Japanese Makeup Shopping: My Experiences

Today I’ll discuss some of my observations and experiences in shopping for makeup in Japan. Hopefully this will help someone out there who might be taking a trip to Japan.
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First thing. There are SO. MANY. BRANDS.
It’s overwhelming! In an average Canadian drugstore, there may be about 8 key brands. In Japan, there’s at least double that amount. And some of them look so similar, it’s hard to distinguish between them (cue joke about how all Asians look alike 😛 ) I spent some visits in the beginning just surveying my options and noting down potential buys without buying anything – I didn’t want to buy things I’d regret. As far as I know, there are no returns on makeup in Japan.

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Don Quijote is the self proclaimed “Palace of Extreme Cheapness”.

Generally, prices are standardized because they’re often printed right on the packaging. I rarely saw variances in prices. For instance, the ¥300 for a package of 7 sheet masks was the same price at both Don Quijote (discount store) and Ainz&Tulpe (aka Sephora). If you see something you want, just pick it up, there’s no need to “shop around” to get the best deal.

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Visee eye shadow quads range between ¥1200-1400 ($14.85-$17.30 CAD)

Japanese makeup is not cheap. Drugstore prices are not like western drugstore prices. Even for “cheap” brands like Canmake or Cezanne, the prices are still more expensive than comparable Western brands. For example, a Canmake eye shadow trio costs ¥650 which converts to $8 CAD. The closest Western brand counterpart I would compare it to, would be Hard Candy or Wet n Wild. Eye shadow trios from those brands are typically around $3 to $5.  However, I would say that in general, I feel Japanese drugstore cosmetics are superior to what we get at our drugstores. So it evens out, somewhat.

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Here are a few products I picked up that had the @cosme stickers on them.

I mentioned in my haul post, there is a sort of “makeup Bible” in Japan which is @cosme and they give out awards on a seasonal basis. These awards are taken seriously and when a product is awarded a @cosme top pick, they put these little sticker / flags on them to distinguish the products.

In my opinion, Japanese beauty focuses on 4 key things: brows, lashes, cheeks and most importantly: complexion. Lip colour is very minimal. Here’s what I’d call the typical Japanese makeup look:
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It’s an innocent look with straight / down-turned brows, flirty lashes (more focus on length than volume), peachy blush placed high on the apple of the cheeks (I saw many girls with exaggerated obvious blush placement like this) and matte porcelain skin. Source.

Why I mention the “typical Japanese look” is that the beauty product selection caters to this look: lots of products available to achieve the matte smooth skin, blushes, eyeliners, brows and mascaras / false lashes galore. Lip products have limited shade range – mostly nudes and light pink / peach shades.

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The natural beauty section at Tokyu Hands.

Organic and natural skincare, and mineral makeup is on the rise in Japan. Cosme Kitchen and even Tokyu Hands offer a wide selection of natural skincare / makeup.

BB creams and liquid foundations aren’t too popular – they seem to prefer compact foundations.

Nail trends seem to go from one end of the extreme to the other – I mostly saw girls with nude or bare nails, but every so often I saw nail art that was like 3D sculptures on 1″ long talons. 😮
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I bought the majority of my loot from Matsumoto KiYoshi (drugstore), @cosme (like Ulta) and Ainz&Tulpe (like Sephora). I also shopped at Seibu, Isetan and Takashimaya department stores. My favourite place to peruse was at Matsumoto KiYoshi.
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Customer service at department stores are excellent! Very attentive and not pushy. At drugstores you’re left alone and if you need help, it’s easy to find someone to help you.

Nearly every makeup display at both drugstores and department stores offer testers of all their products in every shade, which made shopping super easy. And the testers were all kept clean and not caked over with people’s oily fingers!

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See those little white tabs under the makeup testers? Those are like tickets.

Some stores keep certain brands under lock and key so you have to get an assistant to open up the cabinet to access the products. Other stores employ a classier method – they provide little plastic tabs (about the size of shirt collar stays) printed with the product name. You take one of the tabs up to the counter if you want that product and they fetch it from the stockroom for you. It also serves another function, the number of tabs left in the slot shows how many items they have left – no tabs, no stock.

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“No. 1 selling!”

