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Beauty Product Innovation: an Exploration of Ideas, Information, and Inspiration

This week I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker for senior students in the Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing program at FIT. For this capstone course, they will each innovate a new beauty product and then present it to a jury of experienced professionals. The intention of my talk was to further equip the students for this project.

Rather than discuss product function or format, color trends or design principles, I shared my thoughts on how true innovations and inventions in beauty come into being as well as notes on a few of the movements that seem to be behind today’s leading-edge cosmetics and personal care innovations.

Of course, the best part of the afternoon was the discussion the students and I had following my remarks. That bit was all improvised and I wasn’t keeping notes. So what follows here is a version of the talk I gave before that fabulous discussion.

Beauty Industry Trends, Career Notes, and Product Innovation

Today, I will cover several topics, including forward-looking industry trends, career notes, and an overview of my own work for the cosmetics and personal care industry. But central to all of the topics I’ll cover today is the concept of product innovation.

In fact, what I do in my work is create content for beauty product innovators: for ingredient development experts, formulating chemists, R&D professionals, marketing specialists, brand leaders, and beauty entrepreneurs. And I’m sure that I am leaving people out here—that was not meant to be a comprehensive list of beauty product innovators today.

Now, if I wanted to give myself perhaps too much credit, I would say that my work is a conduit for the information that inspires innovation And I will share more detail about my own work late on.

But one sort of content you’ve likely found if you’ve visited my website or stalked me on social lately is a calendar or list of over 100 cosmetics and personal care industry tradeshows taking place around the world in 2022.

Each of the events on my list is an opportunity to see what’s new and next in one place—and to see the variations, the differences, and the similarities among the latest ingredients, packaging, formulation technologies, products, and brands.

These in-person events as well as any number of digital discovery platforms are terrific places to not only notice innovation but also to spark innovation

That moment when you recognize the inevitable or the newly necessary or maybe the not-yet possible, that is the moment of innovation.

That aha moment, that instance of spark, that moment is uniquely yours.

As much as the information you gathered (from education, observation, exploration) figures into it, the desires and experiences and ideas that you bring to innovation are yours alone. And it’s that uniqueness, the particularity that you contribute that is needed to motivate your idea through the invention and actualization process.

What I am trying to say here is that if you force an idea or you follow a data flow diagram, you might make something interesting and even marketable but you likely won’t have the passion—you won’t be able to infuse your team with the passion—to inspire energetic change in the marketplace. The idea might be lucrative but I suspect it won’t have lasting meaning or impact.

This is important to think about because, as I understand it, innovation is not a simple system or step-by-step equation. Yes there are rubrics you can follow, processes and data tools that are delightfully helpful when you’re looking to develop new product. But behind every meaningful innovation is awesome ideation and genuine conviction.

Innovative Beauty Entrepreneurs

In recent weeks, I’ve been conducting Zoom interviews for a podcast that I am launching later this year and I wasn’t planning to talk about it with you today until it struck me that many (if not all) of my guests are true innovators.

So I do want to mention a couple of them here:

One is Kerri Leslie, Founder of a packaging company called Verity.

Kerri started her own deodorant brand in 2015 after a career in the surgical supply industry. Her moment of innovation came when she was searching for a sustainable packaging option for Noniko Deodorant and she realized that the metal beauty packaging available on the market wasn’t; being made with the safety and sustainability features or the sophistication that she knew were possible from her work in surgical supply. So in 2019 she founded Verity and the beauty packaging industry will never be the same.

The other innovator who I interviewed for my podcast that I will mention here is Doctor Vivian Valenty. She was inspired to develop a nail color product that was as durable as gel polish but didn’t require the UV light to cure it and that was functionally dry in a matter of minutes. Her latest invention—Dazzle Dry—took years of work in the lab to realize and is still (unfortunately) the best nail brand many beauty lovers have never heard of.

And let me mention one more innovation on the supply side of beauty, this time in the ingredient space. The biotech company C16 has developed and quite recently begun commercializing a drop-in alternative to palm oil. This is the sort of innovation that on one day really was not possible and then DNA sequencing opened up a new world of biotech processes and it became possible.

Still it took someone with the vision and passion and persistence to make biotech palm oil a reality.

