【Japanese Beauty Vol.5】100 Year Research! Pioneer of Whitening SHISEIDO HAKU

Like the phrase “white skin covers the seven flaws” suggests, fair skin has been long regarded as ideal to Japanese women. Shiseido released whitening cosmetics over 100 years ago, and has been the pioneer of Japan's whitening cosmetic scene ever since. Japanese Beauty Vol.5 takes a closer look at Shiseido's history and its work of art, HAKU!

Though many skin whitening cosmetics are released every year, Shiseido's HAKU has been the most popular* serum for 12 years ever since its first release. To find the roots of its popularity, we visited Shiseido Corporate Museum located in the Shizuoka prefecture.
(*September 2005 - August 2017 Amount Share)

(Shiseido Corporate Culture Department Manager Toshiyuki Oki)

Did you know that Shiseido originally started out as a “pharmacy”?

“In 1872, Shiseido was founded as the first private ‘western pharmacy’. At the time, Chinese medicine was still the mainstream and medicines were of poor quality. Shiseido, however, strove to provide high quality western medicine.” (Shiseido Corporate Culture Department Manager Toshiyuki Oki)

(Shiseido store in 1900)

Shiseido's first lotion “Eudermine” born in 1897 was a scientific lotion made using the formula of western medicine. “High quality production based on science has been our philosophy since then.” (Oki)

In 1915, Shiseido shifted their business from medicine to cosmetics. Amid the development of many cosmetic products, Shiseido's first skin whitening lotion was introduced into the market in 1917!

(Released in 1917 Peroxide Cucumber)

“Peroxide Cucumber was a skin whitening lotion to tighten the skin using the power of peroxide as bleach.” (Oki)

(Advertisement for Peroxide Cucumber displayed in Shiseido Corporate Museum)

“Whiten, condition, and refine the skin” was the slogan for the advertisement in 1927 (the phrase could still work for ads nowadays). In 1937, “Whitening Cream” was introduced. It is hard to believe that the word “whitening” was already used 80 years ago...!

After war, Shiseido's skin whitening cosmetics were further developed both in terms of ingredients and formulas. “In 1962, ‘deLuxe EAU DE VERT’ featured vitamin C as its component to whiten and condition the skin, which became viral.” (Oki)

In 1976, the “Freshure” series was introduced. “It was Shiseido's first whitening skin care line with stable vitamin C derivative.” (Oki)

Now combined in many cosmetics as whitening ingredients, Shiseido has been integrating “Vitamin C” in their products from over 50 years ago.

(Freshure series on display in Shiseido Corporate Museum)

“In 1982, ‘Revital White’ a product that focused on the moisturizing properties of amino acid was released. This was a whitening and anti-aging skincare product for mature women.” (Oki)

Then came the “UV White” series in 1985; a whitening skin care line that thoroughly treats the appearance of dark spots and freckles with UV care properties.

(UV White series on display in Shiseido Corporate Museum)

“In 1983, Shiseido created a 'New Whitening Drug Development Team', and further made continuous research in the field. The outcome was the new whitening active ingredient ‘arbutin’. Combined with arbutin, the ‘Whitess Essence’ was released in 1990. This led to a whitening skin care trend between women.” (Oki)

In the 1990s, the mechanism of dark spots became more known through the media, and the trend for “whitening skin care” permeated. All of the cosmetics companies began to develop “whitening ingredients” and “whitening cosmetics” to compete.

With the continuous whitening trend, “White Lucent” series was introduced in 2003, featuring new ingredients.

“It was a product to globally introduce Japan’s whitening skin care cosmetics.” (Oki)

(Released 2003 White Lucent Skin Whitening Serum)

Then in spring 2005... HAKU, Shiseido’s gem of whitening research finally made its striking debut. In the next chapter, we will look into the story behind the birth of HAKU!

(Whitess Essence and current HAKU on display in Shiseido Corporate Museum)

In spring 2005, HAKU made its sensational debut in the whitening skin care market. However, there were many hardships to overcome.

When there is a successful older sibling, younger ones tend to be compared. HAKU was developed under such conflict.

“Whitess Essence was released in 1990 and over 21 million bottles were sold. HAKU’s developers, researchers, and package designers were told to create an ‘ultimate whitening product’ that surpassed this.” (Shiseido PR Mana Karakawa)

Struggling under such high pressure, the development team reanalyzed a simple question. “Why do tans fade but dark spots don’t?”

(Shiseido PR Mana Karakawa)

“UV rays” at the time were commonly known to be the cause of dark spots.

“The change of skin tone caused by melanin production under sun exposure returns back to its original skin color with time through the skin’s turnover. So why do dark spots stay? After a thorough research and tests on the area with and without age, we discovered dark spots are under a mild and chronic inflammation. (Shiseido Advanced Research Center, Takako Shibata)

The invisible, non-red “mild and chronic inflammation” was the trigger that stimulates the melanocyte and producing excess melanin!

