I was recently lucky enough to fly to Singapore as a guest of Procter & Gamble (P&G) to visit their new state-of-the-art Innovation Centre. Myself and the team from A Current Affair were among the first in the world to tour P&G's usually high-security, top secret laboratories that hosts the development and testing of some of the world’s most well-known beauty brands including Olay, Pantene, SK-II, Covergirl, Max Factor, Fekkai and Gucci Fragrances.
The sleek new labs, which opened in March, cost $200 million to build (not including the equipment inside) and are smack bam in the middle of Singapore’s biotech hub, known as “Biopolis” – a remarkably leafy and picturesque suburb with towering structures of steel and glass and crawling with scientists from all over the world. The P&G centre has over 500 staff from all walks of beauty science from biophysicists to computational scientists, biophonetics experts, chemistry experts, soft meta-physicists (who work on understanding the physics of hair and skin), packaging design experts and formulation experts.
The thing that stood out to me over my two-day site visit was just how many facets there are to making a skincare product – things we don’t even think about. To break it down, I’ll chart the journey of a cream Olay’s newest Regenerist Luminous range from inception to the finished product.
1. They work out what the consumer wants
When it comes to formulating a new product, P&G always start by asking the consumer what they are looking for or what they want to change about their skin. They have a vast pool of women who they interview by going into their homes to see them in their environment, or inviting them into the purpose built ‘Consumer Model Home’. A space that allows them to study women in a non-lab-like environment. Olay Regenerist Luminous came about because the researchers kept hearing women talk about how they wanted to have glowy skin, luminosity and even tone.
2. They work out how to measure it
Next, the scientists get to work on how they can measure those factors, so that once the product is developed, they’ll know if they’ve achieved the end goal.
“Often the benefit that the woman is seeking may have an emotional component, but we want to make sure that we can deliver that benefit in a measurable way,” says scientist David Khoo. When it comes to a somewhat vague idea like luminosity, the boffins were actually able to measure the way light reflects off the skin using various devices like the Visia machine that captures skin under polarised, cross polarised light and UV light to analyse surface reflection, and the condition of the skin just beneath the top most layer.
3. They make the cream
Next for the nitty gritty. The scientists go to their databases of ingredients and look for ways in which to address the key concerns. All of these ingredients have already been tested for safety so they know they’re good to go. Then the formulator gets involved. The tricky part is making sure all these ingredients can exist happily together while building a formula that is a pleasure to use. A lot of emphasis is placed on sensation – a cream has to feel indulgent, not too heavy and not too light. It needs to suit various climates, age groups and skin concerns, and of course, be safe to use. For Olay Regenerist Luminous, the scientists chose proven skin brightener, niacinamide along with a potent antioxidant and a pentapeptide and wrapped it up in a beautiful silky texture. In addition to the dream cream, they developed an exfoliating cleanser to smooth the surface of the skin and are also launching a tone perfecting treatment exclusive to Australia, designed to counteract the harsh effects of our sun.
4. They make the packaging
As the formulations are being worked on, packaging also comes into the picture. “We need to make sure its luxurious, that the packages are protecting all the active ingredients and that they’re functional - like if there’s a pump, that it’s dispensing well. And of course there are a lot of considerations for internally to us as well, like manufacturability, the cost of the packaging and then we go onto the stages of design,” says packaging expert Mert Sasoglu. P&G Singapore actually have a software that allows them to design and test a lot of those qualities and even a stress testing robot which automatically presses a serum's pump - for example - thousands of times to see how it functions over time or transports and bare weight. There’s also a 3D printer they use to build a prototype of the packaging, which is just like an inkjet but prints from the ground up using tiny droplets of polymer, taking about five hours to complete. Once they decide on the mould then they can mass produce the packaging.
5. They test the product
To make sure they’ve achieved what they set out to, the scientists then test the finished product on real women, which is known as a clinical study. They do ‘blind tests’ so the women don’t know they’re Olay products and compare them to competitive products to get a sense of how they will perform. “We recruit our testers based on specifics: sometimes it can be age group, but a lot of it’s focused on the existing skin condition, like skin tone concerns, dark spots, and uneven skin tone,” says Khoo. Olay Regenerist Luminous smashed all the tests with 117 respondents between the age of 25 and 55 noticing a decrease in dark spots.
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Story by Sigourney Cantelo. Photography by Ashley Mak Photography.