The Times Newspaper

The Times Newspaper

Just look,” says Nao Tsuruta from across the table. He squirts a clear, runny gel on to his palm and massages it into the right-hand side of his face, up along the jawline, up over his cheeks, forehead and into his hairline. “Watch,” he says, and I do, incredulous, as over the next couple of minutes that half of his face shifts perceptibly upwards. His cheek becomes more sleek and sculpted, his eyebrow sits a shade higher.Tsuruta’s gel — Shinso Essence — is being touted as the latest miracle cream, and has an enviable A-list following (Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron, Eva Longoria, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna top his impressive list of users). As a beauty journalist, I’m used to seeing the skincare world throw up one of these wonder products every month, but I’ve never seen anything do that to a face. How, I ask him, does it work? “Lifting in itself is very difficult to do with natural ingredients,” Tsuruta says. “What makes Shinso different is the blend of ingredients and the way it penetrates the skin.”

Tsuruta trained as an aerospace engineer before moving on to design deep-water desalination systems . Fascinated by the properties of the deep seawater found 2,000ft down off the coast of Japan, he began experimenting with its use in skincare and added another 60-odd ingredients for good measure. Key among these are fullerenes, carbon structures that are powerful antioxidants (according to Tsuruta, they offer 125 times more antioxidant activity — mopping up free radicals that speed up the ageing process — than vitamin C).

Even more significantly, they are nano-sized. Most skincare ingredients contain molecules too large to get through the skin, which, after all, is designed to be our body’s defensive barrier. But anything that is nano-sized slips straight through the tiny spaces between the skin cells into the dermis. Nanotechnology is an area that all of the leading cosmetics companies are researching urgently. L’Oréal holds more nanotech patents than anyone else, but Procter & Gamble, Estée Lauder, Shiseido and Dior are all investing heavily in this area.

But could particles that penetrate the skin pose a health risk? In the dermis, there is a dense network of capillaries that could absorb products into the bloodstream. Titanium dioxide, for example, is a mineral that makes an effective sunscreen but leaves a chalky residue. If you use nano-particles of titanium dioxide, you can produce a pleasingly transparent sunscreen, but concerns were raised last year over whether these nanoparticles react with sunlight to produce free radicals that could damage skin tissues.

In response to concerns about safety, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) says: “Public debate on nanotechnology has raised questions regarding the potential hazard to the environment and to human health. However, the technology, and its safe use in consumer products, is constantly under review by regulatory bodies worldwide.” Tsuruta is rather more consoling, pointing me to the website of the company that supplies his “radical sponge” fullerenes and their studies showing safety and efficacy.

So what happened to the standard argument that potions sold as “cosmetics” are unlikely to have a physiological effect on the skin? Skin specialists used to reassure us that anything that did have a marked effect ought to be reclassed as a drug and sold on prescription, but there is no compulsion to register or reassess the super-effective new breed of skincare products generally known as “cosmeceuticals”. Besides, it costs millions of pounds to bring a drug to market, and then it can be sold only on prescription, which is rather a disincentive for cosmetics companies. In addition, the US Food and Drug Administration does not require that cosmetic products and ingredients be approved before they go on the market (whereas drugs and medical devices are subject to review before they can go on sale).

There are three products in the Shinso range: as well as the Essence, there’s a reviving spray-on mist and an exfoliating glow treatment. An eye cream, a mask and spa treatments are all in the pipeline. In the UK, Shinso is available only from the website ( — and at £255 it definitely comes under the category of “investment” buy.

Tsuruta is not interested in selling through the normal channels — his views on the skincare world and the shops that sell their products can’t safely be reported in print — but prefers to work with a handful of dermatologists and plastic surgeons, such as the Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon Dr Robert Applebaum, who, he says, not only have a better understanding of his products but also of the celebrity clientele who are most interested in them. Dr Applebaum loves the stuff. “Shinso Essence is a unique product with very effective skin rejuvenation properties,” he says. “There are immediate effects on the appearance of the skin, as well as long-term benefits.”

British dermatologists tend to be more cautious in their assessment. “This product contains anti-ageing ingredients, such as acetyl hexapeptide-8 [a muscle relaxant] and human oligopeptide-1 [which promotes skin cell growth],” says the dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams ( “These are high on the ingredient list, so it’s likely they are present in sufficient concentration.” She considers any talk of instant effects to be an exaggeration, “as it takes time to induce real changes in skin biology. But, overall, it’s a good product with beneficial ingredients”.

Have I been using the magic Essence myself? You bet, massaging it in as shown by its creator. And, the first time, I could swear I saw a lift. Tsuruta reckons that the effects last for three days, so if you use it continuously, you don’t see much more lifting day on day, and I started to wonder if I was imagining things. But then, after a week’s abstinence and a sleepless overnight flight, it worked wonders to repair my crumpled face. I’d have to say, I’m utterly hooked.

What the scientist says

Using ingredients on a molecular scale, ie nanoparticles, may facilitate the penetration of active ingredients into the skin and improve the effectiveness of serums and moisturisers. At present these are often unable to penetrate sufficiently because of their size. For this reason nanotechnology is an exciting area, much discussed by experts. But there are unknowns. How an ingredient works when it’s 80 times thinner than a human hair may differ from how it works at a “normal” level. At nanoscale size, a material’s physical properties may change and interact with your body in ways not yet fully understood. There has been concern about the use of nanoparticles of fullerenes in cosmetics and of titanium in sunscreen, for example. In 2008 there were calls to ban the technology until it had been proven to be safe.

Dr Tamara Griffiths, consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman for the British Skin Foundation