The best way to get Asian beauty products cheaply, without having to import them, is to shop at multiple stores. And the easiest way to do that is to shop online, where you can browse as much as you want without worrying about stores closing or gas prices or “did I leave the car unlocked?” or having to shop at a million different places in one day.
Disclaimer: I don’t work for any of these companies. I mainly end up importing my purchases, even if the same products are available at these companies, simply because of the difference in pricing. I have purchased all of my reviewed products with my own cold, hard debit card. Neither I nor this blog are affiliated with these companies or any of the brands that I’ve included in this list – I just thought this might be a helpful resource to folks who want to get started and aren’t sure where they could be shopping. Shop with your best judgment!
I’ll start by listing a couple of retailers that don’t do a large selection of products.
Target carries Laneige and Hada Labo Tokyo. Hada Labo is a very affordable brand – I personally use their Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam as my second step cleanser, and it’s both pH appropriate and nice to use – the foam is soft, it doesn’t smell weird, and it leaves my face feeling clean but not stripped. Laneige makes a cushion foundation – you can read my review of it here – and is a more mid-range brand. They have a wider selection of Laneige products than of Hada Labo. Shopping at Target.com comes with free shipping for orders over $25, and you can return any problematic items to a regular Target. You can build an entire routine at Target – but only if you are okay with sticking to one or two brands, since that’s all they offer at this point. You will have much less opportunity to customize your routine to your skin concerns than if you shop in multiple spots. The up side is that a good chunk of Targets carry Laneige in their brick-and-mortar stores as well as online, so if you’re the kind of person that wants to look at a product first, you can likely find a store with a Laneige tester available. Or, if you’re like me, you may just find yourself addding some products on impulsively while you grocery shop.
late addition: Target also carries Mizon now – although it’s fulfilled by Peach and Lily.
As far as I’m aware, this is the only Asian skincare product they carry. Walmart ships for free with purchases over $35, and does returns within 90 days by mail or in-store.
Nordstrom carries many of the same brands as Sephora, but they also carry Sulwhasoo, a luxury brand. Unfortunately, whether these products are actually available in-store as opposed to online will vary from store to store. If you looked at my post about building a routine at Sephora and thought “No way, too expensive”, shopping at Nordstrom is definitely not for you. You can absolutely build an entire routine at Nordstrom – but it is not for the faint of heart (or wallet).
One thing to note is that Nordstrom has its own credit and debit cards, and having one of these cards will net you an invitation to certain events – for example, the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale starts early for cardholders, who get exclusive access to certain deals. Among them this year (I didn’t have a card before, so I can’t speak to what happened last year, or any time before this) were sets from Sulwhasoo and SK-II. I’ve also been told that there will be some sort of exclusive holiday event, but I don’t have any of the details.
Walgreens carries Hada Labo as well – both the original Hada Labo (including my Gokujyun Foaming Wash) and Hada Labo Tokyo. Walgreens will ship for free if you meet a bunch of conditions, including a $25 or over order weighing less than 20 pounds going to the contiguous 48 states.
CVS carries Hada Labo Tokyo, and ships for free (on eligible products only) for orders over $49 that weight less than 10 pounds.
Ulta carries the DJV Miaray Fiberwig mascara, $18.99, which I reviewed here. Since the review, I find myself liking this mascara more and more for a more understated glam look – it’s my go-to mascara when the Chanel is just too much to be working with. Ulta also carries Hada Labo Tokyo. Ulta doesn’t have a set price ceiling for free shipping; you must find a coupon or a promotion. If you are returning something to an Ulta store, you will need the product, the packing slip it’s listed on, and the original email confirmation. If you are shipping a product back to Ulta for a return, you will have to pay the return shipping, which pretty much sucks.
Forever 21 carries Peripera cosmetic products. They offer free ground shipping for purchases over $50 to delivery addresses in the continental US (sorry Alaska, Hawaii, and anyone using a P.O. Box or APO/FPO address). Returns of unused online purchases (and Peripera is only available online at this time) must be done within 30 days through the mail if you want an actual refund – bringing the products into the store will only get you a store credit. You must also include the original return form that comes with the products, and fill it out (they want you to check off the products you’re returning and list reasons why). You are responsible for the return postage unless the return is due to an error by Forever 21.
I really need to include Beautylish in this list for one reason especially: they carry Chikuhodo brushes, which frankly are some of the best makeup brushes that I’ve ever tried. Chikus are handmade in Japan, and while they are expensive, they’re actually not too much worse than what you’d be shelling out at a MAC or Chanel counter at your local department store – but the quality is much higher. Beautylish also carries Koh Gen Do. Beautylish ships orders over $35 for free in the US; otherwise it’s a $5 flat ship fee. Beautylish does returns within 30 days of delivery, but you won’t be refunded the original shipping charge and you will have to pay to ship the returns back to them.
