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The cosmetics of care products

Joyce Ryan

Joyce Ryan is a consultant research scientist with over 25 years' specialist expertise in sensory analysis, clinical trials and quantitative research. She worked for Colgate Palmolive's International Personal Care Products R&D Department, starting as product development scientist in hair care. She then moved from formulation to evaluation, developing new techniques in hair care and skin and body care.

For just over two decades, she has run her own consultancy business, supporting R&D departments in industry. She lectured on product evaluation and statistics for the Society of Cosmetic Scientists’ Diploma Course (a part time course hosted by the London College of Fashion), and subsequently assisted in the development of the full time BSc Cosmetic Science Degree course set up by the College. She has been a member of SCI for 25 years.

What are the main preoccupations of your clients in R&D departments in the hair care, skin and body care industries these days?
Anti-ageing products and natural products are still hot topics across the personal care ranges. Anti-ageing skin creams have been with us for many years, but new technologies are constantly emerging to help us all look younger from head to toe, and for longer, without resorting to the cosmetic surgeon’s knife, or muscle-relaxing injections. Natural and organic concepts continue to grow, apparently due to consumer demand, but to the consternation of many cosmetic scientists. debates rage on internet forums and at scientific meetings on the natural versus synthetic chemicals issue – the ‘chemical free’ claims touted by marketers of natural products are, of course, ludicrous.

All substances, whether natural or man-made, are chemicals, so a chemical-free product is impossible. The issue is really the safety of cosmetic ingredients and of course European law enforces stringent controls to ensure all cosmetic products are safe by insisting on safety assessments carried out by suitably qualified professionals. Personally, I agree with many of my colleagues that consumers are entitled to choose natural or organic products if they wish to. I use some myself, but not because of the lies and scaremongering associated with products containing man-made ingredients.

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The cosmetic industry has a tendency to claim that certain products have almost magical powers. How have regulations affected the beauty market’s ability to put forward such claims?
Many of the seductive claims can be attributed to creative marketing and it is the responsibility of the regulators to decide whether these claims need to be supported by valid scientific data or if they are clearly ‘marketing speak’ or ‘puffery’. Consumers often want to buy into an image or a dream and the marketers and copy writers must do their best to satisfy that need. However, consumers must not be misled; claims in adverts are subject to strict controls overseen in the UK by the ASA and Clearcast, who clear TV advertisements before they are screened. Clearcast uses highly experienced consultant cosmetic scientists to overview all the evidence in support of each claim, and if the information does not satisfy the experts then the claim must be dropped or amended.

How do you go about testing and proving manufacturers’ claims in an era when consumers tend to campaign against animal testing?
Animal testing is not such a big issue here, since in the UK there has been no testing on animals since 1997 for finished products and 1998 for ingredients as a result of a voluntary industry initiative. A complete ban on testing cosmetic products on animals was introduced by legislation in Europe in 2004. Cosmetic products are of course required by law to be safe. This is achieved in the main by utilising ingredients with a good history of safe use, in conjunction with the increasing number of in vitro methods that are being developed within the industry. Working together to replace animal testing is an informative document on the subject published by COLIPA which represents the European Cosmetics Industry and is available to view on the CTPA website: www.thefactsabout.co.uk.

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You work with manufacturers to support their marketing claims. What does this involve?
Supporting manufacturers’ claims for product performance, rather than safety, is one of my areas of expertise. It depends for the most part on good experimental design utilising the right protocol, a big enough sample size and the right data analysis and statistics. For some claims, this may mean a large trial, possibly over a long period of time, and at considerable cost. For this reason, marketers often choose to tone down claims so they can be supported by small scale trials.

However, the recent success of Boots’ Protect and Perfect serum illustrates how making the effort to design and carry out a comprehensive trial which can then be publicised (especially on TV) can be very profitable. It would be good for the industry if we could see more cosmetic products being open about the evidence for their efficacy and receiving such positive support from the media rather than only hearing about the things that don’t work or are alleged to be dangerous. The CTPA has a new initiative to work with the media by stamping on misinformation as soon as it appears and counteracting with the correct science. The factsabout website is a very useful resource for anyone wanting to know the correct information about cosmetics and the personal care industry.

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You have been involved in setting up the curriculum for a science degree in the London College of Fashion. How does science interface with fashion?
Cosmetic Science is a branch of general science specialising in developing products that are mainly promoted directly to consumers. A good knowledge of chemistry is essential for formulating good products. A range of other scientific disciplines such as biology and mathematics are also needed. However, for these products to be successful, they must also be relevant to the consumer needs, be attractive, and smell nice. So as well as being scientifically sound, they must often follow the fashions and trends of the day. Qualifying as a cosmetic scientist does not restrict one to life behind the laboratory bench. There are opportunities to move into marketing, packaging development, product evaluation, perfumery, legislation, or sales and in all these areas it becomes important to be aware of the current market trends. Perfumery in particular requires a good understanding of fashions backed by extensive scientific ability.

Beauty therapists working in spas and salons often become interested in the science behind the products. For anyone interested in studying cosmetic science on a part time basis, the Society of Cosmetic Scientists offers an international distance learning course that can be studied at home over a one or two year period. This leads to the SCS Diploma in Cosmetic Science and a Cert HE in Cosmetic Science awarded by De Montfort University. Details can be found at www.cosmeticlearning.com

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Your work bridges the gap between science and consumer research. If a young scientist wished to pursue a career in the field of market research, how would you advise they go about it?
I’m not sure I agree that there is a gap between science and consumer research. For me, the term ‘science’ covers a very broad spectrum of disciplines, from pure research and laboratory based work to applied sciences including mathematics and statistics. Although the public view of consumer research may be the lady with the clipboard stopping you on the street in your lunch hour, the questionnaire design and the study design should have the same foundation in scientific theory as the claim support methods we discussed earlier. Psychology probably plays a bigger part in consumer research, particularly in questionnaire design where it is important not to bias the answers by the way in which questions are asked.

Market research covers both qualitative and quantitative studies, business research and consumer research. So, just like with cosmetic science, there are many directions to choose from. My own area of work is primarily product testing, which is quantitative research, although we do also run qualitative focus groups for new product concepts. I made a natural move from formulating products to testing their performance in the laboratory, then on to consumer trials. Along the way, I worked with marketing and market research departments, where we would use the information from the small scale laboratory trials to design larger scale consumer trials, taking into consideration all the relevant market research information on demographics and target markets that had been researched beforehand.

I soon found it useful to become an associate member of the Market Research Society and through their journal started to learn about all the ideas and opportunities in that field. The Market Research Society offers many training courses for young scientists wanting to pursue a career in market research. But why move out of the cosmetic science industry, when there are so many varied and interesting opportunities just waiting to be snapped up?

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