Kaori is the representative director of Japan's Scientific Beauty Institute. She also runs the Beauty Science Blog, which sends out beauty science information in a way that's easy to understand. She operates with the mission of "wanting people to enjoy the process of finding skincare that works for them by offering a scientific perspective". Kaori broadcasts her expert knowledge from working with skincare and cosmetics societies and academic journals on her blog, social media, and more. She also works with PR, product development, and corporate support teams for cosmetics.
mybest US' editing team consists of experienced members who have backgrounds in writing, editing, translation, and more. We are dedicated to researching what makes a product or service the best to users in the US in order to create top-quality articles. From skincare, to kitchen appliances, and to DIY supplies, our mission is to find the best ones for you.
The expert oversees the Buying Guide only, and does not determine the products and services featured.
Table of Contents
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.
Words like “bihaku” or “whitening” are used a lot in the Japanese beauty world, but perhaps a more suitable translation would be “brightening.” That’s because “whitening” skincare mainly aims to help you maintain an even, luminous complexion.
This article discusses “biyoueki,” which we’ve translated as “serums," but some brands will refer to their whitening products as essences or ampoules. While all three are essentially used interchangeably, there is a minor difference in the concentration of ingredients. Generally speaking, ampoules are the most concentrated, followed by serums, then essences, but this can differ depending on the brand.
Serums can also come in various forms, such as gel, foam, emulsions, and even cream, but for the purposes of this article, again, we'll be referring to all products collectively as "serums."
Here are four major points to look out for when choosing a Japanese whitening serum.
The timing and effectiveness of the active ingredients found in whitening serums can differ greatly depending on the product.
If you haven't been exposed to harsh UV rays yet, look for ingredients like tranexamic acid or chamomille extract. If you've just been exposed to UV rays, look for kojic acid, arbutin, and vitamin C derivatives.
Finally, your body starts actively producing melanin around 48 to 72 hours after being exposed to UV rays. If it's been less than 72 hours since exposure, look for ingredients like nicotinamide, placenta extract, or linoleic acid for post-UV ray melanin suppression.
Nicotinamide is a common ingredient that has a low risk of irritating the skin. Additionally, chamomille extract and tranexamic acid are gentle on the skin, given the way they inherently act on the skin.
If you're prone to irritated skin, consider products with these ingredients.
Dry, dull-looking skin can make your face look less healthy than it actually is. In order to combat this, it's important to look for a whitening serum with effective moisturizing ingredients.
Ingredients that you should definitely keep an eye out for are glycerin and ceramides. While it's fine for a product to have one or the other, whitening serums formulated with both will have more moisturizing abilities.
When choosing a product formulated with ceramides, ideally look for one with multiple ceramides!
Whitening serums that are formulated with high concentrations of plant extracts or are formulated to promote penetration can present a higher risk of irritating the skin.
If you are considering a product with ten or more plant extracts or essential oils, or if the product suggests that it's formulated for penetration and absorption, always conduct a patch test before applying it to your face. If you're also sensitive to alcohol, watch out for products formulated with ethanol.
One of the most important aspects when it comes to skincare is consistency, and how a product feels to use can greatly affect how consistent you can use it. Look for products that blend well into your skin, aren't sticky, and come in convenient containers.
Serums with emulsion-like, milky textures blend into the skin easily and tend to not be so sticky. These products also feature high amounts of oil, which helps the ingredients penetrate the skin.
Containers that can be used single-handedly were popular among our testers, such as pump bottles or droppers, which make it easy to adjust how much product you're using.
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Ayura Laboratories, Inc.
Ayura White Concentrate
Top-Class Ingredients, Hydration, and Feel
DUO The Medicated White Rescue
Contains Two Types of Whitening Active Ingredients. Bubbly Serum Melts Into the Skin!
Tokiwa Pharmaceutical Industry
Nameraka Honpo Medicinal Whitening Essence
Top-Tier Hydration Makes It Perfect for Brightening and Preventing Roughness
Astalift White Essence
Perfect Composition of Ingredients for a Moist Finish With a Non-sticky Feel
Medicated Whitening Clear Serum
May Strip Too Much of the Skin’s Oils, but Skin-Friendly Tranexamic Acid Is a Plus
EXIA AL Whitening Immaculate Essence MXC
The Container Isn’t User-Friendly, but High Hopes for the Whitening Effects
Daiichi Sankyo Healthcare
Minon Amino Moist Medicinal Mild Whitening
Slightly Lacking in Hydration, but Rich in Amino Acids and Ceramides
Astalift White Jelly Aquarista
Formulated With Only One Whitening Ingredient, but Has a Great Consistency
HAKU Melano Focus Z
Formulated With Proprietary Ingredient 4MSK
EQUITANCE White Essence
Contains Three Active Ingredients but Not the Most Hydrating
Ayura Laboratories' Ayura White Concentrate is a whitening serum composed of 91.6% naturally derived ingredients that provide brightening care while conditioning the skin.
