The Genius Files: The Science Behind Beauty

Beauty Inc asked the chief science officers of five leading companies to share their latest thinking on important developments.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 10/12/2012

In an industry driven by innovation, scientists hold the keys to the kingdom. To discover what the future holds, WWD Beauty Inc. asked the chief science officers of five leading companies to share their latest thinking on important developments and pathways that point the way forward.

This story first appeared in the October 12, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


What’s the most interesting scientific breakthrough you’ve seen in the last five years and what impact might it have on the beauty industry?

DAWN FRENCH: The breakthrough I’ve seen which is most impacting the beauty industry is systems biology. The progression from the human genome project is very interesting, to see how biologists and life scientists are moving their attention away from studying the individual parts within a system to “mapping” the entire system, from the genome to the proteome to the metabolome. This is incredibly exciting, because it is really going to crack the code on why one product works on one consumer but not another. The entire system of understanding is going to help us really create better and more delightful products.

There is so much going on, so many discoveries, so much newness that it can be difficult to keep pace, which is why it’s so important to connect and collaborate and partner externally. Everyone is talking about the completion of the genome, the most publicized, written about achievement. Other things that are under the radar that I’m fascinated by include the creation of the first synthetic cell. Scientists took a DNA sequence of a bacteria and put the information into a computer. The computer generated the entire DNA makeup of this bacteria, and put it into an empty cell and the bacteria was alive. It created life from a synthetic cell. Eventually the future can lead to many things—new vaccines, new medical treatments, even new fuel sources. The applications to our industry could definitely be beneficial. Another one I’m excited about is stem cells. Some scientists have recently reported they were successful in growing organs from stem cells. They haven’t been transplanted in humans yet, but the whole technol- ogy of regenerative medicine is fantastic. I read about someone who created a microscopic spiderlike robot. They believe that one day, they will be able to implant it in the body and it could be targeted to a single cell, like a cancer cell, and just kill that cell and not affect any of the normal, healthy cells. We’re also fascinated by physics. We rely a lot on optics to provide immediate improvement. This whole thing with the Large Hadron Collider, where the physicists are able to create particles that are predictive of what went on at the beginning of the world, and the discovery of the Higgs boson, could lead to new sources of energy.


ASA KIMURA: Applied research of stem cells has been rapidly advancing throughout the world, providing hopes for new solutions in skin regeneration and cosmetic medicine, etc. Stem cell research has also been having a great impact on cosmetics or skin rejuvenation. It is very much possible that a new beauty domain will be created between cosmetics and cosmetic medicine.


CATHY SALERNO: I see two fundamental scientific shifts unfolding. The first has to do with advances in the lab to optimize gold-standard ingredients in new ways for increased efficacy. Most recently, our scientists have been able to deliver retinol in forms that are much more efficacious, more easily tolerated and that deliver a quicker onset of results. We’re looking at new natural alternatives to fight wrinkles, such as oak and querce- tin, as well as new ways to synergistically use existing technologies, such as total soy and vitamin C, for en- hanced efficacy in evening skin tone.

The second has to do with the implications of break-throughs in genetic research. Our knowledge of DNA and research has escalated to amazing levels. New milestones are continually reached as we learn more about molecular and cellular interactions and the properties of DNA expression. One day, we will be able to apply new knowledge about these interactions that impacts skin care and beauty, and identify new ingredients that will interact and influence the behavior of our genetic coding. You think about things, like we’ve identified the genetic coding responsible for breast cancer, and now we have diagnostic methods to understand if a woman is predisposed. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a similar ability to predict skin cancer potential?


JACQUES LECLAIRE: There is not only one interesting breakthrough, but several. The last five years have seen developments in science and technology that have already and will in the future have a significant impact on the major challenges to be resolved in the field of beauty. Among them, we can mention the greatest: Designing ever-more effective products to guarantee better perceived performance for the consumer. Biomaterials inspired from the living, such as hyaluronic acid or its derivatives, gels and sol-gels, are helping to create immediate effects on the skin or hair — such as the effects of smoothing, transparency — in short, noninvasive transformation of the skin, which contrib- utes to the perceived performance of products. The field of sensors and vectorization is also developing fast. These two avenues are developing thanks to progress made in defined technologies, such as microfluidics. Tomorrow, sensors should enable a better understanding of the impact of the environment on our skin and hair using objective and noninvasive measurement of environmental factors (pollutants, radiation, UV, etc.). Finally, advances in human reconstructed skin, which will increase the pertinence and effectiveness of our predictive evaluation strategies for designing effective and safer active ingredients faster.


