By  on October 12, 2012

Robb Akridge, PhD, is not your typical scientist. Yes, he can rattle off lists of multisyllabic bacteria and skin conditions without pause, or suddenly launch into the merits of sonic technology, particularly as they relate to the Clarisonic skin tool, which he created. But Dr. Robb, as he is affectionately known, is as comfortable on TV extolling the merits of Clarisonic as he is in a lab coat. His affable demeanor and prowess at making scientific processes relatable catapulted him into the unexpected role of brand front man. And it suits him: During a recent appearance on QVC, Dr. Robb set a personal record by generating $87,000 a minute in sales. Since Clarisonic’s introduction in 2004, the skin-care tool has amassed a cult following and sold roughly three million devices. In 2011, it attracted the attention of L’Oréal USA, which purchased Clarisonic’s owner, Pacific Bioscience Laboratories.

What’s your assessment of the beauty industry?

It’s fast moving, dynamic and very fluid. And it’s always looking for the next best thing. Currently, a lot of that is coming out of doctors’ offices and spas and then transitioning over to the cosmetics world. The main issue with that is when you go to a doctor’s office and get a 10-percent Trichloroacetic acid peel...if you want to sell that at Bergdorf Goodman, you can’t offer big bottles of acid and say, “Here, brush this on your face.” You have to soften the approach, but to a level where consumers see some benefit. But it’s not exactly what you get at a doctor’s office.

What do you think the industry needs to pay attention to most in the year ahead?

Let’s look even further out to the next five years. Baby Boomers are really maturing. They all are looking for the thing that will help keep them looking good. Another key area is young people. They are concerned about—almost obsessed with—fine lines and wrinkles and their appearance. A lot of people purchase products for problems that they already have. It’s difficult to convince someone to buy a product to prevent something from happening, especially if you are 20 years old and don’t have a line on your face. There has to be another marketing angle: Maintain the appearance of the skin. Clarisonic makes your skin more in balance. That’s the key. As soon as you get your skin out of balance, problems occur. You need to create products that aren’t going to throw your skin out of balance, but keep it in balance.

How and what made you want to get into beauty?
My background is infectious disease immunology. I was working on the AIDS virus for about eight years, including for four years at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. I was looking to set up my own lab and saw a tiny classified ad looking for a scientist with a background in inflammation. It was for Sonicare toothbrush... The primary inventor of Sonicare, David Giuliani, sold that company to Phillips to start [Pacific Bioscience Laboratories]. We didn’t know what market we were going to go into. We looked at market trends and saw that skin care was going to continue to grow for many years. Then we went down the road of LEDs, looking to kill bacteria that causes acne. This was before any LEDs were on the market. Then we looked at sonic technology for acne. We discovered something that could actually cleanse the skin better than you could by hand. It keeps your skin in balance and is very gentle to use. That’s how we got started. My background has come in handy because the skin is an amazing organ. When I took immunology, skin was defined as the first barrier to any invasion. Now, many years later, it’s considered a very dynamic organ that is constantly monitoring the outside environment. It can tell you whether you should accept something on your skin or reject it. It actually has memory. If you apply something bad on your skin it immediately lets you know by swelling up or getting itchy. Most people don’t realize that there is a bio film all over the exterior of your skin. That film of bacteria needs to be in balance.

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