Visiting the Shiseido Research Center in Japan | Interview with Ms.Hiroko Watanabe


Hey everyone!

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with one of Shiseido’s top skincare experts – Ms.Hiroko Watanabe who has been with Shiseido for over 20 years! The Shiseido Research Center is located in Yokohama, south of Tokyo and this is where the research and product development of the Shiseido products happens. This is where I met with Ms. Hiroko last week to talk about all things skincare and Shiseido. I had great time interacting with her, she is a goldmine of knowledge and has been involved with the development of almost all the Shiseido brands and products during her career!

Here are excerpts from my chat with her –



Me with Ms.Hiroko Watanabe at Shiseido Research Center, Shinyokohama

Me with Ms.Hiroko Watanabe at Shiseido Research Center, Shinyokohama


Visiting the Shiseido Research Center in Japan

Visiting the Shiseido Research Center in Japan



There are so many brands under the Shiseido umbrella. How is the research divided – is there a separate division for each brand or is the research common for the brands? 

All the research is centralized and once we have developed the technology, we decide the ingredients and the composition of the products depending on the brand and the product. So yes, all the research base is common between the brands.



How long does it take to create a product – from the time of its conception, research, formulation to the time it hits the shelves ready to be sold? 

It depends on the product. For some products like skincare, it take many years of research! For example, it took 13 years of research to develop 4MSK, the brightening ingredient used in Za True White range. But once we already have the technology, it can take about 1.5-2 years to ready the product.



Za skincare - True White range

Za skincare – True White range



How do you test the efficiency of the ingredients in the lab?

We use a biological sample of the skin to test the ingredients. To keep the skin cells ‘alive’, we maintain the optimal environment (temperature, nutrition etc.) so we are able to see how a particular ingredient reacts with the human skin. We have very high standards of safety when it comes to our products so our testing stages are very rigorous. We test on the most sensitive of skins to ensure that our products are safe to use for everyone.



Are more expensive products better in terms of their ingredients and the efficacy of these ingredients? 

Not really. Most of the time, the difference in price between 2 products is because of the packaging. There might be a difference between the concentration of ingredients used in the formula but more often than not – it is the packaging that causes the price bump. (Editor’s note – This was very fascinating for me because I wanted to understand if within a company with different brands and a common research base, does a less expensive line like the Za True White range have the same formulation as a pricier one like the Shiseido White Lucent range. Looks like it does!)



How do brightening products work on a cellular level in the skin? 

The pigment imparting component of our skin, hair and eyes is Melanin. It gives the skin its color. When you are exposed to the sun or suffer a breakout, the skin produces excess melanin which shows itself in the form of pigmentation, sun spots, blemishes and tan. Brightening products contain ingredients that remove the excess melanin from the skin giving a brighter appearance and reduction of spots. We have developed a whitening ingredient 4MSK which is very effective and it took us 13 years of research to develop it!



What is special about the action of 4MSK on the skin?

4MSK has a dual action – firstly, it removes the excess melanin from the skin so spots and pigmentation are reduced. And secondly, it prevents the formation of new spots. To demonstrate this, we have a small experiment to show you. Melanin is produced when the enzyme tyrosinase oxidizes the protein tyrosine to form the dark melanin. We have taken Tyrosine in 2 test tubes and there is a bit of the enzyme on the wall of the test tube. Right now they are not in contact but when we put water in it and shake it, the enzyme will react with the protein and we will see a darkening of the color when the melanin producing reaction occurs. In test tube 1, we have added plain water and in test tube 2, we are adding water containing 4MSK.

Editor’s note – In the first test tube, when the water was poured and the test tube agitated, the water started changing color from clear to dirty yellow to brown – indicating the production of melanin. And in the second test tube, because of the presence of 4MSK, melanin was not formed and the water remained clear! This is how 4MSK prevents the formation of spots!



Za skincare - Pure White Range

Za skincare – Pure White Range



This is so interesting! So does 4MSK stay in the skin even when you stop using the product? Is it possible to program the skin to fight excess melanin production and hence prevent spots?

It might be possible but we haven’t been able to do that yet. 4MSK doesn’t stay in the skin so it acts only as long as you are using a product containing the ingredient. If you stop using it, its preventive action will stop as well.



Is it better/more effective to use all products from the same line?

We recommend that you use skincare products from the same line.  Products are designed to be effective when layered with other products of the same line, and also because the textures have been balanced out so that the products can be applied comfortably together.

One of the things that can occur from applying multiple products from different lines is that the products can become mixed on the skin’s surface, preventing the products from being applied evenly.  This can cause skin to feel “rumpled” or create residue on the surface of the skin.



With more stress in today’s lifestyle, the eye area tends to suffer a lot. Can you give us some tips for brightening the eyes? 

