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Shu Uemura At-A-Glance

Strengths: Oil-based cleansers for dry to very dry skin; makeup is this line's strong suit; the Pro Concealer provides incredible coverage and comes in a great range of colors; excellent powders, powder blush, and powder eyeshadows; good lipsticks; a brilliant, extremely well-made selection of makeup brushes and all manner of cosmetic applicators.

Weaknesses: Expensive; some sunscreens leave skin vulnerable to UVA damage; no products to manage acne; mediocre toners and moisturizers; irritating masks; for the money, the pencils and mascaras lack even a mild "wow factor,"; the Brush Cleaner is inferior to using a gentle shampoo to remove makeup residue and oil from your tools.

Shu Uemura (pronounced "ooo-ee-moo-ra") has been a makeup artist for over 50 years, and is said to still be involved with his namesake company. The line is based in Japan but has an international presence; L'Oreal obtained a 35% stake in the company in 2000, and gained management control in 2004. L'Oreal's involvement with this line explains why many of the previous foundations have either been discontinued (rightly so) or retooled for the better, and undoubtedly must have something to do with the dismissal of other lackluster products and the line's expanded presence in department stores. They've done a good job giving this already-trendsetting group of products an valuable breath of fresh air while at the same time keeping several of the classic products the line has become known for. We also want to applaud the new tester units; most are sensibly labeled, and they're very accessible. Also a plus is that this line tends to draw salespeople who are adept at makeup and have a penchant for being experimental with color (which can be great for those looking to get out of a makeup rut).

We suppose the best thing we can say about Shu Uemura's skin care is that the cleansing oils (which are recommended only for dry to very dry skin) do a thorough job of removing all types of makeup. Beyond that, the unreasonable prices, dubious claims, and overall average formulas don't add up to a justifiable reason to assemble a full skin-care routine from this line. Color and brushes are where Shu Uemura excels, and their reputation in this area is well earned.

The selling point of almost all of the Shu Uemura skin-care products is deep sea water and algae, neither of which is unique to this line or essential for any skin type. Deep sea water does not have any research backing up the claims for its anti-aging benefit for skin. One study examined a species of deep sea urchin whose skin was infected with a bacteria present in the water, while another illuminated the fact that deep sea water contains pathogenic bacteria that can cause skin problems, as seen in humans who dive to such depths. So much for deep sea water being helpful.

Other published studies have demonstrated that drinking the stuff had benefits for a sampling of people with atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome (AEDS). But drinking deep sea water isn't the same as slathering or spraying it on skin, and since this was not a comparison study, who knows if the eczematic patients involved may have had a similar response if they had been drinking green tea, or eating more omega-3 rich foods, such as salmon instead? (Sources: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2005, pages 1093–1096; and Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, February 2000, pages 193–199). In short, there is no convincing evidence that seawater, whether bottled near the shore or from leagues below, is superior water for skin.

Shu Uemura hypes water as the best source of hydration for skin, but that is also far from the truth. It takes much more than water to create healthy skin. In fact, too much water is bad for skin! Excess water actually impairs and disrupts the skin's protective outer barrier and can cause irritation, dryness, and an impaired immune response (Sources: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, December 1999, pages 960–966; and Wound Care Journal, October 2004, pages 417–425). What's in short supply in the skin-care products below are antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, or skin-identical ingredients, types of ingredients that are much more essential to healthy skin functioning than any kind of seawater.

For more information about Shu Uemura, owned by L'Oreal, call (888) 748-5678 or visit

Shu Uemura Makeup

As you'll see from the reviews below, Shu Uemura does several categories exceedingly well. His powder blush and eyeshadow textures aren't in a class by themselves anymore thanks to other companies improving their formulas, but they are still amazingly smooth and a pleasure to work with. The loose powders are wonderful, too, and the latest foundations improve on their predecessors with even better shades and higher sunscreen ratings. Of course, the brushes from this line also deserve mention. Other than M.A.C. and possibly Trish McEvoy, you won't find a more extensive selection anywhere, though you'll want to keep in mind that the prices are all over the map, and mostly on the high side.

We'd ignore most of the pencils, which tend to be expensive and ordinary, as are the lipsticks. Considering L'Oreal's influence you'd think that this line would’ve become stronger with their mascara offerings (as L'Oreal did when it purchased Maybelline a few years ago), but that hasn't happened yet. Perhaps that improvement is yet to come.

Note: Shu Uemura is categorized as a brand that tests on animals because its products are sold in China. Although Shu Uemura does not conduct animal testing for its products sold elsewhere, the Chinese government requires imported cosmetics be tested on animals, so foreign companies retailing there must comply. This requirement is why some brands state that they don’t test on animals “unless required by law.” Animal rights organizations consider cosmetic companies retailed in China to be brands that test on animals, and so does the Paula’s Choice Research Team.

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