Japanese brands like to call out their top sellers, ranking their top 3 to 5 products in the displays. This makes life easy for a foreigner like me who wants to try out their best products.
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Drugstores are typically quite crammed and cluttered with products (this also made it a challenge to take photos – sometimes there literally was no space to take photos!). It looks messy but everything is clean and in its place – at first it was slightly off-putting but I got used to navigating through the clutter.

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Maybelline display. The Nudes palette is ¥2200 ($27 CAD)

Western makeup brands are available but at high markups. At the drugstore I spotted Maybelline, L’Oreal, Revlon, Rimmel, and even Physicians Formula! At department stores, there was Estee Lauder, Clarins, Bobbi Brown, YSL, Chanel, Dior etc. Some brands offer some Asian exclusive items, but overall, 99% of the selection is consistent with what is available worldwide.

Counters do not give out tons of samples or gwp like with Korean cosmetics. I received a few samples at THREE and Shiseido, but nothing from Addiction or Lunasol.
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Tax-free is the only “discount” for foreigners. Many stores promote the tax-free offer, which means 8% off (that’s the tax rate in Japan). On the surface it’s great, but with caveats:

1) Minimum spend per transaction is ¥5400 (approx $65 CAD) so you need to plan your purchases. I didn’t qualify for tax-free on many of my transactions

2) Stores will staple the receipt and stamp your passport with every tax-free transaction. I found this practice really odd and I was keenly aware that I was going to be exceeding my tax exemption allowance of $800 CAD and I didn’t want a record of it!. So at a certain point, I just stopped asking for the tax-free discount. 😛 (and frustratingly, the customs people didn’t even check the receipts stapled to my passport, making the whole exercise extra silly)

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I’m still not sure if I should detach these receipts from my passport!

3) Tax-free purchases are sometimes sealed in special bags so you can’t use the items until you leave the country. This practice wasn’t consistent in all stores – what was annoying was that they’d just toss all my makeup items in a huge plastic bag and I wasn’t able to re-pack or wrap some of my powder products to ensure they don’t crumble during travel.
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4) Some stores only offer the tax-free discount during certain hours. I could not think of any reason for this except that they needed a manager’s signature so they limited it to before 8pm. 🙄

Stores aren’t open super late like I was expecting. My expectation came from the late shopping hours in Hong Kong – it was not unusual for stores to be open until midnight or 1am. In Tokyo, most stores opened until at least 9 or 10pm. But in smaller cities like Kyoto, they typically closed between 7 to 8pm. This really put pressure on me to hit up stores quickly after my day of sightseeing! 😛

The Narita airport was quite disappointing in terms of makeup offering. They need to open a larger drugstore that offers proper displays of key brands like Visee, Kate, Integrate etc. And the majority of the luxury brands were Western brands like Chanel and Dior. I saw one Addiction and one Lunasol counter.

Ok, I’ll stop yammering and you can enjoy the barrage of pictures I took of the displays:
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These are the Rimmel Sweet Chocolat Eyes palettes that are an Asian exclusive. I debated about getting one but they cost close to $20 CAD. Even if they are chocolate scented and made in Japan, I couldn’t justify it.
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We know it as Muji, but its full name is actually Mujirushi. I love the clean minimalistic look of their displays and makeup packaging.
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Closer look at Muji makeup.
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Wall of sunscreen!
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Excel brand by Sana.
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Daiso, home of the best makeup sponge cleaner! And only ¥100
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Daiso makeup.

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The distinctive yellow packaging of Oshima Tsubaki Camellia Oil – besides the oil, they also offer haircare and body care.
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The popular Rohto Hada Labo Gokujun Hyaluronic Lotion.

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Coffret D’or – I never did get anything from this brand. Nothing really caught my eye.

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This looks just like a Revlon display in Canada.

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Wall of sheet masks.
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More sheet masks. I was tempted to get one of those Barbie ones.