I also want to talk about a brand you saw in my video about water conservation and alternative ingredients. If you recall, H2NO! Shave is a product innovation that came out of an abandoned idea.

Miranda Wilson saw where this sort of product—as shave gel that is used without water—made sense in the marketplace and how it could be leveraged with young shavers to shift consumer behavior and expectations in the shave category.

There’s another brand I talk a bit about in one of my videos that I want to call your attention to. When Spotlight Oral Care came onto the scene it seemed like an up-market but conventional oral care brand. It had a line of toothpastes, and brushes, and floss, and so on. But this past year the brand innovated the smile care category.

Spotlight’s new Smile Rejuvenation System is a 3-step skin care and lip treatment routine, comprising a micro needling roller, a serum, and hydrating lip sheet mask. This makes the brand’s product portfolio very distinctive; and it calls attention to how wisely the brand cultivated its market niche: up-market oral care for beauty consumers.

Now, I know the Colgate-Palmolive company owns skincare brands; but I don’t think consumers are ready for a Colgate lip mask in the same way that they were for skincare from Spotlight.

Leveraging Trends to Market Beauty Product Innovations in the Consumer Market

While I like to think that the examples I’ve just shared with you were ideas first and on-trend businesses after that, trends can inform innovation. And even when they don’t, trends come into play when it’s time to refine an innovative idea for the marketplace.

Looking at some of the preceding innovation examples, we can see that Doctor Valenty’s Dazzle Dry nail color fits quite neatly into today’s wellness movement. It’s vegan, non toxic, and gets rid of the need for skin-damaging UV light and it’s well suited to both value-added salon services and the DIY nail space.

Kerri Leslie’s Verity packaging is perfect for the refillable, recyclable, and metal beauty packaging movements. Of course, H2No! Shave is a brand that works in the solid, waterless, and water conservation space. And Spotlight Oral Care is one of many brands helping bridge the gap between wellbeing and beauty / health and aesthetics.

Top Trends Inspiring Beauty Product Innovation in 2022 (and beyond)

That said, I want to explore some current forward-looking industry trends. Here I will talk about three big trends:

  • Advanced Digital & Metaversal Beauty

  • High-Level Sustainability

  • and what I’m calling Comprehensive Beauty

Advanced Digital & Metaversal Beauty

So first, Advanced Digital & Metaversal Beauty. This high-tech trend will be incredibly significant going forward.

Pandemic precautions accelerated several ‘trends’ (if you will), including the cosmetics and personal care industry’s shift to digital. Over the past two years, we have seen a rapid uptake of virtual try-on technology, contactless sampling solutions, and DTC retail strategies, including livestream selling.

On the supply side of the industry every significant ingredient supplier, packaging company, and manufacturer got serious about their online presence in the past two years. Where once there was a reluctance to share information online, there is now an array of sophisticated ingredient discovery platforms.

And we’re still seeing AI and deep learning used more and more often by personalized product brands as well as by formulators and ingredient makers.

Those are some of the sorts of ventures that I would describe as advanced digital projects.

When it comes to metaversal beauty, it’s important to remember that we are in the very early days of what is possible in the metaverse. And this means that now is the time for early adoption, for experimentation, and for bold imagination.

On the supply and manufacturing side of the beauty industry, virtual production facilities make sense as do simulated training courses. It’s been quite a while ago now, but I’ve taken a VR tour of the skin and stepped through a rudimentary product formulation scenario in virtual reality.

What we’re seeing more of are brands and retailers investing in the metaverse. And this is a valuable project not just for those businesses but for the industry and society at large because it is also an instance of consumer education.

Until virtual worlds and all that is possible within, between, and among them, becomes familiar, to individuals, to cultures, to industries, economies, etc., the metaverse itself is of little value.

That’s why this moment is one of such magnificent potential and why all of the technologies that companies like Perfect Corp have been pioneering over the years are all the more promising now.

Perfect Corp, perhaps you know, is the company behind many of the virtual product try-on platforms we see in color cosmetics, nail color, hair color, skincare even, and beyond beauty in accessories and jewelry and so on.

