This is a 4-part series focused on understanding the science behind skincare products so that parents of eczema children and eczema sufferers can better understand what goes into the bottle. For this series, I have Dr. Elisabeth Briand, R&D manager at Skintifique. Elisabeth holds an Engineering Master’s degree in food industry and a PhD in chemistry. Before working for Skintifique, she had 10 years experience in academic research as a physico-chemist, in France at Paris VI and Paris XI faculty of Pharmacy and in Sweden, at Chalmers University of Technology. In this interview, Dr. Elisabeth is helping us to understand the science of laboratory-tested skincare products.
MarcieMom: Thank you Elisabeth for joining me for this series. I’m really excited about it because most parents (me included) wonder the differences between skincare products and whether it’s better to get one from a company with the ‘science’ background (or home-made is better).
Let’s start with what’s in the bottle – the ingredients. From a previous interview series, we have learned a few general principles relating to skincare products, to choose those
- Without the common irritants, such as fragrance, preservatives, parabens, propylene glycol, lanolin and dye
- With as few ingredients as possible, to reduce the likelihood of sensitivity to ingredients
- Whether labeled as natural or organic, the overriding factor is whether these ingredients lead to hypersensitive reaction for our skin
MarcieMom: How is the selection process of ingredients determined? For instance, is there always a need for a ‘base’ for a skincare product and then add on active ingredients? Do these ingredients have to work together?
Dr Elisabeth: The choice of ingredients is indeed key to develop a skincare product. Some ingredients will be chosen for their activity, some others for making a support for these active ingredients. Ideally, a very strict and rigorous selection process should be carried out. Each company has its own priority for this; for instance, some will prioritize on ingredients they believe give a distinctive feel (texture, fragrance) when applying a product, some others will focus their research on how improving the efficiency of a product by using one specific ingredient. At Skintifique, we focused on a new innovative approach: using both a minimum number of ingredients and very safe ingredients. Making a product safe, efficient and pleasant to use within these constraints require a lot of skills and knowledge in various fields (physic-chemistry, formulation, microbiology and pharmacology).
One way to make a skincare product is to add a set of ingredients with a specific function (eg moisturizing, or protecting the skin from specific allergens or irritants) to a “base” that has a well-known profile of safety, texture and efficiency. In that case, the base will bring the safety and the basic functions a moisturizer must have (generally, humectant, emollient and occlusive function, it sustains stability and safety tests) and the added specific ingredients will bring the specific features of a product (soothing, …).
At Skintifique, we have focused our work on how developing new materials that will enable the use of very few ingredients while maximizing their effects. It means developing products with a new approach, based on how molecules can interact with each other. That’s why the composition of our products may seem very simple, but the products are actually based on very sophisticated science, both in the base(s) that we use, in the functions we add to them and in the ability to mix these functions into the base.
MarcieMom: There are various functions of an emollient/moisturizer.
- Occlusive, as protection for the skin
- Humectant, the ability to draw water from the environment into the skin
- Moisturize, smooth the skin and fill in cracks
MarcieMom: I noted that your product has patent technology. Does a patent technology that enable the functions of the moisturizer to be better than non-patent technology? In other words, what is it about being developed in a lab that makes the skincare product more effective than just the sum of ingredients?
Dr Elisabeth: A lab facility is required when you want to make innovative products.
Developing a skincare product can be done rather easily if you are looking for a product with basic moisturizing functions or just a feel good benefit. There is a long history in the process of making a cream and the principles that drive the stability and the efficiency of classical moisturizer are rather well known.
If you want to add extra features to a product, for example a release in time of active ingredients, a longer stability, or something revolutionary such as having a activity that reflects the needs of the skin (eg the cream is more active when the skin needs it), while using a very low number of ingredients, then you have to think differently of how it is traditionally made. It requires a lot of research. This is the type of products we strive to do at Skintifique and that is why we protect, with patents and otherwise, the technologies that are used in our products. To achieve the development of our products, we have to make numerous tests and iterations that are possible only in a lab. We needed specific equipment to process and also analyze the various formulations.
It is a little bit like in cooking. Using eggs, flour, milk and sugar, you can make simple cakes (which will not harm you if you eat them, but which will not provide anything special in terms of taste and feeling), or you can also achieve a new culinary chef d’oeuvre, if you put a lot of knowledge, expertise and skills only a chef can bring in making it.
MarcieMom: Can you briefly describe the key processes to make a skincare product from sourcing to making the final cream/lotion. How is it different for a company like Skintifique versus say, a company that does not have the laboratory or facilities?
Dr Elisabeth: The general process to make a skincare product is simple at high level: decision on what the properties of the skincare should be and how to make it (e.g. a highly moisturizing product with few ingredients for people with sensitive skin vs a skin tanning product for fun), then identify, or invention of, the best technologies to do the product, including choice of raw ingredients that must fulfill strict criteria in terms of safety and purity, then a lot of trials in the lab and with real life volunteers, then industrial production, quality check and then, commercialization. For serious skincare companies, quality is a major priority and a lot of quality-check procedures are made all through the process (raw ingredients, industrial process, finished products…)
Making innovative products requires a lot of research and development work, and the results will condition the industrial process. For instance, using only a few ingredients to make a product like our Hydrating Gel requires modifying a lot the various steps needed to process a product. That is why a strong effort is made both on the invention work in the lab and on industrial scale-up phases. For more classical cream, this scale-up process is less critical.
MarcieMom: Thank you Elisabeth for helping us in this post – it is enlightening as we now understand the key components of a skincare product and how having technology and laboratory affects the final product. I look forward to next week’s interview where we learn more about the safety and stability of a product.
p.s. Declaration of no self-interest – is that what it’s called? lol Just want to let you know that Dr Elisabeth left a comment on my blog and I felt she was very helpful. When I realized her area of expertise, I suggested that we collaborate on a ‘science-y’ series as I’ve always been intrigued by it. No money has changed hands, only time invested to bring this series to you all!