Darkness, pigmentation and dullness is the eye area is an indicator of poor circulation. So gently tapping the area with fingertips while using eye cream helps in boosting circulation. Never rub the area as the skin is very delicate around the eyes. Another great way to boost circulation is to apply eye cream and then use a towel soaked in warm water on the eyes. The heat from the water will stimulate and increase circulation. The Za Perfect Solution Restoring Collagen Cream works great around the eye area!



Can brightening products meant for the face work on the lips as well? 

All Shiseido products have very high safety standards so you can use it around the lip area. If ingested by mistake, it won’t have any harmful effects but we cannot guarantee the same for other brands. But it is best to use products meant to be used in the lip area.



We have talked about the pigmentation. Now coming to another big concern among women – ageing! What is the ideal time to start an anti-ageing skincare routine? 

35 is a good age to start looking into anti-ageing products.



That is refreshing to hear! There are so many brands in the market pushing anti-ageing products at women in their 20s. Do you think there is some merit to that or is it just a marketing gimmick?

Perhaps the changing lifestyles and higher levels of stress today are causing the skin to start ageing earlier. For women who have more stressful lifestyles, the skin needs some intervention in the twenties itself. It all depends from person to person and their lifestyle and skin.



What is collagen and how does it affect the skin as we age?

Collagen is the protein that gives the skin is elasticity and resilience. As we age, our skin loses collagen causing it to sag which gives wrinkles. Because of decreased resilience with the decrease in collagen, lines also begin to appear on the skin especially in areas like around the eyes, around the mouth and the forehead where there is movement.



Za skincare - Perfect Solution range

Za skincare – Perfect Solution range



How does the Za Perfect Solution range help the skin?

Ageing causes loss of moisture and collagen from the skin. The Za perfect solution range helps in maintaining the elasticity and youthfulness of the skin. The star of the line is the Restoring Collagen cream that contains 7 trillion collagen capsules that contain plant derived collagen (and yes we actually counted the capsules in the tub!). The micro capsules penetrate the skin and restore the lost collagen in the skin making the skin firmer and more elastic.



What are your thoughts on scrubs and exfoliants? I rarely see them in Japanese skincare, why is it so?

The Japanese have very sensitive skin and are very careful to not use anything that might aggravate the skin. Scrubs and exfoliants are rarely seen in Japanese skincare as they are too harsh and cause redness and bumps on the skin. If your skin can tolerate it, you can use them but limit their use to a few times a week. Its also preferable to use scrubs with very gentle exfoliating particles.



What is the secret to the flawless and youthful skin that most Japanese women have? 

Everyone around the world moisturizes but the Japanese are very careful to protect their skin which is what helps in the long run. We are very careful to not use anything harsh or abrasive on the skin. Our own fingers can damage the skin which is why we use cleansing foams – only the lather comes in contact with the skin and the bubbles are small enough to cleanse the pores properly. We always use sun protection as well.

(Editor’s note – The Japanese are serious about sun protection! Just walk into any drugstore and you will see a HUGE selection of sun care products to choose from!! I have never seen so many options of sunscreens to choose from ever!)



Do you believe that good skin can be created?

Yes! By using the right products in the right amounts, one can much improve the quality of one’s skin. You can also balance out the skin and change its type with the right skin care routine. For example – someone with very combination skin can make their skin more balanced out and normal with the right products and care.



Sometimes people tell me I use too many skin care products? How can I tell if I am overloading my skin?

Different products have different functions. So it is okay to use different products meant for specific functions. If however, your skin is breaking out,  you might be overloading your skin. But if it is not, then your routine is okay.



Thank you so much for your time Watanabe-san! One last parting question – What according to you are the basic principles of a good skin care routine?

At the most basic level, one must do the following 3 things – Cleanse, Hydrate and Protect. Cleansing should remove excess dirt, oil etc. but not strip the skin of its essential oils and moisture. Hydration should restore the water balance of the skin. And Protection should of course shield the skin from the tanning and ageing rays of the sun!



[note color=”#FFE4C4″]Hope you found this post useful and informative! I really enjoyed my interaction with Ms.Watanabe, she is so knowledgeable and this was the first time I actually talked to someone who is involved in the research and development process of products. A big thanks to the Shiseido team in Japan as well as in India for making this trip possible and hosting me for the day!

If you have any skin care queries, you can list them in the comments section below! [/note]



Me at the Shiseido Research Center, Shinyokohama

Me at the Shiseido Research Center, Shinyokohama




  1. June 9, 2014 / 2:16 pm

    Wow its good to see your experience with them, I am loving their day protector cream currently 🙂

  2. June 9, 2014 / 2:23 pm

    lovely post dear! very informative 🙂

  3. Kaishki
    June 9, 2014 / 2:30 pm

    Hi Ankita.. new follower here! I quite like your make-up tutorials. Could you recommend a good CC cream that i can purchase in India/ or any other quick alternative to a complete moisturiser/primer/foundation/powder routine before work. Need something that can last upto 6-7 hours. I have combination skin, easily prone to breakouts and a bit of discoloration around my cheeks. .. Looking forward to hearing from you..Thanks a bunch!
    Ps – Nothing with the likes of Maybelline, Lakme etc. They break me out!

