Article by: Perry Romanowski

On another post about wrinkle treatment breakthrus, Louise asked this excellent question which I thought would make a good post because people just starting out in the cosmetic industry might wonder the same thing.

Why aren’t cosmetic chemists doing research?

The basic premise of this question is that cosmetic products haven’t really changed much over the years. Cosmetic marketers seem to just take the same old formulas, change them a little and call them a new product.

This is a fair observation (although incomplete). But there are two main reasons cosmetic chemists spend more time on developing products than they do on researching new technologies.

1. Success

Cosmetic companies are in the business of selling products. When you try to research a technology you are not actually creating a new product. Certainly, you might find something that could some day be turned into a market changing product, but the reality is most technologies that you investigate will not turn into products. This is true in the cosmetic business as well as almost every other market. Research has a low level of success.

Product development, on the other hand, has a high degree of success. At least when it comes to whether or not you have a product to sell. When your company has to go to Walmart or Target and tell them the latest product they are launching, they have to have some tangible, new product that can go on store shelves. Product development will almost certainly create that. Basic research will not. Thus if a company has to decide where to focus it’s efforts, they will invariably choose the short term product development strategy over the long-term research one.

2. Money

While success is not guaranteed in research, the fact that it costs money is guaranteed. It’s a relatively small amount of money in the cosmetic industry but it is money nonetheless. When a company pays for something they want to see results. Unfortunately, research does not work that way. Finding technological breakthrus is not something that can be easily planned, budgeted, or guaranteed. Most times it can’t even be explained to marketing and sales people. Therefore, people who are in research have a tough time justifying their work because they can’t show an obvious result.

While basic research is the most promising area to create truly breakthru technologies, most companies do not have the risk tolerance, time, or money to invest significantly in it. And that is why most of the jobs in the cosmetic industry focus on “new” product development rather than new technology discovery.

4 comments

  1. Liliana

    Hello,
    Working for ingredient suppliers, I find funny that many big brands claim spending a lot on R&D when in fact most often the innovation comes from their suppliers, or from successful products they copy on a larger scale once they’ve shown acceptance by the public (think about the Pomegranate trend or the Aquaporines trend).

    1. Perry

      You make a great point. Raw material suppliers do spend a lot of money on research

  2. Kay

    I think you are being too general with this article. It may be true the big corporations are guilty of what you say, but I represent a professional skincare line that is always searching for ingredients to supercharge our products. We manufacture right here in the United States and our lab is on the cutting edge of formulating new and improved products.
    It would be nice to see an article that recognizes some of us who do not follow the same path as the big boys, and are moving forward focusing on “new” technology, and bringing it to the cosmetic market.
    Respectfully,
    Kay

    1. Perry

      Thanks for your comments Kay. I guess you and I might have different definitions of what is considered research. What I meant by research is having scientists create new raw materials and turn them into products.

      The research that you describe is the same thing that is going on with the big boys. In fact, I worked at a relatively big boy company in the innovation group and reviewed thousands of ingredients to see if they would have any impact on the formula.

      I would be surprised if there is any ingredient that a small company could get that a big company couldn’t. Certainly the chemical suppliers of the industry go to the big guys first before they let little companies see their newest and best technologies.

      I would be interested to learn about the types of technologies that you describe. Do you have a website or link where I could read more information?

      Thanks!

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