Top 19 Best Japanese Moisturizing Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online 2019 – Tried and True!

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

Winters in Japan can get really dry, especially with offices running their heaters, full blast, at what must be a million degrees (not pointing any fingers, but). Times like these, you need a little extra moisture. Especially because one of the secrets to keeping your skin young is to keep it hydrated. Japanese cosmetics companies caught wind of this and–lo and behold–the market’s swamped with moisturizing serums.

Great, but that makes it all the more difficult to tell which formulas will work for you and which… not so much. To save you some guesswork, we ordered the 19 most popular moisturizing 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 moisturizing serums, essences, and ampoules※1.

※1 美容液: serums, essences, and ampoules (all three are basically the same product, just with different concentration levels of active ingredients)

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.

How to Choose a Japanese Moisturizing 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 two things you should look out for when choosing moisturizing serum.

① Choose Something… Moisturizing

Okay, we know that’s obvious; below, we tell you how to do so.

Read the Ingredients List and Look for Hydrating Combos

Read the Ingredients List and Look for Hydrating Combos

In Japan, cosmetics need to have all ingredients listed, so you can read the packaging and have a rough idea of what the formula’s going to be like. However, if the serum’s been labeled as what translates roughly into an OTC drug※2, then the maker is under no obligation to provide a full list of ingredients–so it gets hard to make assumptions simply from reading labels.

In the cosmetics industry, the most popular hydrating ingredient in glycerin. Then there’s BG, DPG, and trehalose※3. If you see any of these near the top of the ingredients list, then you can expect the serum to be moisturizing–at least to a certain extent.

As we already explained, it’s hard to judge from just the packaging. So, at the very least, we made sure to test all of the products we purchased for hydration; take those results into consideration as well.

※2 医薬部外品: translated here as over-the-counter (OTC) drug; often also referred to as a quasi-drug

※3 トレハロース: trehalose

Formulas that Include Alcohol and Ethanol Feel Light and Airy and are Therefore Good

Formulas that Include Alcohol and Ethanol Feel Light and Airy and are Therefore Good

Alcohol and ethanol are volatile; therefore, serums that include them will feel less sticky and dense on skin.

Some eyebrows are probably going up now. After all, alcohol is rumored to shrivel up skin. But just because a product contains alcohol doesn’t mean that it’s drying. That actually depends on the condition your skin is in, as well as your physical constitution.

However, you would do well to avoid alcohol if you have sensitive skin or are allergic to it.

Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami's comment
There are ingredients people feel are irritating, either because of some change in their health or because they've spent too long reading false claims about skincare. However, the truth of the matter is that out of the 14,000 plus cosmetic ingredients on the market now, there's not a single one that's universally irritating.

② Choose Something that You Enjoy Applying

Choose Something that You Enjoy Applying

Hydrating serums come in all kinds of textures–some you may like, some you may feel iffy about. You can find gel serums, slick liquid serums, or dense cream-like serums.

It isn’t as if one kind of texture is better than another. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it all comes down to personal preference. Look for a serum that’s easy to apply–and has a texture and scent that appeals to you.

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

Now to introduce the 19 most popular Japanese moisturizing serums that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.

{The Products We Tested}

  1. ETVOS Moisturizing Serum (エトヴォス モイスチャライジングセラム)
  2. Ayura Rhythm Concentrate (アユーラ リズムコンセントレート)
  3. ONE BY KOSE Hydration Boosting Serum (ワンバイコーセー 薬用保湿美容液)
  4. Tune Makers Ceramide 200 Essence (チューンメーカーズ セラミド配合200エッセンス)
  5. Tune Makers Fullerene Essence (チューンメーカーズ フラーレン配合エッセンス)
  6. Rice Force Deep Moisture Essence (ライスフォース ディープシリーズ ディープモイスチュアエッセンス)
  7. DECORTÉ Moisture Liposome (コスメデコルテ モイスチュア リポソーム)
  8. Biso-Jin jewelry jelly (株式会社美創人ジュエリージェリー )
  9. Curél Intensive Moisture Care Wrinkle Moisture Essence (キュレル 潤浸保湿美容液)
  10. Acseine Skincontrol Essence AD (アクセーヌ AD コントロール エッセンス)
  11. shu uemura TSUYA skin essence VG (シュウウエムラ TSUYA エッセンスVG)
  12. SUQQU Light Solution Essence (SUQQU ライトソリューション エッセンス)
  13. shiro KOMBU Skin Serum (shiro がごめ昆布美容液)
  14. POLA B.A Serum REVUP (POLA B.A セラム レブアップ)
  15. ALBION eclafutur d (アルビオンエクラフチュールd)
  16. Chifure Essence Alcohol-Free (ちふれ 美容液 ノンアルコールタイプ)
  17. LITS Moist Essence (リッツ モイスト 美容 エッセンス)
  18. MAIHADA Hadajun Essence (米肌 肌潤改善エッセンス)
  19. Kikumasamune Nihonshu no Biyoueki – Sake Essence (菊正宗 日本酒の美容液)

We then tested for each of the following things:

Test ①: Hydration
Test ②: Application

Test ①: Hydration

Hydration

The first thing we looked at was hydration.

