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Serum First Technology: Creating a New Category
with a Reverse Thinking Approach
The development story of "Foundation Serum"

May 10, 2024

Kotaro Takada Yoshimasa Miura

Brand Value R&D Institute, Product Value Development Department, Director, Yoshimasa Miura, Ph.D.
Brand Value R&D Institute, Product Value Development Department, Kotaro Takada

Instead of simply adding skincare benefits to a foundation, we’re creating a foundation based on the idea of a serum that nurtures the skin. A new category of "skin beautifying serum" that was born from such a way of thinking is the "foundation serum." On Tuesday, April 2, 2024, Shiseido started a communication program to disseminate this foundation serum as a new makeup culture. How did this new base makeup category come about? We interviewed two researchers who can be said to be the creators of this foundation serum.

Creating a new category instead of evolving the conventional foundation

―Please tell us about your current job and your role in the development of the "foundation serum."

Miura As the director of the Product Value Development Department of the Brand Value R&D Institute, I am in charge of the overall research of the "foundation serum."
Takada I work in the product office, mainly developing foundation formulations. In particular, I am in charge of the development of emulsified foundations in general, such as liquid foundations, cream foundations, and cushion foundations. I have been involved in the development of the SHISEIDO REVITALESSENCE SKIN GLOW Foundation, one of the foundation serums, since 2021.

―What was your motivation for getting involved in cosmetics research at Shiseido?

Brand Value R&D Institute, Product Value Development Department, Director, Yoshimasa Miura, Ph.D.

Miura I majored in chemistry at university, so I was interested in everyday products, and I wanted to contribute to improving people's quality of life and making their daily lives more enjoyable by making products with my own hands. Above all, cosmetics were familiar to me, and I was also interested in the science of color and fragrance. Fortunately, my wish when I joined the company came true, and I was assigned to the foundation department.

Takada When I was a student, I researched an intermediate field of study between chemistry and biology. When it came to being able to make use of my background and help many people, I thought that cosmetics would be the closest to the ideal. That’s why I joined Shiseido. After being in charge of skincare for about 4 years, I moved to the foundation department in 2021, so now my career in both areas is roughly equal.

Brand Value R&D Institute, Product Value Development Department, Kotaro Takada

―I would like to ask you both, the ones who’ve mastered foundations. There have been foundations with skincare effects in the past, but I have heard that this "foundation serum" goes even beyond that. What's the difference?

Miura I think we can say that we have created a "new category." There is a market for serums, there is a market for foundations, and what we have created is a new category and a new market called the "foundation serum." The first thing I aimed for was to create a feeling that would make you think, "Is this a serum?" when you close your eyes and use it. And when you open your eyes, you see that your skin is beautiful. That’s the "skin beautifying serum" that I wanted to create. For that reason, when I was mastering the feel and finish, my senses were naturally trained to the point that I could tell how much of a characteristic ingredient was in the foundation when I touched it.

―Those who are not in the field of research and formulas would imagine someone in the field of research to be involved with test tubes, microscopes, and numbers rather than sharpening their sensibilities. But this is not so?

Takada Before I started this job, I had imagined that cosmetics R&D would be mainly about doing basic research like at a university laboratory, and maybe a little bit of study regarding consumers. But when I started working, I was surprised by what was actually the case. Researchers went to stores and listened to the stories of store clerks and worked on understanding the consciousness of consumers. I was always thinking about deepening this part of my work.
Miura Decisively sharpening one's sensibilities is a prerequisite for cosmetic scientists, and this is very important if you are in a position to propose value. If your sensibilities are sharp, you can decide whether to increase, for example, this spherical powder a little more or reduce this moisturizer a little while considering consumer insights and actual usage scenarios when doing the designing. In other words, you will become able to design your formulation freely. Researchers need to have a value axis and an evaluation axis that reflects the consciousness of consumers.

Overcoming barriers with the reversal thinking approach

―What kind of breakthroughs did you make this time to create something that could be considered a new category?

Miura Looking back on the development of foundations over the past few decades, it can be said that it has been a history of enhancing skin care. It was an accumulation of improving “skin benefits” demanded by consumers while also fulfilling the purpose of beautify the skin. As I was repeating the experiment every day, one day I realized that if I thought about foundation as a base, I would not be able to create anything better. If I wanted to go beyond that, I had to overcome barriers. So, I reversed my thinking and pivoted to researching serum-based formulations. Even if you try to improve the skincare properties with conventional foundation base materials, there is a limit in the formulation. After a lot of trial and error to break through the limits, I came to the conclusion that one solution was to trap the foundation in the serum.

―This is the moment when the inquisitive spirit of the researcher and what the world wants coincides.

Miura As a consumer and as a foundation researcher, another challenge was to create something that was watery and comfortable to use. We thought that being able to use it comfortably would be a big benefit. Technically, the W/O type (a type of emulsification in which water enters the oil), which is an emulsification technology used for general liquid foundations, has coverage but does not feel watery . That said, the O/W type (a type of emulsification in which oil enters water) has a watery and refreshing feel, but when applied to the skin, the cover powder that blends with the water will tend to run with sweat. This led us to come up with a new technology, P/O/W emulsification, which took into account the benefits of both technologies.
With the P/O/W emulsification, the effect of makeup is enhanced by wrapping the powder in oil, and it is encapsulated at the microscopic level and wrapped in a serum. By doing this, the serum spreads on the skin first, and then the foundation ingredients spread evenly, so the serum is always touching the skin. This is the serum first technology.