I want to point out here that these sorts of beauty tech innovations can be leveraged for impact outside of the tech space. Perfect Corp published a hair color brand case-study not long ago detailing how using virtual try-on tech instead of plastic hair color samplers has helped Kao Corporation reduce plastic waste by more than 56 tons over the course of a year.

Thinking further about beauty in the metaverse, in January, the luxury lipstick brand Valdé Beauty held a launch party in the virtual world known as Decentraland. Read more about that in this item Liz Flora wrote for Glossy.

In 2021, Beautyque NYC launched a virtual 3-D retail store and has since hosted pop-up style experiential events helping fashion and beauty lovers discover the metaverse.

Unilever’s Dermalogica brand has a store in the desk-top version of the metaverse. And, P&G has little world in this space as well. It’s called BeautySphere.

And several beauty brands, like Nars, Clinique, and Ciaté London are getting in on NFTs, selling art and objects that only exist in the virtual world.

High-Level Sustainability

Moving on from our digital reality, another trend or movement that I am paying attention to is High-Level Sustainability.

So, that means brand and supplier initiatives in Green Chemistry, Biodiversity, Circularity, Conscious Business, and Blue Beauty

All of these strategies are at various stages of adoption by beauty makers. But given the gravity of global warming and the investments multinationals have made in recent years, I am confident that high-level sustainability will be essential in the cosmetics and personal care industry of the future.

So I’ll say a bit more about each of these high-level sustainability concepts. Green Chemistry is basically chemistry that lessens or avoids the use and production of hazardous substances. It’s chemistry that takes in to account the full lifecycle of the inputs and intermediates, the materials and the products getting made.

There are twelve principles of green chemistry. I’ll run through them briefly here:

· waste prevention

· to maximize atom economy, or basically to not waste atoms in the material synthesis process

· to design chemical synthesis, or production, that has no or very little toxicity to people or to the natural environment

· to design chemical products that themselves have no or very little toxicity

· to only use solvents, separation agents, and other intermediates only when needed and then to use ‘safer’ ones

· to increase energy efficiency, which often means cold-processing or running chemical reactions at room temperature

· use renewable feedstock rather than fossil fuels or mined inputs, which are sometimes referred to as depletable feedstocks

· avoid chemical derivatives (the production of derivatives commonly generates waste)

· use catalysts rather than stoichiometric reagents, which get used up during a chemical reaction. Catalysts do not

· to design chemicals and products that degrade after use

· to monitor synthesis processes in a way that can prevent pollution in real time

· and to minimize accident potential

It’s all essentially about less waste and more safety.

So green chemistry—the sort of beauty science that lessens or avoids the use and production of hazardous substances—will figure into new ingredient and finished goods development quite heavily this year. In fact, in commentary I shared with CEW last month, I predicted that:

“In 2022, green chemistry will provoke more real innovation in cosmetics and personal care than any other design framework, industry movement, or trends assessment.”

And of course, there are already important examples of green chemistry at work in beauty today. Many biotech companies producing ingredients for the cosmetics and personal care industry abide by some, if not all, of the principles of green chemistry. So ingredient makers like Amyris, C16, Mibelle, Geltor, Genomatica, and others are helping the beauty industry transition to green.

Ingredient makers doing thoughtful work with naturals are helping make the shift as well. Here, I am thinking of companies like Organic Bioactives and Alban Muller (which was acquired by Croda early last year).

And of course some suppliers have ingredient portfolios of both biotech and next-gen naturals.

Biodiversity is another aspect of high-level sustainability. And it’s basically about maintaining and supporting the diversity of plants and animals and organisms that function in concert to make up the natural world.

Biodiversity in beauty can be about how crops are cultivated and harvested, how wild-growing naturals are sourced. It can be about seed vaults and other preservation initiatives like the millions of dollars Givaudan has invested to help protect the Citrus Variety Collection at The University of California—it’s 22 acres of over 1,000 living citrus tree varieties that acts as a sort of library for Givaudan and the school’s researchers.

Biodiversity can be about insects and wild life that are involved with the pollination or natural lifecycle of plants. It can be about how the supply chain, production, manufacturing, and distribution affect or interact with the natural world.

Circularity, I am sure you know, means that the materials and molecules that go into producing a product never become waste but instead are reused as inputs in the same or another product production process and that this circular system continues without end.

