When shopping in Japan, you’ll often notice shelves with small empty sections. Encountering such sections can usually be interpreted as a sign you’ve found gold and that the product that belongs on the shelf is in high demand. If you’re lucky enough to track them down, these products are often bestsellers and worth trying. After much research, I’ve identified five makeup products that often belong in these empty slots, and they’re considered the most affordable and most popular Japanese cosmetics on the market.

This story was both an excuse to get my hands on some new products — ones I’ve been itching to try — and a way to satisfy my curiosity as to what the Japanese market considers top-tier, affordable cosmetics. After testing them for a month, I now have a solid understanding of whether they’re worth the hype.

Maquillage Dramatic Skin Sensor Base Neo

Nudie Beige (Shiseido, ¥2,970)

Sensor Base Neo is a multi-award-winning primer that works wonders at toning and brightening dull skin. Sensor Base Neo’s formula manages oil and moisture levels, minimizes pores and hydrates. Doubling as a sunscreen, this primer offers high sun protection with SPF50+ and PA++++, making it a great option for people who want an all-in-one product. 

The shade I purchased, Nudie Beige, is a creamy pink liquid with a slight floral scent. While Nudie Beige doesn’t conceal redness (there’s a mint shade for that), it gently brightened and evened out my dull areas, providing a smooth and natural base for the rest of my makeup. There’s no need to spend time blending, as the formula doesn’t provide any coverage, instead sitting on the skin’s surface. The effect: a thin barrier that doesn’t feel cakey. This makes Sensor Base Neo a great concealer alternative. Watch as the primer goes from a sunscreen-like sheen before drying down to a silky powder finish. 

I would recommend moisturizing before applying the primer, as I found Sensor Base Neo began to cling to dry skin patches as the day wore on. For people going in with a foundation, I found the primer doesn’t shift as you apply that next layer. 

Overall, I’d say Sensor Base Neo is worth the hype and is a magic primer great for people who want to correct dark and dull skin. 

Allie Chrono Beauty Color on UV

Warm Orange (Kanebo, ¥1,760)

Allie Chrono Beauty Color on UV is a water- and sweat-resistant cheek blush, with SPF 50+ and PA++++. It’s great for people who want to stay sun safe while dipping their toes into the cream blush market. This multi-award-winning blush has a fluffy, mousse-y consistency that’s buildable and blends like a dream. There’s no need for tools or brushes, as blending the product with the warmth of your fingers leaves a soft-to-touch, slightly dewy finish. Chrono Beauty Color has been dermatologically tested and separates itself from other cream blushes with its zinc oxide SPF rating. Zinc oxide kills germs and doesn’t clog pores, allowing people with sensitive skin to use Chrono Beauty Color without worries. 

The shade I bought, Warm Orange, is a warm coral pink and lightly fragranced with a sweet, soapy scent. I apply it to my cheeks and the bridge of my nose to create a cohesive, sun-kissed complexion. Including SPF in cosmetic products like lip balm is great, but it’s especially smart to have it in a cheek product, as this provides extra UV protection to the high points of your face where it’s greatly needed. 

Worth the hype, Allie Chrono Beauty Color on UV gives you the ultimate sun-kissed flush while protecting your skin from real sun damage.

popular and affordable japanese makeup

Cezanne Super Slim Eyebrow Pencil

05 Natural Grey (¥550)

Cezanne Super Slim Eyebrow Pencil comes in eight shades and is an affordable product for people who need a quick and easy fix for filling in their eyebrows. The product’s formula, which is fragrance-free and contains no mineral oil, alcohol or tar-based pigments, isn’t waxy and doesn’t tug at the skin. Similar in opacity to an HB pencil, this eyebrow pencil allows for a gentle application with just the right amount of pigment. At 0.9 mm, it makes it easy to achieve precision, whether you wish to mimic brow hairs or naturally fill in empty spaces. 

I appreciate the streamlined, fuss-free packaging and how the retractable feature smoothly twists up and down. The only drawback is the absence of a built-in spoolie. However, to be fair, after drawing in my brows, I didn’t need to blend with a spoolie, as the formula offers perfect pigment opacity

Moreover, even with the product’s ultra-fine 0.9-mm tip, I didn’t encounter any issues like the pencil tip breaking off. As a bonus, after drawing in my brows, I had no problems using the pencil to draw on faux freckles and line my eyes. 

I can see why Cezanne Super Slim Eyebrow Pencil — a great brow product at a low price — is so popular.  

popular and affordable japanese makeup

Canmake Gel Creamy Touch Liner

06 Foggy Plum (¥715)

Looking for an affordable, long-lasting eyeliner that glides on like butter? Canmake has you sorted with its Creamy Touch Liner. If I had to summarize the liner in one word, it would be “unmovable.” I trekked up Mount Takao on a scorching day, huffing, puffing and sweating buckets, but when I went to remove my makeup that night, my eyeliner remained as fresh as when I had first applied it. 

The 1.5-mm tip allows you to create a winged line, though you may need to clean up the ends for sharper points. Luckily, you have time to play around with the liner before it sets; when first applying, you can build the product by blending and smoking it out to create your desired effect. 

While I love Creamy Touch Liner’s durability, the packaging experience leaves something to be desired. Unlike Cezanne’s Super Slim Eyebrow Pencil, Canmake’s Gel Creamy Touch Liner has a formula that’s so soft, the product breaks occasionally on application. Here’s a hint: Only wind out as much of the pencil as you need because, once out, you can’t wind the pencil back in. I tried putting the cap back on with leftover pencil peeking from the tip, and the cap squished the remaining product. 

Overall, while I would recommend this liner, as the user experience presented some challenges, I wouldn’t rush out to buy all 15 shades.

affordable japanese makeup

Kate Lip Monster

11 5:00am (Kanebo, ¥1,540) 

Released in 2021 amid the pandemic, Kate Lip Monster offers a transfer-proof, long-lasting lipstick formula tailored to the mask-wearing era. Lip Monster has won multiple awards, even earning a Hall of Fame designation in Cosme‘s 2023 The Best Cosmetics Awards. 

Lip Monster comes in a slightly bulky plastic case and feels like a rich, buttery tinted lip balm rather than a lipstick. One swipe will leave you with an opaque color that smooths and hydrates the lips. Note that when Lip Monster is freshly applied, it can still transfer; the transfer-proof magic happens when the lipstick dries. As the hydration slowly sinks into your lips, you’re left with a silky, matte finish. 

While Lip Monster makes your lips feel plush and doesn’t emphasize fine lines, it is worth noting that the formula can cling to dry patches of skin. And, as the Lip Monster formula isn’t quite hydrating enough on its own, I recommend applying a lip balm on top after allowing Lip Monster to set. A caveat: Don’t expect the lipstick-lip balm combo to be fully transfer-proof. 

Ultimately, while I appreciate the concept behind Kate Lip Monster, in a time when masks aren’t mandatory, I think I’ll just stick to this one shade. 

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