People in Tokyo look polished and put-together at all times (maybe minus the drunk salarymen sleeping on the street on Friday nights). Everyone seems to take great care of their appearance: outfits are carefully put together and every strand of hair is in place. Both genders seem to spend quite a few yen on the upkeep. Many clock in hair, nail and other beauty salon appointments on a monthly basis—yet these services don’t come as cheap as they do in Europe or North America.
So you before you put a hefty beauty tab on the monthly expenses list: here are the DIY versions of some of the most popular Japanese beauty treatments.
Gel nails have come a long way from the nasty, hard and toxic acrylic type that was popular in the early 2000s. The new generation of nail gel today is as easy to apply as regular nail polish and can be cured in a matter of seconds with a LED lamp that takes up a fraction of the space that a UV lamp needs.
The new types of gel like weekly gel and Genish don’t require an acetone remover anymore. You can simply peel them off once they start growing out or you want a change. They typically last 2-3 weeks before starting to lift or chip. The whole process is pretty easy: peel off (minimal damage compared to an acetone bath), clean, reapply, cure, and done. Also, no base or top coats required.
These gels come in the same containers as regular nail polish with a brush included. One or two coats will usually suffice. The curing with an LED lamp takes about 30 seconds and you are done. They can be bought at stores like Shibuya Loft, Shinjuku Okadaya or online by searching for セルフネイル ジェル (literally “self nail gel”). A starter kit with 2-3 colors, an LED lamp and some cleaner sets you back around ¥5,000–¥6,000—less than the cost of one salon appointment.
Tip: Make sure to get a USB-charged LED lamp, the battery ones barely last an hour before you need to replace them.
This beauty treatment is definitely DIY-worthy and you don’t need to be an artist either! But for those who are bored by a simple mani, brick-and-mortar stores *like the ones mentioned above) also carry a range of “nail art” goods, like glitter, stickers, seals and other embellishments. For inspiration and instructions, simply turn to the internet: Youtube, Instagram and Pinterest is a treasure trove for nail designs and step-by-step how-to guides. For Japanese designs, check the websites of the gel manufacturers or search セルフネイル デザイン (self nail design).
Lash extensions, or まつ毛エクステ(matsuge ekusute) as they are called in Japan, have become huge in the last few years. Their definite appeal is that they save you a lot of time in the morning (who enjoys applying mascara, really?) and give a more impressive result. However, the appointments at usually 3-week intervals will set you back at least ¥5,000, often more, making it a quite pricey habit.
So, are DIY lash extensions a thing? Surprisingly, they are. You can buy individual lashes, in the same different lengths and curves that they offer at professional eyelash salons, as well as clusters of lashes (much faster to apply), along with a long-lasting glue, primer and remover. Please remember that you are applying chemical glue very close to your eye, so make sure you are buying from a reputable source and that the glue is hypoallergenic and safe. Obviously, this is only recommended for those with a steady hand–and a lot of patience.
The individual lashes will take you at least as long to apply as a salon appointment takes—if not longer, as applying eyelash extensions is obviously easier to do on somebody else than yourself. Those who want to give it a shot can find starter kits at the ubiquitous online retailers like Amazon and Rakuten by searching for まつ毛エクステ. Shinjuku Okadaya also carries them.
A final word of warning: DIY lashes are a bit more short-lived than the salon version—about 2 weeks.
Finally! Several drug store chains have started to stock Western hair toners. What’s the big deal? Hair toners in Japan are generally made for Japanese hair, obviously, and applying them to non-Asian hair can lead to excessive damage or a too extreme result; my blonde hair turned pink within minutes after a stylist in a Harajuku salon applied a toner that was meant to turn out ashy.
You can now find a range of toning shampoos (generally designed to counter brassy tones in blonde hair) and gentle toners like Manic Panic that work without ammonia in Shibuya Loft and even Don Quijote, which has branches at most major stations across Tokyo. These toners are easy to apply at home and cost between ¥1,500–¥3,000. They often last for more than one application, saving you a lot of money and time as you can drastically reduce your salon appointments. Again, instructions on how to use them can be easily found on the net, in English and many other languages.
In need of a haircut? Try these affordable Tokyo salons.
This is one thing you will not be satisfied with in Japan. Only dentists and teeth whitening clinics are approved to use peroxide to bleach teeth, which is the only ingredient that can actually lighten your teeth as opposed to physically remove stains. All the products that you find on drugstore shelves that promise whitening do not contain any peroxide and their effect is therefore minimal—or they might use abrasives like charcoal and baking soda to promise stain removal which could damage tooth enamel if used long-term. If you want to whiten your teeth in Japan, stock up on teeth whitening strips during your trips back home—or ask your friends to bring you some when they come visit!
For more affordable beauty options, check out where to buy inexpensive good-quality makeup in Tokyo.