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Essie, OPI and Color Club were sold there, but at marked up prices. ¥1500 = $18.50 CAD

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MAQuillAGE counter

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I didn’t get any counter pictures of the displays at RMK, Addiction or Jill Stuart, unfortunately. Most stores and malls actually have signs stating no photographs, and I guess I felt like obeying the rules at those particular counters. 😛

So those were my observations with Japanese makeup shopping. I really enjoyed discovering new brands and stores even if at times it was overwhelming! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments! 🙂

77 thoughts on “Japanese Makeup Shopping: My Experiences

    1. I was THIS close to being a Barbie sheet mask but I have lots of sheet masks at home already! It was really tough to figure out what brands to try, and also what items to pick up – sometimes TOO much selection isn’t necessarily a good thing! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha I bet. It looks so cramped in the shops, I wouldn’t know where to look first☺ True the sheet mask is more nice packaging than anything else. It probably wont be different to the ones you have x

        Like

  1. Very interesting post! The whole tax thing seems very odd! From what I see, I get it when you say the drugstores are quite cluttered, I think that would mess with my organised head haha! Definitely an interesting experience though! I like the idea of the white tab things next to the products, very clever and promoting the best selling products is a good idea too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At first it was a bit jarring to see all those pretty products all cluttered on the displays. But once I realized that everything was clean and organized (in their own way), I was able to navigate through the clutter more easily.
      I think the tab idea is great but it’d only be effective if there aren’t jerks who steal the tabs “for fun”. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course! It’s obviously a bit intimidating at first when you’re not used to it haha! Aw I know I can imagine that would screw up their clever idea!

        Like

  2. So, what should I call it as – a makeup paradise and how do Japanese people could track on 100s of products in their mind (probably they might be genius) and if I were there, then I would be totally overwhelmed with those infinite number of displays and ended up myself confused with what to choose and now, I come to know why made a research before jet set and I could clearly understand the importance of it. Great job and well done girl!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true! I was confused too. Some of the product names / function weren’t exactly clear to me since they were written in Japanese. I did ask for help from the sales associates a couple of times! 😛 I’m glad this helped!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now you know; Asians are obsessed with fair skin! I hate that about Asian makeup especially since I am of dark skinned Indian ethnicity! Sigh… By the way, Maybelline is very marked up in price! It is definitely cheaper here in Malaysia! The Nudes palette here in Malaysia (with sales) can go down to about less than MYR 50 which is about 15 Canadian dollars.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I knew that Asians are obsessed with fair skin! It’s quite extreme in Japan with all the parasols, hats and they even sell these arm / hand protectors like gloves! I think the Maybelline The Nudes palette retails for $16 here but it goes on sale. I think generally drugstore prices are on the rise though… but that’s a separate topic!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ouch, $20 for Rimmel!? I would have passed too. It sounds like (besides the whole eyeshadow bit), Asian beauty trends are my cup of tea 🙂 I just wish I could get my brows to grow out like the models. I’ve just been plucking them for so long that I kinda got what I got, haha. I love that they close early too and the fact that prices are consistent… it shows that they aren’t as comsumeristically driven as we are over here (even if prices are a bit higher).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, that`s a lot for Rimmel – EVEN if it is made in Japan and exclusive to Asia. It’s also chocolate scented. But I did swatch them and they were really glittery and not that pigmented. I wasn’t wow’d.
      For sure, I liked the concept of consistent pricing so I didn’t have to run all over to compare pricing or wait for sales. I think it helps people plan how to spend their money too.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Haha I agree with Harivain- in the Philippines it’s more on whitening soap, whitening lotion, whitening deodorant.. Just whitening everywhere! And when I moved here in the US it’s tanning here, tanning there! Haha anyway! Back to this post…😄 those tons and tons of options are crazy! I would be overwhelmed too if I’m a tourist like you without doin a research prior to digging into those makeup. And speaking of Narita Airport I was disappointed too when we had a lay over in there.. I was really excited at first but when I checked around it was disappointing.
    Awesome post!😍😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is funny the difference between Asian and Western beauty ideals!
      Yeah Narita airport could be SO much better, considering it’s the main airport for Tokyo… I hope they improve the stores. I think they should also put in a Hello Kitty store in there! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    1. See, you get it now! It was just display upon displays of STUFF. I wanted it ALL. At times I’d just walk away because I didn’t know where to begin… I spent a lot of time just milling about the displays and not committing. I wondered if the stores thought I was stealing lol!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ‘I want it all and I want it now’! 😀

