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Kao Sets New Strategy for Innovation, Targeting Beauty and Environment

The company announced a new fine-fiber technology and a program to reduce its use of plastic in packaging.

TOKYO Kao Corp. has announced a new innovation strategy focusing on industry, academia and government joint studies in order to develop products and technologies that address global challenges, including applications for medical treatment, sustainability and waste reduction. The company is calling the strategy “open innovation.”

Kao’s president and chief executive officer Michitaka Sawada said the company will continue its research into fields with which it has already had success, including innovative foam products, such as toothpaste, hair color and oil-cutting household cleaning products. The company also plans to release new products in its sun protection offering next year.

Kao announced the first five projects under the open innovation program. Three apply to the beauty field, while two others address environmental issues. The two most notable projects are an innovation called fine fiber and an initiative to reduce plastic packaging waste.

The fine fiber technology uses a specially developed machine to spray a light, soft and ultra-thin membrane of submicron fibers onto the skin. Nearly weightless and invisible, it forms on top of the skin an undetectable layer, which has the ability to maintain and even out cosmetics products that are applied over it.

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“Cosmetic products are held firmly between both the layers of fibers and individual fibers, and liquid products are quickly and evenly distributed throughout the entire membrane. At the same time, excess water vapor can escape from the spaces between the interwoven fibers,” Kao said in a statement. “As a result, the film is able to maintain adequate moisture permeability without completely blocking the skin.”

Makeup applied to the fine fiber membrane provides smooth, even coverage that could be used to cover scars, spots and even tattoos. The film, as well as any products layered on top of it, can easily be peeled off in one sheet. Kao said it plans to continue its research into fine-fiber applications in cosmetics products, such as skin-care and makeup items, but that it will also consider adaptations of the technology for use in the medical field.

The company also announced its initiatives in reducing plastic waste, saying that it follows a 4R program consisting of reducing, replacing, reusing and recycling. Since 2005, Kao has reduced its plastic packaging per unit of sale by 20 percent across all consumer categories. Its total level of plastic use by volume has increased.

“We need to radically transform the nature of our packaging through experimentation and investment in new technologies,” the company said. “We also need to collaborate with partners to drive systemic change that makes the recycling of packaging practical and possible for consumers.”

In order to reduce the amount of plastic it uses in its packaging, Kao offers refill packs of many of its products. A film-type refill pack uses 79 percent less plastic than a hard shampoo pump bottle. The company’s next initiative is what it calls a mono-plastic film bottle, which is 100 percent recyclable and has the structural rigidity to function as a stand-alone primary bottle, but with the same environmental footprint as a standard refill pack.

“I think, particularly recently, the voices referring to Kao as an innovation company have not been very loud. And I think the reason for that is that we haven’t been demonstrating our value as well as we could have,” Sawada said. “So because our impact as an innovation company has decreased, at this moment I want to show people that we are in fact that kind of company.”