• Top 18 Best Japanese Anti-Aging Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online 2020 - Tried and True! 1
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Top 18 Best Japanese Anti-Aging Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online 2020 - Tried and True!

We might not be able to prevent aging altogether, but we can still age gracefully. That feels like the consensus here in Japan, where anti-aging skincare is popular and constantly evolving. As time goes by, our skin undergoes certain changes–hormones are thrown out of balance, certain functions are dulled–and serums that you used once may no longer be as effective.

So which serums a) target the signs of aging and b) will actually work for you? In order to answer that question, we ordered the 18 most popular anti-aging※1 serums※2 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 anti-aging serums, essences, and ampoules.

※1 エイジングケア: anti-aging (lit. aging care), which, in this article, refers to products meant to moisturize mature skin

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

This article's specialists

Aiko Kawakami
  • Last updated: 01-17-2020
  • 5,435 views
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.
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.

What Exactly Does an Anti-Aging Serum Do?

What Exactly Does an Anti-Aging Serum Do?
The main thing an anti-aging serum does is hydrate. Dehydration is said to be one of the biggest culprits behind the various signs of aging. And it’s not just the wrinkling and the sagging; when your skin is dehydrated, its natural barrier gets worn down, which in turn leads to hyperpigmentation and acne.
Furthermore, as your skin ages, it loses its ability to hold on to water. When your skin starts losing its firmness and elasticity, when spots and dulling start to become apparent, is when you need to pay attention to hydration more than ever. When it comes to anti-aging, the most important thing is to use products that help with water retention.
That isn’t to say that other things, such as ingredients that help firm up skin or prevent age and sun spots, aren’t important–they are. But they’re more like the cherry on the sundae. At the end of the day, the first question you should ask yourself is, “Does my anti-aging serum keep mature skin properly hydrated?”
Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami
When it comes to anti-aging, the most important thing is keeping the stratum corneum—the horny outer layer of skin—moisturized. It wouldn't be too much to say that the key to anti-aging lies in the extent to which you can stave off dehydration.

How to Choose a Japanese Anti-Aging Serum, Essence, or Ampoule – Buying Guide

There are a whole lot of anti-aging serums out there. Let’s talk about how to narrow down the choices and find one that’s right for you.

① Look for Something Hydrating

① Look for Something Hydrating
As we’ve already mentioned, the first thing we want you to check for is hydration. We’re not exaggerating when we say that, simply by making sure your skin doesn’t dry out, you can eliminate or ameliorate many signs of aging. The following are examples of effective moisturizers:
  • Ceramides: Hydrates your skin and helps restore its natural barrier
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Known for water retention
  • Proteoglycans: Glycosylated proteins. Provides hydration and elasticity

In particular, proteoglycans have enjoyed tons of popularity in recent years. The poster child of proteoglycans would be aggrecan, found in articular cartilage. That’s would explain why it’s highly elastic. It has exceptional water retention. It also been experimented on and proven to help with collagen synthesis–truly a superstar when it comes to anti-aging.

Aiko Kawakami
Skincare Specialist
Aiko Kawakami
As for other hydrating ingredients, glycerin and BG come to mind. Then there's fruit cell culture extract, taken from apples, as well as sugars like trehalose and sugar squalane, which have the ability to attract and retain water.

② Then Look for Other Ingredients that Target Your Concerns

It’s not only hydration–there are a whole host of other benefits an anti-aging serum can offer you. Below, we introduce a few of the most common woes of aging, as well as ingredients that target those areas.

Ingredients Said to Work on Spots and Dullness

Ingredients Said to Work on Spots and Dullness
With age comes blemishes and lackluster skin. The following are ingredients meant to prevent that.
  • APPS: A vitamin C derivative that has the ability to permeate into skin. Brightens skin and fights off wrinkles.
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate: A stabilized vitamin C derivative. Reduces melanin in the skin and suppresses its production.
  • Kojic Acid: Inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme that catalyzes the production of pigments.
  • Fullerene: Suppresses melanin production. Also said to help with hydration and reducing crow’s feet.

Ingredients Said to Restore Firmness and Elasticity

Ingredients Said to Restore Firmness and Elasticity
Another thing: as your skin matures, it loses suppleness and gains wrinkles. The following are ingredients that are said to smooth out skin.
  • Retinol (Vitamin A): Helps with skin elasticity. Also reduces dullness and the appearance of spots and wrinkles.
  • Pine Extract: Strengthens lymphatic vessels. By doing so, also keeps skin from sagging.
  • Astaxanthin: A red pigment. Lightens the skin and reduces wrinkles.
  • Acetyl Hexapeptite8: Relaxes facial muscles, reducing face contractions. This, in turn, helps with sagging and expression lines.

