutin Hydration A
Application D Overall Score B

12. HABA Medicated White Lady

HABA Medicated White LadyHABA Medicated White Lady

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Price: $14.65

Contains Some Potent Vitamin C Derivatives, but Still Hydrates. You Don’t Get Much Product for the Price, Though

HABA’S White Lady featured some pretty strong Vitamin C derivatives, but it didn’t dry out skin. But the bottle was so small, it was rather inconvenient to use; plus we only got 10 ml of product for about 1500 yen (~$15).

It did contain L-ascorbic acid phosphoric ester sodium (a skin brighter and hydrator) and glycyrrhizin dipotassium, which is soothing, so we will vouch for the whitening formula.

Active Ingredients L-Ascorbic Acid Phosphoric Ester Sodium, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium Hydration A
Application D Overall Score B

11. Melano CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum

Melano CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin SerumMelano CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum

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Price: $8.68

Formula was as Slick as Oil, but was Lightweight and Didn’t Leave Skin Tacky

By now, you’ve probably heard of @cosme, Japan’s well-known makeup database, from us. Well, @cosme crowned Melano CC 2018’s best cosmetic. It featured ascorbic acid, the active form of Vitamin C, and tocopherol acetate, a Vitamin E derivative that is an antioxidant and acts as a skin protectant.

It had a refreshing citrus scent and, though slick, was light in texture. However, it wasn’t very hydrating. It also didn’t seem to want to come out of the tube, no matter how we squeezed it.

Active Ingredients Ascorbic Acid, Tocopherol Acetate Hydration C
Application A Overall Score B

10. SK-II Genoptics Spot Essence

SK-II Genoptics Spot EssenceSK-II Genoptics Spot Essence

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Price: $225.00

Application and Hydration were Satisfactory. Also Depends on Whether You Want to Bet on SK-II’s Patented Ingredients

What we do know: when it came to hydration and application, SK-II didn’t leave us unsatisfied. It also contained a lot of patented ingredients, which both SK-II and others have sworn by.

Active ingredients include Demelano P3C™, said to be a superior whitener, and panthenol, a humectant often used in skin- and hair-care. Other ingredients include PITERA™–one of SK-II’s selling points, a substance derived from yeast fermentation and full of nutrients–sea kelp extract, and nicotinamide.

Active Ingredients Demelano P3C™, Panthenol Hydration A
Application B Overall Score B

9. Medicated Prierneige Place-Rich Seven White Serum

Medicated Prierneige Place-Rich Seven White SerumMedicated Prierneige Place-Rich Seven White Serum

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Price: $19.34

Pure Placenta that Seeps Steadily into Skin

It had a dense texture, but it wasn’t tacky enough to bother us. Rather, it absorbed easily into skin and was satisfactorily hydrating. It did contain hydrogenated lecithin and lysophosphatidylcholine. They’re said to be skin-restoring ingredients, but in this formulation, both are egg yolk-based, so be careful if you’re allergic.

Active Ingredients Placenta Extract, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium Hydration A
Application C Overall Score B

8. HAKU melanofocus V 45 Whitening Serum

HAKU melanofocus V 45 Whitening Serum

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Price: $77.61

Hydrates and Leaves Your Skin Feeling like Silk

This contained m-tranexamic acid and 4MSK (potassium 4-methoxysalicylate), an anti-inflammatory agent and a popular whitening ingredient in East Asia (also a favorite of Shiseido). It was also the second-most hydrating serum of the 26 we tested. Texture-wise, it was more on the firm, dense side.

We don’t know if it’s because it’s refillable, but the bottle gave off a weird rattle when we shook it.

Active Ingredients 4MSK, m-Tranexamic Acid Hydration A+
Application C Overall Score A

7. IPSA White Process Essence OP

IPSA White Process Essence OPIPSA White Process Essence OP

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Visit Everglow Cosmetics for more details

Price: $67.79

Leaves Skin like Velvet after It’s Absorbed. You Can Feel the Moisture

The package was white as snow, and it gave us a feeling of purity and cleanliness. It wasn’t tacky and absorbed quite well, leaving our skin silky smooth. We wouldn’t say skin felt super plump afterwards, but you could tell that this serum was hydrating.

This formula, too, featured the popular tranexamic acid. It was expensive, but you’re also paying for the ease of mind that comes with using products from IPSA, the skincare giant that never disappoints.

Active Ingredients Tranexamic Acid Hydration B
Application A Overall Score A

6. Curél Whitening Moisture Essence

Curél Whitening Moisture EssenceCurél Whitening Moisture Essence

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Visit YesStyle for more details

Price: $26.69

Impressive as a Drugstore Cosmetic. Does Smell like Medicine

It looked unassuming, but it did amazing for the price. Just like Sofina’s serum, which ranked in at 14, Curél featured Kao’s Chamomilla ET as its active ingredient.