(Shiseido Advanced Research Center, Takako Shibata)

Shiseido developed whitening active ingredient “m-tranexamic acid” to treat mild, chronic inflammations. It targets the production of dark spots, raising the bars for whitening cosmetics again.

By the way, as of 2017, this “mild chronic inflammation” is the cause of dark spots and other signs of aging. Now this is a key factor in the beauty and medicine industries. It is baffling that Shiseido first focused on this mild chronic inflammation over 10 years ago...!

HAKU had a decently rich texture, which was rare for its time. We have discovered through our research that ‘in order to enhance the effect of skin whitening, skincare properties were essential’. We then strove to attain a comforting texture that melts to blend in smoothly while retaining its rich texture that stays and will not budge from the dark spots.” (Shiseido Cosmetics Information Development Center, Keiko Ikeda)

In 2005, most whitening serums had a smooth, refreshing texture. Some customers found the innovative texture of HAKU to be “heavy” at first.

“As more customers started to appreciate the quality of HAKU, its unique texture was starting to be accepted. More people started to use the product in autumn and winter for its moisturizing texture, and now we have customers requesting us to never change the texture.” (Ikeda)

On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to maintain the identical texture as they update their ingredients and formula over time.

“The researchers do their best to meet our customers’ needs and expectation, since it’s been a beloved texture for many years.” (Ikeda)

(Shiseido Cosmetics Information Development Center, Keiko Ikeda)

Aside from developing the formula, there were debates regarding the name of the product.

“It was our task to find a way to express the world of white. ‘SHIRO’ (white) literally means the color white, but ‘HAKU’ pronounced differently connotes a certain echo and ambiguity. We decided to go with HAKU since we wanted to express a ‘texture of never-ending luminosity’ and ‘the blank whiteness after chasing away all dark spots.’” (Karakawa)

Letterpress printing is featured for HAKU’s logo.

“During the days, even package designs were mostly computer-oriented. However, we wanted to focus more on ‘the beauty of handmade products,’ and decided to use hand carved, letterpress print.” (Karakawa)

On the white packaging is a sophisticated logo of HAKU printed vertically and the box outside features a contrasting “black” shade. It was a bold and challenging idea to use a monochrome image of the bottle on the package of cosmetics.

“Our intention was to express the pure white bottle coming out of a pitch black box as if all clouds were driven away.” (Karakawa)

The so-created first HAKU has been evolving for the past 12 years. The current HAKU is the 6th version.

(Released in 2005 First HAKU Melanofocus Essence)

12 years after the birth of the first generation, HAKU has been evolving along with the latest research for whitening. We came to Shiseido Research Center to hear all about behind the scenes!

Ever since their establishment, Shiseido has centered their products with science to prove their evidence. In 1916, they opened a “research lab” for an in depth research.

(1916 Ginza Cosmetic Center Building with the opened research lab)

Now, the center of the research for Shiseido is a research center in Yokohama.

HAKU has been researching solely why dark spots form and what condition dark spots are in.” (Shibata)

Additionally to the observation of skin tissue and cells, around year 2000, research concerning genes has been implemented.

“From a massive amount of collected data, we began to slowly discover the skin where dark spots form did not have a normal turnover.” (Shibata)

(Gene evaluation process using equipment from Agilent Company)

This research is reflected in 2007's 2nd generation HAKU Melanofocus 2; combined with whitening ingredient, 4MSK to activate on the turnover of the skin.

“This 4MSK is a Shiseido original whitening ingredient and we spent the most man hours of over 13 years for development.” (Shibata)

“Currently, there are around 20 active whitening ingredients that are certified by the country. 5 out of the 20 are developed by Shiseido.” (Shibata)

Firstly, developing an active whitening ingredients is incredibly time consuming.
“Including research to actually testing on human skin, certification from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare、it takes roughly 10 years to lead to the release of one product.” (Shibata)

“10 years” is the same time it takes for a baby to become a 4th grader (4MSK took 13 years so until middle school)! Even though it takes massive effort and energy, Shiseido is dedicated to the development of active whitening ingredients. Shiseido is the only manufacturer to develop 5 original whitening ingredients.

Shibata has long been in the development team for HAKU. We asked, “Which product do you remember the most?” Shibata replied, “I personally think that would be the 3rd version of Melanofocus EX in 2009.”

“We discovered at that time the cells with melanin had slow, heavy movements like they were poisoned. Using the power of Byakurenka® HA, we wake up the cells and encourage the discharge. It kind of made me think cells aren’t so different from us humans.” (Shibata)

The following 4th version of “Melanofocus W” was released in 2011 with “anti-melanoma”, a combination of both m-tranexamic acid and 4MSK. At the time, this was the latest technology for combining 2 whitening components.