Biochemistry has made so many advances, and the opportunities available to cosmetics scien- tists seem to have multiplied exponentially. What are the primary paths you’re pursuing and why?


DAWN FRENCH: We are very interested in metabolic processes, an area that is starting to lead to some new insights in terms of how different products are working on different consumers and why do we see differences. For example, everybody can have acne bacteria on their skin; not everybody gets acne. In terms of aging, everybody has the same melanocytes and everybody has UV exposure. Why do some people have more problems with dark spots then others? If we can understand those differences, it will give us real breakthroughs in products. Using this knowledge, we can create skin-equivalent cultures that are much more predictive of what’s happening in consumers’ skin. Before, we were limited in how you could screen, because to do clinical or consumer testing is time intensive and not necessarily as precise. Now, I can go into skin-equivalent testing and optimize our actives in ways we could never do before. We are using this knowledge to understand old skin versus young skin in a whole new way, and the differences between men’s and women’s skin. We are learning male skin does respond differently—there are differences in their sensorial response, their response to UV light. They experience redness and sensitivity very differently than women, and that understanding helps us tailor products to men much more effectively.


ANDY BEVACQUA: Number one, in no order of importance, is cellular energy. As we age, our energy depletes, and cells need energy in order to support the body’s functions. Loss of that energy leads to all the things that are consumer concerns, like dehydration, dry flaky skin, onset of lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone. If you can improve or normalize the way the body produces energy, then you’re going to make the skin perform better.

Another area is protection. We’re constantly exposed to environmental aggressors and our body deteriorates as a result of exposure. We spend a lot of time in developing the best protection technologies, against UV rays and major environmental assault, that will help us prevent and protect the skin to minimize the impact of environmental aging, so that we only have to worry about chronological aging and not environmental aging.


We also spend a lot of time on repair. The body does a great job of repairing itself by using certain enzymes. We supplement the body’s own mechanisms either by adding those enzymes to our products or regulating how the natural defenses are being turned on and off. Lastly, the study of chronic inflammation, which is looked upon as the leading cause of disease. We are always looking for pathways to address it.


ASA KIMURA: Biochemistry—especially the dermatological domain—focuses on antiaging research. In this domain, research is conducted from the perspectives of skin rejuvenation and aging prevention, as well as the perspective of successful aging to maintain age-appropriate skin. It has especially enhanced the research and development leading to “wrinkles” and “brightening.” For example, the bio-chemical mechanism of melanin formation has been elucidated on the molecular level. Therefore, we approach methods to appropriately control melanin forma- tion and physiology of dark-spot areas.

The reason we focus on antiaging research is that elder people will increase along with the economic development of Asian countries, in addition to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, in which an aged society has already started. The needs for antiaging, or successful aging, will be more important. It also coincides with Shiseido’s philosophy regarding beauty.


CATHY SALERNO: We are focusing on the fundamental role that the inflammatory cascade has on the health and appearance of skin. Once that cascade has been triggered, the results can range from simple redness to tactile dryness to actual damage to the collagen and elastin matrix. For example,
the nF-kB pathway is one that can be set off by external forces such as oxidative stress or sun exposure, as well as intrinsic forces, such as cellular metabolism. Both contribute to the aging process. We’ve established fundamental discovery programs for our scientists to better understand these inflammatory paths in order to formulate products that will clinically address the impact and help restore skin to a more healthy state. We are also studying the construction of proprietary polymers and how they can play a broader role within skin care, most recently with an engineered surfactant system for skin cleansing that delivers superior foaming and extremely mild properties.


JACQUES LECLAIRE: Biochemistry innovations in the field of simple and complex sugar abound in many industries, such as nutrition, and, recently, beauty. For several years, we have invested in research in this field to understand the role of simple and complex endogenous sugars in the skin. The development of this knowledge, combined with our excellent knowledge of skin aging, have led us to offer first-generation approaches and technologies, such as pro-xylane and rhamnose.

How do you steer your basic research in a direction that will result in the most innovative products with the most commercial success? Is there now more of an emphasis on applied innovation rather than basic research?


DAWN FRENCH: Basic research is interesting but you have to get to where it can lead to innovation and delight the consumer. The benefits of our products have to be meaningful, measurable and noticeable. The science may interest her, but the use of the product is what makes her a loyal consumer. We’re spending a lot of time on how do we take this basic research and extract the meaning we need to create that delightful product. For example, we’re learning so much more about the role of the stratum corneum in keeping skin healthy, and with these learnings, I can really start to create products that work better and help her have better skin.

