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The science shaping our new beauty and personal care products


Authored by Dr Sam Samaras

Dr Sam Samaras is Head of Science & Technology for our Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care business groups, which together account for almost €23 billion in turnover. Ahead of her appearance at SXSW, Sam shares her thoughts on how cutting-edge tech is transforming the way we create new products that consumers love.

Dr Sam Samaras, Head of Science and Technology for Unilever’s Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care business groups.

About the author

Sam Samaras profile

Dr Sam Samaras

Head of Science & Technology for Unilever’s Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care business groups

Sam’s teams are tasked with delivering disruptive technologies, external-facing scientific authority, insights and claims, underpinned by leading-edge scientific expertise.

What do consumers want when it comes to beauty and personal care products?

In a way, it’s the same as it’s always been. They want to feel confident. They want to feel beautiful. They want to have a good hair day.

And that feeling of being comfortable in your own skin, or projecting your best self, is a natural part of evolution. We’re social animals and how we feel about ourselves plays a huge part in social connection.

But there’s something else consumers demand now. And that’s down to the wealth of digitally enabled, always-available information that’s at everyone’s fingertips.

Consumers want to know that their beauty and personal care products really work. That they’re authentic. They will do what they claim to do. And increasingly they’ll research the science behind these products before they buy to make sure they deliver on their specific needs.

“We focus on the scientific truth”

As scientists, this evidence-based approach works for us. We focus on the scientific truth – a discovery that we know works well to bring about proven benefits or solve problems – and we explore what it means for consumers.

In today’s connected world, we’re able to use cutting-edge tech to source deeper data-driven insights about consumers, and that’s already translated into some very successful new ingredients.

AI, for example, allows us to look at very large, complex sets of data. We can learn things in days that not long ago would have taken years and years of research. One such example is our work to explore the microbiome – hundreds of trillions of microbes in, on and around our body.

AI-powered analysis means we’ve been able to make huge strides in this area, especially in skincare. Unilever has registered more than 100 microbiome patents over the last decade, building up one of the largest proprietary skin microbiome databases in the world.

And while we used to be focused on chemistry, we’re now exploring complex biology and the underlying biological factors that make our products more desirable and more effective. It’s all about giving consumers products that are demonstrably superior – and showing those proof points.

Driving growth through superior products

One of our fastest-growing recent launches led by tech – and by our brilliant team of scientists – has been Vaseline’s Gluta-Hya range.

We started with the insight that the original Vaseline skincare lotions are extremely effective in moisturising skin, and loved by consumers, but in hot, humid countries their occlusive nature can make them feel a little sticky. Consumers wanted a lighter formula so that’s what we came up with – and more.

With Gluta-Hya, we created a lightweight antioxidant formula that feels like water on the skin but it’s deeply hydrating and ten times more powerful than vitamin C. It works with the skin to boost its amino acid precursors, which in turn can improve natural radiance and glow.

We didn’t just create a lighter version of an existing product in the lab. We created a market-making, completely unique product and it’s driving incredible growth for Vaseline across Asia.

In our Personal Care business group, we’ve also had some fascinating results from tests on a fragrance for our LUX body wash brand. LUX, together with leading brain researchers from the University of Liverpool, conducted neuroscience research to measure a person’s confidence level when inhaling the fragrance of its Magical Orchid Bodywash.

This research was done by using electroencephalography (EEG), and revealed that participants’ brains responded differently in the presence of the LUX fragrance, and in a more positive way than normal. The effect occurred within 100 milliseconds, which is equivalent to the speed of the blink of an eye – well before conscious processing is possible.

Olfaction has such a strong impact on how we feel, as its anatomical pathway is unique. It can directly access limbic (‘emotional’) brain regions without passing through other relay structures first. No other sensory modality has the same ‘direct’ access pathway in the brain.

Consumers always have a choice

So it’s not just about giving consumers products that work brilliantly. It’s about making them unmissably superior too.

Consumers always have a choice. We want them to choose Unilever products because they work on a functional level. But we want them to crave the way our products make them feel too and that’s what makes the scientific opportunity so exciting.

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