Mitsuhiro Denda (Principal Researcher, Global Innovation Center, Shiseido) Katsuhiko Shibuya (Executive Creative Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido) Skin is the Mirror of the Heart. A Look into the Hanatsubaki Magazine Special Feature

“TALK" is an interview series in which Shiseido creatives discuss ideas of beauty. The commemorative first theme for 2017 is “Art × Science.” For Shiseido, which began as a dispensing pharmacy and continued to offer products in this area along with its unique sense of aesthetic beauty, the two have been inseparable. Today’s guests are Mitsuhiro Denda, who has been engaged in skin research for many years at Shiseido’s Global Innovation Center, and Katsuhiko Shibuya, Art Director of Hanatsubaki magazine, which was published in a new format in 2016. They will discuss the relationship between the two worlds of art and science.

Until today, we have regarded skin as the boundary separating our insides from the outside world. However, according to Denda, the skin itself senses external information in the same way that the brain does, and has a “thinking” function. He termed this the “Neuro Skin Theory,” and shocked the world when he proposed it in 2011. The pilot issue of Hanatsubaki, which has undergone a transformation in a paper edition, placed the focus on Denda’s research in line with the issue’s theme on “TOUCH.” What are these unknown functions of the skin? And what new area of science and art can we catch a glimpse of through them?


Katsuhiko Shibuya
Born in Tokyo in 1957. Graduated from the Department of Design, Tokyo University of the Arts in 1981, and joined Shiseido’s Advertising and Design Department the same year. From 2007 to the present day, he has taken charge of the overall direction of the design of global brands including AYURA, INOUI ID, clé de peau BEAUTÉ, and SHISEIDO, covering packaging, space, and graphics. Alongside this, he has also served as Art Director of Hanatsubaki since April 2012. He has won numerous awards including the JAGDA New Designer Award, JAGDA Award, Tokyo ADC Award, Tokyo ADC Member Award, Tokyo TDC Annual Award (Gold), NY ADC Special Award, and the Yusaku Kamekura Design Award.

Mitsuhiro Denda
Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1960. Principal Researcher at Shiseido’s Global Innovation Center. CREST Researcher at the Japan Science and Technology Agency. Graduated from the Undergraduate School of Industrial Chemistry, Kyoto University, and completed the Master’s program at the Department of Molecular Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering at the same university. In 1994, he received his Ph.D. in engineering from Kyoto University. After working as a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, he took up his current position in 2009. His published works include Hifu wa kangaeru (The Skin Thinks/The Skin is Thinking), Hifu kankaku to ningen no kokoro (Mind and Human Skin Sensation), and Odoroki no hifu (Surprising Skin).

Experiencing the sense of touch through Hanatsubaki|1

--The pilot issue of Hanatsubaki, published in a new format in October 2016, is based on the theme of “TOUCH.” Dr. Denda is featured in the magazine, where he talks about his findings and the results of his skin research activities.

ShibuyaWith the increasing digitalization of the world today, I think that we now have fewer opportunities to touch objects with a wide variety of textures. In the past, we had to touch newspapers or fiddle with the knobs on the television in order to obtain information, but all the information is now consolidated on our tablets or smartphones. That is precisely why we have decided to make the newly revamped Hanatsubaki put all the spotlight on the unique feeling of touching paper, which the online version cannot produce. In doing so, we turned our attention to the cutting-edge skin research that Dr. Denda is engaged in. Beginning with a special feature titled “My Skin Thinks, Therefore I Am?” that pursues the mysterious and incredible relationship between skin and the sense of touch, we have also filled the issue with various ways that readers can experience the sense of touch, such as using rough-textured paper and attaching real photographs.

DendaI was very happy when I heard that the theme for the issue would be “TOUCH.” This is because I love the arts, such as poetry and paintings, and I joined Shiseido because it has a cultured atmosphere. That is why I was delighted to have the opportunity to draw the attention of young people toward my skin research work through Hanatsubaki. I think that the rough-textured paper used for the inside of the front cover of the magazine is a wonderful way to raise readers’ consciousness of the sense of touch.

ShibuyaIn addition, we have produced the magazine in a bigger size than before, making it not merely a source of information, but an experience in itself. We have included a poem by the poet Tahi Saihate, and I believe the effect of this poem changes simply by reading it in larger font on A4 paper.

DendaThe poem by Tahi Saihate was brilliant. Many poetry collections are published in paperback format, but there is a font size that is suitable for each and every poem. Furthermore, it is important to be able to touch various different textures; it is said that writing by hand is more effective than using a typewriter when it comes to learning languages. This is because learning through a sense of touch engages a wider range of the brain, and therefore improves memory.

ShibuyaI have been proposing that Hanatsubaki cover scientific topics for quite some time. Until now, the magazine has focused mainly on introducing subcultures, but I feel that cutting-edge science itself can be a form of entertainment, just like movies and art.

--Mr. Shibuya, around when did you learn about Dr. Denda’s research?

