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Shiseido was founded in 1872 by Arinobu Fukuhara, a former pharmacist in the Japanese navy, as a pharmacy providing western-style pharmaceuticals to the people of Japan where herbal medicine was still the norm. A chain store network was begun in 1923 where storeowners were provided training to ensure the Shiseido brand would be equated with consistently high standards nationwide. Shiseido's first president, Shinzo Fukuhara, the son of Arinobu, is credited with successfully combining eastern and western traditions and moving Shiseido from an apothecary to a cosmetics company.

The first to develop a liquid softening lotion for the skin, Shiseido was also the first to introduce color cosmetics into Japan where white face powder was still prevalent. The company began to expand in 1957 first into Taiwan and Singapore and then in 1962 into Hawaii which allowed for the creation of Shiseido Cosmetics America and entry into the American market. Europe took place in 1968 followed by Oceania in 1971. To bring their look into the next millennium, Shiseido enlisted the help of hair and makeup artist Serge Lutens in 1980 as its international image creator and has had Shiseido release fragrances under his name.

Launched in 1965, Zen was the first fragrance by Shiseido. Two versions exist today's Zen the original and Zen new as of 2007 as well as a men's version which was introduced in 2009. Other popular fragrances include the self-titled men's and women's companion fragrance, Shiseido, and the women's perfumes Shiseido Koto, Shiseido Memoire, Shiseido More, Shiseido Rosarium and Shiseido Murasaki.

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