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Inventing Success

Rachel L. Grabenhofer
  • Conflicting concepts have shifted R&D’s focus to specific aspects of greenness.
  • The industry has taken a defensive stance to skin care with the development of materials that are mild to skin and that act on or support the skin’s natural defense mechanisms.
  • As conceptualization, engineering, formulating and testing continue to unlock secrets, ideas are built on them that take the industry to the brink of what’s next.

“Doubt everything you know,” attendees were told during a Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC) meeting in November 2009. And although the comment was made in reference to the skeptical nature essential to science, those words can also apply to economics. Take the hard knocks of the past year or so, for example, which rather unexpectedly uprooted many and left the rest unsure of whether they are standing on solid ground or thin ice. In this climate of constant flux, it has been difficult to forecast financial expectations beyond one year.

Yet despite chewed fingernails, the growth (or loss) of gray hairs, and the deepening of expression wrinkles, the industry remains hopeful. Why? For one, consumers are still buying beauty products—in some cases to combat these effects from a stressful economy. In fact, Euromonitor International has projected product sales in the global cosmetics and personal care market to increase approximately 9% by 2013, totaling almost $364 billion (see Euromonitor’s “State of the Industry: Bright Spots Remain in Down Market” at or the June 2009 print issue).

While these projections remain uncertain, major multinational brand owners do see a glimmer of hope on the horizon. For example, L’Oréal reported third quarter improvements in 2009 in its professional products and active cosmetics divisions, not to mention strong progress in its consumer products division.

In October 2009, P&G reported that, although overall numbers were down (with the exception of hair care), net sales for the July–September quarter exceeded expectations. Shiseido noted that while sales in Europe and the U.S. were down between 5–10%, sales in China and other Asian countries have been growing at a steady rate, specifically in over-the-counter (OTC) sales. And Natura recorded an impressive 43.9% increase from the third quarter of 2008 to 2009 in terms of net revenue from international operations.*

Corporate strategies to weather this economy are multifaceted, and range from cutting business units and focusing on core competencies to acquiring new businesses. The good news for R&D is that companies recognize the importance of innovation to their success. For instance, L’Oréal attributed its growth in part to innovation, stating “particular emphasis has been placed on affordable innovation, a strategy [that] will pay off in the coming quarters.” In P&G’s report, Bob McDonald, president and CEO, was encouraged by the results, which he thought were indicative of making the right choices, such as investing in innovation. According to the company Web site, P&G invests more than $2 billion annually in innovation, which is “important because innovation improves consumer value and leads to profitable market share growth.” Shiseido also emphasized innovation in its strategy for success. Shinzo Maeda, president and CEO of Shiseido Co., Ltd., reported that one factor behind the company’s increase in OTC sales is “enormous support from customers for products with innovative functions [that] are differentiated from rival products and existing products.”

With the industry’s sights set on innovation, one thing’s for sure: It’s R&D’s time to shine, which it has—even in the most trying of economic climates. There’s a saying that “necessity is the mother of invention,” which seems to be the case for the current state of beauty R&D. Molecules are becoming smarter, formulas more efficient, and dollars are stretching like never before. The following is a sampling of this ingenuity from 2009.

Greenness Revisited

While the market for natural beauty products continues to grow, R&D has struggled with inconsistent definitions for what’s natural. Terms such as eco-friendly, sustainable and green have complicated the market, along with the consumer perception that natural means safer. R&D has thus been challenged to develop products based on materials found in nature that are derived from sustainable sources, produced through eco-friendly means, are safe and provide efficacy, and that create a smaller carbon footprint—all, ironically, with little or no alteration to the original material. Add to these demands the general desire to omit ingredients having bad press such as sulfates, silicones and preservatives, and the ability of formulators to design safe and effective products becomes impeded by the overriding demand that they be natural. As Steve Schnittger of Estée Lauder has expressed, a little preservative is safer than a host of harmful bacteria growing in an under-preserved product.

These conflicting concepts have shifted R&D’s focus to specific aspects of greenness—i.e., renewable, sustainable, nature-derived—that can marry something tangible to the marketing claim. Rather than developing products that are entirely natural, R&D has made them as natural as possible and produced them in eco-friendly ways, yet maintains that in many cases, some synthetic components really are necessary to provide the desired efficacy.

Following this mind-set of making products as green as possible, raw material suppliers have devised internal metrics to classify the greenness of the materials they supply.

One company, for example, introduced a Biorenewable Carbon Index that calculates the percentage of carbon in a material that is derived from biorenewable resources to provide a product rating. Another company began to internally rate ingredients with one to four green leaves to indicate what portion of natural, renewable components it contains—one leaf for a product based on natural materials but chemically combined with molecules from synthetic feedstocks, and up to four leaves to indicate a product derived entirely from natural, renewable feedstocks and purified using water, alcohol or energy treatment processes. Such ratings and metrics allow suppliers to transparently communicate with formulators to provide them varying levels of green or natural options.