One thing that hasn’t changed is we start with the consumer and make sure we’re solving a problem she has. As we do basic research, we continue to do fundamental research on thousands of men and women to guide the development. What are they struggling with? Redness? Irritation? Then we go into basic research to understand it in a new way and come out with a solution.

As we look at basic research, we are trying to establish partnerships and external collaborations that help us extract more meaning out of this data. It’s not just about generating the data. A lot of the genomic data is fast becoming a commodity. The breakthrough is the ability to analyze the data and extract meaning. We have a partnership with the Institute for Systems Biology that helps us do this, and take our basic research to this applied innovation.


ANDY BEVACQUA: We try to make sure everything we are doing is inspired by con- sumers. We have to make sure our basic research is connected to what consumers want. Once we know what the consumer concerns are, we look to develop and pursue technologies that are really going to make a difference in addressing these concerns. We establish our R&D centers at the heart of where our most demanding consumers live. We need both applied and basic research, equally, to accomplish everything. Basic science, applied science and consumer insights are interrelated. An idea can come from a consumer insight that can drive basic research, and the applied research is taking what we learn and making it into a product and making sure it does what we want it to do.


ASA KIMURA: Different management methods are required for basic re- search, in which innovations are required, and product development, in which operations are required. We conduct the basic research by determining the balance between the top-down and bottom-up by researchers. In order to lead basic research to innovative products, we clarify the objectives and goals before starting. We always confirm the goals and follow the progress by milestone, and determine whether or not to continue, or to increase the resources to achieve the goals as quick as possible. We have always in mind that more trial and error
will be required to challenge the innovation. Therefore, it is important that we do not easily give up achieving a goal once it’s decided, and support from the top is necessary to do so.

In order to fully utilize the creativity of researchers themselves, we establish a system for researchers in different fields to communicate with each other and have each researcher establish a self-sufficient organization without restricting them with all the regulations and rules.


The importance for basic research and applied research will not change to achieve the innovation. However, now that innovations are being made throughout the world, and the scope of technologies involving beauty will continue to expand, we can no longer conduct all of the basic research on our own like we used to. Open innovation is becoming more important for us to develop innovative products combining the key technologies from external alliances and the technologies we have.

CATHY SALERNO: We have organized skin care R&D to provide a dual innovation ladder, with a portion of research aimed at fundamental discovery and another portion aimed at development of new products. To ensure a strong connection between the groups, we have structured a clinical science team to support both discovery and development, from preclinical models all the way through to final-product clinical testing. Our discovery scientists work in close collaboration with our business partners, to ensure our fundamental research ties to a business need. We believe that consumer and patient needs are at the heart of meaningful innovation, so our discovery scientists are part of qualitative and quantitative consumer studies. We also partner with top universities and clinical sites globally to tap into the best-of-class advances in skin care.

: Even if our advanced research, which you call basic research, is a true specialty of L’Oréal, our innovation model is an intricate part of other research and innovation activities. The L’Oréal Group developed on a unique model of innovation centered around the consumer and anchored in the knowledge of skin and hair around the world and three drivers of innovation: active ingredients, formulation and evaluation ending with the performance perceived by the consumer. As far as the balance between advanced research and applied research is concerned, we believe that the innovations that will change the market tomorrow will also come from technologies and knowledge from advanced research. For example, the intimate knowledge we have developed over the last 30 years in the field of photobiology has enabled us to develop a balanced UVB and UVA filter system for maximum protection against sun damage. This technology has been used in sun products in all our brands. Advanced research has also led to innovations such as “bridge” products, leading to applications at the interface between makeup and skin care, such as the BB creams or foundations with skin-care characteristics, like Teint Miracle by Lancôme. Applied research is absolutely strategic in creating value and new technologies for our products. The best recent example is the oil-delivery system innovation in the field of hair coloring, eliminating ammonia and providing new color and sensory performances.


Has the doctrine of reverse innovation brought fresh scientific thinking from other cultures to your company?

DAWN FRENCH: Definitely we are trying to leverage reverse innovation to learn from developing cultures to create products those men and women really need. You can’t think about it in terms only of dollars and cents. Often they are confronted with different issues. I lived in Japan, where I was working on products for China and Chinese women. This was in its infancy, before reverse innovation was a term. We were talking to women in rural parts of China, and I will never forget being in a focus group and hearing these women taking about their concept of the “big wind.” The translator explained it was a common term these women use because there was a specific season, going from summer to fall, when a wind came down across the plain that was very drying, and quite often had bits of sand in it that was causing issues. This insight allowed us to develop a product that is still one of our top products in China, called Natural White Moisture Cream.


