A perfectly made up face may appear to be just the artful application of foundation, mascara and lipstick, but beauty industry experts know there’s a complex amount of science behind every pretty face. That’s what three leading beauty industry experts from L’Oreal shared in a discussion about “The Science of Beauty.”
Science is at the heart of this multi-million global corporation where scientists across a broad spectrum of fields (chemists, behavioral scientists, etc.) create, test and analyze new concepts and products and determine how consumers will react to them.
L’Oreal, which cites itself as the world’s leading beauty company, was founded in 1908 by a chemist. Today L’Oreal USA is the development, production and marketing base for 13 American brands including Maybelline New York, Soft-Sheen Carson, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Essie Cosmetics, Mizani, Pureology, Dermablend and Urban Decay. L’Oreal employees 68,000 people worldwide, files more than 600 patents annually and its products are available in 130 countries, according to a company video.
According to Jerome Laday, L’Oreal’s director of talent recruitment, 69 percent of the researchers working in the company’s labs are female and the role of scientists are critical in an industry, which must meet Food and Drug Administration requirement for many of its products.
Laday said research and development team members totally throw themselves into their work, and it’s not uncommon to see researchers in the lab with hair spiked or dyed with in-development products or noticing chemists (men and women) applying test mascara around their eyes to determine how well it can be applied.
Harold Bryant, Ph.D., vice president of research and innovation at L’Oreal, said he previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry, which was extremely structured and regimented.
“Our industry is more fun,” said Bryant. “We create things that make people feel good, look good.”
Equally important as the development and testing of new products is how the public uses these products and whether they will perceive these products as valuable. The firm employs behavioral scientists, psychologists and sociologists to study consumer tastes, motivations and reasoning. In their research, they’ve determined that men and women use products differently. For example, men use less hair and skin products and are generally are looking for quick fixes such as three-in-one personal care products. Women are more sophisticated in their selection and use of products, they say.
“It all boils down to understanding the consumer,” said one of L’Oreal’s experts. “What’s driving their habits? What gets them to use the product the way they are using them?”
The process of developing new products at L’Oreal includes advance research, applied research, formulation, sensory evaluation and clinical studies and can take six to 18 months to complete.
One of the leaders shared that one of the company’s biggest challenges is beating its competition to the market.
And timing is also critical in the beauty industry.
It is not uncommon for L’Oreal to bring a new product to market in America and then discover there’s a similar product covered by patents in other countries. A decision has to be made if it makes good business sense to pour full effort into the development and marketing of a product that can only be introduced in the United States with limited global reach.
Another challenge for L’Oreal is that formulas developed here in the United States also must be compliant with regulations in other countries such as India, Brazil, China and South Africa.
Crystal Porter, Ph.D., manager of L’Oreal’s Institute for Ethnic Hair and Skin Research, said that one of the challenges in her lab is trying to mimic consumer perceptions to various nuances achieved under controlled conditions in the lab.
Porter said she routinely volunteers to test hair care products under development on her own hair.
“We know that hair is not created equal,” noted Porter. “Recently someone asked me ‘Why would you do that?’ It’s really special to immerse yourself before we even do testing.”
And another L’Oreal insider added that input from various segments of the market is one of the reasons that diversity in the workforce is so important to the company.
Porter's description of herself as a polymer chemist who went to engineering school because she “didn’t want to be a lab chemist. That set me up very well to do what I am doing now.”
Antoinette Hamilton, L’Oreal’s assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion at L’Oreal USA, said the company has a program to stimulate girls’ interest in science.
“ForGirlsInScience.org isn’t just a website, it’s where budding scientists can learn about science in a fun and interactive way: hypothesize, experiment and draw exciting conclusions,” state the website’s “About” page. “They can connect with other girls who love science and share their ideas and dreams. They can be inspired by women who have dreamed, created and invented before them, discover the wide range of fields that fall under “science,” and find the tools and motivation needed to become scientists themselves.”
“We know we really need to keep the community engaged, especially girls,” said Hamilton.
Laday said that STEM majors are very much in demand in the beauty industry and suggests that those interested in entering the industry do their homework.
“Find out what’s important,” said the recruiter. Look at what the company is all about. It’s really about find your passion. What is it that you really want to do with the rest of your life.”
Another beauty industry expert said problem solving is key.
“You have to be able to solve problems with the tools available to you,” he said.
Laday added that to be successful at L’Oreal requires specific traits.
“You have to be open-minded, constantly innovating,” said Laday. “Every day there’s a new challenge and every day we try to find a solution.”