The global beauty and skincare brands you need to know about
Plus where to find them (many of them are on Amazon!)
The discovery of some of the best skin care product in the world has been accidental for this traveler. Like so many of us, I suffered from mild acne as a teenager, and moderate acne in my twenties (why life, why?) I’m now mid-thirties and worried more about sun damage and wrinkles. Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to my skin beyond the standard American drugstore cleanser and occasional spot treatment to fix a problem.
My face has since cleared up (hallelujah) and I’ve made my way on to the anti-aging products train (ha.) Somewhere along my travels, I also happened upon an arsenal of international beauty products that have truly changed my skin.
Now that I see what a difference a few discoveries have made for my face (and my confidence, sans makeup,) I firmly believe it wasn’t balancing my hormones or changing my diet that did the trick. It was discovering skincare products overseas that both improved my skin and…got me really into taking next-level care of myself. I now treat my skin more proactively, treating it like the gentle organ and canvas that it is, rather than seeking to treat problem skin as it arises. It feels great to take care of yourself in this way!
There are many countries with good skincare products, but I’m going to share the standout brands and products I have personally tried and tested from: France, Japan, Korea, and India. These countries have centuries-old beauty and skincare treatments, as well as some of the most cutting-edge (and affordable) best skincare products in the world today. I hope they are as game-changing for you as they have been for me!
P.S. Images are clickable for some of the best prices I’ve found online. Links are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small amount at no cost to you.
Start with These Beauty Products from France
Ah, France — my gateway into skincare product obsession. I have so many recommendations for the French pharmacy that it deserves its own post. If you’ve yet to jump into the glory that is a French skincare routine, here are the brands and products you need to know about to get started:
No longer a French skin care secret alone, micellar water cleans your face really well without water (really.) It’s said to have originated when Parisian women realized that the city’s tap water was harsh on their skin. It works by removing dirt and oil from your skin as it bonds to tiny micelle particles.
Some use it as a cleanser in place of face wash (me!) and others swear by it as a makeup remover. Others will use it and then cleanse, so it’s up to your skin and your needs but I highly recommend trying it (great for traveling, as well.) Best of all, it’s very gentle on the skin.
Bioderma is considered the original classic of micellar waters, and I can sincerely say my skincare routine and my skin has improved tenfold because of it. I can’t recommend it enough.
La Roche Posay
If you get those pesky small clogged pores that aren’t really pimples (sorry,) this light cream is great for that. Be aware that the European formulation is much different than the one sold in America under the same name. (The American one has benzoyl peroxide, a well known and fairly standard acne treatment.) I recommend trying it either way, but be sure to pick up the European formulation if you can.
Cicaplast Baume B5
This is a soothing cream for irritated skin. I like to use it whenever my skin gets red/upset. Mostly I spot treat with it. It’s a miracle cream for those with sensitive skin and/or any sort of dry patches.
This softly scented oil (which smells amazing, by the way) is a cult classic in France for a reason. Comprised of six different natural oils (including almond oil,) plus vitamin E, it’s a luxurious treatment for fair, body, and the ends of your hair. A favorite of mine!
Nuxe Reve du Miel
A luxurious lip balm that never fails to heal my dry lips. I usually put it on on my way out of the house (it’s matte, so great as a base for the lips) or before bed. I prefer the small jar to the tube packaging.
Lait-Crème Concentré moisturizer
This might be my very favorite French skin care product of all. It’s so good, and so good to my skin, that it might even be my “desert island” item. It’s the one thing I can’t live without.
If you have sensitive skin I especially recommend trying this. I use mostly at night but sometimes during the day combined with an SPF product. My skin soaks it up and feels soothed and protected. It also makes a great base for makeup and is widely loved by makeup artists and is known to be a staple backstage for many events.
Soin Lissant Contour des Yeux (Eye Cream)
This simple eye cream picks up where the classic moisturizer left off, which is why I couldn’t resist trying it. Last time I was in Paris I picked up a tube, and it meets all of my eye cream needs (especially reducing/preventing those crows feet!)