“It is extremely difficult to combine 2 whitening ingredients and we rigorously studied its safety and effects to the skin. I still clearly remember this was our first steps for a double formula of whitening ingredients.” (Shibata)

In 2013, the 5th version “Melanofocus CR” had 2 main ingredients combined with new ingredient “Under Shielder”. The development for this was realized by the “High Throughput Screening System”.

“The development of drugs takes massive verification with ingredients. When we do this by hand, our maximum was only a few hundred types but with the implementation of the new system, 3 year worth of work could be done in a single day.” (Shibata)

The system was originally used in the pharmaceutical industry and as a cosmetic company, Shiseido was one of the first to implement the very same system.

“We started this project with speed and scale equivalent to the development of a drug and ingredient, Under Shield was selected from over 20,000 different types.” (Shibata)

In 2016, the current “Melanofocus 3D” was released. This was Shiseido’s culmination of researching dark spots.

“With the original observation method utilizing confocal microscopy, we were able to now see dark spots in 3D. This was a game changer. It’s like seeing x ray pictures in MRI or CT scans.” (Shibata)

(Observation of the skin with confocal microscopy)

(Image of each skin layer from confocal microscopy)

Confocal microscopy is equipment that allows observation of within the skin without cutting any skin. Each layer of the skin and dark spots could be visualized.

“As a result, we discovered dark spots have melanin scattered and is collected as a large ball deep within the epidermis. Melanofocus 3D evolved for a formula to prevent the generation of melanin from any possible route.” (Shibata)

“During our research, we begin to understand what condition the skin is in where dark spots form.” (Shibata)

By linking each factor that is discovered, the overall mechanism of generation with dark spots is solved one by one.

“Accumulated data from our research of cells and genes and know-how obtained from years of research are Shiseido’s properties. I believe it is HAKU’s appeal and mission by organizing our properties and treating dark spots from multiple angles.” (Shibata)

Out of other whitening serums with simple packaging, the HAKU bottle stands out of the crowd. Behind this design is the aesthetics of Shiseido.

Whitening serums were known to be in simple tube type packaging but HAKU made its debut with an innovative spiral design.

“We wanted to express our aesthetics with only white and outrace the Whitess Essence. For this, first HAKU designer Kaori Nagata “looked for hints but not through cosmetics.” (Karakawa)

What Kaori found was “Dehua porcelain” and “all white modern construction”.

Pearl white was chosen as the texture of the bottle.

“We had never done this before and we went through trial & error. At the end, we decided to utilize glass flakes (shattered glass) for the perfect, ideal texture.” (Karakawa)

The white texture of the bottle has been renewed with the serum itself and the current “Melanofocus3D” has a beautiful gradation of silver to white on the packaging.

The spiral silhouette was inspired by New York’s “Guggenheim Museum”. 12 years after the release, HAKU still stands as the face of the brand.

“One of Shiseido’s principles is to deliver through the products and products only. The product itself is important and so is its design. This is a tradition in Shiseido passed down from the founder, Shinzo Fukuhara.” (Karakawa)

“Founder Shinzo Fukuhara has been intrigued by art from a young age and travelled to Paris for the latest trend in art. He was also a legendary photographer of Japan before the war.” (Oki)

Shinzo placed significance in designs for corporate activities and established the current design department in 1916.

(1920 former members of the Design Department)

“The former Design department included up-and-coming artists such as Settai Komura and Sue Yabe were in charge of posters, newspaper ads, store designs.” (Oki)

Bottles and posters the design department created is exhibited in the corporate museum.

(Hydrogen Peroxide cream exhibited in the corporate museum)

The image above is the “hydrogen peroxide cream” released in 1918. The Art Nouveau styled silhouette and the elegant curves are striking.

“The design department would integrate Art Nouveau and Art Deco styled designed for a later known ‘Shiseido Style’ of a more modern touch.” (Oki)

(Wrapping scroll paper used in the early Showa period)

“Even the ‘Hana Tsubaki (Camellia) mark’ that represents Shiseido was taken from Shinzo’s water color paintings. The Hana Tsubaki mark gradually changed its design and was set in 1974.” (Oki)

(Shinzo Fukuhara’s water color painting and the history of the Hana Tsubaki mark)

Before there was even an idea of “corporate image”, Shiseido has been constructing a world of the corporate and products through their designs. This mentality is passed down to the current Design department and HAKU.

