What's New in Cosmetic R&D
Cosmetics and skin care are growing ever closer and R&D departments are scrambling to overcome speed-to-market barriers for new technology.
The American public is obsessed with numbers. We discuss TV ratings, mutual fund indices, box office grosses, public opinion polls, free agent negotiations and movie star contracts with an acuity that belies our country's diminishing math skills. We need the inside scoop and we need to measure it against numerical standards. "As a country, we read a lot of labels," said Angela Torbick, product manager for MD Formulations and MD Forte. "We're flooded with information about ingredients, so we look for what's inside the product, what makes it stand out from other products." This compulsion to get at the nuts-and-bolts is putting pressure on skin care and cosmetics marketers, who pass the pressure directly onto the R&D departments.
Richard Maksimoski, director of product development for Andrew Jergens, agreed with Ms. Torbick's take on the significance of labels. He mentioned that a new moisturizer in test markets from Johnson & Johnson promotes its unique qualities on its product labeling. "Nowadays, consumers want to see innovation," said Mr. Maksimoski. "Being a 'me-too' company just doesn't cut it anymore. R&D has to develop products that contain what I call the 'Oh, wow!' factor."
Andrew Jergens scored its biggest "Oh, wow!" with the Bioré pore strip. For a follow-up, the company released the successful Self-Heating Mask, which Mr. Maksimoski said tripled the size of the facial mask category. This spring, Bioré has launched extra-strength pore strips, facial cleansing cloths and Fine Line Gel Patches, which contain a special ingredient to fortify elastin fibers in the skin. The latter product is intended for more mature consumers than the usual Bioré demographic, a group that few marketers can ignore.
The Baby Boomer juggernaut has changed the face of cosmetic and skin care R&D, according to Francine Porter, co-founder and executive vice president of Denver-based Osmotics. "This is the most educated generation in American history ever to hit 50, it's doing well financially, it's getting older and it's very vain," she remarked. All these factors have combined to create a highly sophisticated consumer group that wants tomorrow's multifunctional skin care and cosmetic technologies yesterday.
Don't Get Burned
Compounding the pressure of consumer sophistication is the growing number of consumers who characterize their skin as "sensitive" and demand appropriately mild formulas. Some of the trend may be psychosomatic (consumers insist they are special and therefore require special products), but Joe Feller, founder of Skin Technologies Group, an R&D consultancy firm, contends that people are getting more sensitive all the time. "The increase is related to environmental changes," said Mr. Feller. "There are changes in the air, in the water, in our diets; all of which contributes to sensitive skin."
However, Mr. Feller also blamed sensitive skin on another factor. "As the category has grown, less sophisticated players have entered the market," said Mr. Feller. These companies have shown less consideration in their choice of ingredients, according to Mr. Feller. Consumers have a "once bitten, twice shy" viewpoint when it comes to irritancy, he remarked. "As a result, consumers have found themselves suffering from irritated skin. And after one exposure to it, they move to sensitive skin products and never go back."
To help consumers avoid the burn, itch and red skin of irritation, La Jolla, CA-based Cosmederm has developed a strontium nitrate-based anti-irritant. Cosmederm-7 has received several patents and has made its way into several products. One of the salt forms of Cosmederm-7 recently received EU approval as a cosmetic ingredient and will be codified in an upcoming European Commission directive. "Cosmederm-7 can be a big help in transcending the irritation barrier, which has prevented alpha-hydroxy acids from taking the next leap in consumer products," said Dr. Gary Hahn, Cosmederm's president and chief technology officer.
Cosmederm-7 is currently being used in Enfuselle C+E Repair P.M. from Shaklee Corp. In addition, Collagen Corp. is using the anti-irritant in its new 70% Glycolic Peel. The product has a pH of 0.6, which heightens the efficacy of the AHA. "Free acid content is critical for AHA-based products," said Dr. Hahn. "What most consumers don't realize is that high AHA concentration is nullified if the pH is too high." With a proper anti-irritant, he added, products can retain a low pH, boosting AHA performance and allowing the AHA trend to continue.
Problems with irritancy drove the development of the MD Formulations AHA+Vitamin line. Said Ms. Torbick, "We built this line around an alpha retinol complex that provides strong benefits with no irritation." She agreed with Dr. Hahn that consumers still don't know enough about AHAs. "There's still a belief that 'It has to hurt to work,' when it comes to AHAs, but we know that isn't the case."