③ Look for a Serum with a Pleasing Texture and Scent–and is Also in Convenient Packaging

③ Look for a Serum with a Pleasing Texture and Scent–and is Also in Convenient Packaging
With skincare, consistency is key. Even the best anti-aging serum in the world will be of no help if you don’t use it every day. That’s why it’s important to find a formula that smells and feels good, wrapped up in packaging that’s easy to use.
Serums vary in density. They can be lightly or heavily scented or have no scent at all. As for packaging, you can find serums in tubes or bottles with either a pump or dropper. This kind of stuff all comes down to personal preference, so make sure you find something you like.

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them
Now to introduce the 18 most popular Japanese anti-aging serums that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.
【The Products We Tested】

1. Beauty Mall Premium APPS + E Fullerene Serum

2. RISOU Repair Gel 
3. Sofina Lift Professional EX 
4. Dr.Ci:Labo Super White 377VC 
5. Melano CC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum 
6. POLA B.A Prislumina Serum 
7. SHISEIDO Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate N 
8. Albion Upsurge Solution 
9. Elixir enriched serum 
10. MUJI Aging Care Moisturising Essence
11. MAIHADA KATSUJUN Lift Essence 
12. HAKU melanofocus V 45 Whitening Serum
13. SK-II Genoptics Spot Essence
14. ORBIS Lift Bright Essence
15. NOV L&W Lift Essence
16. ASTALIFT Essence Destiny
17. Cosme Decorte Whitelogist Bright Express 
18. Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence 
We then tested for each of the following things:
Test ①: Hydration
Test ②: Application

Test ①: Hydration

Test ①: Hydration
First, we looked at hydration–the key to anti-aging.
We applied pearl-sized drops of serum to 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: Hydrating Serums Contained Sugar Derivatives or Antioxidants

The Big Takeaway: Hydrating Serums Contained Sugar Derivatives or Antioxidants
The serums that proved to be most hydrating usually contained antioxidants–such as Vitamins A and C, as well as tocopherol–or sugars–such as rhamnose or sugar squalane–as ingredients. Sugars in particular are great at absorbing and holding on to water.
Other anti-aging serums that were effective contained ascorbic acid, ubiquinone (Coenzyme Q10), and apple fruit cell culture extract. To summarize, we found that ingredients that either prevent oxidation or are effective humectants have a positive effect on your skin’s ability to retain moisture.

Test ②: Application

Test ②: Application
Next, we looked at how well each serum applied.
We gathered staff from several departments and had them test each product. They then shared their impressions on how the formula felt and smelled, as well as how convenient the packaging was.

The Big Takeaway: We Liked Serums that Felt like Lotion and Smelled like a Field of Flowers

The Big Takeaway: We Liked Serums that Felt like Lotion and Smelled like a Field of Flowers
As for texture, we preferred products that were a bit dense, as opposed to thin and watery. They felt and usually proved to be more hydrating. They were a bit tacky, but they also seemed to do more to plump out the skin and smooth out wrinkles.
As for smell, we found that most anti-aging serums do have classy, subtle fragrances. Our favorites tended to be those with light, floral scents.

The Final Verdict: Top 18 Best Japanese Anti-Aging Serums, Essences, and Ampoules to Buy Online

Now to introduce the 18 best Japanese anti-aging 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+.
Just keep in mind that these products are not guaranteed to produce all the results we talked about above. If you do choose to buy any of these products, be sure to double-check the official description and purported benefits.
※Prices are as they were at the time of this article’s publication. They may fluctuate depending on when and the site on which you purchase the product.
18
Cosmetic IngredientsCeracute®, Hydrogenated Retinol, Ursolic Acid B, Burnet Extract
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity
HydrationD
ApplicationB
Overall ScoreD
17
Cosmetic IngredientsNano-Resveratrol EX, Nano-Astaxanthin, Nano-Lycopene
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity
HydrationC
ApplicationD
Overall ScoreC
16
Cosmetic IngredientsSatsuma Mandarin Peel Extract, Mangosteen Bark Extract, Inositol, Soapberry Extract, Turmeric Extract
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity
HydrationC
ApplicationD
Overall ScoreC
15
Active IngredientsUbidecarenone, N-Acetyl-L-Hydroxyproline, α-Glucosyl Glycerol Solution, L-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside
BenefitsPrevents Spots and Dullness, Improves Skin Elasticity
HydrationC
ApplicationB
Overall ScoreC
14
Cosmetic IngredientsPropanediol, Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Jojoba Seed Oil, Soluble Collagen, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Polyquaternium-51
BenefitsAdds Moisture
HydrationC
ApplicationB
Overall ScoreC
13
MAIHADA KATSUJUN  Lift Essence 1

MAIHADA KATSUJUN Lift Essence

$150.90

Cosmetic IngredientsBacillus/ (Rice bran extract/ Soybean extract) Fermentation Liquid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Polyglutamic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Water-Soluble Collagen, PEG-150
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity
HydrationC
ApplicationB
Overall ScoreB
12
SHISEIDO  Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate N 1