We applied a pearl-sized drop of each serum on our arm. 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: Glycerin and BG are a Hydrating Super Combo

The Big Takeaway: Glycerin and BG are a Hydrating Super Combo

If it has glycerin, it’s probably hydrating. We also found that serums that combined glycerin with BG tended to be the most hydrating of all. They also tended to be dense.

Something else hydrating serums had in common? They contained ingredients derived from sugar. Trehalose is one of the most famous examples, and formulas that featured it were usually satisfactory.

Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami's comment
If you want something that's hydrating, then I recommend formulas that contain both BG and glycerin. Sugars like trehalose and sugar squalane are great at attracting water, so they're usually effective as well.

Test ②: Application

Application

Next, we looked at how each serum applied.

We gathered staff from several departments and had them tell us their impressions RE the texture and scent of the formula and convenience of the packaging.

The Big Takeaway: We Liked Toned Down, Classy Smells and Droppers

The Big Takeaway: We Liked Toned Down, Classy Smells and Droppers

We felt droppers were the most convenient to use. It was easiest to measure out how much product we wanted to use (and it helped that they made us feel like we were using an expensive serum / we were scientists). We also liked denser serums, since the hydration they packed into our skin was immediately noticeable.

As for fragrance, we liked to keep it classy. Think subtle floral scents. You want to use serums daily, so as long as you aren’t sensitive to fragrances, it’s nice to wrap yourself in a gentle scent at the end of the day and pretend you’re at a spa.

The Final Verdict: Top 19 Best Japanese Moisturizing Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online

Now to introduce the 19 best Japanese moisturizing 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+.

19. Tune Makers Fullerene Essence

Tune Makers Fullerene EssenceTune Makers Fullerene Essence

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Price: $39.40

This is the Least Hydrating of Them All. And the Bottle Doesn’t Make Our Lives Easier

Maybe it was because the ingredients were simple, but Tune Maker’s Fullerene Essence didn’t leave skin tacky at all, earning it an A for application. But it doesn’t change the fact that this essence also wasn’t hydrating.

The bottle was small, and restocking could get expensive in the long run. Not to mention that it took some effort trying to get product to come out of the small hole on top.

Hydration D Application A
Overall Score D

18. Tune Makers Ceramide 200 Essence

Tune Makers Ceramide 200 EssenceTune Makers Ceramide 200 Essence

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Price: $17.51

Not Hydrating. And the Bottle… Also Doesn’t Help Matters

“Ceramide” was plastered across the bottle, but the formula inside was not hydrating. Even though it was light and silky, this serum also didn’t come out of the bottle easily.

Hydration D Application C
Overall Score D

17. ONE BY KOSE Hydration Boosting Serum

ONE BY KOSE Hydration Boosting SerumONE BY KOSE Hydration Boosting Serum

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Price: $67.77

There’s No Sticky Residue. There’s Also No Hydration

This formula contained all sorts of juicy-sounding ingredients, such as Rice Power Extract No. 11 and glycerin concentrate, so we were surprised when hydration didn’t meet our expectations. It was quite light and smooth in texture, so it didn’t leave skin tacky. You might like it if you prefer thinner serums.

Hydration D Application C
Overall Score D

16. Biso-Jin jewelry jelly

Biso-Jin jewelry jellyBiso-Jin jewelry jelly

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Price: $102.12

Unique Scent and Jar Itself Might be Deal-Breakers

This was the only moisturizing gel serum we tested. It came in a jar–and there was a second lid underneath the main cap with a spatula resting on top. Some might feel differently, but we found it annoying to use. The scent was earthy. If you liked it, it smelled like herbs and fresh-cut grass; if you didn’t, it smelled like dirt.

It wasn’t hydrating, so we didn’t see a need to buy this serum in particular.

Hydration C Application D
Overall Score D

15. DECORTÉ Moisture Liposome

DECORTÉ Moisture LiposomeDECORTÉ Moisture Liposome

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Price: $50.00

Isn’t Moisturizing, but at Least It Smells Good. Density is Also Just Right

The formula was just thick enough, leaving skin a little tacky. It had that classical DECORTÉ smell, subtle and elegant. However, if you expect this serum to be as hydrating as it is expensive, you might find yourself disappointed.

