I Tried Shiseido’s Japanese Hyaluronic Acid Serum Duo That Claims to Mimic Filler

The brand just reinvented the super-popular hydrating molecule.

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If you’re a skincare junkie like me, I’m sure you’ve heard of hyaluronic acid. It’s nothing new in the world of beauty—as a quick debrief, it’s the substance naturally produced in our bodies that works to both attract and seal water into the skin. “In its polymer form, but not as single subunits, hyaluronic acid can hold twice its weight in water,” says Lauren Otsuki, co-founder, Executive Vice President, and Chief Innovation Officer of Ourself. “It’s the major hydrating molecule in our skin.”

It;s also the main ingredient used in injectables, thanks to its ability to make the skin look plumper and more youthful. The catch? Fillers can rack up thousands of dollars in the office (read: not the most cost-effective route to anti-aging). That’s why when Shiseido announced they were launching an at-home topical system made with advanced hyaluronic acid that’s supposed to mimic the results of filler, I was instantly intrigued. 

What is Shiseido’s advanced hyaluronic acid system?

Here’s the thing about hyaluronic acid: It’s all about molecular size. In your typical skincare product you’ll find larger molecules of HA, which rest closer to the surface and provide skin plumping there. 

Shiseido used a proprietary system (almost 40 years of research, according to the brand) called MolecuShift technology to shrink down those hyaluronic acid molecules so they reach even deeper into the skin (this is what filler does). By taking the size of regular hyaluronic acid molecules and reverting them back to their original size without changing their structure, it allows the molecules to penetrate more easily without decreasing any of its advantages to plump and firm skin. 

The serum duo must be used collaboratively (Full Expansion Serum during the day and Infill Serum at night) in order to be the most effective. The first serum delivers the condensed HA overnight, and the other converts the hyaluronic acid molecules back to their original, larger size the next morning. In short, you’re getting the best of both HA molecule worlds.

Does it work?

After one day/night use of the system, Shiseido’s clinical trials point out that at least 90% of users noticed firmer forehead, firmer skin, and more volume in their face than before. After trying the duo for myself, I was one of the 90%. The first thing I noticed was the lightweight, silky consistency of the serums. Despite the thin formulas, the serums were actually quite rich, which is great for people with dry skin. Only one pump was needed to cover my entire face and neck. But sensory feeling aside, I also noticed a pretty instant difference with my crow’s feet and smile lines, both of which were less visible with decreased indentations.

I turned to a couple dermatologists to find out how this worked. “This system seems like a good and easy way to develop a skincare routine that includes a number of humectants, including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, lactic acid, and ammonium lactate,” says Hadley King, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “The infill serum is particularly rich in humectants to hydrate and plump, while the expansion serum has more oils with emollient properties that support the skin barrier and help to retain the hydration.” Carmen Castilla, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City, adds that this duo has the maximum amount of skin hydration, which is why you can see the instant reduction in fine lines. 

However, she also points out that all injectables have personalized elements that topicals just can’t replicate. “Fillers with different properties are utilized when targeting different problem areas,” she says. “Some areas you need a harder filler to get results, whereas other areas you’d want to use a more flexible filler. When injected, fillers are typically deposited in boluses or threads. Fillers are also methodically placed in certain areas and at certain depths within the tissue to help re-volumize discrete areas of volume loss. This is what creates the desired result.”

The amount of filler required to make results is also important to note. “A 50-year-old might require up to five syringes of filler for optimal re-volumization,” says Dr. Castilla. “One syringe of filler has about one teaspoon of concentrated product in it. It would be beneficial to know the concentration of shrunken hyaluronic acid molecules within the product. This can give you an idea of how much could be expected to be deposited with each application and how long it would potentially take to absorb a sufficient amount of hyaluronic acid to equate to the results of one syringe of filler.” 

She adds that for any product to produce filler-like results, it would have to at least penetrate into the dermis, the second layer of the skin. “If this penetration indeed occurs, the formulation would require FDA approval as it would be classified as a medication.” 

Long story short, Dr. King notes that this isn’t exactly going to replace your filler appointments if you’re used to getting them. “Injectable fillers plump at deeper levels compared to what can be accomplished with any topical product. It's great to use these topical products if you're not interested in fillers, or in conjunction with fillers, but they can't replace fillers.”

The Verdict

So, did I get instant filler-like results that shaved ten years off my face? No. But did I see pretty quick anti-aging results that surpassed the expectations of other HA creams? Yes. This is the most potent HA topical you’re going to get, and those benefits are only going to accumulate over time. Plus, all those emollients feel super luxe (10/10 on formula texture) and make my skin feel just as good. If you want to get the most of HA without dishing out thousands on filler, it’s definitely worth the splurge.

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To buy: $295; shiseido.com.

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