The Moisture whizz Doctor

He’s the brains behind a gel so effective that it took Japan by storm and raised the bar for what a moisturiser can – and should – deliver.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

He’s the creator of Japan’s No. 1 cosmeceutical brand, which is now a household name. At his chain of clinics, clients range from TV personalities and pop stars (Namie Amuro, recently retired J-pop star , is said to be among them) to the woman in the street. His signature product has sold more than 37 million jars in two decades. Meet Dr Yoshinori Shirono, founder of Dr Ci:Labo.

A dermatologist specialising in laser treatments, the 54-year-old built the brand’s reputation on low-frills, high-pay-off products that are gentle enough for sensitive and post laser skin.

In fact, it was while looking for skincare his patients could use after treatments – and finding few up to scratch – that he decided to develop his own.

Using his patients’ common skin concerns as a starting point, he conceived of a daily-use medical-grade product that could get to the root of various problems – a move that was ahead of the curve in 1995 when there was little concept of cosmeceuticals in Japan. “I didn’t want a treatment for problems after they occur, but everyday skincare that refines the skin,” he explains.

He did away with ingredients that may cause skin stress – bye bye fragrance, artificial colourants, mineral oil and parabens – and focused on one simple goal: to improve skin’s moisture retention, something he saw as the key to a healthy, beautiful complexion.

In 1998, after a few years of trialling and tinkering, he launched his cornerstone product, Aqua-collagen-gel.

A scentless product in a modest white jar, everything about it is geared towards delivering, boosting and maintaining moisture in skin. Its current iteration, the Aqua-collagen-gel Super Moisture EX, is packed with two types of ceramides, three types of hyaluronic acid, five types of collagen and 22 types of amino acids. Not to mention 120 beauty ingredients said to deliver all kinds of benefits from firming and brightening to anti-irritation and antioxidant protection.

The gel itself is derived from an ingredient found in seaweed, and reportedly has a similar makeup to the intercellular lipids in our body that carry water and nutrients to skin. “I chose gel as a vehicle because unlike cream, it is non-oily and doesn’t leave a greasy feel. At the same time, it won’t dry up as quickly as water. It is the best substance to form a coating that would inhibit moisture evaporation from skin,” says Dr Shirono.

Apart from being a moisture bomb, he says, the gel formula enables the product to multitask in a range of roles: as lotion, essence, makeup base and sleeping mask. “This can be a quick one-step for when you really want to save time, but it doesn’t mean you should skip all those other products. It’s a good complement that helps other products be absorbed better and go on smoother.”

Since its inception, Aqua-collagen-gel has spun off three variants (brightening, sensitive skin and anti-ageing) that further burnish its credentials – and Dr Shirono’s – as a moisturisation specialist. The anti-ageing variant underwent a significant upgrade recently.

In what the brand says is a world-first, the Aqua collagen-gel Enrich-lift-EX for firming and lifting now features fermented nano collagen. This breaks down already-microscopic collagen particles even more, greatly increasing their absorption by the skin.

Tested by women in their 50s, the Enrich-lift-EX gel was found to be more than adequate in keeping very dry skin moist and comfortable. Many saw improvements in the severity of their wrinkles, crow’s feet and nasolabial folds, as well as firmer, smoother skin.

Dr Shirono says: “Our tests show that fermented collagen is 1.5 times more moisturising than regular collagen, and its effect lasts for a longer period of around 48 hours. It also has an antioxidant effect that is about 83 times stronger than regular collagen.

“With this, you can expect to see firmer, fuller and better-moisturised skin, faster.”


The Hydration Must-haves

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1 Aqua-collagengel Enrich-Lift EX, $78-$150. This daily-use moisturiser is also intended as aftercare for skin that has undergone lifting treatments like Ultherapy.
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2 Aqua-collagen gel Super Moisture EX, $62-$125. This fast-penetrating gel promises to improve the skin’s texture and radiance, and support its healing functions.