Pete Born

Pete Born heads into the lab with some of beauty’s leading thinkers.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 02/10/2012

This is the era of products smart enough to think for themselves. Steady advances in science over the last two decades reached a crescendo last year with makeup and skin care formulas from companies like Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Dior, to name a few, that can adjust themselves when encountering oily or dry patches of skin.

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Other color products can shift intensity of hue, depending on lighting conditions—whether the wearer is indoors or out in bright sunlight. Then there’s new magic molecules, like in Lancôme’s Visionnaire Advanced Skin Corrector, designed to ease a raft of sins from wrinkles to pigment blotches and even to scars. These products don’t just sit on the face, they work there.

“It is the future,” says Janet Pardo, senior vice president of global product development at Clinique. “I see it going forward in skin care and I see it advancing in makeup.”

The science of beauty has taken such a leap that some scientific leaders, like Lionel de Benetti, head of research and development at Groupe Clarins, dream of the ultimate. He believes that one day a single “miracle” ingredient will power a single cream that can deal with a cross section of major issues—working on fibroblasts, melanocytes, free radicals and the cell renewal mechanism—for not only all skin types but at every age, despite the changing needs in the various life stages.

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“This is my dream and it is a nightmare of the marketing team,” he quips with a hearty chuckle. “Imagine, one cream.”

De Benetti believes that the miracle ingredient will be found—and it may take 20 years—in a natural active ingredient because plants are so complex. “Sometimes they have several hundred molecules, he says. We are closer to the solution, but we are not still in the solution.”

Patricia Pineau, L’Oréal’s scientific communications director, points to YSL Beauté’s Forever Youth Liberator skin care product, whose formula uses breakthroughs in the study of glycobiology. As stated in a presentation last October, the company was able to produce synthetic glycans, improving communication between cells, restructuring skin tissues and regenerating the dermal-epidermal junction to decrease the most common signs of aging. Pineau talks about biological modulating and tracking the effects of stress on the skin, or what she calls “bugs” like redness or perspiration. New molecules are able to multitarget different maladies, she notes, adding that one can target epidermis renewal and also target the cohesion in the double junction between two skin layers, impacting the elasticity of the skin. Another function affects the level of plumpness of the skin. These bugs are products of daily stress. Pineau points out that during the summer in the U.S., a woman may be outside in the heat, then go inside into the frigid air conditioning, where her skin feels dry and stretched. In Russia, she may see blood vessels appearing in the cold.

Lancôme’s Visionnaire is designed to attack a multitude of maladies with a single new molecule and YSL’s Forever uses three. Another area of research involves the study of teeming microbes swarming over the surface of the body, keeping the skin healthy. These microbes can communicate with those in the human gut, raising the possibility of using that connection to better manage the status of the skin.

The beauty of skin is largely a matter of transparency, Pineau notes, making it an optical phenomenon triggered by the reflection, or diffraction, of light rays as they pass through the layers of skin. The degree of transparency, which alters appearance, can be manipulated by pigment. “How we design the products takes into account the end points,” Pineau concludes.

Anne Carullo, senior vice president of global product development at Estée Lauder and Tom Ford Beauty, agrees that adaptive products are now on the industry’s cutting edge. One obvious area is the effect of lighting on makeup. By coating the pigmentation with material that is light sensitive, makeup can be made to adjust the intensity of its hues, depending on the garishness of surrounding light. Smart technology has become so commonplace, Carullo says, that it has become standard in Lauder’s product development approach. She agrees with de Benetti in saying that fewer active ingredients are now being used in formulas, compared with 10 years ago. This has advantages, particularly in other development avenues.

Carullo says she wants to do more treatment products where antiaging ingredients are infused into water, making the product more lightweight and improving penetration into the skin, thereby increasing efficacy. These treatment waters have taken a foothold in Asia, she adds, and they are about a year away from making an appearance in the West. Lauder has used clever stratagems in R&D. One is a strategy by Dr. Daniel Maes, Lauder’s great R&D chief now retired, that uses a “false alarm” technique. A formula would contain fragments of collagen or bits of hyaluronic acid, as in the case of the updated Advanced Night Repair. That would trick the skin into thinking these substances were breaking down and it would start producing a replenishment. This is a far cry from the Seventies, when a company “would put collagen in a jar and expect it to do something. That was hope in jar,” Carullo observes.

Pardo likens the supermolecules now in use to “heat-seeking missiles” that can pinpoint and take care of damaged parts of the skin.

It all started simply enough, back during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, when scientists noticed spots of clear water in the middle of the slick. Algae had eaten the oil. Pardo and others reasoned that 75 to 80 percent of women have combination skin, with dry parts that require moisture and oily areas in need of mattification. Hence was born Clinique’s Superbalanced Makeup, in 1997, which still sells well. “What good is it to be in full makeup only to have a shiny nose at lunchtime?” asks Pardo.

The advent of smart makeup in the Nineties signified the tip of a solution to a marketing goal that had eluded the industry for decades. “It is the best way to customize formulations,” Pardo declares.

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