The company's AHA research also led it to develop Moisture Defense Antioxidant Hydrating Serum. The serum features AHA derived from lactic acid and includes timed-release ultra-rich phytoceramides, humectants and other lipids to enhance skin's barrier protection. Moisture Defense helps skin defend against moisture loss, future damage, fine lines, wrinkles and irritation.
R&D personnel are focused on the future, but that doesn't mean they can't reassess ingredients from the past and give them new life. One of the biggest developments in cosmetic R&D has been a throwback to years past. Marketers have flooded the sector with vitamin C-based products and are putting in overtime to improve their products. "Vitamin C has seen an incredible renaissance," said Alex Znaiden, the director of Chesebrough-Pond's Skin Innovation Center. "Both vitamin C and retinol came on the scene in the mid-1980s, and now they're being treated as revolutionary new actives." Mr. Znaiden commented that most ingredients never disappear forever. "They always come back," he remarked. "I liken it to the Nietzschean theory of eternal recurrence."
That may be fine for the übermensch, but the average Joe (and Jane) still has to worry about wrinkles and photoaging. Ingredients don't usually make comebacks unless they deliver results. Vitamin C has been credited with a number of positive effects, such as collagen production, protection from free radicals and correction of hyper-pigmentation. Unfortunately, it's also notoriously unstable, quickly oxidizing on contact with air. R&D departments have been struggling with the problem for years, developing a variety of approaches to deliver stable vitamin C to skin.
Chesebrough-Pond's recently received a patent for a silicone C stabilization/aesthetic system. The company's Skin Innovation Center is exploring vitamin C applications. Mr. Znaiden remarked, "There's still a lot to learn about vitamin C. The first thing marketers have to accept is that, structurally, vitamin C is an AHA, and its performance will be affected by the same factors that influence other AHAs: concentration and pH." Mr. Znaiden pointed out that 15% concentration is the highest level commercially available. "But we don't really know what happens at 25% concentration or higher." Mr. Znaiden said that his personal anti-aging formula used to be an 18% form of vitamin C. "But that was before Pond's developed Age-Defying Formula," he said, promoting one of his company's successful skin care products.
Last year, Avon's R&D introduced the AVC10 molecule for exfoliation and anti-sagging properties. The vitamin C-based ingredient was introduced in Night Force cream and is featured in the Day Force Vertical Lifting Lotion. AVC10 enables the lotion to protect against photoaging and exposure to pollution and UV radiation while promoting elastin and lipid production. The company also began employing AVC10 in its Beyond Color Foundation to provide effective and mild exfoliation with vitamin C benefits. Said Harold Pahlck, Avon's director of color cosmetics R&D, "Avon has an advantage tying skin care developments into our color cosmetics products. As the two categories grow closer, we have a strategic position."
New York-based Camocare has developed and patented a system to stabilize Ester-C topical 14% vitamin C. The company recently launched Day Skin Firmer cream and Night Skin Firmer cream. The day version contains natural polyhydroxy acids to firm and smooth skin, while night delivers a higher concentration of Ester-C while the consumer sleeps.
Most marketers operate under the "less is more" principle, trying to create multifunctional products to reduce consumer confusion. But Amway's upcoming vitamin C release says that two is better than one. The company plans to launch a two-stage vitamin C product this spring. With components isolated in two separate vials, the vitamin C remains relatively stable until mixed, according to Ron Sharpe, senior group leader of Artistry R&D global.
Ampac USA, Santa Rosa, CA, recently jumped on the vitamin C bandwagon with the OrangeDaily skin care line. Mainly a private label company, Ampac elected to develop the line as its own brand. President David Bade commented that OrangeDaily is the only mass market product that contains vitamin C as its main active ingredient. The product, which features a patent pending serum, provides 10% vitamin C. Mr. Bade remarked that vitamin C is going to be as big as AHAs within the next five years. The line consists of daily toner, daily cleanser, moisturizing cream and vitamin C serum.
Many marketers share Mr. Bade's impression of vitamin C's potential, but observers are also keeping an eye out for what will flow out of R&D labs after the C-wave ebbs. Osmotics has already had success with vitamin C in its Antioxidant Skincare Derm patches and now the Denver-based company is introducing a new active to the skin care market. Kinetin, developed by New York-based Senetek, is a plant growth factor that retards aging of plant cells and delays age-related changes in cultured human cells.
