Throughout our more than 130 years of history, Kao has been driven by one desire – to make life cleaner, healthier, and more beautiful for as many people as possible. From our very first product, Kao Sekken (Kao soap), we have continuously striven to understand people’s needs and make their lives better. This has inspired us to use our unique technologies to make products that changed the way people live their daily lives.
The opening of Japan to the outside world in the 19th century brought industrial technology and scientific knowledge from the West that modernized Japanese life.
“New kinds of entertainment and technology poured into Japan.”
Making facial soap widely available to Japanese people
Kao Sekken (Kao Soap)
With its luxurious fragrance, color, and feel, Kao Sekken enjoyed brisk sales. As a soap equal to imported products, it became popular throughout Japan.
In Japan at this time, high-quality soap that could be used to wash your face was only available as a high-priced import that was out of the reach of most people. Kao founder Tomiro Nagase sought to create an affordable made-in-Japan facial soap with quality equal to imported soap. Through much trial and error, he developed Kao Sekken.
To emphasize the high quality of Kao Sekken and assure consumers that it was suitable as a facial soap, he named the soap “Kao”, which has the same pronunciation as the Japanese word for “face.” To write “Kao,” he chose kanji characters that literally mean “king of flowers,” giving the brand a sense of both confidence and beauty. This later became the name of our company.
“This soap is much better than what we could buy before.”
“The name is so easy to remember because it lets you wash your face (kao) with royal comfort, fresh as a flower.”
Kao Sekken ad gallery
Early ad for Kao Sekken
Billboard by the famous Kaminari-mon gate of Tokyo’s Senso-ji Temple
Billboard along a railway line in Aichi Prefecture
Cleanses hair even when styled with oil
Kao established “shampoo”
as a household word in Japan
and changed the way
Japanese people washed their hair.
In the 1920s many Japanese women still styled their hair with camellia oil in the traditional way. To wash it, they would rub a mix of white clay and soap powder or sodium carbonate (washing soda) into their hair, a time-consuming task. Kao Shampoo made shampooing a lot quicker and easier.
“Women washed their hair only about twice a month.”
“Kao Shampoo made shampooing easy so people started washing their hair more frequently.”
Establishment of the Housework Laboratory
Kao established the Housework Laboratory in 1934 to develop scientific, practical methods for housework and to offer new lifestyle suggestions. The institute held workshops to interact with consumers and understand their individual needs in daily life.
Shiny new appliances like radios and washing machines entered ordinary people’s homes, making daily life more and more convenient.
“Was it around the mid-1970s that almost every household had a washing machine?”
A detergent so good it was like having a washing machine in your pocket.
Doing laundry by hand was so much quicker with a synthetic detergent.
In the early 1950s when washing machines were still a luxury item, Kao introduced Japan’s first synthetic laundry detergent. Wonderful made doing laundry by hand easy and fast. It changed homemakers’ lifestyles by reducing the time it took to do laundry, giving them more time and energy.
Wonderful ad gallery
Newspaper ad for Wonderful, comparing it to “a washing machine in your pocket.”
Tie-in campaign with a washing machine manufacturer. Re-positions Wonderful as a detergent that improves a washing machine’s cleaning power.
For relief from dandruff and itchy scalp
Merit Shampoo was developed to help fight dandruff and scalp itchiness. In 2001, it was re-positioned as a pH balanced product line that was healthy for hair and scalp.
“Back then, people washed their hair once every five days or so. We were often complaining of dandruff and itchiness.”
Easily removes sticky cooking grease
As the Japanese diet became more Western, homemakers faced more buildup of cooking grease in kitchens. Kao developed Magiclean, a powerful liquid cleaner, to remove grease from exhaust fans and stovetop areas. Kao later extended the Magiclean brand line to include bath and toilet cleaning products.
New feminine care products give women peace of mind.
Sanitary napkins boosted women’s comfort and confidence, empowering them to lead more active lives.
The Laurier product line was developed to minimize the need to change sanitary napkins. Kao’s own “one-way” superabsorbent polymer technology traps fluid securely to assure a dry feel in a thin sanitary napkin. This breakthrough freed women to stay active every day of the month.
“Women could feel more comfortable and confident at school, at work, and at play.”
Lifestyles and daily schedules changed with an increase in double-income households and people working at night.
“Daily life became more convenient as technology advanced and choices increased.”
A mild and soothing facial cleanser
Bioré Facial Foam uses an innovative gentle-cleaning formula developed from Kao’s original research into non-irritating skin care. This paste-type facial cleanser offered a fresh approach to facial skin care. In 1984 Kao went on to launch Bioré u Bodywash.
Launch of dermatology-based cosmetics brand
Sofina is about making skin beautiful even before applying makeup. Kao wanted to deliver product quality people could trust, making cosmetics affordable and scientifically effective.