Besides the raw materials, efforts to improve the chemistries used in producing them have been underway; entire product lines and new joint ventures have even been founded around making existing products and processes eco-friendlier.

During the SCC Annual Scientific Seminar in Chicago, for example, Arch Personal Care’s Smitha Rao introduced the company’s fermentation process to produce resveratrol for antiaging applications. This process uses a species of yeast to ferment the phytochemical resveratrol.

In fact, Elevance Renewable Sciences, a company founded in 2008 on the principle of green processing, hosted a media event that featured a panel discussion on green chemistry. During this event, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Robert Grubbs, PhD, shared his insights on the concept of green chemistry and the company’s technology used to convert renewable resources into specialty chemicals.

“These chemicals are important,” said Grubbs. “Evidence to this fact lies in the [chemical] market’s interest in them. Four of the last nine Nobel Prizes [in chemistry] have been awarded for work on catalysts. The other five were on biology.” Grubbs added that catalysts can reduce the number of by-products formed from chemical reactions and can create new products from old materials by scrambling the double bonds between carbon molecules. “It’s really exciting to watch this technology,” he said, adding that “catalysts will open up an amazing array of new materials. It will be a fun time.”

Defensive Skin Care

In addition to the safety of the environment, R&D has put great efforts into ensuring consumer safety. To the beauty industry, securing consumer safety means both protection from potential reactions to substances and protection from the elements. Evidence of both aspects exists in the literature, posters and presentations at R&D events, which recently have focused heavily on anti-irritancy, anti-inflammation, probiotics and natural microflora, and sensitive skin care. The industry has taken a defensive stance to skin care with the development of materials that are mild to skin and that act on or support the skin’s natural defense mechanisms to protect against external assaults such as UV radiation and pollution that cause aging, dryness, inflammation, etc.

For example, in a paper presented at the SCC Annual Scientific Seminar in Chicago, Howard Epstein of EMD Chemicals discussed the application of bioflavonoids from the adaptogenic herbs emblica and ginseng to increase the body’s resistance to stress. His analysis showed that tiliroside, an enzyme that decreases in the skin with age, could be upregulated. In another study, Françoise Arnold and team from MMP, examined the metabolism of vitamin D in skin to determine how it relates to skin barrier function, the activation of antimicrobial peptides, the photoprotection of skin, and protection against cell death.

Nu Skin’s Helen Knaggs introduced a newly discovered enzyme related to intrinsic aging—the age-related NOX or arNOX enzyme. The activity of this enzyme has been found to increase with age and correlate with whether individuals look young or old for their age; her work suggests a new target for antiaging actives. Another approach to antiaging from CoValence’s K.G. Sabarinathan proposed nourishing the mitochondria in skin cells. It was shown that certain materials prompted DNA repair and supported mitochondrial nutrition.

Work by Johann Wiechers, PhD, revealed a novel mechanism of skin moisturization, and also rallying the skin’s defenses, in this case for sun protection, Isabelle Imbert and team from ISP/Vincience described a pea-derived extract that assists skin in “switching on” its own melanin content. The extract was shown in a time- and dose-dependent manner to optimize the skin’s natural melanin production upon exposure to sunlight.

Finally, in a dual-sided approach to antiaging, IBR Ltd.’s Liki von Oppen-Bezalel proposed a cosmetic active based on both a dormant Narcissus tazetta bulb extract, which was shown to slow the cell turnover rate, thereby preserving cells in a younger state. This material was combined with colorless carotenoids to absorb UV radiation and protect the skin from oxidative stress and photodamage. Her approach aimed to reduce the signs of aging both intrinsically and extrinsically. (For more information on intrinsic and extrinsic aging, see “A Closer Look at Intrinsic Aging” by Steven Herman at or the April 2009 issue.)

Making Waves in Hair

Because hair is only alive at the root, innovation opportunities are somewhat limited in this area. Nonetheless, R&D is making waves in hair—literally and figuratively—and has shown innovative work via a variety of approaches; from hair shine, color, detangling, friction and hold; to lubricity, moisture, smoothness and wetting, among others. Hair care is a major focus at the TRI/Princeton research institute in New Jersey, where areas such as the influence of biological stress on hair growth, environmental effects on hair quality, hair uptake of drugs and nutrients, ethnic hair care, and analysis and quantification of damage are being explored.