        The store staff probably knew you were a tourist. I’m sure they knew from the way your eyes lit up when you saw all that make-up. :Or maybe there’s some kind of ‘OMG all that make-up’ eye twitch which female tourists to Japan are prone to… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! Those displays are intense! Awesome post, I loves all the pictures! The consistent pricing is really. And I like that they indicate which products were the top winners. That definitely would be helpful for foreigners!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I wish some of their practices would come over here like consistent pricing – but I suppose consumers would complain that the prices are “fixed”. It’s so silly though, how companies mark up prices here just so they can have a “sale”. It’s not a good deal if something wasn’t worth the regular price to begin with!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is hands down the most informative, comprehensive post on makeup shopping in Japan I’ve ever read. Ever! Thank you!
    The tax-free procedures are aLmost pointLess, reaLLy, and queuing behind other tourists who don’t know the concept of queue onLy stressed me out.. Anyway, how was the beauty section in Tokyu Hands?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for saying such kind words! 🙂 I’m glad you found this helpful. Yes, the queuing for the tax-free lines were silly.
      The beauty section in Tokyo Hands was amazing! I wasn’t expecting them to have such a large selection – I thought they were supposed to be mostly hobby and stationary stuff so it was surprising to see a section devoted to makeup, skincare and even nail polishes.

      Like

  8. Left a big long comment and somehow it wouldn’t post -___- haha
    Thank you for this blog post, it was very informative! I feel like I’m now armed and ready to go makeup shopping in Japan whenever we get the chance to go!
    OMG, just looking all the products captured in each photo is overwhelming – I can only imagine how it feels to see all this in real life, lol!
    Love that the prices are standardized. I’m too lazy to shop around for deals! Do you know what happens when there are sales? Are the sales released by the brand so are the same at each store? Also love that there are testers for everything, and that they clearly show the bestselling products for each brand and/or products that have won the Cosme award. Makes it so much easier to snatch popular/highly rated items when you’re in a rush like you were!
    It seems like Japanese brands favour more nude/natural shades – doesn’t seem like there are many crazy colours like blues and greens. I guess that makes sense considering the ideal Japanese beauty is a more natural and innocent look. I’m surprised they’re not that into BB creams, since those look a bit more natural on the skin!
    Weird that they stapled your receipt to your passport. Guess you now have a momento of our purchase alongside collecting stamps? haha.
    Did you see a lot of whitening products while you were there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw yeah WP is being a jerk lately for me too – comments disappearing. I checked my spam folder to see if your message ended up there but nope.
      I know, now looking at the photos, I’m not sure if the enormity of the displays is apparent! SO. MUCH. CHOICE. Sometimes that’s NOT a good thing!
      I should have mentioned that I did receive some coupons at one of the drugstores. I have NO idea what it was for, but she pointed to a couple of eye shadows and tore off one of the coupons and I think I got 10% off. I think that’s how it works – at a store by store basis.
      You’re right about the colour selection – for a taupe / neutral fiend like me, it was amazing! BUT, also made it really difficult to choose between the palettes because it was honestly a choice between a brown or… another brown… 😛
      Actually, Japanese complexion is quite matte and kind of obvious looking foundation. They don’t like the dewiness of BB creams, I think. That’s why they do the compact foundations – it provides high coverage and most of them have SPF too. I think they like innocent looking makeup, but not necessarily about the “no makeup makeup” look. See this article that I got the photo from:
      http://www.koreaboo.com/photo/netizens-analyze-the-key-difference-between-korean-japanese-makeup-styles/
      I didn’t look TOO much, but yes I did some whitening skincare. Most of it is preventative in nature though: sunscreen, parasols, hats and they sell these arm warmer looking glove things to shield hands / arms from the sun.

      Like

      1. Good thing you went in with an idea of what you were looking for, otherwise you would’ve been lost amongst the walls of makeup (actually, that sounds awesome.) Doesn’t help not knowing how to read the language on the packaging!
        Hmm, interesting to note that they like the innocent look, which doesn’t necessarily translate to a “no makeup makeup” look. I tend to think of Korean and Japanese makeup styles to be the same (straight brows, wash of colour over the lids, light skin), but there are clearly some differences.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m suprised that BB creams aren’t more of a thing in Japan – it was only a few years ago when everyone wanted the original asian BB brands, so I’m suprised Japan wasn’t already in on the action. Youch $20 for Rimmel does sound high, and I’m guessing for a pretty standard neutral palette there was probably nothing you were missing out on.
    So many choices of brands but like you say the desired aesthetic is one way only – most of the stands look the same over and over again – even the packaging is so similar!
    Testers for everything is so darn important – don’t know how you guys cope without it! totally would have bought a Barbie mask!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were some BB creams but I think their preference for super matte pale skin means that most BB creams don’t provide the coverage they want. The prefer the compact foundation which gives them a lot of coverage and the matte finish.
      You’re spot on – there were some brands that looked SO similar to each other I couldn’t tell the difference. And yes, there isn’t that much variety when you really compare the selection side by side.
      We do have testers for some things here at the drugstore – mainly for foundations where shade match is important. It was just so impressive that they had testers for all of the eye shadows, every single blush shade, even the liners and mascaras!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Makeup heaven! Great post for sharing all the makeup brands. This makes me want to go back to Japan to shop. I heard that their drugstores carry lots of false eyelashes and it’s pretty cheap. Agree with you that Japanese and Korean focuses more on their skincare. Glad to see you back. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I saw a whole wall of false eye lashes too but it was so crowded and cramped to take a photo at that time! I don’t wear false lashes so I didn’t pick any up. I’d love to do a combined trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo to shop… heck, let’s add in Seoul, Korea in there too! 😆