Sofina was born from the desire to provide more women with dermatologically-tested, high quality cosmetics at affordable prices. You can see Kao’s love of challenges in Sofina brand products. Notable innovations include products that enabled consumers to wash makeup off instead of wiping it off with cold cream and cotton pads (a practice that was common at the time), and launching Daytime UV Cut Emulsion for ultraviolet protection applied during the morning skin care routine.
“It was amazingly easy to learn which Sofina cosmetics matched my skin type.”
Helping babies sleep through the night
Unlike the cloth diapers common at the time, Merries used superabsorbent polymers to absorb more fluid while providing a dry feeling and leak prevention. This meant that diapers could be changed less often, letting parents and children sleep well, a valuable benefit that gave peace of mind.
Just one spoonful to bring out amazing whiteness
Powerful cleaning with only a quarter the usual amount of detergent. Attack made shopping more convenient with a package small enough to carry in one hand.
Kao Attack detergent cleaned better than existing detergents while requiring only a small spoonful per typical load. Using specially-developed enzymes for powerful cleaning, Attack penetrated deep into fibers to effectively remove stains. This “revolution in laundry” also made shopping more convenient by reducing package size. Conventional detergents of the time could weigh more than 4 kg per package.
“Laundry and shopping became so much more convenient.”
Attack ad gallery
Ad when Attack was launched, with the tagline “Just one spoonful to bring out amazing whiteness”
Development of the first container with tactile indicator notches in Japan
Since 1991, Kao has included tactile indicator notches on the top and side of shampoo bottles in response to customer requests for a way to differentiate shampoo and conditioner. In cooperation with a school for the blind, Kao created a design that enables tactile recognition, which was tested and refined through trial and error. Winning the cooperation of other hair care product makers, Kao then spearheaded the effort to make this an industry-standard design, to prevent confusion among consumers. Today, almost all Japanese shampoo bottles feature the same tactile indicator notches.
Innovation in floor cleaning
A new floor cleaner for modern lifestyles.
Quiet, easy cleaning for all, whenever it was needed.
When wood flooring became the standard in Japanese homes in the 1990s, dust and hair on floors also became more visible. Other lifestyle changes including the growing number of double-income households led more people to clean floors at night. Quickle Wiper provided a solution for quick cleaning even under furniture and in corners, while minimizing noise and allowing the user to clean while standing.
“It doesn’t take much effort or strength to wipe floors,
so cleaning is much easier.”
“It’s quiet, so I can clean the floors in the evenings without disturbing anyone.”
Caring for dry and sensitive skin
Based on the concept of “ceramide care,”* Medicated Curél was developed for people with dry and sensitive skin.
*A Kao-developed method of keeping skin hydrated by optimizing the moisture-retaining properties of ceramides.
Healthy and environmentally friendly products gain popularity, as do products everyone can use.
“Given the choice between two similar products, more and more people want to buy the environmentally-friendly one”
Conveniently managing body fat
Healthya Green Tea
Easily incorporated into lifestyle habits, Healthya becomes synonymous with the new government-approved category of “Food for Specified Health Uses” (FOSHU)
In the early 2000s, public awareness and concern about lifestyle diseases began to increase, and consumer health needs rose sharply. Around this time, in an effort to promote public health, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare created a new category of health products called Foods for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU). Food and beverage products that could scientifically prove they effectively and safely reduced or eliminated risk factors for certain health conditions could receive government approval to be marketed as a FOSHU. Kao’s Healthya Green Tea began to receive FOSHU approval starting in 2003. Healthya Green Tea offered the new approach of enabling consumers to replace their daily beverages with something healthier.
“I think I learned the word FOSHU around this time, too.”
Healthya ad gallery
TV commercial for the launch of Healthya Green Tea (left, center),
Advertising on train doors (right)
Warming tired eyes with steam
MegRhythm Steam Eye Mask
Starring at computer screens for long hours every day and making business presentations meant that many consumers started to suffer from increased stress and tiredness. MegRhythm steam eye masks provided a way for people to relax by warming the eyes with steam. This new lifestyle habit has become quite popular in Japan.
By cleaning thoroughly while saving time, energy and water, Attack Neo offered an environmentally friendly way to do laundry.
Attack Neo ultra-concentrated liquid laundry detergent was born from the desire to have both clean laundry and a healthy planet. Powerful new cleaning technology meant that detergent could be washed away with only one rinse cycle instead of the usual two cycles. This saved both water and electricity.
“Using a single rinse cycle also saves time. Everything about it is a plus.”
Raku-raku Eco Pack Refill
Kao applies the principles of Universal Design to product packaging. This makes it easier for the elderly and children, for example, to differentiate between products and helps prevent them from accidentally drinking non-beverage items. For the sake of the environment, Kao also tries to reduce waste by, for example, condensing product container size and designing containers that are simple to refill. By making everyday life just a bit more convenient, our Raku-raku eco pack refill encourages consumers to adopt new environmentally-friendly habits.