It’s possible you’ve seen Teso Life on Tiktok—that’s how I found out about it, at least. The gigantic two-floored Japanese pharmacy is nestled in Manhattan’s Koreatown, and filled to the brim with snacks, homewares, and beauty. So much beauty! It’s the kind of stuff you can usually only find in Japan, and everything’s in Japanese—which is why I asked my friends Yuri and Kaori Tachibana (very cool Japanese sisters) to meet me at the store and help navigate. Yuri, a stylist, artist, and model, was convinced her winter coat was ruining her outfit, even though I was too enamored by her rainbow bird of paradise-esque eye makeup and bubblegum hair to notice. And Kaori works behind the scenes in fashion media—totally natural, she’s a foil to her sister in beauty and in style. (“I always need to go shopping with Kaori because I go for the crazy stuff and she finds the good basics,” Yuri said with a laugh.) Bouncing back and forth between the two countries for as long as they can remember, the two were up for the challenge of shepherding a clueless American (me) through a gigantic Japanese pharmacy. Here’s what we got:
“This brand is so good,” said Yuri, pointing to a big display of DHC lip balms. The classic bestseller is their Lip Cream, but Teso carries sheer tinted versions exclusive to the Japanese market that are damn good alternatives to Dior Lip Glow. The packaging is sturdy and lipstick-like, and the red-tinted one I got gives me chapped-colored lips with a shiny, moisturizing finish. Perfection. I picked up a pan of Canmake’s cult-classic Cream Cheek blush in 20, a dark rose shade I’ve never seen before, and their light brown Lasting Liquid Liner (the tip is super similar to Glossier’s Pro Tip, if you’re into that), which can double as a natural faux-freckler. Brush tip liners! Not a novelty here. K-Palette’s Real Lasting 1 Day Tattoo and Heroine Make’s Smooth felt tip liners are also bestsellers, and Teso also carries UZ’s cult favorite rainbow Flowfushi liners.
In another aisle, Yuri plopped Canmake’s Quick Lash Curler into my basket. The clear mascara with millimeter-length black fibers mushed into the formula (if you screw off the top, you can see them clinging to the wand handle) lengthens lashes to shocking degrees. But also so does BCL’s Brow Lash Ex Lash Sculpture, its comb-wand working overtime to deposit inky black color. Yuri told me she uses Dejavu’s Natural Lasting Eyebrow Pencil to fill in her brows, which the brand describes as “powder pressed into pencil form,” roughly translated. But she suggested I try Sana Newborn’s W Brow Ex, a three-part pencil with a retractable tip, spoolie end, and a tiny sponge that pops out of a well of powder when you screw open the middle. It’s perfect for streamlining your brow routine to just one product—fill in with the little sponge, add hair-like strokes with the pencil, then brush to blend.
There are a million options for lash curlers, big and small. The big: Yuri and Kaori both swear by the Shu Uemura lash curler, and there are lots of mini plastic stamp curlers as well. The small: corner curlers meant to reach hard-to-reach lashes that Yuri also said can be used to add oomph to bottom lashes. She then picked up a pack of rainbow-colored plastic razors, saying, “Do you know what these are? You can use them to shave your face—everyone does it.” Meanwhile, Kaori pointed out a pink and purple plastic face roller. “Everyone uses these,” she explained, and while the jury’s still out on whether it actually delivers on its promise of jawline slimming, it is super easy to use and feels relaxing while I’m watching TV. There’s a dupe for the Tangle Teezer, but the biggest score had to be Sho-bi Provence makeup brushes—they’re nearly identical to Artis’ pricey, densely-packed ones, and a set of two will only set you back 25 bucks.
As we walked through (one of many) skincare aisles, Kaori pointed out that a lot of Japanese skincare has a focus on whitening. “I really don’t like those products,” she told me, as evidenced by her slightly golden skin tone and smattering of natural freckles. But she did concede that, on the flip side, the beauty standard means Japanese women really know their SPF. Biore’s UV Aqua Rich Water Gel Spf 50 is a chemical-mineral hybrid with a non-greasy serum-like texture and super sheer finish. DHC’s Brightening Sunscreen is similarly lightweight, but combines titanium and zinc oxides with vitamin C for extra antioxidant protection and alpha arbutin to work overtime on hyperpigmentation.
Yuri said that, in Tokyo, you’ll often see folks wearing Cica + Care’s pimple patches during the day—the super invisible, matte hydrocolloids are fortified with centella asiatica to soothe angry zits into flat submission. And both sisters insist that DHC’s oil cleanser is a staple in every makeup-wearing Japanese woman’s beauty routine. For something a little fancier, their mom’s favorite mask is the Lits Revival Stem Power Shot. It has two layers: the first is a set of four supercharged strips meant to be placed under the eyes and on nasolabial folds, and the second is a traditional full-face sheet mask used on top.
Country & Stream’s Rich Honey Hand Cream is great for soothing eczema or just dry, cold hands. Apagard’s Premio Toothpaste is pricey, but thanks to nano hydroxyapatite tech, rebuilds and remineralizes sensitive teeth. Gatsby’s tiny hair gel pods look like what would happen if Apple designed hair gel—it’s just as good on baby hairs as it is for a laminated brow look.
Have you ever been to Teso Life, or another Japanese drugstore in Japan? Share your top beauty picks below—obviously, I’m going back for round two.
Photo via ITG