Hot tip: you can now buy Embryolisse stateside via their new U.S. website (shipping not included.)
Eau Thermale (face spray)
I remember being highly skeptical of paying to spray fancy water on my face. How much good could that really do?
What converted me was bringing one of their small bottles on an airplane, where skin is notoriously dehydrated. I do think it also calms and soothes my skin, but honestly, I like the feel of the refreshing facial mist enough that I’d use it even if it didn’t do much for my skin (though I do believe it does.)
Hydrance Optimale (Moisturizer with SPF 25)
This is my day moisturizer of choice. It goes on lightweight, has SPF, and antioxidants to protect from free radicals. Absorbs quickly and doesn’t irritate my skin.
Eau de Beaute Face Spray
This formulation is on the pricey side for a facial mist and was supposedly used by Queen Isabelle of Hungary (cue eye roll,) but really, truly it is an unbeatable product.
The mix of natural essential oils not only smells incredible and wakes up the senses, but tightens pores and generally makes my skin more luminous. Some use it to set makeup as well. You have to try it to see!
Bonus: Hair Products by Klorane and Rene Furterer
Klorane Dry Shampoo + Oat Shampoo
Klorane is famous for its fantastic dry shampoo, and I recently discovered that I like their regular shampoo just as much.
Rene Furterer Vegetal Finishing Spray
This semi-hairspray is now my go-to to set my hair when I don’t want that crunchy hairspray feel. It isn’t as powerful as some hairsprays, but looks, feels, and smells amazing.
A few others favorites…
I am obsessed with Biafine, a lightweight but powerful cream meant to help damaged or burnt skin. I find it’s especially great for sunburn or any other irritation, and it feels luxurious even though it’s incredibly cheap at the French pharmacy (note: I haven’t been able to find this online, so stock up if you’re able to visit France.)
Another favorite for redness and irritated skin that I discovered long before Cicaplast B5 is the Cytolnat Centella cream. It is not widely available online or outside of France, but is an inexpensive but incredibly effective cream you can get at the pharmacy in France.
Read more: The Beauty of the French Pharmacy
Next Add in a Japanese Skin Care Routine
I had to get stuck in Japan during a typhoon to discover (through my generous travel insurance) the beauty of Japanese skincare. Don’t let it take a natural disaster to learn this lesson. Here are the top Japanese skin care routine products you should know about:
Face Lotion with Hyaluronic Acid by Hado Labo
If you haven’t yet heard of Hado Labo…it’s ok, I hadn’t either. But it’s all over the shelves in Japan! And their Gokujun Premium lotion (which is more like a serum than a lotion) has transformed my skin, particularly the fine lines on my forehead. It’s full of hylayuronic acid plus natural ingredients such as aloe that really hydrate the skin.
Sunscreen from Anessa by Shiseido + Biore
If there is one single thing I recommend getting from Japan for your skin it’s their sunscreens. They’re on another level, both in how they feel and how they do not irritate the skin. I love both the Anessa and Biore brands — Biore’s Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ is a little bit more affordable and accessible worldwide.
Deep Cleansing Oil and Lip Cream from DHC
I don’t always cleanse with a facial oil, but when I do it’s this cult classic one from Japan. It’s popular for double cleansing, if that’s your thing. I sometimes combine it with Bioderma (from France, above.) And their lip cream not only feels nourishing but leaves a beautiful sheen that doubles as almost a lip gloss (but not sticky!) Or, get both together as a set.
Rice Polish Cleanser from Tatcha
I confess that I love pretty much everything Tatcha makes, but it’s this rice polish cleanser that I’d order again and again (one lasts a long while!) The reason is that it is a very gentle exfoliator that doesn’t harm my skin’s natural barrier. It’s non-abrasive, while still feeling and looking like dramatically different new skin after use.