Despite certain advances, ours is still very much a linear economy. So the best places to see true circularity in action are in nature or in any number of indigenous peoples’ practice where there simply is no waste.

Conscious Business, which fits into our conversation of high-level sustainability too, is as much about environmental sustainability as it is about fair trade, fair labor practices, and (in general) humane business.

Blue Beauty is a concept that’s been gaining momentum for several years now. It’s a planet-positive movement that calls upon brand and business leaders to operate in such a way that they actually leave the natural environment healthier than they found it.

When I spoke with Natural Beauty News about blue beauty late last year, I described it as ‘a movement to recoup the damage industrialization has done to our blue planet’.

And I will be a bit more blunt or cynical with you now and say that we wouldn’t even have to champion such a cause if humanity had not done such a remarkable job of instigating global warming; polluting the land, the water, the air; perpetrating deforestation; and so on.

But let me jump back to the optimistic commentary I shared with Natural Beauty News. In that article titled, Going Beyond Green, I am quoted as saying, that blue beauty “is about healing the Earth and is the inspiration for new business models; for truly innovative ingredient, packaging, and manufacturing solutions; and for developing a fully circular personal care and cosmetics economy. This is distinct from green beauty,” I explained, which is focused on what we conventionally think of as environmentally sustainable products and business practices – those that somehow limit further harm to the natural environment.

“The concept of blue beauty holds meaning for a subset of conscious beauty consumers, particularly those with a passion for clean, green, or natural beauty. And insofar as the beauty industry thrives on newness, this relatively new term [blue beauty] has potential to capture the attention of even more shoppers. While any ambiguous term can cause confusion, what’s important to know is that today’s consumer is increasingly motivated to make purchases that clearly communicate the impact of a product. Shoppers today, buying beauty or anything, are more likely to consider the environmental, social, ethical, and political implications of their purchase.”

Before I finish up my thoughts on the high-level sustainability trend or movement, I want to emphasize how significant algae and micro algae are to the future of beauty.

Extracts of algae are important ingredients, as are ingredients made by using algae as little factories to produce chemicals with designer benefits. And algae are useful in the packaging space too. In fact, a French company called Eranova has developed and patented technology that turns green algae into biodegradable, compostable, recyclable plastic.

Mushrooms and other fungi have the same sort of promise as algae. And you can see how these abundant organisms make sense when we think about green chemistry, biotechnology, circularity, etc.

And one more point before we move on from high-level sustainability, and that is carbon.

We’re hearing more and more about carbon-neutral brands and carbon-negative brands. And much of this progress is being made with carbon offsets.

However, last summer I got to speak with Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, a company specializing in carbon recycling. And you’ve likely seen in the news this past week or so that Coty has begun making fragrance with ethanol comprised in part of captured carbon—carbon that otherwise would have been waste or pollution. That carbon was recycled by LanzaTech.

And while this process is not yet perfectly circular—it gives the carbon one more cycle as a product before it becomes waste—and it is an important step in the right direction.

Comprehensive Beauty

Now, for this next trend / movement, I don’t think that the industry has really landed on a suitable term here yet, but for now, I am calling this Comprehensive Beauty.

So-called conventional Western beauty standards are still quite prevalent. And thin, young, white women are over represented in content and advertising.

But even in the relatively short time that I’ve been working in cosmetics and personal care, there has been a noticeable and meaningful shift, a shift away from beauty developed and marketed according to those conventional Western standards and toward a more comprehensive beauty sensibility.

This isn’t to say that until now beauty in this country has always only been white. Even the mainstream industry made space for multi-cultural beauty, which as I imagine you know, was and in many cases still is, a term used to describe beauty for Black and African-American women.

And to be fair the Black community is indeed comprised of many many cultures but this multi-cultural beauty category is hardly representative of the consumer public.

And that’s where beauty has made some progress. Products and brands intentionally developed for all types of textured hair and many many shades of melanated skin are much more common now on store shelves and of course in the DTC space.

And there is so much more going on to make beauty comprehensive today. Ingredient makers, manufactures, brands, and retail platforms are making Halal beauty, Latina and LatinX beauty, Asian-American beauty, Indigenous beauty, beauty and grooming products for consumers over 40, and beauty for a fuller spectrum of genders. A real diversity of beauty products are much more available and accessible today than even five years ago.

