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Research Dermatologist Sheldon Pinnell Dies at 76

The lead scientist behind the formation of L’Oréal-owned skin-care brand SkinCeuticals died on July 4 in Durham, N.C., after a 10-year battle with cancer.

Sheldon Pinnell, the lead scientist behind the formation of L’Oréal-owned skin-care brand SkinCeuticals, died on July 4 in Durham, N.C., after a 10-year battle with cancer.

With a focus on antioxidants, Pinnell, 76, was the first to patent a stable form of vitamin C. His work inspired the creation in 1994 by his son Alden Pinnell and Russell Moon of dermatological skin-care brand SkinCeuticals, which was purchased by L’Oréal in 2005.

“It is our greatest privilege to have been able to help Dr. Pinnell bring his discovery of topical antioxidants to life,” said SkinCeuticals cofounder, Alden Pinnell. “Prior to the introduction of topical vitamin C in the early Ninties, skin-care professionals were largely limited to sunscreens to protect against the deleterious effects of the sun. It was Dr. Pinnell who gave the medical community the confidence to transform the approach to at-home skin care. We are fortunate to have known Dr. Pinnell as a scientist, a family man and a dear friend. His life lessons and infectious spirit will remain with us forever.”

According to Tina Alster M.D., director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center, Pinnell’s discovery that vitamin C could be used to help protect and repair skin from oxidative stress, including sun damage, furthered the understanding of skin biology and the pathogenesis of skin diseases.

“It was his breakthrough research that propelled the use of topical antioxidants within the skin-care industry,” said SkinCeuticals global general manager, Marc Toulemonde. “Everything he has taught us, as well as his passion for discovery, will continue to live on daily through all of us here at SkinCeuticals. I personally have grown and learned an enormous amount from Dr. Pinnell, and he will be dearly missed.”

Additionally, throughout his 39-year career in the cosmeceutical industry, Pinnell published more than 200 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals on dermatology, authored approximately 20 book chapters and held 10 patents.

“Dr. Pinnell’s philosophy and dedication to advancing science in the cosmeceutical landscape is unlike any we have ever seen, and he remains an inspiration for us today,” said Brigitte Liberman, worldwide president of L’Oréal’s Active Cosmetics Division. “It is our esteemed privilege to have had the opportunity to learn from the ‘Founding Father of Topical Antioxidants’ and introduce a range of products that changed the way we care for our skin globally.”

A graduate of Duke University’s Trinity College, Pinnell earned his medical degree at Yale University and trained at the University of Minnesota Hospital, the National Institutes of Health, Massachusetts General Hospital and Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in West Germany. Pinnell earned his bachelor of arts degree in chemistry at Duke University, where he graduated with Phi Beta Kappa academic honors. Pinnell returned to Duke University in 1973 as an associate professor and investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Department of Medicine. There he developed and implemented major strategic initiatives to facilitate the establishment of the Department of Dermatology in 2009. Pinnell also served as a diplomat of the American Board of Dermatology and was a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, an honorary member of the Society for Investigative Dermatology and the J. Lamar Callaway Professor Emeritus of Dermatology and Chief Emeritus of the Division of Dermatology at Duke University.

“He was a total gentleman — in addition to being so wickedly smart. Half the world knew his discoveries; the other half knew the person,” said Duke University’s president, Dr. Richard Brodhead. “I was lucky to have known them both.”

Pinnell is survived by his wife, Dr. Doren Madey Pinnell; three sons, Kevin, Alden and Tyson, and five grandchildren.

A private ceremony was held on Monday in Duke University gardens. Later this year, a celebration of his life will be held at the Duke University Chapel, in conjunction with the dedication of the Pinnell Center for Investigative Dermatology. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Pinnell’s honor may be made to Duke University, P.O. Box 90581, Durham, N.C., 27701. Contributions may be designated for the Pinnell Center for Investigative Dermatology or for Duke Athletics, the Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens and/or the Nasher Museum of Art.