Importing beauty products into Japan is a lucrative opportunity for two main reasons.
- Japan is the world’s third-largest cosmetic and personal care market worth up to US$40.62bn in 2023.
- Consumers spend highly on cosmetics, including skin care products. That supports the steady growth of the market.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about importing cosmetics to Japan and how COVUE can simplify the process for you.
Who regulates beauty products in Japan?
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) supervises the regulation of beauty products. They fall under the Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Law. The Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) conducts on-site and document-based inspections to check import applications from abroad.
How are beauty products regulated in Japan?
Your product will likely fall into one of the categories mentioned below. The differences between these two depend on the effects, ingredients, application method:
These products have mild action on the human body, which are intended to be applied to the human body through rubbing, sprinkling or other methods with the aim of cleaning, beautifying and increasing attractiveness, altering the appearance or to keeping the skin or hair in good condition.
For example, cosmetics can be:
- Perfume and eau de cologne
- Make-up cosmetics: Foundation creams, lipsticks, eye make-up, etc.
- Skin care cosmetics: Skin lotion, essence, skin milk, cleansing cream, etc.
- Hair care products: Hair dye, shampoo, hair treatment, etc.
- Special-purpose cosmetics: Sunscreen, shaving cream, etc.
- Cosmetic soaps
Quasi-drugs are strictly regulated than cosmetics, as they have stronger effects on the human body, such as preventing nausea and other discomforts, protecting against heat rash and soreness, encouraging hair growth, removing hair, or stopping mice, flies, mosquitoes, and fleas.
For example, quasi-drugs can be:
- Hair growth treatments
- Hair dyes
- Bath products
Perm and straightening products
There is also a sub-category of quasi-drugs called medicated cosmetics. These can be:
- Whitening products
- Anti-aging products
- Oily skin or acne treatment products
- Anti-dandruff or anti-itching products
- Freckle-removing products
- Shaving products
- Anti-sunburn or “snow burn” products
- Anti-bactericide products
How to import beauty products into Japan?
The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law regulates import procedures. You are responsible for complying with Japanese laws and quality/safety standards when importing. You have to provide the correct documentation to pass customs. COVUE, as your Importer of Record and operating partner in Japan, handles the import process on your behalf to secure a smooth sailing of your business.
Importing Cosmetics in Japan using IOR (Japan Importer of Record)
If you’re planning to sell cosmetics in Japan without having a physical entity, you will need a licensed IOR to help you through the entire process. Here are the steps to import cosmetics using an IOR.
Step 1: Choose an Importer of Record.
You’ll need to find a company or an individual who can act as the Importer of Record for your cosmetics. Make sure that they have experience with importing cosmetics and are familiar with Japanese regulations.
Step 2: Make sure you have the manufacturing plant information where your products are made.
This information usually includes manufacturing process, packaging, labeling and storage.
Step 3: Determine if your cosmetics can be imported into Japan
Before importing cosmetics into Japan, you’ll need to ensure that they are allowed by Japanese law. Japan has strict regulations on cosmetics, including the use of certain ingredients, labeling requirements, and more.
To comply with the regulations, cosmetics must be subjected to a safety assessment, which includes testing and inspection of the ingredients and components. This assessment is usually carried out by testing and inspection facilities designated by the MHLW.
The assessment typically includes a review of the ingredients list to ensure that all the ingredients are permitted under Japanese law, and testing to verify that the product does not contain any prohibited or restricted substances. Additionally, the testing and inspection facilities may evaluate the product’s effectiveness and safety for use, such as testing for skin irritation or toxicity.
You can find information on Japan’s regulations for cosmetics on the website of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW).
Step 4: List and register the products produced by manufacturer.
Note that you need one application each manufacturer. You will need to apply for multiple cosmetics and personal care applications if you offer multiple products. You will provide information about the product, including its ingredients, labeling, usage instructions, and any warnings or precautions.
Step 5: Submit the necessary documentation for product registration:
Send documents with the correct ingredient lists from the supplier or the manufacturer. The following ingredient analysis is mandatory for the safety of cosmetics or quasi-drugs. It is the same process for both, but the requirements and regulators may vary.
List of INCI ingredients with each substance’s exact percentage (%). INCI names are used internationally for the labeling of ingredients. Japan adheres to these names. In addition, the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association collected a list of appropriate ingredient names on labels that comply with the regulations.
