Giacomo Santus


Swiss Association HCI


Guest editorial

Innovation in cosmetics  

Cosmetics has a long story to tell, on how people have used different natural ingredients to paint their skin, or to protect it from sun or wind, definitely discovering the importance and the benefits of hygiene. Attracted from beauty, humans have unconsciously opened the way to a new science, that represents today a market of 10 billion €.  

In a constant evolution and a lot faster than several other sectors, today cosmetics is no longer just beauty. It is a merge of innovation, technology, sustainability, with a strong arrow pointing at self-confidence and personality enhancement. Among all these topics, it is not easy for the cosmetic formulator to find out the best choice to be offered to the customer. Moreover, there is a daily request of something new from the final consumer, that makes cosmetologist’s life a big rush.    

To create from a scratch new products is not always so easy. Producer of cosmetic ingredients have already used a huge part of Nature, taking a lot from traditional medicine. The new challenge is respecting biodiversity, obtaining the best from Nature without overexploiting that, with a sustainable and life-cycle-thinking approach. 

So, to be innovative, cosmetologists have to find out new technologies to be applied to Nature, in order to recreate something purer and safer that can make the difference.  

From raw materials to delivery of ingredients, high-technologies have been applied to cosmetic productions, giving the chance of obtaining new ingredients with high level performances. An example can be the use of physical technologies to extract natural ingredients from vegetable cells, no longer taking trees and using the less energy possible, without even producing waste. Or another example, in terms of delivery, is the use of liposomes or similar vectors to protect active ingredients and let them living longer.  

Internet and new knowledge 

In recent years, the so called “information-age”, to be innovative in cosmetics we should consider the use of computer technologies and, of course, smartphones. People are living with those devices, that represents part of their daily habits, allowing a series of activities that were not possible in the past. Cosmetic products, for example, have start showing a QR code on their packaging, to send the viewer on a specific website or on a series of information about the ingredients contained in the product. 

Here there is a consistent activity that producer of ingredients and all supply chain stakeholder should do, in order to bring right information to the final consumer. We have seen how “misinformation” could be easily spread by internet and social media, the pandemic is a clear example of this topic. 

The entire cosmetic industry has a role in building a strong science-based knowledge behind cosmetic products. Even though we know science pays less than the marketing, we should understand how to use new tools to give right and scientific information. Cosmetic associations, together with all the stakeholder of production chains should work on this point. Single companies are doing a lot on communication, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to the great know-how behind cosmetics, that is a pity consumers are not aware about. 

Moreover, social media information about cosmetics is often in the hands of opinion leaders which are more regular consumers than real cosmetic experts. Industry is giving them the chance of crying online what’s good or not, based on “Wikipedia-based” know-how, completely losing the direct contact with the final consumer and sometimes leaving misinformation spreading around. 

Shouting out loud new trends could be something harmful for cosmetic sector in the long term. We are now entering years when the scientific research will be mainly driven by regulatory, focused on product’s safety, with no chance of doing something dangerous for people. We should tell them! 

What about the next step?  

Besides starting a good communication, to be a cutting-edge science, cosmetics has to meet Open Innovation. There is almost no chance for future developments to born completely from scratch in cosmetic market. Producers of new ingredients have to look around, learn from other experiences and, mostly, cooperate with other players. This need is linked to innovation, but also to sustainability. The supply chain chosen for a new ingredient is often part of other markets, where technologies are used for different aims. Cosmetics has to open its view and use 100% of what technology can give, again always in the limit of regulatory.  

Talking about Open Innovation, this was firstly defined by Chesbrough as "a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology". It means industry has to completely change its attitude on innovation, taking from and giving to other players, instead of closing its boundaries in a deep secret. 

Mostly, the role of research centre and universities should change, driven by cosmetic industry on the extreme exploitation of technologies in a number of different application. 

European Union bodies do an important activity for this kind of industrial-research cooperation, for example giving funding possibilities to innovative projects. Under the Green New Deal, Europe has joint together innovation and sustainability, asking industries to consider the importance of new technologies with a constant look at their impact on the environment.

Nature richness at the service of cosmetic ingredients,
an open-innovation approach