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Japanese vs Duty Free vs Overseas Version of Japanese Cosmetics

Japanese cosmetics local vs overseas


Is there any difference between Japanese cosmetics made and sold in Japan versus those from overseas markets versus those from duty-free shops?

This is the biggest question in many minds and had hardly been answered so far in detail anywhere. Today, we will give you a detailed comparison of products from all these three sources. 

Yes, there is a difference in products made and sold in Japan vs both overseas versions and duty-free versions. Not only cosmetics, many other Japanese products sold in Japan and overseas are different. 


What Japanese sales staff will tell you?

Japanese cosmetics sales staff on the counters may tell you that Yes, there is a difference because Japanese keep the best for themselves and export only the low-class products to overseas markets, so the cosmetics purchased in Japan are the best ones. That's why the prices are high because of the high product quality.

But, that's not a complete truth. Yes, the products are of higher quality but it's not due to the factor of the dishonesty of the brand and its manufacturer that they make the good quality for Japan and export low-quality. Why is there a difference? Keep reading we will discuss it below. 

What Overseas sales staff will tell you?

Sales staff on overseas shops of Japanese brands and duty-free shops will always tell you that No, there is no difference at all and  they are the same as the original Japanese version you buy from Japan. But, No, there is a difference and all of these sales staff tell you these stories to get the sales and nobody will tell you the truth unless you know how to differentiate them yourself. Keep reading we will teach you how to differentiate between the Japanese version and the overseas version. 

How they are different? 

They are different in:

  • Price 
  • Packaging 
  • Ingredients

Many people will think, that's not a big difference and they may go for a cheaper overseas or duty-free version, but hold on, the difference in ingredients says a lot. Keep reading, we will discuss it below. 

Why are they different?

The main question is, why are they different, why don't Japanese brands make one universal version to avoid confusion caused to the consumers? Let us explain why not?

Cosmetic regulations

The answer is simple because in Japan cosmetics manufacturing standards are very high compare to other countries and brand has to comply with many regulations before they could get their products approved. Same way, if any brand wants to enter Japan, they have to comply with all the regulations and high standards of manufacturing. 

Many kinds of ingredients are not allowed in Japan, while other countries do allow them, which means products sold in Japan have different ingredients compared to those sold in overseas markets and that makes a big difference to the product quality. Of course, a product made under high quality standards and strict regulations will have a higher quality. 


cosme textbook


Above in picture is a COSME Japan Textbook for cosmetics certification, which mentioned that due to various laws of different countries, the regulations on product ingredients are also different. According to Japanese regulation, these ingredients are prohibited in Japan while they are allowed in other countries such as formalin, retinoic acid, hydrogen peroxide, benzoyl, etc. 

According to Japanese Pharmaceutical Law, product ingredients must be updated every year, while in many other countries it is required to be updated in a couple of years, and in China, it has never been updated since the 1980s or 2000 (no clear date available). Hence, many Japanese products are not exported overseas because the ingredients are not recognized/updated by overseas regulators and hence they are not qualified to enter the market. Given that, brands are forced to modify the ingredients to comply with overseas regulations. 

Manufacturing cost

Everyone knows that cost of production in Japan is very high due to high overhead costs such as labor, material, and so on. Given that, many Japanese brands manufacture their products which are sold in overseas market, in other countries instead of Japan to cut manufacturing cost. Hence, due to low manufacturing costs, the products sold in overseas markets are cheaper than those sold in Japan. You could find the same product in South Korea, China,  Hong Kong, Vietnam, or in different countries duty-free shops at 20-40% lower prices. 


Some examples 


Packaging difference

What is the packaging difference, here below we have one example about packaging/label difference?


Shiseido Perfect Whip Cleansing Foam

shiseido perfect whip version

You can see above that this product has four versions and each of them has different packaging. The same goes for other items where you will find English on overseas versions while local versions are all in Japanese although some big brands do have partial English even on Japanese versions. 


packing difference

packaging comparison

Another hint is that Japan is quite strict on recycling regulations and all of the Japanese versions will have a recycling mark on the package with material details as shown in the picture below. 

recycling Japanese cosmetics



Texture/Quality difference

There is a difference in the texture of different skincare and makeup products between Japanese local and overseas versions. Japanese versions are thicker and denser compare to overseas versions which are the thinner and watery type that's why Japanese versions have more moisture level while overseas versions will dry out quickly.


DECORTÉ Moisture Liposome Serum 

DECORTÉ Moisture Liposome Serum


There is a clear difference in the texture of both the local and overseas versions. The difference may be not apparent with naked eyes, but if you look carefully, you will figure it out. 



This difference of being dense and thin is common for many other items specially SK-II essence and lotion products. 


There is a catch

As there are many versions available and consumers are hard to differentiate them, counterfeit suppliers have a catch here. They have an easy way to make fake products and sell them as another version while consumers are caught up in this confusion. 

How to differentiate between different versions?

The most important question, is there an easy way to figure out which version of the product is that? The answer is, Yes! we will teach you how to differentiate between different versions of Japanese cosmetics. The answer is hidden in the product code or so-called JAN (Japanese Article No.). 

Before that, let us explain how the JAN is derived? Please see the picture below. 

JAN explained


690-697 made in China

885 made in Thailand

880 made in South Korea

00-13 made in the United States and Canada

45-49 made in Japan

30-37 made in France

50 made in the UK

76 made in Switzerland

84 made in Spain

Please note that made in China or other countries does not mean they are fake. As we explained above to save on manufacturing and logistic cost, the brands manufacture their products in other countries and they are not fake. 



To sum up, Japanese cosmetics have different variants, made in different countries, with a variation of ingredients and quality. Now it's completely up to you, what will you decide to buy. As for Japanese cosmetics wholesale is concerned, many wholesallers offering you overseas versions at lower prices such as Hong Kong version, South Korean version, China & Taiwan version, or even Vietnam version. You are free to decide either you want to buy these versions of the Japanese one. 

At Q-depot we offer 100% made-in-Japan products shipped directly from Japan and you are provided with tracking numbers to track your parcel from Japan to your doorstep. 

We supply 70+ top Japanese cosmetic brands such as Shiseido, SK-II, Biore, Hadalabo, etc. at the best wholesale prices and ship all over the world.  To check wholesale prices, please visit our wholesale page, search for the brand you want, and click on "download" to download the order sheet to check the price. If you can't find the brand or product you are looking for, you can contact us with JAN or a product picture, we will find it for you. 

We strongly hope that the above article is helpful. If so, please share it with your friends which you care to let them know so that they can buy the right product next time. If you have any suggestion or comments, please post down below in the comment section. 


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Posted by Kathy Park

Kathy Park, assistant marketing manager at q-depot with 5 years of extensive Marketing experience in K-beauty industry. Graduated from an international school with good English writing, speaking and listening skills. She loves Korean cosmetics and staying young, great Karaoke singer, a big fan of K-pop and good player of Tennis & squash. 

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