Report on Product Lab Testing (can be handled by COVUE at no charge in 99% of cases or by other testing and inspection facilities approved by the MHLW.). This report includes testing for heavy metals, harsh preservatives, legal colors and perfumes, UV-protecting agents, microbial tests, pH, viscosity, and stability tests. Following the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law (PAL), the results must show that the product is safe.
Step 6: Product Label and Listing
Advertising and labeling for cosmetics are regulated by law, which details labeling guidelines for containers or packaging, and certain items that may not appear in the labeling. Products that violate labeling regulations are deemed improperly labeled, and their sale is prohibited. The law also requires that the container, packaging or package inserts of cosmetics be specifically labeled to ensure appropriate use, handling and quality, and liability.
What are the labeling requirements for cosmetics?
The Pharmaceutical Affairs Act determines labeling requirements. Affixing a label in the Japanese language with a full ingredient list placed on the outer packaging is crucial. Misleading or false information and unapproved claims are prohibited.
Quasi-drugs that have claims based on active ingredients need to be approved by MHLW. COVUE, as your Importer of Record, provides the compliant labeling in Japanese for your products as part of our End-2-End Japan Market Entry solutions.
The labeling requirements for cosmetics/quasi-drugs in Japan include the following:
- The name of the product by type
- Name and address of the manufacturer or importer/distributor
- Brand name
- Quantity or weight of the product
- Manufacturing code or number
- Origin Country
- Ingredient list designated by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW)
- Any specific precautions for its storage and use
- Expiration date as designated by MHLW
- Contact information
- Special symbols for aerosols and accompanying capsules under pressure that need special handling
- Symbols that indicate the material used for packaging and instruct the user on the preferred way of sorting garbage for collection. That is required by the Law for Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources.
Exception for soaps:
- Name and address of the primary distributor
- Brand name
- The word “soap”
- List of ingredients as required by the MHLW
- Manufacturing number or cod
- The expiration date for designated cosmetic soap
- For those products manufactured by a frame mixing method, a term to that effect
- Standard weight per unit
- Country of origin
STEP 6: Import Application and notification.
Your IOR company will be responsible for the application and sending of notifications such as a Manufacture and Sales of Cosmetics Notification, a Cosmetics Import Notification for Manufacture and Sales and the manufacturer’s or importer’s brand name. Those forms will contain a record of the testing and inspection results verifying that the product does not contain any prohibited component. Now, the products are ready to be sent to Japan where the importer will take over customs clearance.
What are possible pitfalls when importing cosmetics into Japan?
- Losing ownership of product rights in Japan unconsciously.
Finding the right partner can be your key to success in the Japanese cosmetics market. That is because they hold licenses for marketing, selling, and distributing the products and can act as your Importer of Record. Often brand owners make the mistake of leaving the import compliance to their distributor and risking losing ownership of the product rights in Japan. That is where we make a difference. COVUE serves as a neutral operating partner for foreign cosmetic brands in Japan. With us, you can run your business however you want without worrying about losing product rights.
- Making incorrect claims on product labels is prohibited by law.
In Japan, labeling and claims for cosmetics and quasi-drugs are strictly regulated.
Proper labeling and truthful claims are required. Occasionally, the MHLW must approve your claims before you can market or advertise them. Unverified claims in advertisements and labels must be removed. These include misleading or false information, such as the quality of the product, and unclear and ambiguous information about the country of origin. Japanese customs might reject your products if you do not follow Japanese laws and provide proper documentation.
COVUE ensures that your products comply with Japanese law at every step of the process. We provide all the necessary documentation to import them into Japan.
Import laws and processes can differ slightly depending on the product category. It is crucial for you to find a partner who can act as your Importer of Record and hold the entity and licenses you need in Japan. Furthermore, your Importer of Record can categorize your beauty product and handle product compliance on your behalf prior to importing.
Are you struggling to import cosmetics products into Japan?
Complex regulations, endless paperwork, and tight language barriers can be overwhelming. That is why COVUE offers solutions to these challenges. Our End-2-End Japan Market Entry solutions provide expert guidance and support throughout the entire import process, making it easier for you to enter the Japanese market and succeed.