Speaking of brushes, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention Hakuhodo USA. Hakuhodo is another Japanese brush brand and, like Chikuhodo, they are all hand-made, with non-laser-cut bristles.
Then there’s the giants. eBay and Amazon. Frankly, you can get pretty much anything you could want on one of these two sites. However, you need to be careful about how you order for a couple of reasons. It is extremely easy to purchase fakes on eBay – so be careful about reading the ratings for the stores you purchase from. This is less likely to happen when you use Amazon, since Amazon has a pretty decent return policy (especially for Prime and Amazon-fulfilled items), but it has happened before. Always check the store ratings before you purchase. Additionally, if you are buying from an online store, check to see where the store itself is located – just because you are buying it on Amazon doesn’t mean it won’t be shipping from Japan, or South Korea, or somewhere else. So be mindful of the store locations when you shop if shipping time is a concern for you.
Now let’s move to sites that have been specifically designed to carry imported products.
It feels a little duplicative to be listing PeachandLily here, since all the products I’ve purchased from Urban Outfitters have been fulfilled by them, but they do have their own standalone site and it carries brands you can’t find at Urban Outfitters, so there it is. I don’t feel the need to do a huge post like I did with Sephora or UO because PeachandLily is well-organized, so it’s easy to find products of the type you are looking for (both in terms of “which part of the routine” and “what skin concern” the product is for). Makeup, just as an aside, is listed under the category “Color”. They carry the following brands: Aromatica, Be The Skin, Caolion, Clio, Cremorlab, May Coop, Mizon, Morihata, Shangpree, Uka, and Peach Slices. PeachandLily has a referral system – send your friend over for the first time, they’ll get $10 off their purchase and you’ll get $10 as well. Your purchase ships for free over $50 with FedEx or DHL. If you are in the U.S., you can return any products within 30 days for a refund (excluding the original shipping costs), but you need to e-mail the admins for a free shipping label. PeachandLily also has their “Seoulcialite” box – offered for the first time in 2014, and again just now on June 30, 2015 – that is designed to offer the hottest new products that will be stocked in the store in the future. These boxes sell out really quickly, so if you see an ad for one and you’re interested (the boxes are about $50 with free shipping), you should hop on it quick!
SokoGlam has limited itself to only Korean cosmetics and skincare, so you won’t find brands from any other country on their site. Like PeachandLily, SokoGlam is set up in a way that is intuitive to shop if you’re looking to set up or supplement a Korean-inspired skin and beauty routine, so if you’re familiar with the steps you shouldn’t have a hard time shopping their site. All of the products on the site are tested by SokoGlam’s owner, Charlotte, and so there is a product rotation – if she finds a product she likes better than the one you bought from her, the old product may no longer be carried by the site. SokoGlam ships orders over $50 for free in the US. If you are returning a product, you can get a refund for any unopened products, and a store credit for products that you have opened. You will have to pay for any return shipping charges, though.
Glow Recipe has limited themselves to Korean products. Their niche seems to be the closer-to-organic, more nature-based lines. They carry the following brands: Blithe, Blossom Jeju, Caolion, Dr. Oracle, Goodal, Isoi, Lindsay, The Lotus, LeeJiHam, Soyedodamn, and Whamisa. They also test the products before they permanently stock them, both by the owners and by a panel of folks, and then place the products on ‘probation’ for three months to get customer feedback before the product becomes a store staple. Glow Recipe ships orders over $50 for free, and does flat rate shipping of $6.95 for all other orders. Glow Recipe allows returns for unopened merchandise only, and will send you a prepaid label to return the product, but will not refund you for the original shipping costs.
iMomoko provides free shipping for orders over $99 in the contiguous US. Their site has a fairly standard top bar layout, but the front page is pretty cluttered. They carry a wide variety of brands and a wide variety of items – not just cosmetics and skincare, but hair products, toothpaste, tooth whiteners, eye drops, supplements, and all sorts of weird stuff. iMomoko has a return policy that seems to me to be pretty complicated, involving getting authorization to return, only allowing returns on new, unused/unopened items, etc.
Momomango is actually a Canadian company, and all the prices are in Canadian dollars, but they will ship to the US for a flat $10 fee. Momomango is pretty easily navigated, and the site makes it easy to shop by skin concern or by routine step. They carry a huge number of brands, and are focused on Korean products. Momomango will ship your order for free if it is over $75. You can return items within 15 days of delivery, but they must be new and unopened, and you will have to pay the return shipping if you aren’t returning something because Momomango made an error.