ShibuyaIt was during the brand renewal for clé de peau BEAUTÉ in 2011. When I was trying to generate ideas on how to take the brand one step further as a luxury brand, I found out about Dr. Denda’s Neuro Skin Theory and felt intuitively, “This is it!” This theory posits that the skin has the ability to process various types of information, and I have always felt-like small bones sticking in the back of my throat-that there is something important here that creators like myself should think about.

The inside of the front cover has been processed to create a rough texture / From Hanatsubaki Poem titled Fureta eien (The Touched Eternity) by Tahi Saihate / From Hanatsubaki Appendix “Hanatsubaki Bunko” / From Hanatsubaki

We feel the world through our skin|2

--I would like to ask Dr. Denda, once again, what you find interesting about the skin.

DendaOf all the skin functions, its barrier function is best known. The skin protects the body in various ways, such as repairing the stratum corneum by itself to prevent evaporation of moisture from the body, and generating melanin to prevent inflammation due to UV rays. However, these are not its only functions. On top of that, we have learned that the cells called “keratinocytes” that form the epidermis serve as excellent sensors, and sense and obtain various types of external information. For example, the skin can gain a sense of the strength of sounds, colors, and light.

ShibuyaEven sounds and colors!

DendaA hormone known as oxytocin, which has a relaxing effect, is secreted when we are touched, such as when we are hugged or kissed. We tend to think that this hormone is secreted from the brain, but it is in fact produced by the skin as well.

On the other hand, it has also been reported that those with poor skin conditions, such as patients of atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, are susceptible to mental illness. In short, things that touch our skin as well as the condition of our skin have a very significant impact on our mental health. However, this impact is received by the unconscious part of our brains. As we are unable to verbalize it, it has eventually become neglected; as a result, skin research has lagged behind other fields of research.

ShibuyaDr. Denda, what was it that made you realize how interesting the skin is?

DendaI first began engaging in skin research when I entered Shiseido. However, I was initially at a loss about what I should do. At the time, I looked up all the various fields of research conducted overseas, and learned about the research work of Professor Peter Elias from the University of California, San Francisco, where I would further my studies later.

He propounds the autonomy of the skin’s barrier function. When the barrier of the stratum corneum is damaged, it recovers in about 48 hours under natural circumstances. However, if we were to wrap the damaged area of the skin so that water vapor is unable to escape, the barrier would not recover. In short, wrapping the skin gives it the mistaken impression that the barrier has recovered, so the skin would no longer regenerate. However, if we were to wrap it in Gore-Tex material that allows water vapor to pass through, the skin would recognize that the barrier has not healed, and work to create a new barrier. When I read that, it felt as if an electric shock had run through my spine. It was then that I came up with the idea that skin thinks, which has led me to my work today.

ShibuyaThat is to say, we feel and perceive much of the world through our skin?

DendaAmong the five senses, such as sight, hearing, and touch, research on sight and hearing is especially advanced. This is because it tends to be easier for us to communicate in words the ability to see and hear. However, it is very difficult for us to share the sense of touch. For example, we experience different sensations and perceptions when we are touched by someone we like, as compared to someone we feel an aversion toward, don’t we? In short, as the sense of touch is too closely intertwined with our personal subjectivity and the environment, it is difficult to extract it by itself and discuss about it. There is nothing more solitary than the sense of touch.

ShibuyaI like what you say about the sense of touch being solitary. I am constantly concerned about how to present to our consumers the interesting aspects of Dr. Denda’s skin research, which has also been applied to the field of cosmetics. This is because, as we have just discussed, the sense of touch unconsciously impacts an individual’s mind and body. However, if we were to attempt to translate that impact into words and art, it would become a form of verbalized information to be perceived and considered with one’s brain. It would no longer be a sense of touch that we experience for ourselves.

DendaIt is a difficult task, isn’t it? However, we could say that the basic and important thing to do would be to make the “unconscious” function of the other party work, in order to increase the number of repeat consumers. Although they do not express it in words, consumers feel and get a sense of elements such as the impression from the use of a cosmetic product, the texture of the packaging, and its fragrance. Such elements eventually become tied in with the impression that “I like this product.” In particular, as Shiseido works with a field that is directly linked to the skin’s sensations, I think it would be interesting to explore further in that direction.

The copy used during the renewal in 2011: “Imagine Your Skin Has a Mind of Its Own” / From the clé de peau BEAUTÉ website

How do we express and disseminate a pleasant physical sensation?|3

DendaOur advertising today is overflowing with text information, isn’t it? For example, we use expressions such as “The XX ingredient works on the XX cells…” However, more than 30 years ago, when I was working in the skincare department, everyone competed through the sensation or impression of use. In other words, the “pleasant sensation during use” had even been pushed to the consumers through advertisements. This may appear simple, but I think it was important.

ShibuyaExactly. I would like to make that the “big idea” going forward. It is basically the brain that thinks, “I feel good.” However, according to Dr. Denda’s research, the skin experiences that pleasant sensation even before the brain does. I would like to turn the consumer’s consciousness toward that. In fact, for our clé de peau BEAUTÉ skincare products, we have received much feedback from consumers saying, “Although I did not know the name of the product, it turned out to be really good when I tried using it.”

