Earlier this year beauty brand Dr Grandel launched its See Change cream, an innovative product using biotechnology to optimise and standardise a cultivated algae that the company claims will improve skin regeneration. Typical reactions to a new product described this way might have been sceptical, but there was a positive response from consumers. According to Dr Grandel’s head of marketing, Dr Marie-Louise Glas, that’s because the product’s advantages were deliberately underplayed. The beauty industry, she says, often makes very bold assertions – but that wasn’t the case here.
‘If, for example, we find that clinical tests show that a product will reduce redness by 25%, that’s what we say,’ she explains. ‘And yet the industry would typically think of 25% as nothing. It would usually make a much bigger claim. But if that 25% is real, that counts.’ She adds that for those who suffer from the reddening skin condition rosacea, a 25% reduction is huge.
The best policy
Honesty could be regarded as an unusual characteristic in the beauty industry, yet perhaps the approach here is more about being precise. After all, Dr Grandel is German in origin and manufacture. And it is typically a trait of the nation’s many small- to medium-sized beauty brands that they are advanced on a scientific basis. Dr Grandel, for example, has its own research and development labs, despite its relatively small size.
‘Our buzz phrase is “in love with perfection”. And if any nation is going to take perfection as its approach to beauty products it’s the Swiss or the Germans,’ Glas jokes. The Germans, she points out, are good at engineering and tend to emphasise performance and function whatever the product. Although exports account for a big part of the company’s business, the domestic market is very important, she says, and it’s this sector in particular that wants scientifically grounded products. ‘That usually means a higher price structure, but people are ready to pay for it,’ she adds.
Such is the demand for scientific skincare products that Dr Grandel is one of several specialist beauty brands in Germany taking a test-tube-and-Petri-dish approach. They range from Amala to Annemarie Börlind, Weleda to Dr Scheller and Dr Hauschka ‒ the latter two are among several brands with a medical title in their names, typically taken from the company founder. ‘Germans love doctors,’ notes Glas.
The German beauty brand Babor was founded by a biochemist, Dr Michael Babor, before being acquired and taken forward by a pharmacist, Dr Leo Vossen. Its senior vice president of international sales, Christopher Hülbach, even refers to ‘doctor brands’ as a separate category. Hülbach says that the scientific connection lends these brands additional credibility – and that science is the future for an industry facing the fact that traditional skincare products ‘can only go so far’.
Ahead of the game
More progressive beauty brands, he says, are benefiting from medical research, citing the example of Babor’s Reversive line, which has been developed from medical research into telomeres, the regions of repetitive nucleotide sequences at the end of chromosomes which protect them from deterioration. Hülbach says that when Dr Babor created his first precision formulas the term ‘cosmeceutical’ was unknown; it is now used to describe skincare products that are a blend of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and this scientific approach has always been part of the Babor brand.
‘There are many regulations when it comes to claims in the beauty industry – I understand that consumers might find the sheer amount of claims confusing,’ he says. ‘The marketer in me loves to play with claims that catch attention. The salesman understands that at the same time the consumer is looking for brands to rely on; that are genuine. And this all the more so in a fast-moving world where educated consumers are looking for individuality.’
The appliance of science does not mean German makers are offering products filled with unnatural ingredients. For example, Dr Scheller promotes what it calls Phytosolve technology, which is effectively the use of natural emulsions to bring vitamins and enzymes in pure plant ingredients to the skin in high concentrations. As Dr Grandel’s Marie-Louise Glas remarks, scientific beauty products are all about ‘optimised nature; not nature in the sense of being purely from nature, but nature-based.’
Of course, as any scientist will tell you, nature and natural are widely abused terms. They are given an entirely positive gloss in current parlance when, in fact, not all things natural are necessarily good. Scientific, similarly, is a word open to the spin of marketing. As Glas observes, for all of the work behind the German scientific beauty products, the proof is in the results. ‘We can get someone to buy a product once,’ she says, ‘but they only come back for more if it works for them.’