I was living in Japan, a highly developed whitening market, but because the climate there is more hot and humid, the products were very light feeling and fast pen- etrating. We learned that women in China wanted a very different feeling, and needed much more moisture and protection. We are continuing to drive reverse innovation — we’re about to open a new innovation center in Singapore and will be basing a lot of our beauty-care scientists in that region, so we can get closer to the Indian consumer and the Indonesian consumer, where you see a lot of growth in the market. We do believe we need to be closer to where those men and women are to understand their needs and design the best products.


ANDY BEVACQUA: Yes absolutely. Every day, we are becoming more attuned to cultural differences. We strive to resonate with consumers wherever they live and we are committed to adjusting our innovation strategies accordingly. We have to move closer to where the consumers live, especially in the emerging markets. We are continuing to build the necessary infrastructure, for example, to develop China as a
second home market. Last year, we opened an innovation center in Shanghai, which reinforced our commitment to local relevancy.

Reverse innovation, in which results of research and development by developing countries are utilized in advanced countries as they are, has not happened in the essential manner. We have been developing technologies to produce products for the lower end of the market that suit the cost requirements, etc. for developing countries. We will apply the technologies developed in our research center in China throughout the world in the future.

CATHY SALERNO: J&J devotes part of the R&D teams to developing opportunities. We have teams in China, with resources in India, Brazil and the Middle East, whose mis- sion is to identify trends and external innovation opportunities. Consumers in emerging markets are seeking the same high-performance products as consumers in developed markets, but these products aren’t always available. Emerging-market consumers can be quite clever in how they bridge this gap, and their solutions provide inspiration to our products and scientists, including packaging that allows a low out-of-pocket investment, and product concentrates or refillables. These solutions can be applied in emerging markets and modified to provide innovation to developed markets.

JACQUES LECLAIRE: Yes. To illustrate this, let’s look at the recent example of “Oil & Sweat” technology for shiny skin. Everything started with the shiny faces of Chinese consumers, where we showed that it was, in fact, a combination of two processes—excessive secretion of sebum associated with the produc- tion of sweat. To solve it, we had to absorb the sebum and facilitate evaporation of the sweat. The solution identified lies in a mixture of fibers and a high-technology material called Perlite, that absorbs huge quantities of water in record time. The result is instant and lasts several hours.


Is the cosmetics industry doing a good job of attracting the best young scientific minds, and if not, what can be done to improve this?

We have to work harder than some other industries to get those young scientific minds. I don’t know if we’re necessarily top-of-mind for some- one who is a top-tier Ph.D. in biology, so we’re having to make sure we get our presence out there. As a company, we’re starting to publish a lot more and get into peer-reviewed journals, to elevate for these young scientific minds that this is an exciting, inspiring place to be. We also need to expand our definition of what types of scientists do we want to attract. We’re starting to see a big shift. Historically, we worked to bring people in with chemistry experience. Now, we need to attract more biology majors. We also need to make sure we’re attracting top talent globally. We’re increasing our footprint of where our innovation centers are located; we can get a range of top scientists.


ANDY BEVACQUA: I’ve been here for 26 years. I believe we do a great job not only attracting, but also retaining the best talent. Also, through our many external collabora- tions, we engage the best scientists from universities and institutes globally. I graduated from Loyola University Maryland in 1981 with a chemistry degree. In my senior year,I had no idea what I was going to do and I went to my adviser and said, “I don’t know why I even studied chemistry—I can’t picture myself in a chemical factory.” My best friend’s dad was a flavors chemist at Givaudan, and he said, “You should get into perfumery, because it’s in fashion and there are so many young people.” I did so and became fascinated by the fact that what I learned in school, I could apply to something that was really interesting. It became not just a science, but an art.

ASA KIMURA: In Japan, cosmetics companies, including Shiseido, are always on the top of the list in rankings of popular companies for science majors to work. This is an attractive industry for talented engineers or scientists, especially for women. On the other hand, there are many jobs in areas that attract male engineers or scientists more than cosmetics, so we need further appeals. In order to that it is necessary for the cosmetics industry to propose the kind of innovations that would change the society’s lifestyles in addition to advertising the reality of research and development involving cosmetics via media, such as academic conferences, paper presentations and Web sites, etc.


CATHY SALERNO: Yes. As the mother of two college-age kids, I see first hand what kids are looking for. I see a strong desire to serve, a fundamental value this young generation has developed. This is translating into a strong need to have importance at work—the ability to improve the human condition—and in our industry, we have a real opportunity to improve the quality of life for millions of people. As our industry continues to bolster our position that our products aren’t superficial, but have the ability to improve people’s lives, we’ll continue to capture the best young talent within the scientific pool.


