Published:23 Sep 2020
After 23 years as a biochemist in academia, I joined Anita Roddick at The Body Shop, where I was shocked to realize just how much I needed to learn about the cosmetic industry. Despite my previous appointment, lecturing at Reading University in food science and technology, I discovered I was a real novice at cosmetic science. Being familiar with the constraints governing the food industry had not prepared me for all the nuances of cosmetics and personal care. For instance, I had no idea that cosmetics, unless stated otherwise, are formulated to have shelf-lives of up to three years! At that time, the focus in food research was on extending food shelf-lives to weeks and months. Yes, canned food can be stored safely for years, but cosmetics do not come in cans. Personal care formulas have a closer resemblance to food oils, flours and food emulsions, all of which had shelf-lives of, at best, up to a year.
While I wondered how this three-year stability was achieved, I slunk home and disposed of the no longer fashionable colour cosmetics that I had stashed away for far more years than I care to admit in case they became popular again. I am very grateful to my colleagues, the members of The Society of Cosmetic Scientists, and especially to the industry experts, many of whom are editors and authors of this excellent book, who taught me all I needed to pursue a rewarding career in cosmetic science. I am proud that during my time at The Body Shop I played a significant a part in introducing hemp into mainstream cosmetics and by acquainting cosmetic formulators with food practices, The Body Shop team went on to develop the first body butters. Later, through the Society of Cosmetic Scientists, I met Steve Barton, who is the senior editor of this book, respected consultant to the industry and inspirational Lecturer in Cosmetic Science at The London College of Fashion. When I met Steve, he was Skincare Scientific Advisor at Boots and their No. 7 Protect and Perfect serum was hitting the headlines. Twenty-four hours after a TV programme reporting on the independent scientific studies on Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect serum had been aired, national newspapers were saying ‘not a jar was left in UK shops’ and describing Steve as ‘the hottest male property in Britain right now. Women have gone potty for his anti-ageing skin cream’. I know Steve would much rather be known for his expertise in skin moisturization, his long experience working for Boots and Oriflame and for his many publications, including this book.
Discovering Cosmetic Science is not just another textbook but more an informative journey, which takes the reader through the most important and interesting aspects of cosmetic science. In the Introduction, Steve Barton with co-editors Allan Eastman, Amanda Isom, Denise McLaverty and Yi Ling Song modestly describe Discovering Cosmetic Science as a novice's guide, and certainly I would have found this book invaluable when I first joined the industry. Each author is expert in the science underpinning the different aspects of the cosmetics. Together they explain and illustrate this for the reader using separate boxes of text and images to allow the reader to explore deeper explanations or interesting scientific facts.
The ‘route of this journey’ has been chosen, deliberately, to build up the reader's appreciation of the science of everyday products – probably in the order they would use them.
Ed Rolls explains the fundamentals of cleansing products before Paul Cornwell describes the intricate structure of hair, and how this applies in hair care to ensure that bad hair days are a thing from the past. Steve Mason does the same for the equally complex and more delicate area of the mouth. Having showered, washed our hair and cleaned our teeth, Robin Parker leads the reader through the science behind skin and skin-care products. My own doctorate was on collagen synthesis so I understand skin physiology; however, good formulators must know much more. The reader discovers that, yes, skin gives protection, regulation and sensation, but that it is also a dynamic canvas, a continually moving escalator of specialized skin cells plus responsive surface microbiome, the importance of which we are only just beginning to appreciate. Skin-care products are also engineered to have a delightful feel to complement the improved looks, which, as the charity Look Good Feel Better knows well, can contribute hugely to people's lives. Claire Summers also applies her expertise to working on skin's dynamic canvas. Explaining the science of colour perception and creation of visual effects, Claire shows the reader that the science behind colour cosmetics is much more than a smudge.
Over the years, I have noticed how so many of us automatically smell products, on first use or as a test. If we perceive the odour as bad, then the product will not be used, irrespective of how delightful it feels or how well it performs. Virginie Danau, with her years of expertise in fragrances, has readers following the scent as she explains why fragrance is so important.
By now the average user, having completed some or all of this start-of-day routine, may get into some contentious discussions on social media about the latest ‘must have’ or ‘avoid at all costs’ ingredients. The final three chapters deal with facts to arm the reader for these types of discussion. First, Tony Causer outlines, in plain language and without marketing hype, the mechanisms behind many commonly discussed ‘active ingredients’. By describing their chemistry and how to formulate to maintain their efficacy, he shows how careful formulators need to be in designing products that make a difference.
Stephen Kirk follows this up by explaining the testing that is essential to ensure that cosmetics are safe and efficacious before they are released onto the market. Testing to ensure stability – as I have already mentioned, many products can be expected to be stable for up to three years – is only part of the picture. Continual post-marketing surveillance of products ensures that this testing can be monitored against real-world use of products. Finally, last but certainly not least, Emma Meredith, Director-General at the CTPA, puts perspective on the many myths and scares to which our industry is subject, reassuring consumers that they can be confident in our highly regulated cosmetics.
Without realizing it, readers have been taken through the broad definitions of a cosmetic – cleansing, altering the appearance and odour – and the legal frameworks that apply to making cosmetics.
With this book, I am sure you will find the answers you were looking for and will enjoy your journey through the science behind an industry whose goal is to create delightful products that can clean, fragrance, oil, polish, protect and decorate. The industry's aim has always been to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone, and I like to think that cosmetic scientists are early adopters of the latest science and technology, adapting them for their own special requirements. Twenty plus years after joining Anita at The Body Shop, I find myself applying the very latest DNA technology, blockchain and AI to secure transparency in the cosmetic industry's complex supply chains. I regularly chair international cosmetic summits where experts from other sciences share their knowledge with cosmetic formulators, and I travel the world to learn and advise brands on cosmetic materials. If this industry has been a secret, hidden in plain sight from you, then welcome. Let this book be your way into cosmetic science.
Past President of The Society of Cosmetic Scientists