SHISEIDO Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate N

$70.00

Cosmetic IngredientsTrehalose, Sodium Carboxymethyl Beta-Glucan, PEG/PPG-17/4 Dimetyl Ether, Rosa Damascena Flower Water, Glycerin, Ectoine, Xylitol
BenefitsRetains Moisture
HydrationC
ApplicationA
Overall ScoreC
11
Cosmetic IngredientsTocopherol, Royal Jelly Extract
BenefitsPrevents Rough Skin, Spots, & Fine Lines; Retains Moisture
HydrationC
ApplicationA
Overall ScoreC
10
Kobayashi Seiyaku  Keshimin Essence 1

Kobayashi Seiyaku Keshimin Essence

$9.86

Active IngredientsL-Ascorbic Acid 2-Glucoside, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium, Tocopherol Acetate
BenefitsPrevents Spots, Dullness, and Rough Skin
HydrationC
ApplicationC
Overall ScoreB
9
Active IngredientsKojic Acid
BenefitsPrevents Spots
HydrationB
ApplicationB
Overall ScoreB
8

MelanoCC Medicated Blemish Prevention W Vitamin Serum

$8.68

Active IngredientsAscorbic Acid, Tocopherol Acetate, Glycyrrhizin Dipotassium, Isopropyl Methylphenol
BenefitsPrevents Spots & Dullness
HydrationB
ApplicationA
Overall ScoreB
7
Active IngredientsAscorbic Acid 2-Glucoside
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity, Prevents Spots
HydrationB
ApplicationA
Overall ScoreB
6
Cosmetic IngredientsAcetyl Hexapeptide-8, Ginger Root Extract, Horse Chestnut Seed Extract, Fucus Extract, Amidinoproline
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity
HydrationB
ApplicationA+
Overall ScoreB
5
Cosmetic IngredientsNano W377, Raw Vitamin C
BenefitsPrevents Spots and Dullness
HydrationB
ApplicationC
Overall ScoreC
4
Cosmetic IngredientsAscorbic Acid, Rhizopus / Fermented Rice Extract Solution, Hesperidin, Licorice Root Extract
BenefitsImproves Skin Elasticity and Glow, Prevents Spots and Dullness
HydrationA
ApplicationC
Overall ScoreA
3
Beauty Mall Premium  APPS + E Fullerene Serum 1

Beauty Mall Premium APPS + E Fullerene Serum

$78.06

Cosmetic IngredientsFullerene, Apple Fruit Cell Culture Extract, Trisodium Ascorbyl Palmitate Phosphate, Ubiquinone, Ascorbyl Glucoside
BenefitsPrevents Spots, Improves Skin Elasticity, Retains Moisture
HydrationA
ApplicationC
Overall ScoreA
2
Active IngredientsNicotinic Acid Amide W, D-Pantothenyl Alcohol
BenefitsPrevents Spots and Rough Skin
HydrationA
ApplicationB
Overall ScoreA
1
Active Ingredients4MSK, m-Tranexamic Acid
BenefitsPrevents Spots, Retains Moisture
HydrationA+
ApplicationC
Overall ScoreA

The Difference between “Cosmetic Ingredients” and “Active Ingredients”

The Difference between “Cosmetic Ingredients” and “Active Ingredients”
In the tables above, you probably noticed that we list the “cosmetic ingredients” of some products and the “active ingredients” of others. Why’s that? Both in Japan and the US, serums that aim to merely beautify and alter appearance are labeled as cosmetics. Their main ingredients are usually not present in high concentrations and are called “cosmetic ingredients.”
On the other hand, serums that are meant to change bodily functions are labeled as drugs. Their main ingredients are present in higher concentrations and function like medicine (though, rather than curing anything, they are meant to prevent things, like the production of melanin). These ingredients are called “active ingredients.”

Other Products That’ll Complete Your Japanese Beauty Routine

Other Products That’ll Complete Your Japanese Beauty Routine
You’re not done yet! Serums are smack dab in the middle of the Japanese skincare routine. They’re actually proceeded by toner and followed by lotion. Find out more below.

Summary

We consulted a skincare specialist, purchased the 18 most popular anti-aging serums, essences, and ampoules, and tested them all.
Everyone ages in different ways. There are some signs of aging you may be able to accept and others you want to ameliorate, so it’s important to choose a serum that targets your specific needs. Just remember that a lot of skincare is preventive and not curative, and anti-aging care starts early.
Well, at the bottom of it, the best thing you can do for your skin is lead a healthy lifestyle–eat well, sleep well, exercise, and moisturize. And then, when you’re looking for a little extra insurance in the form of an anti-aging serum, be sure to keep what we talked about today in the back of your mind.
Original by Yukina Matsuda; Translation by Jasmine Li

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