※Products sold on e-commerce sites such as Rakuten and Amazon are parallel import goods (even in Japan) and may thus differ from the serum sold on DECORTÉ’s official site.

Hydration D Application B
Overall Score C

14. LITS Moist Essence

LITS Moist EssenceLITS Moist Essence

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Price: $26.83

Thick, Lush Texture that Knows No Drippage. A Bit Messy when Products Gets onto the Cap, Though

We actually liked the dense texture; it didn’t drip from our face and absorbed right into skin. There wasn’t much of a smell to it. However, it was actually less hydrating than average. Furthermore, when product got onto the cap, it hardened into white balls that then broke off–it got kind of messy.

Hydration C Application B
Overall Score C

13. Curél Intensive Moisture Care Wrinkle Moisture Essence

Curél Intensive Moisture Care Wrinkle Moisture EssenceCurél Intensive Moisture Care Wrinkle Moisture Essence

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Price: $16.38

Tube Might Not Look the Fanciest, but It’s Easy to Use. Just the Slightest Bit Tacky

This serum felt thick and wet, but it actually wasn’t that hydrating. It was the only serum we tested that was in a tube, and though we admit that it looked like a typical drugstore lotion, the packaging actually made it easy to control how much product came out.

We’d say that since the price is so accessible, Curél is a good one to try if you’re just starting to get into moisturizing serum and don’t want to dish out a whole lot of money.

Hydration C Application B
Overall Score C

12. ETVOS Moisturizing Serum

ETVOS Moisturizing SerumETVOS Moisturizing Serum

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Price: $45.84

Obsessed with the Herbal Scent. Goes on Light so You May Crave Something Heavier

This organic serum had a fresh herbal fragrance, which wasn’t too strong. Hydration was average, and it was similar to a moisturizer in texture, with almost no sticky residue. It did feel very light, so you may want something denser during the dry season or if you have dry skin.

Hydration B Application B
Overall Score B

11. Acseine Skincontrol Essence AD

Acseine Skincontrol Essence ADAcseine Skincontrol Essence AD

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Price: $56.07

Quite Watery. Simple Ingredients List Puts Those with Sensitive Skin at Ease

Acseine formulated their serum for sensitive skin. It was quite thin, and we felt no stickiness upon application. That might be also why hydration was merely decent. Also, the cap goes on tight, so you might need to wrestle a bit to get it off.

Hydration B Application B
Overall Score B

10. Kikumasamune Nihonshu no Biyoueki – Sake Essence

Kikumasamune Nihonshu no Biyoueki – Sake EssenceKikumasamune Nihonshu no Biyoueki – Sake Essence

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Price: $13.61

Smells Exactly like Sake. Worth a Try if You Aren’t Picky about Design

This serum packed a comparatively high amount of moisture, thanks to the combination of glycerin, BG, glycosyl trehalose (derived from sugar), and hydrogenated starch hydrolysate. The packaging looked, in a word, cheap. But if you couldn’t care less about that and the fact that the formula smelled of alcohol, then Kikumasamune’s serum is a pretty good deal.

Hydration A Application D
Overall Score B

9. Rice Force Deep Moisture Essence

Rice Force Deep Moisture EssenceRice Force Deep Moisture Essence

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Price: $100.00

Great if You’re Looking for a Lighter Serum, but Just Know that Hydration is Less than Average

The formula wasn’t thin, but it felt like silk against skin and left no sticky residue. You could smell the rice and alcohol, but it wasn’t too strong and didn’t bother us at all. The only thing was, despite the presence of Rice Power Extract No. 11, this serum wasn’t that hydrating.

Hydration C Application A
Overall Score B

8. shiro KOMBU Skin Serum

shiro KOMBU Skin Serumshiro KOMBU Skin Serum

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Price: $86.99

Quite a Sticky Serum. Smells Faintly of Kombu

The formula was so sticky, you could dip your finger in it and have it trail off in threads. It smelled faintly of kombu (for those not familiar with kombu, it’s a kind of kelp. Smells a bit like the sea, but sweeter). It left our skin feeling plump, but some might not like the texture. It was more hydrating than average.

Hydration A Application C
Overall Score B

7. POLA B.A Serum REVUP

POLA B.A Serum REVUPPOLA B.A Serum REVUP

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Price: $124.73

How’s This for Unique Design? Could’ve Been More Hydrating and Smelled Less Like Alcohol, Though

Looks-wise, this had us feeling like we were using an expensive serum. However, even though the formula spread easily over skin, it made us feel quite tacky. Hydration was there, but we didn’t think it matched up to the price. It also smelled like alcohol. How much you love this serum really depends on personal preference.