Pretty and Cute has a brick and mortar store in Portland, Oregon, as well as their electronic storefront. Pretty and Cute ships for free if your order is over $50. In addition to some of the more traditional Korean and Japanese brands, they also carry some more Western brands, like China Glaze and Urban Decay. The way that the site is laid out isn’t the most routine-friendly; things are listed by skin concern, but not by routine step. You must make any returns of unused, unopened items you get from Pretty and Cute within 72 hours of receipt, which seems really demanding to me, AND you have to pay the return shipping, AND you don’t get a refund for the original shipping costs, AND your return is subject to a 15% restocking free. Plus, you have to use a box, and if your return gets dinged up during transit they’ll reject the return. On top of that, you can only return some of the items at Pretty and Cute – they have a list of exclusions.
Beauteque is a New Jersey-based online store. They sell individual products as well as themed bags that are available each month (not a subscription service, just a bag of collected products they call “Head to Toe”). I find the way that they’ve organized their skincare sections a little goofy, but it shouldn’t be too hard to navigate. Beauteque offers free shipping in the US to any orders over $35. They only accept unopened returns in the original packaging, and unless they mess your order up themselves (incorrect items, etc) you are responsible for the return shipping. Some items, including clearanced products, are non-returnable.
Finally, there are some beauty boxes you can subscribe to (or not, depending on the company) that will let you “get your feet wet” in terms of trying out Asian beauty products.
Memebox is not a subscription box service – they simply post boxes (often with a theme) and it’s first come, first serve to buy a box. The boxes are often posted significantly before their release date, so you’ll have to buy a box and then wait a while for it to get to you.
Memebox’s fulfillment center is in California. If you are looking to return a product you purchased through Memebox, you must e-mail them to get a free return shipping label. Memebox also has their own line of in-house produced products, including lip tints, eyeshadow, liner, and blushes. I personally don’t purchase much from Memebox anymore, as I find their product prices to be inflated, and I’ve had some issues with the products they put in their boxes (products close to their expiration date, products that are defective) and I’ve heard similar stories from others (products damaged in shipping, unannounced substitutions in boxes, purchases sent to the wrong person, etc). I’ve also heard a couple stories about Memebox’s customer service and comments from the owner that gave me pause. (As an aside, I don’t mind purchasing products close to their expiration date – as long as the prices reflect that status, which is why I frequently use Avecko to buy from Memebox Korea. Memebox US doesn’t seem to follow the same pricing system.) However, I did purchase quite a few Memeboxes in my day, and the proof is in the early days of this blog, where unboxings and first impression reviews were pretty common.
Mishibox is a monthly Korean beauty box subscription that will run you $19.95 per month (including shipping) for a box of 4-6 deluxe sample or full size K-beauty and skincare products.
One of the good things about Mishibox is that they have promised to provide complete ingredient lists (in English) for each product they put in their boxes. Mishibox, in an incredibly savvy move, has added a question onto their profile generator which lets you request nothing but low-pH cleansers, something that no other box that I’ve seen has bothered to do. With the plethora of high pH cleansers in the Korean market (I honestly can’t tell you guys how many full-except-for-enough-to-test cleansers I have), this is a refreshing change, and a hint that Mishibox is willing to listen to their consumer base. I have personally subscribed to Mishibox, and I just recently got my July box, which I thought was only okay. Whether I stay subscribed is going to depend on what’s in the boxes over the next couple months. I love trying new things, but I do have a pretty high standard for what I want in my boxes.
The 3B Box (Beauty Beyond Borders) is a monthly subscription of four or five deluxe samples for $12. It can include skincare, haircare, nail products, or makeup samples. These samples are curated from Korea and Japan, and the box will include a translation for those of us that aren’t fluent.
Beauteque has a monthly subscription service as well. The BB bag is at least 6 full-size products per bag every month; subscriptions are $24 per month, $24/month for a three month commitment, $23/month for a six month commitment, and $22 for a one year commitment, not including shipping charges, which in the US are a flat $3.95 per box. The subscriptions automatically renew. Beauteque’s Mask Maven service is a package of at least 9 masks every month, and costs the flat rate shipping fee plus $15 per box with a monthly subscription, $15 per box with a three month subscription, $14 for a six month subscription, and $13 for a one year subscription.
That’s the end of this series of posts, folks – these are all the US places (plus that one in Canada, because, you know, Canada!) I’ve heard of where you can spend your hard-earned money. Shop wisely, shop well, and tell me what your favorite things are!