―The fact that it can be used comfortably seems to be in line with the change in the consciousness of consumers who want to live healthily by surrounding themselves with pleasant things.

Takada There is data showing that when the opportunity to go out decreased due to the Covid pandemic, the number of people who did not use foundation increased. It turns out that one of the reasons for this is that foundation is a burden on the skin. I think having the powder on the skin all the time is not good. With this "foundation serum," the serum first spreads on the skin, and then a uniform layer of foundation ingredients forms on top of that. So, the serum is always in contact with the skin. If one understands this, I think that even those who have stopped using foundations during the Covid pandemic will feel like giving it a try.

―When the seed of the foundation serum formula was made, did you have the feeling that this was it?

Miura Yes. I was blown away. This is what we were aiming for. One is essentially wearing beauty serum, right? On top of that, when finished, one is beautifully enhanced with color. We have continuously evolved this concept while creating the product. The initial idea, conceived by us, was then enriched with the diverse ideas of many researchers, who polished, enhanced its value, and nurtured it into a robust technology. It's like a relay of sorts, passing on the passion. And the high level of completion of this 'masterpiece' was achieved by the current team members, including Takada-san here.

Moving forward while transcending specialized fields

―Speaking of the idea of reversal, I think that the more an expert you are in a field, the more difficult it is to come up with the idea of reversal.

Takada Shiseido's strengths include skincare, foundation, and suncare. There are a lot of specialized research and specialized technologies in those fields. I think that the idea of combining strengths across domains led to the innovation where the foundation serum is concerned. It is important to cross frontiers to create new categories. It is very difficult for a person who has mastered something to further transcend that, but crossing frontiers will give power to transcending that. I myself have moved from skincare to base makeup, so I think that the fact that I was able to understand the strengths of both and combine the best of each was what led to this creation. However, because it was a new method, it was difficult in that there were no examples in the past to refer to.

―This is an example of innovation that is often talked about in organizational theory; something born from loose horizontal connections. Breakthroughs are born from a style that transcends boundaries and questions precedents, such as what is good for consumers.

Miura While there is an idea of specialized fields, organizations and human resource development are changing in the direction of connecting horizontally and creating innovation. The basic idea is, "Let's give it a go first." There may be times when you have to take a detour, but you can learn from it, correct course, and look forward. I think it's an accumulation of these things. In order to create such a state, it is necessary to create an organizational culture in which all researchers have dreams that they want to achieve and can take on challenges, and to create an organizational culture in which these dreams are instilled as values. Even if it doesn't work, it's not a matter of “Don't worry about it,” but rather a “Nice try.” I want everyone to learn from each other and be happy to move on to the next thing. It's important to work hard and make an effort, but I think being enthusiastic is ideal.

―I think finding out what you want to do and then commercialize whatever that thing is you found and grow it to the point where you can deliver it to your consumers is a tough road. What are you doing to achieve this, and are there any patterns to your behavior, etc.?

Takada In order to come up with ideas that jump out of the box, I have my own beliefs, value my intuition even if it doesn't show up in consumer surveys, and I don't forget to stick to my beliefs. We have to keep trying without being discouraged by the fact that there is no precedent. It's like "mind, technique, and body." I'm always interested in the products I'm in charge of, so I sometimes check reviews on social media. Matching the answers to my work and looking for hints for the future. We need to also face the bad reviews of consumers and make use of the information next time. It's not a secret ingredient, but I'm happy when consumers are able to see the improvements I've incorporated in my own way.

―How many times did you make a prototype before commercialization?

Takada There is a connection from the past, so about 1000 times. Including shade matching, quality check…everything. I have made more prototypes than any other product I have been in charge of.
Miura In Shiseido's research department, when we get stuck, we have, for instance, experts in raw materials who will suggest different raw materials. If it’s instability that we are looking at, emulsification professionals may give us advice. I think this kind of environment also serves as a strength. There is a culture in which everyone works together to support success.

What is a BETTER WORLD realized through work?

―Lastly, what does the "BETTER WORLD" in BEAUTY INNOVATINS FOR A BETTER WORLD mean to you?

Miura Of course, the collection of new products is the fruit of our manufacturing, but beyond that, we would like to propose new makeup habits for our consumers, or more specifically, an excellent makeup culture. I am happy to contribute to work that makes people think that new things always come from Shiseido. In order to propose excitement and joy, I think it is important to evolve while staying close to how our consumers are feeling. What can we do to inherit the development spirit of our founding, such as "everything must be rich" and "let's create the real thing"? A Better World is not a goal, but a goal to make the world a better place by constantly changing. I think it's important for me to be involved in that.

Technical presentation at the presentation of "Foundation Serum"

Takada Being able to discover insights that consumers think about subconsciously, but that they don't yet want enough to talk about, and provide them as products, is an area that Shiseido must work on. I think this will lead to a better world. We have already started research for the next evolution of the foundation serum. It's a work in progress.

Shiseido's unique "Serum First Technology" is currently implemented in two products: " SHISEIDO REVITALESSENCE SKIN GLOW Foundation" and "Maquillage Dramatic Essence Liquid"

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