Hydration A Application C
Overall Score B

6. SUQQU Light Solution Essence

SUQQU Light Solution EssenceSUQQU Light Solution Essence

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Price: $135.99

Hydration was Simply Average. Might Not be Enough for Dry Skin

You’re supposed to use this serum directly on your face, before toner. Hydration was average. It had a lighter texture that was a bit tacky, but it didn’t take long to set. The packaging was very SUQQU–simple, elegant. But at this price point, we were hoping for a little more.

Hydration B Application B
Overall Score B

5. Ayura Rhythm Concentrate

Ayura Rhythm Concentrate

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Price: $87.33

On the Thicker Side, but Spreads Easily. Only Wish It were More Hydrating

This serum felt heavy, but it absorbed readily into skin once we spread it out. It left skin silky–there was no tackiness–earning it an unanimous A+ for application. We also found the aroma relaxing–think sweet, mild herbs. That’s why we were so disappointed when we found it was less hydrating than average.

Hydration C Application A+
Overall Score B

4. shu uemura TSUYA skin essence VG

shu uemura TSUYA skin essence VGshu uemura TSUYA skin essence VG

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Price: $86.00

More Hydrating than Average and Left Skin Plush and Plump. Has a Soothing Floral Scent

This is the newer version of shu uemura’s TSUYA skin essence. It includes 20% more highly concentrated rhamnose, which basically makes your cells act younger. It’s a popular serum that’s supposed to leave your skin not only more moisturized, but smoother and more youthful.

When we tried it out, we found the formula to be dense and a bit tacky. Hydration was above average. It also had a floral aroma we found very soothing.

Hydration B Application A+
Overall Score A

3. ALBION eclafutur d

ALBION eclafuturALBION eclafutur

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Price: $100.86

Light Serum that Absorbs Quickly into Skin. Good Hydration, as Well

This was another product that was rereleased–in October of 2018, actually. It generated a lot of buzz. We saw why beauty magazines loved it so much–the formula had body to it, but it disappeared quickly into skin, leaving behind no residue.

It was properly hydrating and helps with evening out the texture of your skin, leaving it smooth and supple. The price is steep, but we’d say it’s worth it.

Hydration A Application A
Overall Score B

2. MAIHADA Hadajun Essence

MAIHADA Hadajun EssenceMAIHADA Hadajun Essence

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Price: $74.08

Ultra Hydrating. A Serum that Unleashes the True Power of Rice and Leaves You with Dewy Skin

This serum uses Rice Power Extract to stimulate the synthesis of ceramides, which decrease as you age. Not only does that rehydrate your skin, it keeps it from drying out in the first place. It smelled a bit like rice, but the scent was so light that even if you didn’t like fragrances, it wouldn’t bother you. It spread easily, and a little went a long way.

It set quickly with no sticky residue. After application, skin felt dewy and supple. MAIHADA claims that, when it comes to skincare, they get to the very root of the problem, nurturing skin until it stays hydrated naturally. In any case, at the end of the day, our skin still felt soft and smooth.

If you want to see just what rice can do for you, MAIHADA is your best bet.

Hydration A+ Application B
Overall Score A+

1. Chifure Essence Alcohol-Free

Chifure Essence Alcohol-FreeChifure Essence Alcohol-Free

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Price: $13.50

Super Hydrating–You’d Never Believe It’s a Cheap Drugstore Cosmetic. The Serum mybest is Obsessed with

Not only was Chifure’s essence more hydrating than even MAIHADA’s Hadajun, which came in second, it was also non-alcoholic. Now, we did mention that alcohol is not always bad–but here’s a product we can recommend to those with sensitive skin or alcohol allergies.

The formula featured both hyaluronic acid and trehalose. It was transparent, on the denser side, and when we first applied it, felt a bit sticky. However, it set with some time, locking in moisture and leaving our skin soft and smooth.

In Japan, you can get 45 ml of product for just 648 yen (a little over $6). We have to hand it to Chifure for giving us this much hydration at such a low price point.

Hydration A+ Application B
Overall Score A+

If You Need Moisture, Moisture, and More Moisture, Check Out These Articles as Well

If You Need Moisture, Moisture, and More Moisture, Check Out These Articles as Well

If you have dry skin and want to properly care for it, you’ll need a good toner and lotion as well. We also tested all the products in these articles, so you should find them helpful.

Summary

We consulted a skincare specialist, purchased the 19 most popular moisturizing serums, essences, and ampoules, and tested them all.

Remember which serums are most hydrating, which are dense, and which are more lightweight. That way, you can find one that will not only keep your skin soft and lush throughout winter, but fresh and dewy in summer.

Original by Yukina Matusda; Translation by Jasmine Li

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