I have only heard about the Beauty Bible compiled by the redoubtable Jo Fairley recently and I haven’t read it yet. In fact I haven’t actually even seen it for sale anywhere. A quick check on Amazon reveals that like the actual Bible, there are various versions so I am not sure where to start. Anyway anybody who names their book the anything Bible is clearly not lacking in ambition for their work.
I will give the Beauty Bible the benefit of the doubt for now. Let’s assume that it is full of valuable and useful information for the consumer. I want to talk about Jo Fairley’s reported comments on the Cosmetics Design website about what is that women want. It turns out that women aren’t interested in the science behind products, they only want to know whether or not they work.
Well as someone who writes a blog about the science behind cosmetic products, what do I say? Ouch I suppose. I am sorry I have bothered you all.
But I am not sure Jo Fairley really gets how science works. Because it is scientists who are sticklers for having data to support their ideas. This is a very big contrast to the actual Bible, which was written by God and is unquestionably true. Science doesn’t work like that. The biologist Thomas Huxley pointed out how often “a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact.” A scientific idea is good only if it is supported by the data and as soon as data comes to light that doesn’t support the idea, the idea has to go. So really scientists are no different to how Jo Fairley presents consumers. They are only interested in what works.
This is one of the reasons science gets a good reputation in the long run. Science delivers. I don’t think the cosmetic industry actually does use much in the way of actual science in its promotions. What it does is to give things a scientific gloss to hitch hike on the prestige of science.
I remember back in the nineties L’Oréal latched onto liposomes. These are a real scientific thing – a particular form of liquid crystal if you are interested. L’Oréal renamed them Action Liposomes and ran television adverts showing diagrams of liposomes penetrating the skin to deliver benefits deep down below the surface. As I say, liposomes are real but the rest of it was pure fantasy. Liposomes just don’t penetrate the skin like that, and if they did there is no real reason to think that would be a good thing.
A professor of colloid science was so outraged he wrote them a letter pointing out the outrageous travesty their advert was of current research. He was pleased to note that the adverts were quickly withdrawn and for years afterwards would happily tell people about it.
A couple of years later I ran into somebody from L’Oréal who was involved in the project. He had no memory of the letter from the scientist. He said that the adverts were dropped simply because their market research showed that they weren’t very effective.
So although I basically agree with Jo Fairley’s point, I don’t think it is the case that cosmetic companies are losing sales by overcomplicated pitches involving too much of the science stuff. I think they know exactly what they are doing. All the time people have a positive impression of science, cosmetic adverts will have a place for pseudoscientific gobble-dee-gook that gives the impression that the products have some credibility. It would be nice if that meant some actual science got out there as part of the process, but that really is the last thing on their mind.
Note – the image illustrating this blog post is an Amazon link. It is the easiest way to find an image when you are talking about a book or a product. In the interests of full disclosure I must point out that I will receive a microscopically small commission if you click on it and purchase it. Trust me, the chances of the amount of cash involved influencing my editorial integrity are pretty slim. I may be cheap but not that cheap.