Raw material developers in the industry also are exploring concepts for hair care. For example, improving hair strength was a primary focus of Cognis GmbH’s Hans-Martin Haake and team, which developed a micro-wax dispersion to provide conditioning and anti-hair breakage properties to hair. Croda’s Timothy Gao and team sought to preserve the color of hair with a broad-spectrum UV filter, whereas Cognis GmbH’s Matthias Hloucha imparted an eco-friendly aspect to hair care with a “green” microemulsion to improve the conditioning and combing performance of natural shampoos. And work by one company has shown that glycolic acid can be used to enhance the protection and manageability of hair. Others are working to reduce the harshness of hair relaxers, dyes and bleaches, and to develop actives to effectively help re-grow hair; and interestingly, Wiechers has considered hair as a route to deliver actives into the skin via the hair follicle.

Obviously, far more work is under way in these areas of hair and skin care than can be described in just a few paragraphs—although the examples given here are highly impressive. Such a level of invention requires equally advanced means to substantiate the efficacy and ensure the safety of such materials. R&D had a busy year of development in this area as well.

To the Brink

As conceptualization, engineering, formulating and testing continue to unlock secrets, ideas are built on them that take the industry to the brink of what’s next. So, what might that future hold? Following are a few of this author’s best guesses.

Gaining stability: While work has already been under way to stabilize sunscreens, new approaches continually emerge that improve upon the ones before.

Antioxidants revisited: Besides UV filters, antioxidants such as vitamin C are prone to degradation and sensitive to light or heat. And while their natural disposition makes them desirable as natural actives, their nature poses a challenge to formulators. A recent patent, however, described methods and ingredients to improve the stability of vitamin C derivatives. This concept also could lead to the development of new skin-whitening agents.

Stem cells: While the term stem cells implies a foetal-derived extract, in personal care, it more often refers to either protecting/acting upon consumers’ own stem cells or using plant-derived stem cell materials. Research with grapes and apples has yielded ingredients that can preserve and stimulate human stem cells and delay signs of aging. These materials not only satisfy the demand for antiaging efficacy, they are also nature-derived and provide an interesting sell point. (See “Stem Cells— A Widening Horizon” by Aran Puri at or the October 2009 issue. Nancy McDonald and Salvador Pliego have also offered takes on stem cells in their “Marketing and R&D Magic” column.)


Vernix caseosa: Speaking of infants, research into the characteristics of Vernix caseosa (the substance, composed of sebum that covers and protects the skin of the fetus) has implications for highly effective skin care. As Wiechers wrote, evidence shows the material acts as a barrier cream that corrects moisturization levels within the skin. In addition, it improves skin barrier recovery by creating and maintaining a water activity level that allows enzymes to function properly. However, since Vernix caseosa is insufficiently available, synthetic analogues are being developed that mimic the semi-permeable nature of the material.

Formulating efficiencies: During the New York SCC Suppliers’ Day, Biosil’s Doug De Blasi told Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine that it’s “not just about ingredient efficacy, it’s also about efficiency—especially now.” For some time, Wiechers has described the concept of “Formulating for Efficacy,” which refers to designing a formula in such as way that the ingredients are combined to leverage benefits of each. Based on this concept, ingredients with multiple functions emerged; and now, innovators are pushing them even further to create greater efficiencies. While multifunctional products are not a new concept, combining their efficiencies in deliberate ways is—at least in the mainstream. Fragrance that doubles as an antiaging active is a recent development in this area. Other synergies between materials have been commercialized, but are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible.

Transformer materials: Beyond formulating efficiencies, intelligent ingredients are being engineered to not only act via novel mechanisms and provide smart delivery, but also to transform when a specific stimulus is applied. One such example, presented at the IFSCC Conference in Melbourne by Merck’s René Scheurich, involved modifying known anti-UV actives to form intelligent skin care actives that convert under sunlight to their counterpart UV absorbers. According to Scheurich, the degree of this conversion is dose-dependent and can therefore be used to ensure intelligent UV protection based on exposure amount.

Attendees at the meeting were intrigued by this technology, especially for markets such as the U.S., where the approval of new UV filters is a rare occurrence. As one attendee suggested, since the material begins as one material but photo-coverts to another, this could be a work-around to such regulatory hurdles.


While few (if any) companies have escaped feeling at least some effects from the downturned economy, it is obvious that innovation remains strong and is necessary to continued survival—especially in such a competitive marketplace. After the dust settles in the next year or so, this author predicts that companies that have scaled back on investments in R&D will need to revisit this decision, rethink their strategy and revive this vital organ to ensure their longer-term life.

So what’s the overall state of the cosmetics R&D industry? We’re inventing success.

* More information on these companies’ financial performance is available at Links are provided to the full fiscal statements.

This feature is courtesy of Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine. An unabridged version, including additional ingredient information and a section on testing, appears in the 2010 edition of C&T magazine’s The Guide.

Rachel L. Grabenhofer is the senior editor of Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine.

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