Do you think there is a problem with cosmetic research?

PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
Here are my thoughts on the challenges that cosmetic chemists face

The bottom line is that it is hard to be a scientist while working for an industry. I've seen so many research papers published in reputable journals that just don't seem like rigorous science. This is mostly because we are a marketing driven industry and the value of figuring out what is true takes a back seat to business demands. 

How to you remain scientific in a field that pushes you into motivated reasoning?

Comments

  • Good point.

    As an Australian scientist I could never earn a good living, so moved into other areas. This is one of the issues. Another issue is the source of funding. Often the source will influence findings. And no, it may not be good science. This then raises the question of peer reviews of papers before they are published. What influences are are occuring here?
    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    I did work for small joint projects with cosmetics industries during my post-doc. We tested plant extracts in in vitro assays such as cancer cell lines and enzymatic arrays. Stupid thing was, and that was "openly" (in-house) communicated, that they were looking for good in vitro data supporting claims such as antioxidant, cancer prevention, inhibition of enzyme X and Y but in a second step had to show that the active constituents of said extracts neither did penetrate skin nor show any in vivo effects. Doing research with cosmetics, as good and unbiased as it may be, using "pixie dust" as such claim ingredients were called, is utter nonsense. I quit university research because it's as money driven as everything else on this planet. Publish or perish; if you want funding, publish where you can get attention and where $$$ are. To do so, simply run an additional half-hearted test showing cancer related effects and end your conclusion section with a statement "Promising compound X is possibly active against cancer cells but this requires further research". F*** that! I already did 50% of my PhD for free because they stopped funds due to my findings being not according to plan (the name of the inhibited enzyme is unpronounceable and the effect competed against their own already marketed product -> an advertisement nightmare = project is dead).
    In cosmetics, since it is not about scientific effects but about hopes and dreams, it's even worse! For most applications, there is no point in doing proper research, let alone good one. Make a product, run a comparison in-house against whatever you desire, sell it and if consumers love it (consumer acceptance is very often highly correlated to publicity) then you sell more, else push out a "new and better" formula and switch out the marketing team.
    If you want a real effect, get a prescription and throw in some pills and if you want eternal youth, register at cryonics.
  • smoksmok Member
    edited September 2019
    Pharma said:
    I did work for small joint projects with cosmetics industries during my post-doc. We tested plant extracts in in vitro assays such as cancer cell lines and enzymatic arrays. Stupid thing was, and that was "openly" (in-house) communicated, that they were looking for good in vitro data supporting claims such as antioxidant, cancer prevention, inhibition of enzyme X and Y but in a second step had to show that the active constituents of said extracts neither did penetrate skin nor show any in vivo effects. Doing research with cosmetics, as good and unbiased as it may be, using "pixie dust" as such claim ingredients were called, is utter nonsense. I quit university research because it's as money driven as everything else on this planet. Publish or perish; if you want funding, publish where you can get attention and where $$$ are. To do so, simply run an additional half-hearted test showing cancer related effects and end your conclusion section with a statement "Promising compound X is possibly active against cancer cells but this requires further research". F*** that! I already did 50% of my PhD for free because they stopped funds due to my findings being not according to plan (the name of the inhibited enzyme is unpronounceable and the effect competed against their own already marketed product -> an advertisement nightmare = project is dead).
    In cosmetics, since it is not about scientific effects but about hopes and dreams, it's even worse! For most applications, there is no point in doing proper research, let alone good one. Make a product, run a comparison in-house against whatever you desire, sell it and if consumers love it (consumer acceptance is very often highly correlated to publicity) then you sell more, else push out a "new and better" formula and switch out the marketing team.
    If you want a real effect, get a prescription and throw in some pills and if you want eternal youth, register at cryonics.
    and after a while the word "X is possibly" becomes Significant results
    after a while Good results and finaly Extraordinary results
    me too
    in recent years ,I have to lie to sell my shampoo


  • SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
    Unfortunately there are problems in all research-based industries, and even in academia.
    One thing that I noticed in your posting was the notice that academia (or at least other areas of industry) is better off than industry was this:
    "Cosmetic science often takes the approach of not asking questions for which they don’t want to know negative answers. And this is why it is not exactly rigorous science."
    Yet, very rarely negative results are published anyway, and if they are it is usually to prove a previously published article wrong. Not to mention the politics involved in publishing - not only for corporate funding but also for governmental funding.
    So when it comes to being scientific in the industry,  I usually just go with what appears to be a reasonable experimental setup, usually double-blinded (so they can say it was a blinded study. Then highlight what marketers want to hear (assuming some data suggests it) and caveat so much that anyone who actually would read the internal report clearly sees the reality behind the performed study.
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @mikethair - Great point! It's hard to earn a living and still maintain scientific purity. If you aren't producing something that can be sold, no one wants to pay you.

