Even if red lipstick remains a classic that is immune to the vagaries of fashion, the rouge à lèvres your mother was using 20 years ago has very little in common with the tube in the modern makeup bag. I'm not talking about the dozens of shades on offer, or about the various "wet look effects" you can create with lip gloss--not even about how long the colour and shine will actually stay on your lips. Nowadays, it seems, lipstick is about much more than fashion. It has become an essential care item that may moisturise, repair, or even plump up your lips. ...

And that's just lipstick! The cream you slap on your face every morning now serves more than mere moisturising duty. It may also claim to nourish, firm, and energise your skin; protect it against harmful UV rays or pollution; or reduce the appearance of wrinkles--the options are simply endless. Even products as innocent as shampoo may be designed to highlight your hair, give it some shine and body, repair it, or reduce split ends.

How much of all this is actually true and how much of it is marketing hype? Does it really work?

Undeniably, beauty products come with an element of fantasy and are bought primarily for glamour. Still, with their unlimited cosmetics budgets, models and actors do tend to have a healthy glow that may be due to more than simply a blessing from Mother Nature.

Plus, it is all "scientifically proven," isn't it? Although scientists may be encouraged to drop the jargon, the marketers are certainly keen to use it in their communications. Open any women's magazine and you'll be confronted with terms such as "Cell renewal," "vitamins and minerals," "amino acids," or "microbeads" in every glossy ad. Not to mention the convoluted names of active ingredients and the statistics describing how many women saw a significant difference in their appearance after how many weeks.

Sure enough, the marketing types make reference to science to add some credibility to the products. But there is also some very serious scientific research being done behind the marketing façade. To take just one example, L'Oréal alone has labs staffed with 2500 researchers and a team of dermatologists around the world, and the company registered 420 patents for innovative ingredients in 2001 alone.

L'Oréal is not alone; the cosmetics industry is simply huge. And unlike many other sectors, it seems immune to economic fluctuations. Presumably it takes a lot for a woman to give up on her beauty essentials, and, what's more, increasing numbers of men are buying into the trend.

So who are the scientists behind our beauty products and how did they come to be working in the cosmetics arena? This month Next Wave reaches beyond the fantasy to talk real science with experts in cosmetics. What are their jobs like, and what is it like to work in this industry? How are they perceived by researchers in other fields? Do they feel that animal testing is justified when it comes to beauty products? What kinds of opportunities does the cosmetics industry hold for scientists and what sorts of qualifications will make prospective applicants stand out? Finally, what are the relative proportions of hard facts and hype in all those sleek designer bottles?

Get a Feel for the Cosmetics Industry


Creating the Next Consumer Craze: What makes research in the cosmetics industry unique? Check out this comprehensive overview of the similarities and differences with other R&D fields and gain valuable insight into recruitment practices. It's all part of Next Wave's Industry Insider feature.

Meet Some Cosmetics Scientists


Stefan Gallinat describes how NIVEA, the maker of creams and lotions for women and men, combines interdisciplinary science with a focus on the consumer in the field of skin physiology.


Not Just a Pretty Face: Our essayist goes beyond the glitz and glamour of the U.S. cosmetics industry to ask cosmetics scientists what it's like to work in this sector.


Scar Wars: Are you of the opinion that cosmetics research has little to do with mainstream science and is of little value to humankind? You might change your mind after reading about the skin research carried out by Dr Anie Philip at McGill University.


A Rejuvenating Career: As a senior scientist using cosmetics science to develop topical skin care products, Monica Dias is doing exactly what she always wanted to.


Skin Science: Skin research is not only drawing the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries together, it is also a very exciting area for collaboration between scientists from different disciplines, as Kate Ravilious points out in an article reposted from The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council magazine, Spotlight.

Training Programmes


Cosmetics Curricula: Students on several U.S. campuses are deepening their skills in the sciences of superficiality.

And Now for Something Slightly Different ...


Creative Pursuit: Being trained as a scientist and working for the cosmetics industry doesn't mean you have to be sitting behind a bench. Hana Zalzal's creative talent led her right into the heart of the glamour.

Find out More

Need more info? Then please check out our Cosmetics Resources page before planning your next step!

More feature stories will be added during July 2003, so bookmark this page and come back again soon!

Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for Europe.