Ms. Porter contended that Kinetin has fantastic growth potential and has clinical data to prove it. "Senetek put Kinetin through clinical trials identical to the ones for Renova, right down to the same doctor and the same university," said Ms. Porter. "Kinetin matched or exceeded Renova in many respects, with none of the negative side effects." Kinetin demonstrated significant improvement in the appearance of fine lines, facial wrinkles, mottled skin, hyperpigmentation and skin roughness, according to Ms. Porter. "Most importantly, Kinetin works without exfoliating the skin and without irritation." The company plans to incorporate Kinetin into other products, including its vitamin C patches.
Extensive clinical data has become absolutely necessary for today's consumers, Ms. Porter insisted. "People are saying, 'If I'm paying $90 for this, I want to know what I'm getting.' Spin isn't everything," she commented. "A high-priced ad campaign is fine, but consumers want to hear about real results. Clinical data outweighs pretty commercials."
Mr. Feller agreed that results have become more important than promises for today's consumer. "In the past, consumers were very unsophisticated," he said. "For example, anti-wrinkling creams didn't actually reduce wrinkles; they irritated the eye area, creating puffiness that covered wrinkles for six hours or so." Today, he said, consumers are learning more about technologies, about treatments and about what works and what doesn't. "AHAs were the Holy Grail for much of the decade, but R&D is looking for the next big thing," he remarked. Companies are pursuing a number of free radical scavengers, according to Mr. Feller. "There's plenty of activity with vitamins, enzymes and 'fruit salads,' as I like to call them. In the next few years, we'll see combinations of these, with lots of emphasis on enzymes."
To illustrate the model of new treatment protocols, Mr. Feller cited the performance of 5-a reductase inhibitor for oily skin. "In the past, marketers offered drying agents to consumers with oily skin. But with this enzyme, you can actually help cells stop manufacturing as much oil, cutting down on the problem at its source," he said. "It's a higher notch of treatment protocol. It's a definite break from the past, when marketers had the philosophy of, 'If you can't afford the surgery, we'll fix the X-ray.'" Mr. Feller noted that the enzyme has been anecdotally shown to help reduce oil production in skin.
The Importance of Being Natural
All this talk of enzymes, strontium and synthetic plant growth factors gives an impression that R&D departments operate in an artificial world. But natural and botanical ingredients are also important to consumers and they pose a unique set of challenges to formulators. "Naturals and botanicals can be dodgy for R&D purposes," said Mr. Maksimoski. "It's hard to find an active level of an extract sometimes. Folklore strength can sell a product that 'contains' an extract, but that's a far cry from establishing an active level."
One of the main stumbling blocks to working with new natural ingredients is inconsistent quality. Many marketers are exploring botanicals from third world regions, but between non-standard methods of cultivation and environmental fluctuations (remember El Niño?), crops can have variable levels of ingredients, creating a nightmare for researchers.
Said Jack Mausner, Chanel's senior vice president of R&D, "There is no question that ingredients of natural origin do fluctuate in quality from consignment to consignment." But, he remarked, Chanel has established a relationship between these relatively wide fluctuations and product efficacy. "As long as the ingredients fall within our established limits, we have been very successful in reproducing the activity of our products on a consistent basis."
Lancôme has also developed standards for natural ingredients, choosing ones that have been well-documented. "We tend to use ingredients that we can work with comfortably," said Dr. LyLe Tran, Lancôme's vice president of corporate scientific affairs. "Quality can fluctuate, but we've overcome stability problems with a series of preservative systems." Dr. Tran remarked that natural R&D involves a great deal of experimentation. "There is an art in finding the right levels of use," she said. "The art resides in striking a balance among natural ingredients, uncovering their synergy."
At Estée Lauder, natural ingredients have become even more important following the acquisition of Aveda. Between that ayurvedic company and Estée's Origins company, the marketer is working hard at botanical R&D. Said Dr. Daniel Maes, vice president of R&D, "Activity varies from one supplier to another. We undertake bio-assays for quality control, but there are always battles with suppliers to make sure we get consistent raw materials."