Additionally, there is also something we call “phase inversion” that takes place when an ingredient changes its state, such as that when the texture of a cream applied to the skin transforms instantaneously into a liquid. I love that moment of transformation. I feel as if my skin is delighted, and I think that texture is a form of entertainment.

DendaSomething that feels comfortable for the skin is also good for the skin and our mental health. I have conducted research before on the impact that temperature has on the skin’s barrier recovery function, and found that the barrier recovered more quickly at 36-40 degrees Celsius, which is a comfortable temperature for human skin. However, recovery was delayed at a somewhat chilly temperature of below 34 degrees, or a slightly warmer temperature of above 42 degrees. My hypothesis is that in the process of evolution, human beings have probably learned to identify “something that is good for the body” as “a pleasant sensation.”

--However, it is true that these skin sensations are difficult to convey in the world of advertising.

DendaUsing words solely to draw attention toward the skin may also be effective. The other day at a certain research conference, I participated in a seminar on mindfulness conducted by a teacher of Buddhist philosophy. We had the opportunity to experience meditation during this seminar, and I found it interesting that the words that the teacher used to guide participants toward a meditative state were all related to skin sensations. For example, “Let us focus on the place where our feet touch the floor,” or “Feel the difference in the temperature of your breath when you inhale and exhale.” Even in meditation, where we aim to brush aside various cares and recover ourselves, words are used to draw the attention toward our skin.

ShibuyaIndeed. Rather than as a complete message, words are used as a form of facilitation. When people have something easy to understand, like text, they tend to rely on that no matter what. However, if the text-based message is incomplete, it should help us to generate the consciousness to feel and perceive something through the message. That may be the new way forward for advertising.

Shiseido captures science itself as art|4

--Returning to the original question, what is the relationship between art and science from Shiseido’s perspective?

DendaTo begin with, I think that it is meaningless to draw a line between art and science. Both were created by human beings, and there have been people engaged in both fields at the same time.

ShibuyaThat is true. Both the Innovation Center and the Advertising and Design Department are engaged in the work of going as close to the “unseen potential” of human beings as possible. I think that Shiseido has two founders. The first is Arinobu Fukuhara, who established the first Western dispensing pharmacy in Japan in 1872. The second is Shin.zo Fukuhara, who was a photographer as well as a pharmaceutical researcher. Interestingly, the establishment of Shiseido by these two people might be the reason why a certain aspect of Shiseido’s design has always been driven somehow by science, like circulation in the human body.

Even when it comes to the traditional arabesque pattern that symbolizes Shiseido, which was based on the image of plants, it has over time become a design expressed through lines that bring to mind the image of flowing energy. I believe that the spirit of capturing science as art has always been present in Shiseido.

DendaWe have the impression that art is an expression of something internal, while science is a discovery about nature. However, Wolfgang Pauli, a physicist renowned for quantum mechanics, made the surprising statement that perhaps the things that we term “physical discovery” are in fact encounters with things that originally existed within ourselves.

In short, the laws of physics are discovered not simply as something that is imposed on us from the external environment, but rather, when something existing within ourselves encounters something external. That is the same as the way art pieces are created. Just as the laws of physics are applicable universally, I believe that good artists capture the sensibility shared by all human beings across different eras.

ShibuyaI think that Shiseido’s design to date has inherited the feelings that are important to everyone, which you have just described, as a form of tacit knowledge. As a generation that is living in a scientifically advanced era, I believe that we should become even more aware of this tacit knowledge. It is true that copy such as “The XX ingredient works on the XX cells…” is very easy to understand. However, I think that Shiseido is a company that places great importance on areas that are appealing despite being difficult to verbalize, such as the skin research that Dr. Denda is involved in.

DendaWhat I am going to say next may be provoking (laughs). When I think about new research themes, I do not first consider finding something that would be useful. I first research skin out of curiosity, and I only begin to think about how to make something useful for consumers after I have discovered something.

In fact, there is a theory that says that the brain becomes creative when our thoughts are in an unstable state. Hence, creativity is not born when we try to think while being aware of interests and interpersonal relationships within the existing social order. Keeping the mind in a free and liberal state is of vital importance to making discoveries.

ShibuyaListening to what you said, I also felt that Dr. Denda has a strong “Shiseido constitution” (laughs). Shiseido is a company that takes a poetic approach, and I do not think that it is a company that aims to achieve a final, ultimate result. We are all continuously searching for something that cannot be verbalized, and attempting to express these things as design and science. Through the accumulation of these efforts, we seek to leave behind something important in the hearts of our consumers. That is probably the “beauty” of Shiseido.

DendaIt is attractive all the more because there isn’t a final result or outcome. That keeps us in pursuit of an answer, and keeps us going for a longer time. I like the author Franz Kafka. His works too are open-ended, and that is precisely why they seem to leave ripples that spread outward on the surface of the waters of my heart.

The same applies to skin research. There is great potential in the aspects where research has lagged behind, due to our inability to verbalize it. Day to day, we are, in fact, subjected to many forms of rich impact from the sense of touch that is hidden from our sight. Just like the special feature on “TOUCH” compiled by Hanatsubaki, I feel that we are fast approaching an era when many people will focus on the concept of touch.

Published in February 2017

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