The gel was soft and not too dense, and it spread easily over skin. This was formulated for dry, sensitive skin and packed more hydrating power than average.

Active Ingredients Chamomilla ET Hydration A
Application B Overall Score A

5. Chifure Whitening Essence W

Chifure Whitening Essence WChifure Whitening Essence W

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Visit Kirei Station for more details

Price: $18.90

Leaves Skin Tacky, but is Rich in Both Whitening Ingredients and Hydration

This also took a multi-faceted approach to whitening, featuring arbutin as a tyrosinase inhibitor and stabilized vitamin C derivatives as antioxidants. It also contained hyaluronic acid and trehalose, which made it the most moisturizing serum that we tested by far.

It was a dense gel and left a bit of sticky residue. However, it’s available for cheap and perfect for those who want to get whitening and hydration from a single product.

Active Ingredients Arbutin, Stabilized Vitamin C Derivatives Hydration A+
Application C Overall Score A

4. SENKA white beauty serum

SENKA white beauty serumSENKA white beauty serum

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Visit Global Rakuten for more details

Price: $12.04

Hydrates as It Brightens. For a Decent Price, Too

This serum earned an A for both hydration and application. It featured not only m-tranexamic acid, which is said to brighten and soothe rough skin, but also the moisturizing star, hyaluronic acid. It was a light cream that absorbed easily into skin and left next to no residue.

It had a gentle, clean smell, which was nice, and it’s available for a little over 1000 yen ($10) in Japan. Definitely worth a try.

Active Ingredients m-Tranexamic Acid Hydration A
Application A Overall Score A

3. THREE Balancing White Clear Essence

THREE Balancing White Clear EssenceTHREE Balancing White Clear Essence

Visit Everglow Cosmetics for more details

Price: $111.15

Oriental Fragrance Has Us Entranced. Soft Milky Texture and Whitening Ingredients weren’t Half Bad, Either

We couldn’t get enough of the scent. It also had a light, milky texture that spread like butter over skin; it wasn’t tacky and made us feel like we were at a spa. It had arbutin and glycyrrhizinate dipotassium, both of which inhibit melanin production, as active ingredients, so it’s certainly formulated to protect against blemishes.

We also loved the cute blocky bottle. It isn’t cheap, and you might not want to make such a costly gamble with your skin, but we think that THREE will come through for you in the end.

Active Ingredients Arbutin, Glycyrrhizinate Dipotassium Hydration B
Application A+ Overall Score A+

2. Episteme white photo shot

Episteme white photo shot2. Episteme white photo shot

Visit YesStyle for more details

Price: $206.06

The Darling of Countless Beauty Magazines. A Serum Born from Cutting-Edge Melanin Research

This serum’s already been dubbed as “the best” by countless beauty magazines here in Japan. It featured that popular whitening ingredient, kojic acid, as well as the patented “photo shot complex,” which is a mix of rose fruit and artichoke extract (said to moisturize and help build collagen). It smelled slightly of geraniums.

It felt like a moisturizer and absorbed easily into the skin, leaving it dewy but not tacky. By the way, the concept for this product came from light therapy. While that price is nothing to sneeze at, this is a must-have for those who want to see what the newest research in cosmetics has to offer.

Active Ingredients Kojic Acid, Photo Shot Complex Hydration B
Application A+ Overall Score A+

1. Chifure Whitening Essence VC

Chifure Whitening Essence VCChifure Whitening Essence VC

Visit Global Rakuten for more details

Visit Kirei Station for more details

Price: $15.65

Most Worth Your Money. A Serum with Whitening and Hydrating Ingredients You Can Use Every Day that Leaves Skin Silky

This won out over all those department store cosmetics. It had skin-brightening antioxidants in the form of Vitamin C derivatives, as well as glycyrrhizinate dipotassium, which has made its way onto this list time and time again as a popular anti-inflammatory agent and tyrosinase inhibitor. Then, there was hyaluronic acid, which helped make this serum very moisturizing.

It was a bit dense, but the formula spread easily; a little went a long way. Though it felt a little tacky after application, when we gave it time to set, our skin was silky and packed with moisture.

Sure, the packaging looked like that of a drugstore foundation, but we couldn’t complain, seeing as we got 30 ml of product for about 800 yen (~$8). In more ways than one, it’ll be a simple matter to use this serum every day, which is the most important aspect of skincare.

Active Ingredients L-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizinate Dipotassium Hydration A+
Application B Overall Score A+

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's comment
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.

The Multi-Faceted Approach: Make Sure You Use Sunscreen in Addition to Your Whitening Serums

The Multi-Faceted Approach: Make Sure You 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's comment
I always stress that you can't let your guard down just because it's winter. Ultraviolet A 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.

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.

Original by Yukina Matsuda; Translation by Jasmine Li

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