Muji, Japan’s great housewares chain, has started to make inroads in the US, with stores proliferating on both coasts. The chain opened its first stateside store in New York’s Soho in 2007 and has added 15 more locations since then (the latest outpost opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just this month).
Defined by its minimalist designs and ubiquity, Muji’s closest amalgam might be Ikea, but with way, way less furniture and way nicer housewares, plus clothes and books. But unlike a trip to Ikea’s mouse-maze warehouse — a slightly sadistic way to test tensile strength of any couple’s relationship — a sweep through Muji, with its calming earth tones and the dreamy hiss of glowing aroma diffusers, is more meditation than mental ward.
While less celebrated in the US than some of the store’s organizational products and clothes, its affordable skincare selection is equally zen, not to mention wildly popular in Japan. Think of it as Marie Kondo-ing your beauty cabinet.
The brand’s four skincare lines are coolly delineated in easily identifiable shades: sensitive(clear/white), natural (forest green), balance (light peach), and aging (copper brown). The wording on the skincare packaging is completely stripped down to the product type, like “light moisturizing milk” or “gel cleansing.” There is no romantic copy or big beauty promises. Muji has a “no-brand brand” ethos, so you won’t even see its own damn logo on your cleansing gel.
The modest non-marketing approach may explain why it doesn’t have a more prominent reputation. It’s easy to walk by the skincare section on your way to pick up some sheets, as I did for years. But despite that, a slew of its products have reached cult status among beauty Japanophiles.
Japan is famous for its cleansing oils, and Muji’s cleansing oil is one of the best on the market. It’s light and emulsifying, unlike some of the thicker olive-oil based versions out there, and yet it can remove waterproof Japanese mascara and still leave skin soft and hydrated. (Confession: I also love using it to shave my legs. It leaves my skin ultra silky but doesn’t leave a dangerous oil slick in my tub or give me ingrowns, like some more comedogenic oils.) And the light toning water — a watery hydrator that softens skin and shares nothing in common with the US’s astringent toners — is also a favorite of sensitive skin types.
In the skincare tools section, its cotton pads — stay with me — are also a hero product. In Japan, cotton pads are commonly used with hydrating toning waters as DIY masks, and big-time brands, like Shiseido, all put out their own versions. Instead of buying a ready-made sheet mask, you douse some pads with the skin-softening toning water and then plaster them all over your face. Muji’s soft, peel-able pads are stand-out for just that. They don’t shed, and they transfer product effectively from cotton to face when used as a mask.
Another favorite for fans of good, affordable design is the the eyelash curler, and it’s only $7.50. And among makeup artists, the goth-like black cotton buds are a low-key standard — their non-bendy tips make them ideal for applying creams and colors.
If you live in the Northeast or in California, you can swing by a store and play with the testers there, but all of Muji’s skincare products are also available online. The biggest bonus: The generously portioned full sizes only run $12 to $24, but you can purchase any product in a travel size for about $7 or $8 before committing to a full bottle. Finally, a little zen in the spendy, cluttered world of skincare.