Have you always been concerned with dryness, or felt like you want to hydrate your skin a bit more? Want to keep your skin looking youthful and healthy? Japanese facial serums can help hydrate your skin, as well as provide other benefits! These products are incredibly moisturizing and are a great addition to your skincare regimen. However, with a wide range of products, including those sold at drug stores, to expensive brands at high-end department stores, sold by brands and manufacturers like ETVOS, Matsuyama Yushi, and Kosé, to name a few, it can be difficult to choose the best one.
※Some products are described as serums or essences, but they're essentially the same product, just with different concentration levels of active ingredients.
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
Facial serums, occasionally referred to as moisturizing serums, are products that specialize in hydrating the skin and are best recommended for those with dry to normal skin. Facial serums are another step in the Japanese skincare routine, often used after moisturizing toners or lotions and usually have a thicker consistency, but are more watery than emulsions or creams. Note that not all steps in the image above are required, and it's just an example!
The Japanese skincare routine focuses more on applying multiple gentle layers of products, as opposed to one harsh one. It's never too early to start moisturizing your skin, especially if you're prone to drying out. Consider adding a facial serum to your skincare routine to ensure that your skin stays nice and hydrated.
Now, to go over the major points when choosing a facial serum.
While there are many moisturizing ingredients found in facial serums, if you're looking for a facial serum that has a particularly high moisturizing ability, consider a product with ceramides or amino acids, which can help your skin stay hydrated.
In addition to ingredients such as glycerin, butylene glycol (BG), and propanediol, which replenish moisture, look for ingredients with names like ceramide __, serine, glycine, and alanine.
Glycerin is often listed at the top of the ingredients list, while amino acids such as ceramide, serine, and leucine are often listed around the middle or later. The more ingredients are featured in a product, generally the more moisturizing it is.
Since human-type ceramide is expensive, they present some disadvantages, such as increasing prices for the product or are only formulated with small concentrations. If you want to keep your costs low or want a higher concentration of ceramides, look at pseudo-ceramides and ceramide precursors, which work in a similar way to ceramides.
Pseudo-ceramides are listed as Phytosteryl/Octyldodecyl Lauroyl Glutamate, while ceramide precursors are listed as phytosphingosine in the ingredients list.
If your skin is severely dry and you're seeking a product that's particularly moisturizing, consider facial serums that fall under quasi-drugs.
In particular, look for products that are formulated with the ingredient Rice Power® No.11. Not only will it hydrate your skin, but it will also reinforce your skin's ability to retain moisture.
Moisturizing is an especially important aspect of skincare. Aside from facial serums, there are many products that claim to be highly moisturizing, so it might be worthwhile trying medicated facial serums that contain active ingredients.
If you have sensitive skin, and your skin is prone to irritation or redness, then it's important you look for products that are gentle on the skin.
Moisturizing ingredients like 1, 2-hexanediol, or propylene glycol (often abbreviated to PG), can be irritating for those with sensitive skin. If you've ever experienced adverse reactions to these ingredients, it's best to avoid using products formulated with them.
Whenever trying out a new product, conduct a patch test somewhere less noticeable, like on the inside of your arm.
Some products can also be formulated with high concentrations or are formulated with multiple plant extracts and essential oils, which can potentially irritate delicate skin.
Highly penetrative ingredients can often cause irritation. Products are often formulated with ethanol (alcohol) to promote penetration and absorption, so those with sensitive skin should watch out for this. Booster serums often contain ethanol, so be sure to carefully check the ingredients.
Although it's best to take your time when doing your skincare routine, time is sometimes a luxury that we can't afford. When you want to quickly finish your skincare, pumps and flip-top bottles that can be used with one hand are convenient.
Additionally, the consistency of a facial serum is something that you'll just have to actually use for yourself to see whether or not you like it, but check out our evaluations to help narrow down your choices. We recommend choosing a product that won't negatively affect your makeup when used in the morning, and won't leave any unpleasant stickiness when used at night.
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Astalift Jelly Aquarysta
An Incredibly Moisturizing Facial Serum With a Jelly-Like Consistency
mgb skin Cica Barrier Ampoule
A Great Year-Round Ampoule
Imini Repair Serum
Tackle Fine Lines and Wrinkles With This All-In-One Serum
Liposome Advanced Repair Serum
A Highly Moisturizing Booster Serum Containing Liposomes
Curél Wrinkle Moisture Essence
High hopes for the pseudo-ceramide used in the formulation. Gentle to the skin as claimed!