    @Pharma - I was already super skeptical of claims about extracts. You've added to my skepticism.

    @smok - Hopefully, you don't have to blatantly lie to sell your products. Some people consider most marketing lying but there is a fine line where you're not necessarily lying. It certainly isn't the same standards as science should have though.

    @Sibech - I agree that there are problems in both academia & industry. You're right, negative results are rarely published. This is a problem in science as is the problem of journals not being publicly available. Publishing companies are looking to get paid so they don't want to publish negative or replication studies.

    What this all really means to me is that we need to be hesitant to say anything is "true" or some treatment is what people should do based on minimal research. Of course, the beauty industry & consumers don't like that at all.
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    This really all comes down to a matter of intellectual property and economics ... unless you are an ingredient manufacturer or you have a patentable, proprietary ingredient/process, it is not economically viable, or in your business interests, to conduct extensive research on cosmetic products.  Just enough research to substantiate your marketing claims is really all that makes sense unless you have something proprietary. 
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • This really interests me because  the stigma of publishing negative results is definitely holding science back! Studies on reproducing other paper's results are also treated like a waste  when really that's a key part of the scientific method
    https://www.negative-results.org/
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @MarkBroussard - you're right the raw material suppliers might be the best hope for research, but even they use motivated research to get formulators to believe their latest ingredient is the greatest thing on the market.

  • Not as a cosmetic formulator as such, but as someone who has developed raw materials for use in cosmetics and dietary supplements.
    It is a fine balance between the pure research about an ingredient and trying to find the marketing angle that will generate some interest in your product and something that the brand owners and marketers can latch onto that will generate the sales of your product.

    Research for research's sake doesn't generate an income. You can investigate all you want about an ingredient, or a process. At some point to pay the bills you will need to commercialise - and this is where some scientists fall down. They don't want to see their research dumbed down into "sound-bites" or taken out of context to provide marketing content.

    Marketing (or the "crayon crowd" as I have heard them called) need to get the product out there, but they also run the risk of making claims where there are none - but they don't understand the science and so rely on the sound-bites.

    Worst of all is the marketing type cosmetic research that the marketers love. "8 out of 10 women noticed fewer wrinkles after seven days*" and in the small print, "*five women, self-assessment only"

    It is a fine balance to be able to do the research AND pay the bills AND be true to your scientific credentials.
  • I used to LOVE cosmetics but once I went to school for cosmetic sciences I became pretty disappointed in the industry... When I was just an interested consumer and biology undergraduate I thought a whole lot more went into formulation but there's just a lot of the same with little variation (not always the case but its common enough). I always get really disappointed when I see a product like a shampoo with different variations like shea butter, aloe etc claiming different effects yet they just put a minuscule amount of each and the base formula is the same because they just wanted to claim it on the packaging. I even use way less cosmetic products than before I knew too much!

    I remember in one course I took, we were studying actives and I expected to learn HOW common actives worked, like hyaluronic acid, yet we just learned the pseudoscience - it holds 1000x it weight in water and hydrates the skin... okay but HOW? The instructors I had were industry professionals with full time industry jobs. I'm not even sure they knew the answers I was looking for...

    I find it exhausting to read the ingredient lists of new launches... rarely is there innovation.. Even if there was, I'm not sure the consumer would even notice unless it had the trending extract in it with the most dramatic claims.
  • Be happy, I worked for 25 years in the biotech (mostly) industry so trust me the world can be much more cruel out there... The molecule, great synthesis, amazing activity... hummmmmm well, wait a second, we can save 10 millions people per year... sorry those people can not afford it = cancel the research, move to something more lucrative! 

  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    edited September 2019
    Research is not divorced from economic constraints ... either the product can make money to cover its production, sales & marketing costs and provide a profit to  pay for more research or it is not economically viable.  In fact, those economic constraints can be properly viewed as "creativity drivers" ... Any idiot can develop an effective product with an unlimited research budget and no requirement for the product to be economically viable.

    Only is the world of Bernie Sanders is everything simply "Free"

    If you are in this industry you need to accept a simple fact:  No one actually needs cosmetic products ... their purchase is pure discretionary.  And, that is the reason why research is used primarily to support sales activities unless you are developing new ingredients.

    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • Cosmetics vs Drugs. By definition, the first group should only clean, refresh, and temporary change appearance, not produce lasting changes. And when it comes to drugs, even with the most "well-researched" if you look closer, you often see bias in how the clinical trial was conducted. 
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