Facial Treatment Essence from SK-II
This is a definite splurge and one that I have yet to invest in yet. But I could feel the difference in how my skin felt while just sampling it, and it’s an essential Japanese skincare product to know about.
Melano CC: Vitamin C and E Spot Treatment/Serum
Lastly, there is no better budget serum option from Japan than Melano CC. I got a tube of it on my last visit to Japan (just before COVID-19 hit) and it has held up to its great reputation (I heard lots about it in Japan, even from the cashier when I purchased it.) Unlike many other vitamin C serums, this one works great and only sets you back $10-15 even when importing.
Note: as a foreign visitor to Japan you are eligible for tax exemption if you spend over 5,000 yen (present your passport upon purchase.)
Beauty Products and Skin Care from Korea
Korea is so well known as the capital of skincare that I have experienced the full range of Korean beauty (aka K-Beauty) and skin care products without even visiting Korea yet (someday!) Famous for their 10 step Korean skin care routine, there is a lot on offer from there. Here are the brands and products I recommend from Korea:
BB Cream from Dr. Jart (I LOVE Disapore!)
We can thank Korea for the invent of BB cream (it stands for ‘beauty balm,’) a tinted face cream that offers coverage, moisturizing, and primer all in one. Dr. Jart is a solid brand from Korea, and they make several excellent BB creams — my favorite of which is Disapore (light blue packaging.) No makeup has made my skin look smoother, ever.
I also hear great things about this facial essence from Missha, which is supposed to be similar to SK-II’s from Japan but far less expensive. I have enjoyed all the products I’ve tried so far from this brand, although they’re on the pricey side.
Lastly, don’t miss the wellness traditions and Ayurvedic skincare of India
The wellness traditions of India have served mostly as an inside out approach to wellbeing for me. The ancient system of Ayurveda has a holistic approach to skin and purports that skin reflects the balance (or imbalance) of your inner health.
So if you want to treat your skin from the inside out and go beyond nutrition to do so, look no further than Ayurveda and skincare from India.
First is the skincare technique of dry brushing. Brushing your skin while not in the shower? Seems strange right?
Dry brushing seems like a mild part of a self-care routine, but it also purports many health benefits including better circulation, removal of toxins, exfoliation, lymphatic stimulation, and even the reduction of cellulite. I love brushing my skin before hopping in the shower, and it makes for a quick and easy add to my routine. Always brush up toward the heart (I start at my feet and work up.) Here’s a simple natural bristle body brush I love.
I also love self-massage with almond or coconut oil. I’ll apply it to the ends of my hair before washing, to my cuticles and on heels…it’s one of the best and most natural moisturizers out there. The Ayurvedic approach to massage is called “abhyanga,” and uses different oils based on your composition or dosha.
My final beauty secret from India is actually an inside-out treatment, and that is to take turmeric supplements. Turmeric is one of the most common spices in Indian food, and due to its antimicrobial effects often applied externally to skin (note it does leave a yellow-ish stain.) Not only is turmeric thought to be good for your health as a whole (thanks to anti-inflammatory properties,) I notice a dramatic difference in the number of blemishes I get (or don’t get) when I’m taking it. Be sure to get the capsules with black pepper, which helps with absorption. This one with 95% curcuminoids (the good stuff) has some of the best reviews and has served me incredibly well. I take it daily in conjunction with ashwagandha (not skincare related, but recommended as well for overall wellness/stress/anxiety.)
Also, do yoga.
I’ll leave you with one final skincare secret I found right here in America — the rose witch hazel from Thayer’s. I’m not much of a toner person, but this is one of my favorite ways to calm my skin down and feel refreshed. (Try the cucumber one to cool down in the summer, and put it in the fridge!)
Taking care of my skin has become one of my very favorite forms of self-care. I hope this long list of the best skin care product in the world helps you as much as it helped me! Let me know if you have other favorite products in the comments below.
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