It contains tranexamic acid as an active brightening ingredient, and has an excellent balance of brightening, moisturizing, and gentle ingredients. We saw an increase in average moisture content after two hours from application of +97%, which led to a high score on our moisturizing ability test, which was expected given its ingredients.
The thin gel permeates the skin as it spreads and feels great to use. We got a slight sense that it leaves a film, but this goes away as time passes. The aromatic herbal fragrance was popular among our testers for its pleasant scent, which helped boost its score in the feel test.
This whitening serum is perfect for those who seek to not only brighten their skin but also want something highly moisturizing and with a great feel.
Premier Anti-Aging's DUO The Medicated White Rescue is a whitening serum containing three active ingredients in a highly concentrated carbonated foam.
It features two brightening ingredients and one ingredient for preventing rough skin, earning high marks for its ingredients that offer different benefits. The serum also contains ceramides that helps moisturize the skin. In the moisturizing test, the product maintained an increase in moisture by 98% moisture even after two hours from application, demonstrating its high moisture retention ability.
This foam-type whitening serum was well-received for its feel as well, as it melts into the skin quickly and easily. However, the foam continues to come out even after you stop pressing the pump so it may take some practice to dispense it properly.
This whitening serum is perfect for those who want to brighten their skin as well as prevent rough skin.
Tokiwa Pharmaceutical Industry's Nameraka Honpo Medicinal Whitening Essence is a brightening serum that is formulated for brightening the skin as well as preventing acne.
Its moisturizing ability was highly impressive, increasing moisture levels on average by 94% even after two hours from application. This serum can hydrate incredibly dry skin to make it well hydrated and soft.
The composition of the ingredients is also noteworthy, containing not only active brightening ingredients like arbutin but also moisturizing ingredients like vitamin C derivatives. It also contains ingredients that prevent post-tanning roughness, which makes it perfect for the summer. The product spreads over the skin well, but the consistency didn't feel as moisturizing as it actually is.
However, with its excellent moisturizing ability and attractive ingredient composition, this whitening serum is best for the summer.
FUJIFILM’s Astalift White Essence is a serum that is formulated to provide hydration as well as to brighten the skin, thanks to its active ingredients.
The serum contains L-ascorbyl magnesium phosphate as an active brightening ingredient as well as Astaxanthin and Camellia Japonica extract for helping maintain healthy skin. In our moisturizing ability, we found this product increased moisture content by an average of 95%, demonstrating its high moisture retention. It is also very much gentle to the skin and has a great formulation.
The slightly thick liquid blends into the skin as it spreads, leaving the skin feeling soft and smooth. The pump can be pressed with a light push, making it easy to adjust the amount of product. Overall, we felt that this was a great product to use year-round since it doesn't leave a sticky residue.
ETVOS's Medicated Whitening Clear Serum is a whitening serum for sensitive skin that not only suppresses melanin production and prevents spots and freckles, but also addresses dullness caused by dry skin.
This serum uses tranexamic acid as its active ingredient, which is known to be gentle on the skin. Moreover, it also features other active ingredients that prevent rough skin and maintain healthy skin, as well as features ceramides, which are highly moisturizing. In the moisturizing ability test, we found average moisture levels increased by 81%.
For an emulsion-type serum, we felt that it had a pretty light consistency. Finally, this serum penetrates the skin well and feels moisturizing, but some testers said it left their skin feeling a bit too tight after using it.
Albion's EXIA AL Whitening Immaculate Essence MXC is a popular whitening product in Japan.
This essence contains kojic acid as an active ingredient, as well as vitamin C derivatives and mandarin orange extracts to provide nutrients and moisture to the skin. However, the iris root extract, which tightens up the skin, raised a few concerns as it might irritate sensitive skin.
The milky consistency of the product provides good penetration and a hydrating feel, but some testers said that it left a sticky residue. Another major drawback was that the product comes in a small container and it was hard to get out all the liquid even after shaking the bottle vigorously.