RMK Designing Rich Serum
Amazingly Hydrating With Great Ingredients
Ayura Laboratories Inc
Ayura Rhythm Concentrate Alpha
Moisturizing and Gentle, Despite Its Many Ingredients
Tokiwa Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.
NOV III Barrier Concentrate
A Serum That Gently Moisturizes Sensitive Skin
MASH Beauty Lab
Tone Booster Serum (M)
Top-Class Moisturizing Ability, but Beware of Splashing
SK-II R.N.A. Power Radical New Age Youth Essence
Packed With Beautifying Ingredients, but Slightly Sticky
Fujifilm's Astalift Jelly Aquarysta is a facial serum that claims to add firmness, elasticity, and moisture to the skin.
Featuring moisturizing nano-ceramides and Uncaria Gambir extract, which helps with moisture retention, this product has highly moisturizing ingredients, which was proven in our tests after we found that on average, our testers saw an 86% increase in moisture levels.
The subtle floral scent makes for a comforting addition to your skincare routine. The jelly-like product, which has a unique feel to it, gradually melts into the skin as you slowly massage it in. While taking it out of the jar with a spatula can be a little inconvenient, given how moisturizing it is, you probably won't mind.
This is a great facial serum that offers fantastic moisture retention abilities and is our top pick for Japanese facial serums.
Megood Beauty's mgb skin Cica Barrier Ampoule is a moisturizing facial ampoule made by Japanese influencer and fashion model MEGBABY.
This product is formulated with both water-based and oil-based ingredients, and is great for rebalancing your skin. Its use of encapsulated ceramides allows for higher penetration and increased hydration, maintaining an average moisture content of 92% after two hours among our testers.
The slightly thick liquid feels both hydrating and refreshing, and has a consistency that works in all seasons. The push-style dropper makes it easy and convenient to use with one hand.
Dinos Corporation's Imini Repair Serum is an efficacy-tested serum emulsion that reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles caused by dryness.
After increasing the average moisture content in our testers arms by 120%, it was also able to maintain ideal moisture levels after two hours, thanks to its well-balanced composition of water-based ingredients and oils. This is an all-in-one product, so you can take care of your skin with just this one without applying any toner!
The thick, milky texture reduces friction when applying. It provides plenty of moisture without leaving any unpleasant stickiness.
Kosé's Cosme Decorté Liposome Advanced Repair Serum is a serum to be used immediately after cleansing. Not only does it claim to moisturize the skin, but also helps skincare products used after this penetrate the skin easier.
It contains microcapsules known as liposomes, which can only be used in a limited number of products. This ingredient is highly effective in delivering moisturizing ingredients to the stratum corneum. Moreover, this product's ingredient composition is designed to be gentle on the skin, allowing those with sensitive skin to use it with peace of mind.
It has a slight floral fragrance, and it consistency allows it to blend into the skin quickly and smoothly. We found that this product maintained an average moisture level of 85% among our testers, demonstrating its high moisture retention ability.
Curél Wrinkle Moisture Essence is a moisturizing serum designed for dry, sensitive skin.
It contains pseudo-ceramide ingredients made to mimic human ceramide, and is highly moisturizing. Pseudo-ceramides are less expensive than human ceramides, so we expect there to be a fairly high concentration of the ingredient in the formula. Furthermore, we were impressed with how gentle the serum is.
This product's moisturizing abilities were impressive, boosting moisture levels by an average of more than 102%, making it perfect for dry skin. The easy-to-use tube-type container also makes it convenient to carry around on overnight trips. Although the consistency is thick and creamy, it was easy to blend and had little stickiness.
e'quipe's RMK Designing Rich Serum claims to create firm and bouncy skin, and features active ingredients like gamma-aminobutyric acid and dipotassium glycyrrhizate. In particular, gamma-aminobutyric acid earned this product high marks in the ingredients test for its ability to help improve the skin's texture.
In our moisturizing ability test, we found that on average, this product increased moisture levels by 87% after the two-hour mark, earning high scores. Our testers were fond of its refreshing scent and smooth consistency. While some testers did comment that it's slightly sticky, for the most part, this is a serum that's fairly easy to use.
