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Future Perfect

Nancy McDonald and Salvador Pliego

Nancy: I recently came across an evolutionary timeline of cosmetic products in the Western World. It begins with the heady fragrant oils and milk baths, kohl and henna of biblical times—while red lips and cheeks-o-plenty, emphasized with a strategically placed beauty spot, were the rage during Europe’s Age of Enlightenment. Enchantee!

The official coming out of the Gilded Age’s new “it” woman—who sported bow lips, freshly bobbed hair and rouged bee’s knees—was the ever-Roaring ’20s, a time when female beauty truly took on new meaning. And who could forget the glory days of cosmetics in the latter part of the 20th century, choreographed by the greats of the beauty industry—Lauder, Revson, Rubenstein and Arden.

Fragrance was re-defined, and its usage became broad; makeup reflected the sign of the times with its natural and innocent approach, while skin care became serious business. Beauty was indeed booming, and everyone was riding high—believing that the upward spiral was limitless. Those were the halcyon days, but now we face the very un-roaring 21st century. The beauty industry’s day of reckoning has finally arrived, and it’s not pretty.

It’s like the beauty products timeline has come to a halt. Is it possible that we are on the brink of extinction?

Salvador: Yes, you have referenced that concern once or twice, but it still amazes me how marketing has tended to overreact to the economic climate.

Let’s keep this in perspective, my friend. Didn’t you recently make an insightful point in this very column (June 2009) that this “cold shower” we are now experiencing provides the impetus to re-evaluate our approach to business? That it gives us the opportunity to reinstate our “magic?” I would rather describe this as: When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

Coincidentally, though, I’ve also been thinking about our slow state-of-the-business, but I certainly think we are far from extinct. In fact, I have no doubt whatsoever that we beauty-centrics will turn this around. We have attitude; we have know-how; we have passion. And, more than any other time in history, we have proven scientific platforms—cutting-edge and empirically proven. If we play our cards right here, this could be an incredibly exciting time to be a part of this crazy industry.

The one thing that you and I never disagree upon is that the partnership of R&D and marketing is, at its best, amazingly productive. Unfortunately, in too many cases, marketing has pushed the breakthrough jargon to the limit without the proper scientific legs to support it. However, now, with so many of our discoveries being certified through rigorous in vitro and in vivo clinicals, just imagine the wealth of products we can create in the near future as a tribute to consumers.

Nancy: Speaking of the future ... we hear a lot about dynamic DNA, genius growth factors, gene manipulation and how sexy stem cells can be. Ingredient vehicles and delivery systems are being promoted in the industry and by the beauty press as the new frontier in cosmetic products. Is this the future that you are foretelling?

Salvador: I can sense your mind racing with the possibilities already, but hold your horses. These intriguing technologies may be sexy in marketing-speak, but let’s take a closer look at both those that have and have not yet achieved a scientific level of credibility.

Let’s first consider gene manipulation, human stem cells and DNA technologies are three intriguing newcomers that are still in their infancy, and certainly warrant our attention. But—and it’s a big BUT—further investigation and trials to determine both the efficacy and long-term safety need to be seriously pursued.

At the moment, though each of them have serious potential for and consideration from the medical/pharmaceutical fields, many in the beauty industry’s scientific community feel that their serious debut in cosmetics is still far away.

Epidermal growth factors, which are not as new, are currently in use by some beauty manufacturers, but these growth factors still manage to cause some stir and controversy among R&D teams. Again, a lack of in-depth and conclusive clinical and safety testing gives some pause. The jury is definitely still out on this one.

On the other hand, there are exciting areas of exploration going on that have breakthrough potential and have been deemed successful in the pharmaceutical arena. Probiotics is a great example. Research indicates that it is likely possible to modify our gut flora and replace the harmful microorganisms/bacteria in our bodies with the good, healthy kind. Thus far, people have been encouraged by the results.