Minon Amino Moist Medicinal Mild Whitening from Daiichi Sankyo Healthcare is a whitening serum that aims to protect sensitive skin from environmental stressors and prevent rough skin while offering brightening properties.
It contains L-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside as an active whitening ingredient and glycyrrhizic acid 2K for preventing rough skin. The abundant formulation of amino acids and pseudo-ceramides is also a big plus, and it increased moisture levels amongst our testers by an average of 79%.
Our testers were fond of how you can get just the right amount for one push from the pump container. The gel-like consistency is easy to apply and leaves the surface of the skin smooth and silky. The consistency works best for those who prefer a light feel, so those who prefer a heavier, more moist feel may find it a little unsatisfying.
FUJIFILM’s Astalift White Jelly Aquarista is a whitening serum that suppresses melanin production and prevents spots and freckles while treating dullness caused by dry skin.
In addition to the whitening ingredient arbutin, the product is formulated with astaxanthin, which offers great anti-aging abilities. The serum also contains highly moisturizing nano ceramides, increasing the average moisture content among our testers by 73% in the moisturizing ability test.
Taking out the product with a spatula isn't really convenient, making it less than ideal for those who want to quickly get through their daily skincare routine. Additionally, its unique, jelly-like texture requires it to be gently and slowly massaged in, but it offers a fantastically moist feel.
Shiseido's HAKU Melano Focus Z is a popular whitening serum that has won numerous cosmetic awards in Japan.
This product features whitening ingredients like Shiseido's proprietary 4-methoxysalicylic acid potassium salt (4MSK), tranexamic acid, and three plant extracts known as Z-cut composites that also make the skin appear brighter thanks to their hydrating properties.
Among all the products tested for this article, this serum boasted the highest moisturizing ability, significantly increasing moisture content, as well as maintaining those high moisture levels for up to 2 hours.
The thick consistency of the product melts with your body heat and slowly blends into the skin. Some reviewers were concerned about the stickiness of the product, but others said it was refreshing and light for a cream. The formula being able to highly penetrate into the skin is also another plus.
Sunstar's EQUITANCE White Essence is a whitening serum formulated with the brand's proprietary active ingredient, linoleic acid S.
This serum, which is more of a cream, also contains tranexamic acid and dipotassium glycyrrhizate to suppress melanin production and prevent freckles and hyperpigmentation. But unfortunately, the serum performed mediocrely in the moisturizing ability test.
The consistency of the product changes from a moderately firm cream to refreshingly watery when massaged into the skin, penetrating the skin easily. It is also easy to apply, leaving almost no stickiness.
In Japan, whitening serums are usually considered over-the-counter drugs (or medicated), which are categorized as quasi-drugs. Companies are not obligated to list all ingredients for quasi-drugs, so Kaori was only able to evaluate the ingredients that were listed.
Next, we tested how moisturizing each whitening serum is. Hydration is important in order to improve dullness caused by dry skin.
To test this we used a Corneometer, which is a special device used by research institutions that can measure moisture levels in the skin. We compared moisture levels in the skin before application and after two hours from application and evaluated each product based on how much of an increase there was in moisture levels.
Finally, we tested how each product feels to use, since a whitening serum is something that should be used every day.
To test this, we gathered three testers from mybest's Japanese editorial team and had them test each product for the following points:
Since skin turnover happens in a cycle of about 28 days, make sure you use your whitening serum during this period; you'll start seeing results as your skin cells are renewed.
As we mentioned earlier, it's important to be consistent when using whitening serums, so we recommend that you continue to use them beyond the 28-day period.
A lot of people think UV protection is something that only matters in summer, but it's best to protect your skin against harmful UV rays throughout the year, and then use a whitening serum on top of that. Think of serums as the icing on the cake.
For more information on sunscreens, check out the link below.
If you want to keep your skin clear, you need to keep it hydrated. Toners and creams are some of the most important aspects of your skincare routine, and you’d do well to supplement your serum with them. Learn more below.
No. 1: Ayura Laboratories, Inc. | Ayura White Concentrate
No. 2: Premier Anti-Aging | DUO The Medicated White Rescue
No. 3: Tokiwa Pharmaceutical Industry | Nameraka Honpo Medicinal Whitening Essence
No. 4: FUJIFILM | Astalift White Essence
No. 5: ETVOS | Medicated Whitening Clear Serum
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