“We get told HAKU’s bottle resembles a bamboo but we never were inspired by bamboo. Our first designer, Kaori Nagata was delightful to hear this because for a manufacturer, we have an image of our products. When this is taken and a different image is planted in our customers, this means our products have left the manufacturer’s hands and is now in our customers. It is proof our customers had accepted our products.” (Karakawa)

For Japanese women that love whitening care, of course the results are what they're most interested in. What was the unbelievable truth discovered from Shiseido's unique research?

(Shiseido Cosmetics Information Development Center Hiroyo Usuki)

Trends with skin color and makeup change over time. A little while ago, "Ganguro Makeup" was in trend, and these days, "flushed cheeks" are.

"On the other hand, we have no data on how bare skin itself has changed over time. This is because equipment for evaluating the skin has been evolving and we cannot compare the earlier and latest data on the same degree." (Shiseido Cosmetics Information Development Center Hiroyo Usuki)

Well, that makes sense!

So, Shiseido challenged to equally compare and contrast the evaluated skin data for earlier and later equipment!

"We first started with melanin pigments and hemoglobin. The melanin pigments on the outer skin layer directly relates to the Japanese yellow toned skin color. The hemoglobin is in the capillaries and is directly related to the redness in the skin." (Usuki)

We focused on these two factors and evaluated data of 3,638 women over the span of 25 years...? What we found was unbelievable.

“First of all, we found a decrease in the amount of melanin pigments from 2001 to 2015.” (Usuki)

The amount of melanin pigments decreased and Japanese women's skin changed from a yellow dull complexion to what is truly should be; a brighter ocher tone.

"The amount of hemoglobin also decreased from 1991 to 2001 but slowly increased later until 2015."(Usuki)
While the reddish tones decreased until 2001, because melanin pigments decreased, we assume the skin's 'true healthy redness' started to show.

We evaluated the most important factors of the skin; brightness, vibrancy and color. From this, we found "Japanese women's skin tone became clearer and shifted to a slightly blushed healthy color". The picture below is the simulated average face and the change.

During 25 years, you can see Japanese women's skin is gradually appearing to be brighter...!

"After the 'whitening boom' in the 90's, more women began whitening skin care and were widely known UV (ultraviolet) rays cause damage. UV care became normal and I think this is directly related."(Usuki)

Whitening skincare has long been integrated in Japanese women and their efforts for beauty. How about outside of Japan…?

“Globally, Japan and Asia’s number one skin concern is ‘dark spots/freckles’. On the other hand, Western countries are more concerned with wrinkles and the skin around their eyes.” (Ikeda)

In terms of skin tone, Western women are concerned with redness and uneven skin tones. On the other hand, Japanese women are concerned with “spots”. HAKU has been dedicated to treating dark spots only and strongly wants to help women overcome these concerns.

“Normally, dark spots that are our concerns are not harmful to our everyday health. But when we have just one dark spot, we can lose our confidence or avoid looking in the mirror… We hope we see more brilliant smiles for women to live a positive, joyful daily life without concerning about dark spots.” (Ikeda)

Ikeda believes HAKU will be a product to deliver love to both our skin and heart.

“There has been over 40 staff for the development for HAKU and we have been studying diligently for unveiling the mechanism behind the generation of dark spots for years. Please expect the most from HAKU and we will keep on providing support for Japanese women and their concerns with dark spots.” (Ikeda)

【Toshiyuki Oki】
Manager of Shiseido Corporate Culture Department. After pursuing work under the Medication Department, Toshiyuki transferred to the Shiseido Corporate Museum/Art House in Kakegawa, Shizuoka. In addition to passing along and introducing the corporate traditions of Shiseido, he also engages in the support of Arts. He also is the Executive Committee Chairman of art festival, “Kakegawa Chaennale”.

【Maina Karakawa】
In charge of PR for Shiseido Japan Communication Department. Maina introduces the Shiseido brand and related products to women’s magazines and online media. She is confident with episodes behind multiple products of Shiseido from skin care to makeup.

【Takako Shibata】
A specialist in Shiseido Advanced Research Center Dermatology Research Group. After joining Shiseido, Takako has been developing whitening medicine and researching the mechanism of dark spots for 14 years. She is a master of whitening technology and the latest research for HAKU.

【Keiko Ikeda】
In charge of Shiseido Cosmetics Information Development Center Cosmetics Brand Information Development Group. In addition to the research of dermatology, she researches her consumers and actions for purchase intent in cosmetics as HAKU Brand Research Coordinator to appeal whitening cosmetics to the industry.

【Hiroyo Usuki】
In Shiseido Cosmetics Information Development Center Product Analysis Group. In addition to researching trends and consumers in the market, Hiroyo is in charge of development of information on cosmetics through makeup products and color analysis as a specialist on Japanese women’s beauty.

Photograph/Daichi Saito
Interview&Text/Namiko Uno

※Our pages are translations of articles published on Japan's @cosme. All products introduced in the articles are sold in Japan.