Ayura Laboratories' Ayura Rhythm Concentrate Alpha is a moisturizing serum designed for fluctuating skin that suffers from recurring dryness.
It contains pseudo-ceramide and some oil-based ingredients, so it is expected to be both moisturizing and have emollient properties. At first glance, this product's many ingredients may be of concern in terms of gentleness on the skin, but all of the ingredients have minimal risk of irritation.
The thick liquid is easy to use regardless of the season. This way this serum adheres to the skin as it blends in feels pleasant and hydrating.
Tokiwa Pharmaceutical's NOV III Barrier Concentrate is a facial serum that is formulated to help the skin's natural barrier and prevent dryness and roughness.
This facial serum is formulated with gentleness in mind, featuring ingredients like stearyl glycyrrhetinate, which helps prevent roughness, as well as moisturizing ingredients like N-stearoyl phytosphingosine and sodium hyaluronate.
It performed fairly decently in our moisturization test, maintaining a moisture level of 72% on average after the two-hour mark. While it may be a bit lacking for those who are severely dry, it'll perform well for those who have normal skin. The slightly thick consistency left our testers divided, but we feel like it's a plus that the texture did leave us feeling moisturized.
MASH Beauty Lab's Tone Booster Serum (M) is a serum inspired by plants that survive in harsh environments.
In the moisturizing ability test, we found this product to be on par with top-tier products. We believe its high moisturizing ability can be attributed to the fact that it contains highly moisturizing ingredients like ectoin and saccharides. However, its high concentration of essential oils makes it less gentle on the skin, and we also found it to have a strong scent.
The loose gel, which is easy to apply and spread, also received great reviews. We feel tha it nicely seals in the moisture and leaves your skin hydrated. However, be cautious when pushing the pump as sometimes the gel squirts out violently.
SK-II R.N.A. Power Radical New Age Youth Essence from P&G Prestige is a moisturizing serum that uses the brand's proprietary ingredient, Pitera, to hydrate the skin all the way to the stratum corneum and help the skin become more firm.
SK-II dubs the ingredient galactomyces ferment filtrate as Pitera, and it contains amino acids, peptides, and vitamins, allows for a multifaceted approach to conditioning the skin, and helps it become more stable.
This serum earned a full score in the moisturizing ability test, but we did notice that there was an inconsistency in how much moisture levels increased across our testers, which is a bit concerning.
Finally, while the product is highly moisturizing, many of our testers commented on its stickiness. Additionally, the dropper was a little hard to squeeze, but besides that, there were no issues with the container itself.
The first thing we want to focus on is moisturizing ability.
We tested this using the following process with a special device known as a Corneometer, which is used by research institutes to measure moisture levels in the skin. We gathered three Japanese members from the editorial team and had them test each product.
The ingredients in a facial serum are what sets each product apart. However, they can also be difficult to evaluate for the average person.
We asked scientific beautician Kaori, to evaluate each facial serum based on the following points:
※Note that some products fall under the category of quasi-drugs, which is defined by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan as a category of products that fit between medicine and cosmetics. Manufacturers are not obligated to label all ingredients in quasi-drugs, so for this test, Kaori only evaluated the labeled ingredients.
When it comes to skincare, consistency is key, and how a product feels can play a major role in whether you can continue using a product.
Products high in glycerin and saccharides tend to be sticky.
However, glycerin is found in a plethora of products, making it actually difficult to find one that isn't formulated with it. If you prefer a refreshing moisturizing facial serum, look for products that use butylene glycol (BG) as the main moisturizing ingredient.
Saccharides, which are sugars, are listed in the ingredients list under names such as trehalose, glucose, fructose, and maltose. If there are many types of saccharides, or if they are listed high on the ingredients list, it's better to check the consistency before making a purchase if possible.
If you have dry skin and want to properly care for it, you’ll need good toners and lotions as well. We also tested all the products in these articles, so you should find them helpful.
No. 1: FUJIFILM | Astalift Jelly Aquarysta
No. 2: Megood Beauty | mgb skin Cica Barrier Ampoule
No. 3: Dinos Corporation | Imini Repair Serum
No. 4: Kosé | Liposome Advanced Repair Serum
No. 5: Kao | Curél Wrinkle Moisture Essence
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