In this space, we see for instance:

We see brand founders like Tracee Ellis Ross not only developing a brand like Pattern beauty but also stepping up to advise Ulta Beauty on its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Ingredient suppliers like Organic Bioactives, a New Zealand based company working in partnership with indigenous Maori people to source natural extracts in a way that fully respects biodiversity and human diversity.

So those are a few of the overarching trends or movements that I am watching in the industry now: Advanced Digital & Metaversal Beauty, High-Level Sustainability, and Comprehensive Beauty.

Beauty Career Notes, Listening to Your Instincts

Let me say here that so far as I’ve observed, trends inspire innovation and vice versa, innovations inspire trends.

As I suggested earlier, there are systems and processes and data tools that can be used to help brands and businesses innovate effectively for their customer base or their market niche.

But even in the most carefully systematized world, there is no single source of innovation. There is no perfect formula.

I encourage you to find ideas and inspiration anywhere and everywhere, in spaces designed for discovery like tradeshows and retail platforms but also in places and activities where beauty might not even seem to exist.

Listen carefully to the thoughts and ideas that come into your mind. Don’t hesitate to follow your instincts.

And this might be a good place for me to share a bit about my own work and career path in beauty.

In 2014, I took a job writing news for an online trade media publication in the cosmetics and personal care space. It’s fair to say that I followed my instincts into that role.

I didn’t know anything about the cosmetics and personal care industry when I sat down at my desk to write for Sure, I’d quickly read through a biography of Helena Rubinstein between the time I was hired and my first day at work. But all I knew for sure was that I could write.

As soon as I started at Cosmetics Design, I was writing and publishing beauty business news articles for a readership of 60,000 unique monthly site visitors—for CEOs and decision makers at the industry’s top multinational corporations, for highly skilled cosmetic chemists, new product development experts, marketing pros, and leaders in packaging, ingredients, and manufacturing.

(Curious to know about my beginnings in beauty, check out the 5 Lessons Learned on My Thought Leadership Journey.)

I was gathering information from press releases and interviews and filtering it through my mind in the same way that I process everything.

As much as I Iove words and language, writing for me isn’t really about words or even communication. For me, writing is about systems and rhythms. And that’s how I process information through the system and rhythm of writing.

Looking back over the years, my work life and 'career' if you will, seems quite disjointed. I began my life as a dancer and it wasn’t until my mid 20s when I went to University long enough to earn a degree. And that first degree was in Automotive Technologies. So I learned to rebuild automatic transmissions, balance tires, troubleshoot a car’s computer system.

Several years later, after working in the auto parts and repair sector, I went back to university and took a degree in English. And that’s it, that’s all I have formally studied.

What I recognize now is that for me, all of these fields—ballet, auto tech, and writing—are quite similar. They are all about systems and rhythms. And I will go a step further here to say that while no industry functions as predictably as a V-8 engine, today the work I do in beauty is very much about systems and rhythms.

You may know that I wrote daily beauty business news for Cosmetics Design for some 7 years and for several of those years, I was the publication’s Editor. That news covered topics spanning science, business, technology, finance, legal, retail, lifestyle, wellness, trends, design, sustainability, ethics, politics, communications…you get the idea.

And if I were to describe my overall work for the industry, I would say it’s about thought leadership and business content. I do a lot of public speaking at industry events, to corporate teams, and of course higher education classrooms.

Market research and intelligence firms call on me for insights and predictions about the industry. And companies on the supply side of beauty rely on my perspective as well.

And of course, I write. I write news and commentary, I write press releases, I write video scripts, I’m writing content for that podcast I’m developing. And it’s no secret that I write out my presentation remarks.

Writing is how I process information and I suspect that writing will always be a core piece of my work in beauty.

All of this writing is how I have come to understand the industry, it’s how I process and comprehend and communicate about the systems and rhythms of beauty.

I don’t expect anyone to follow my path into a career in beauty. But I am confident that each of you have your own unique set of skills and experiences to add value, effect change, and find success in this (or honestly in any) industry.

With that said, I am happy to take questions and listen to your ideas about beauty innovation.


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