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The Role of Science in Beauty

By: Liz Grubow and Elle Morris
Posted: April 27, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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While the visual representations of scientific concepts are evident throughout popular art and culture, the process has a practical application as well: It is essential to building the narrative needed to commercialize these innovations. Consumers of beauty products are emotionally invested in a desire for physical transformation, but still require a logical framework in which to place new products claiming wrinkle reduction or teeth whitening.

In other words, while we may believe it is the product we seek—and subsequently purchase—it is science that truly delivers the actual transformation and satiates the underlying emotional desire. Thus, it is crucial that a product’s target consumer has a basic understanding of the science behind the product’s purported beauty benefit. Enter visualization, or a smart and succinct symbol of a scientific concept that allows the consumer to understand how science makes a product work.

Lancôme has mastered effective scientific visualization. Since its creation in 1935, the role of Lancôme’s rose emblem has evolved beyond a logo, taking on a central role in the brand’s communications. In recent decades, Lancôme’s designers have taken inspirational cues from science, particularly the wire frame design used in digital technology, computing and mathematics. Additionally, the rose has been photographed in motion to communicate oscillation. Using the same visual representations scientists rely upon to explain lofty concepts, the rose evolved as the primary visual platform for illustrating the science at play within Lancôme’s various formulas.

The Next Essential Ingredient

Over the course of history, discoveries fueled by industry, medicine, space and war have filtered down into innovation in beauty. For example, a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution introduced chemicals that could perm or color hair. The Information Age’s discovery of plant cell composition led to the integration of natural ingredients into beauty products, and with the ability to clone cells, chemicals and plants have been replaced with people as the essential ingredient of better beauty.

Specifically, recent discoveries have emerged from medical research with enormous potential applications for anti-aging and beauty products and procedures. In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology for the discovery of telomeres—regions at the end of a chromosome that protect its structural integrity but shorten each time a chromosome replicates. Scientists have isolated the enzyme that controls the process of replacing lost DNA, sparking further research into the ability to harness and manipulate this enzyme to influence cancer therapy and the aging process. As a result, telomeres present a potential marketing boon for anti-aging pills and treatments that claim they can now stave off, and even reverse, the lines and wrinkles that come with aging.