Why shouldn’t we take those learnings and replicate them in skin care? Perhaps there is a way to replace the harmful bacteria in our skin that causes negative skin conditions such as acne with ones that keep the skin healthy and protected. What do you think of the term “skinbiotics?”

Nancy: Your brilliance often blinds me, Salvador. Why didn’t the marketing community think of this? Seriously, this has the ring of the real deal. I’m spinning my marketing concept already: natural probiotics act as the catalyst in the war between the “good” and the “evil” bacteria. Even has a touch of Star Wars, no?

But, importantly, a technology with the power of probiotics could help clarify the message to our consumers that we can create formulas that are naturally good for them and provide state-of-the-art scientific performance. So far, sadly, the beauty industry’s message to consumers on this very subject has often been ambiguous and confusing. The industry has not brought home the point that science and nature can work in harmony—the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The use of probiotics would be a perfect example of a perfect combo: science and nature; nature and science. Shouldn’t this be a key objective in the future of the industry? Salvador: A beauty Star Wars campaign might be a bit much, but you certainly are right on the money insofar as maximizing the combination of nature and science for the future. And I have another exciting example of an emerging scientific platform that illustrates how the science/nature combination works together for a happy marriage.

Mankind has been reliant on plant actives for thousands of years. Now we are beginning to gain a better understanding of how the plant kingdom survives and thrives even under the most adverse of conditions.

Each plant has adapted a survival mechanism that allows it to live and flourish regardless of any harmful environmental circumstance. I’ll reference one of my favorite examples—apple stem cells. These cells rely on the epigenetic factors from the apple, based upon their property of surviving harsh winters while maintaining the fruit characteristics. These properties have now been translated into an ingredient that has been shown to improve skin’s healthy maintenance while stimulating the stem cell activity of human epidermal cells. The bottom line: It increases the epidermal cells’ life expectancy. Leveraging the power of these plants provides a wealth of opportunity for the beauty industry.

Marine algae that float on the surface of the ocean are sources of another plant active, albeit with a different type of mechanism, that we are closely studying. These algae are constantly exposed to the sun’s damaging UV light, yet the algae not only stay alive, but flourish despite prolonged exposure because they contain a powerful recovery active. Yet another example, desert plants require protection and moisture retention for survival. This has inspired us to create a facsimile of this technology for long-lasting protection and moisture on skin.

Nancy: All too often, we overuse the word innovation, but these types of innovations rock—and bring home the message that, yet again, innovation should be the critical part of a beauty compass for the future.

I’d like to recall the battle cry that Salvador and I have made our own: reevaluate, revamp, reinvigorate. It is clear that it’s being picked up, and science continues to deliver some incredibly creative tools by applying this cry to what nature has already provided. Beauty industry gurus, the R&D scientists, never dreamed of the technological and ingredient ammunition they now have at their command. A far cry from those beauty tools from the past.

You’re quite right, Salvador. It’s time to take the painful lessons we are currently in the midst of (dealt to us by economy) and learn from them—to capitalize on the power of these discoveries that have shown to be proven and safe scientific breakthroughs. Our cosmetics time line is currently in frantic search of a new signature. Let’s get our pens ready.

Salvador: Agreed, but let’s not trade sexy, dynamic or intriguing for the reputation of the industry. Sadly, some of its players have often come to the brink on this point. Rather than capitalize on the jargon of unproven technology to give a brand hype, it is the beauty industry’s critical responsibility to be diligent about what is put in a bottle—it must be that which is scientifically proven to be effective through rigorous testing, and, most importantly for consumers, safe over the long term. We must be vigilant about the proper and improper use of science for beauty. There are inherent dangers if not used wisely.

To embellish on the words of eminent scientist Carl Sagan, “You have to know about the past to understand the present.” I would add—and to target the future.

Nancy: I am moved by the poet within you, Salvador. Now, come on. Let’s get cracking on those intriguing probiotics of which you’ve spoken. Time’s a-wastin.’

Nancy McDonald is president of McDonald Marketing.

Salvador Pliego is senior director, technical customer service, R&D and Latin America sales for Tri-K.

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