JACQUES LECLAIRE: To recruit young scientific talent, the industry needs to strengthen its image of scientific excellence, by publishing in international reviews with reader committees and being an actor in progress and discoveries. This is the best way of being recognized by one’s peers, by highlighting the excellence of science in the field of beauty and inspiring young scientists. We also need to offer young people spaces for freedom, creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. But we also have to be able to provide a long-term vision of our business, an ambition: “to create beauty products and respect the planet.”


What breakthrough would you love to see in your lifetime? What is your dream product?

DAWN FRENCH: My dream would be to create truly customized products for men and women. I think that’s where systems biology has the potential to lead. If I can understand your system and how you react, I should be able to get you a product that is optimized for you. I do think we’re on the edge of that.

ANDY BEVACQUA: I would love to see medicine continue to make the tremendous progress and strides it has been making—not only to cure diseases, but also a better job of understanding the brain and how it operates and behaves. In terms of a product, if we could do something to not only treat the physical appearance of people, but also the emotional health—their moods, their emotions, make you feel good all over—that would be a dream.


ASA KIMURA: I want to develop cosmetics and beauty regimens that not only achieve external “beauty” but also maintain healthy skin and even make customers’ minds beautiful and healthy by applying breakthrough technologies and cosmetic psychology. It is also my dream to be a forerunner of cosmetics research in the big bang of cosmetics, which will probably come in the future. I expect that there will be diverse developments, such as “temporary cosmetic surgery with makeup” and “collaboration with IT technologies,” etc. In order to do so, we will accelerate research through collaboration with companies in the peripheral domains, including different fields. I strive to enhance customers’ quality of life with cosmetics beyond the borders of countries, regions and generations.


CATHY SALERNO: One of the biggest skin care risks is the threat of skin cancer. One in five Americans are likely to develop skin cancer this year, all the more shocking because it’s one of the few cancers for which we know the cause and how to prevent it. My dream is my grandchildren will be confused by the term skin cancer, much as my generation can’t relate to the term polio. My dream product is a sunscreen that offers complete protection from the sun’s damage and can be used effortlessly.


We’ve made products easier to use, but it hasn’t been fully integrated. Think about oral care and how children’s cavities were reduced once fluoride was introduced into city water. Wouldn’t it be great if we had some sort of protection that could be used as easily as fluoride is for young kids through their drinking water?

JACQUES LECLAIRE: The quest for beauty is unending. Our challenge is to design products suitable for the skin and hair of the world that are effective but also that meet beauty codes and cultural needs, with modernity, sensorial qualities and emotion.

My dream: Innovations that will be game changers, that will meet the diversity of beauty aspirations and simple needs using “soft” technologies, such as recovering the color of your hair at age 20 or smelling good all day long. Simple aspirations, but real challenges for research.


NEXT: Meet the Great Minds >>




Research & Development Manager, Global Beauty Care, PROCTER & GAMBLE CO.

Dawn French received her bachelor of science in chemical engineering at Rutgers University. Since joining P&G in 1983, she has worked in a variety of fields and earned patents for her work on deodorants and personal cleansing bars.


Vice President, Research & Development, Global Skincare Innovations, THE ESTÉE LAUDER COS.

Andy Bevacqua received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Loyola College and a master’s degree in cosmetic science from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Bevacqua has earned more than 20 patents over the course of his 30-year career.


Corporate Officer, Responsible for Cosmetics Products Research & Development and Software Development, SHISEIDO CO., LTD.

Asa Kimura studied at the Graduate School of Applied Chemistry at Waseda University in Japan, and earned his Ph.D. in nacreous pigments colored by interference colors from Tohoku University. He joined Shiseido in 1977, and in 2007 was given responsibility overseeing Shiseido’s makeup and hair products. In 2010, he assumed oversight of all the company’s cosmetics products research and software development.


Vice President, Research & Development, North America Skin Care, JOHNSON & JOHNSON

Cathy Salerno gradauted from Saint Bonaventure University with a B.S. in chemistry and has earned 13 patents over the course of her career. Currently, she oversees R&D for six brands, including Neutrogena and Aveeno, and has led teams responsible for key innovations such as Wet Skin sun care in 2011.


International Scientific Director, Research & Innovation, L’ORÉAL

Jacques Leclaire joined L’Oréal in 1993 as director of the corporate product safety department and was named scientific director in 2011. He has built up L’Oréal’s capabilities in key technologies like “Omics,” and has established ties with scientists around the world.