      Like

  11. WOW! I don’t know how you could even choose…looking at all those displays seem so overwhelming, but so amazing at the same time. It truly is makeup heaven haha
    Of course, out of all the displays, the sheet masks caught my eye the most!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was quite tempting to pick up sheet masks but they’re quite heavy to lug back. Also, I have a whole inventory of sheet masks that I need to use up first!
      I had a great time checking out all the stores and the displays – like a whole new world of makeup opened up to me!

      Like

    1. I wished I’d bought more complexion stuff but as you know, I have a slight problem with hoarding too many foundations… so I had to restrain myself. But yes, complexion is #1! 😀

      Like

  12. Holy crow, I can see why you had trouble figuring out where to start! I remember going into a Sephora shortly after they began opening their stores and being practically paralyzed with indecision – I had no idea what to look at first. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow! Great post! It’s so fascinating to see makeup shopping from another culture. I could definitely see how it would be overwhelming to figure out where to start! Just looking at the photos, my eyes can’t figure out what to focus on, haha! Looks like an amazing selection and the “tab” system is pretty genius! Japan is definitely on my travel bucket list and I am definitely going to have to refer back to your post if/when I go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I love experiencing various aspects of life (food, fashion, beauty) from other cultures – it explains so much about them! And, I like to take back some of those ideas and incorporate them into my own life. I can’t wait for you to go to Japan – you’d love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. How very interesting to see all these great pics and hear all about the differences in shopping. It sounds amazing though very overwhelming with all those choices.
    The receipt/passport thing is interesting, never seen that done before.
    xo Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m still confused by the receipt in the passport! And they stamped my passport too. I thought no one but border officials were allow to tamper with a passport.
      I do wish I had a few more days in Tokyo dedicated to shopping… but alas, our trip was primarily for sightseeing, NOT for shopping! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm that is weird, I thought the stamping was just the customs as well. May be an asian thing?
        Oh the shopping is definitely the side show, I loved seeing your instagram pics: it looked like an amazing trip.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh you’re too kind! I enjoy putting together these types of posts and my research is as much for ME as it is for you – I love sharing stuff like this! 😛

      Like

  15. So much to want! To keep up with my budget, I prepared a wishlist by checking out the ratings on Cosme. It gave my purchases a little more direction, but I have to admit that I couldn’t help myself to a couple of random impulse buys here and there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I went to Japan and Hk last year and this post brings back a lot of great memories.

    In addition to beauty and skincare products I’m interested in the beauty industry and consumer experience. In Asia I was fascinated by the displays and customer service is the department stores. Such luxurious displays with seating areas for “counselling”. They seem to take this very seriously. Did you do any beauty shopping in the department stores?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I visited a couple of department stores and I plan to write about my experiences in upcoming posts… but yes, they are so attentive and they sat me down and I received “counselling”! XD They know this generates more sales!

      Like

  17. OMG! Here is heaven! Do you think $1000 USD is enough? I think my luggage will overweight XD
    I love Canmake and a lot of Japanese cosmetic! I want to get some sunscreen. (Both Spray type and lotion type) Also, those sheet mask will make me crazy. I think those sheet masks are enough to make an Instagram account XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It depends on if you’re going to buy drugstore or higher end. I definitely spent more than $1000 and I mainly bought drugstore and mid-price products. I didn’t go crazy with skincare due to the the WEIGHT! 😛 Do you have a trip planned already?!

      Liked by 1 person

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