  4. June 9, 2014 / 2:31 pm

    wow it is really good to see the other side of these skincare prodycts and how these brands spend so much time to research for the prodcuts!

  5. Aatiya
    June 9, 2014 / 2:33 pm


  6. June 9, 2014 / 2:40 pm

    wohoo.. such a nice interview and quite a heavy post..and you also look like of the scientist in the lab in the first pic 🙂

  7. June 9, 2014 / 2:56 pm

    Wow that was just loaded with information. I was so happy to hear that anti ageing didnt have to be started so early. I kept wondering if I had waited too long.
    Thank you Ankita..

  8. June 9, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    Hi ankita,
    You are so lucky to have met Shiseido’s skin expert. I have always wanted to try this brand but never got a chance to because it too overwhelming seeing so many products when you know nothing about it. I have acne prone skin, and if you have used this brand please suggest a good product from the line.
    Thank you 🙂

  9. meem
    June 9, 2014 / 3:16 pm

    I totally agree with her… (Watanabe san) Japanese men & women r very serious about skin care… the part about foam & not touching your skin with fingers saved my skin !! (I have a real problamatic one..thank GOD!!! I researched it & followed it) the moment i started tapping my skin & not massaging it vigorously all my skin care products started demonstrating miracles..!! normal drugstore ones!! everyone should try their skincare routine once… it’s the most loving & caring… ( I am from Bangladesh.. been reading your blog for a long time.. really appreciate it. ^_^ )

  10. June 9, 2014 / 3:17 pm

    You look cute 🙂
    The interview and the answers Ms. Hiroko gave are so informative 🙂
    Thanks a lot!

  11. prachi
    June 9, 2014 / 3:17 pm

    its really helpful for us dear ankita … thanks for posting of such nice conversation between u and Ms Hiroko ….

    • prachi
      June 9, 2014 / 3:19 pm

      IS Za products avaiable in INDIA …. I dont know … 🙁

  12. June 9, 2014 / 4:40 pm

    Very useful post Ankita.. U look so cute in the pics..

  13. June 9, 2014 / 4:46 pm

    Wow, stumped to know that packaging is the real cause of price hike..nice to read this ankita 🙂

  14. June 9, 2014 / 5:11 pm

    Thanku for sharing this Ankita, n you are looking very lovely 🙂

  15. June 9, 2014 / 5:17 pm

    You are lucky to visit the research center of such a high end brand. Very informative post Ankita.

  16. June 9, 2014 / 5:43 pm

    Brilliant post Ankita! Very interesting read! Especially the part about packaging and pricing. It’s something we always suspect but it’s nice to hear it from a brand for once! 🙂

  17. Ranjani
    June 9, 2014 / 5:47 pm

    Hi Ankita ,
    I’m a great fan of your blog . I’m from Bangalore , India . Can you suggest any cream that reduces dark circle around the eyes ( available here ) ?

  18. Vidhi
    June 9, 2014 / 6:22 pm

    Very informative. I have bought a few Za things recently!

  19. June 9, 2014 / 6:58 pm

    A Very Informative Post! You Look Lovely!

  20. June 9, 2014 / 7:34 pm

    u look pretty and thanks for all the knowledge

  21. June 9, 2014 / 9:18 pm

    I love Shiseido Skincare products! That was an informative peice Anks! Thanks for the effort!

  22. Gargi
    June 9, 2014 / 10:01 pm

    Fun Read! 🙂 Very informative.

  23. June 10, 2014 / 1:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing such an informative post. You are looking so cute Ankita 🙂

  24. June 10, 2014 / 1:38 pm

    Very Informative…I do have a sample from Za, which is indeed a very good day cream.

  25. Swati
    June 10, 2014 / 7:51 pm

    very useful and informative. I am looking forward to try shiseido skincare range for my oily skin.

  26. June 11, 2014 / 7:08 pm

    Such an informative post 🙂

  27. June 12, 2014 / 11:50 pm

    hi ankita,

    this was a great Q&A – sensible questions and knowledgeable answers devoid of hype. looking forward to reading more about the japanese brands you encounter.

  28. July 14, 2014 / 6:25 pm

    Great article! Hoping to win the giveaway!

  29. September 1, 2014 / 9:04 am

    you look lovely! nice interview. was an interesting read

  30. Joo
    September 29, 2014 / 8:22 pm

    ur black hand bag is really attracting me,, beautiful neckpiece

  31. November 13, 2014 / 5:36 pm

    Hi Ankita,
    Really like ur interview with Shiseido.
    I love their products and that they are Alcohol free.
    Also love the fact that Asians companies can better understand the importance of skin brightening and lightening.

    Bindu Amrutham

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