Other marketers contend that they have established consistent relationships with certain suppliers, but admit that it takes a lot of work to develop confidence. Mr. Znaiden said Chesebrough-Pond's tried hops from six different vendors before finding a batch that matched its quality standards. At Amway, the company grows most of its natural ingredients at its Nutrilite farms. Said Mr. Sharpe, "Nutrilite started supplying our nutrient and vitamin brands, but skin care and cosmetics have grown into that area and tapped Nutrilite's expertise." Mr. Sharpe argued that Amway receives a higher level of quality assurance by growing its own materials, enabling it to control crop condition, feedstock and other factors.
To sidestep these problems, R&D departments work to isolate actives from natural ingredients. Dr. Maes' staff recently separated the active antioxidant EGCG from green tea. "By isolating it, we can make it without green tea, reducing our dependence on the crop," said Dr. Maes. Isolation is tricky, though; some actives depend on synergy from countless other ingredients in a natural product and turn out to be relatively inactive once purified.
Larger marketers can devote massive resources to assuring quality standards, but a smaller company makes do with a different kind of expertise. Roxanne Quimby, president of Burt's Bees, inspects raw materials on a regular basis. "We have to test every incoming batch," she commented. "Being a natural company, we don't irradiate products, so there's a lot more work that goes into making sure there's a good batch." Ms. Quimby, an herbalist, contended that she can gauge the efficacy of an herb by looking at it. She admitted this practice can drive her chemist crazy at times.
Faced with self-imposed limitations on the use of synthetic raw materials, the R&D staff at Burt's Bees has had to devise imaginative formulations. "For the longest time, we've been unable to market water-based products, like shampoos, lotions and creams, because natural preservatives won't block bacteria in 50% water systems," said Ms. Quimby. The company recently developed a new preservative system that has enabled it to enter the lotion category. "In the past, we had a very esoteric collection of products. But as we've worked through R&D to develop new systems, we're entering categories that consumers are a lot more familiar with." Under the Burt's Bees Farmer's Market line, the company has launched apple cider vinegar toner, citrus facial scrub and carrot nutritive cream.
When it comes to skin care ingredients, you can't get much more natural than water, and that's what Estée Lauder is pursuing with its R&D initiatives. The success of the company's 100% Time Release Moisturizer in 1996 has led the R&D department to uncover the unique properties of water's cluster compositions. Dr. Maes said water can provide significant breakthroughs in product development. "What we have discovered is that water is not just H2O," said Dr. Maes. "Natural spring water from Utah is a suspension of 77 elements. Keeping all those elements in suspension causes the water molecules to cluster in specific ways and these clusters provide definite biological properties." The most significant property is high moisturization, according to Dr. Maes. "With regular water, you may be able to generate 10-12 hours of moisturization. But with this spring water, moisturization can last up to 26 hours," he remarked.
Rather than rely on the particular combination of elements in water, the Lauder R&D team has developed methods of forcing water molecules to agglomerate in advantageous forms. "By electrifying the water, we can impose particular structures on water," said Dr. Maes. The result is a net increase in the bioactivity of products dissolved in the water.
One molecule that appears to benefit from Estée Lauder's super-water is caffeine. "Clustered water appears to function as an amplifier for many actives, including caffeine," Dr. Maes said. "The anti-irritant properties of caffeine are boosted, affecting cellular receptor sites more easily." And reducing irritation allows for increased efficacy of actives.
Dr. Maes admitted that the company was initially reticent about pursuing this line of research. "It's a very strange angle for a major marketer," said Dr. Maes. "We were very shy about taking this direction." But Dr. Maes is confident that Lauder's water research will bear fruit. "With this research, as with our other R&D initiatives, we're seeing results from our investment. Estée Lauder is creating exact scientific cosmetic products with very specific benefits. We know that there are no miracles in this profession; everything derives from science and rigorous thinking."
Cosmetic R&D has become a non-stop, high-stakes venture to discover the next big thing, while making incremental improvements on the current big thing. Researchers admit that sophisticated consumers have raised the bar on R&D, but they're not fazed. "It'd be nice to slow down and catch our breath," said Mr. Znaiden. "But speed-to-market has become absolutely critical." Mr. Znaiden commented that it's been rewarding to see R&D shift from prestige marketers to a diversified field of players. "Consumers now get prestige-level goods and benefits on the mass market," he said. "We still watch the prestige area closely, but the days are over when they led the industry. Innovation comes from everywhere; we lead ourselves now."