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2023's Biggest Innovations in Beauty

Published November 28, 2023
Published November 28, 2023
Haus Labs by Lady Gaga

The beauty market sees thousands of new launches every year, but what differentiates a breakthrough product? In selecting the breakthrough products of the year, the NEXT judging panel was asked to look for innovators in material sourcing, as well as product offerings across wellness, beauty, haircare, color cosmetics, and personal care. From proprietary molecule discoveries to clinically backed skincare launches, this year the industry did not disappoint.

Best Breakthrough Beauty Brand: Pavīse

Best Breakthrough Product (Skincare): Pavīse Lip Defense SPF

Pavīse is channeling pharmecutical drug discovery processes and R&D into beauty product creation, driven by founder Sophie Bai’s background in healthcare and life sciences and its parent company, biotech start-up B.A.I. Biosciences. Pavīse Lip Defense SPF is tinted lip oil containing DiamondCore zinc oxide, which accelerates skin cell healing and provides superior UV protection. By removing 80% of  reactive oxygen species (ROS)—the byproducts of cellular oxidative metabolism processes—it reduces signs of aging and inflammation. The three available shades are the result of photoprotective iron oxide, eschewing standard dyes and lakes.

“By inventing only new, efficacious molecules, myself and the B.A.I. Biosciences team are providing solutions to problems that no one has been able to solve in the past, including the invention of DiamondCore zinc oxide, which can be found in the Pavīse Lip Defense SPF. We are confident that implementing the same processes and R&D used in oncology and immunology into the field of skincare will allow us to continue innovating while benefiting millions of people worldwide,” Bai explains. DiamondCore zinc oxide is a truly transparent zinc oxide that is white cast-free across all skin tones while providing 5x better UVA, UVB, and HEVL protection.

This level of innovation didn’t come without its challenges, with Bai needing to work alongside expert chemical engineers for 12 months to reconstruct the manufacturing process to allow for large-scale manufacturing of the DiamondCore zinc oxide. But for the Pavīse team, it’s another step in their journey towards overhauling skincare for the better. “We know that skincare is a matter of public health and are continuously working to be a catalyst for suncare and photoaging innovation,” Bai concludes.

Best Sourcing Breakthrough: Babo Botanicals Upcycled Passion Fruit Seed Oil

Babo Botanicals, the B-Corp certified enterprise, which has been creating clean, plant-based personal care products for over 15 years, has a strong base in upcycled ingredients: 43% of the Laboratoires Expanscience (its parent company) portfolio is comprised of such materials. Its passion fruit seed oil is sourced from family-owned farms in Peru, turning seeds that are the byproduct of juice making (which would otherwise be discarded) into a virgin cold-pressed oil and a solid. This approach not only supports the local economy but also ensures a zero waste and circular economy approach. The formats (processed at Babo Botanicals’ sister plant in Lima) are antioxidant-rich with benefits including strengthening barrier function and nourishing the skin. Applications include shampoo, conditioner, and mineral sunscreen formulations.

“Babo Botanicals believes that a commitment to the environment begins with preserving the planet and its biodiversity. Sustainable ingredients are part of this movement towards preservation. In the future, we see consumer desire for transparency and ethical sourcing of ingredients helping expand the reach of independent certifications like Fair for Life, FairWild, and ERI 360°(carbon footprint tracking). We also believe the increasing popularity and understanding of regenerative sourcing and farming will allow the opportunity for sustainable ingredient sourcing to continue to grow,” comments Adrien Dissous, Senior Vice President of Babo Botanicals.

Best Breakthrough Product (Haircare): DefenAge 150K Hair Follicle Serum

“Staying disciplined in our proprietary science [is the key to innovation]. Too many times, beauty companies emulate each other in hopes to compete. Our regenerative medicine experts focus on deep scientific understanding of Defensin molecules and their role in cellular regeneration. This intimate understanding of the body's innate ability to repair itself allows us to build high-performing products,” comments CEO and founder Nikolay Turovets. Part of creating a high-performing product was also about packaging. The DefenAge team replaced dripper tip components with a push buton activated ampoule, which precisely doses and places the product without contaminating the remaining fluid that could happen with traditional designs.

As for the creation inside, the 150K Hair Follicle Serum (its name is a nod to the up to 150,000 hair follicles that constitute the human scalp) promises to reduce hair shedding by 90% and thicken hair by 67% by creating an optimal ecosystem around the hair follicles thanks to the bioserum level of Defensin molecules (exclusive body-identical copies of the molecules which signal the body to create new cells) and 48 natural ingredients including organic pea sprout extract and azalea-isolated yeast extract, blended into a water-based formula.

Best Breakthrough Product (Bodycare): Skinfix Resurface+ KP & PsO Smoothing Body Treatment

Developed in partnership with Scientific Advisory Board member, Dr. Peter Lio, the Resurface+ KP & PsO Smoothing Body Treatment targets keratosis pilaris and psoriasis-prone skin with clinical results. A two-week dermatologist evaluation found it to reduce skin flaking by 88%, with an 82% immediate reduction; a two-week consumer perception study saw a 91% visible reduction in KP, 91% skin smoothing effect, and 81% reduction in skin scaling. Ingredients include AHA, BHA, urea, squalene, glycerin, and the company’s B-L3 Complex, which increases lipids, resulting in skin barrier repair in one hour. The product is recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation.

“We develop products when we have breakthrough technology and/or formulas to bring to market—and the rigorous clinical, dermatologist-validated results to prove they work,” explains founder Amy Gordinier. “Developing the clinically proven KP & PsO Smoothing Body Treatment was an in-depth process of combining the right ingredients at the right levels for an effective yet non-irritating solution. We carefully considered many factors, from packaging the product in an airless pump so as not to introduce staphylococcus bacteria into the formula (from dipping fingers into a jar and onto compromised skin), to the ingredients that address the many holistic elements of helping smooth and improve KP and psoriasis-prone skin.”

Best Breakthrough Product (Tools): NIRA Pro Laser

An at-home, non-fractional laser device, the NIRA Pro Laser promises dermatologist-quality results (using the same laser chip found in professional devices) at a fraction of the price for all skin tones without any pain, redness, or downtime. Today the company has over 50,000 customers, a testament to the hard work of its team behind the scenes. “NIRA’s patented laser system and treatment method required years to develop, optimize, and confirm with professional clinical studies and FDA regulatory clearances. Specifically, NIRA has over a dozen patents in eight countries, has worked through over 20 prototype systems variants in development, and has completed three professional clinical studies with dermatologist to create this technology. This process took seven years and millions of dollars to complete,” explains founder David Bean.

The laser, with diodes tuned at a wavelength of 1,450 nanometers,  warms the dermis to naturally rebuild collagen, improve skin texture and tone, and reduce wrinkles, resulting in firmer, more youthful-looking skin. Its tip size enables the full face to be treated in minutes and the product claims to be 200 times more powerful than LED devices. In a clinical study, 93% of participants say results met or surpassed their expectations, with 90% recommending the device to others and 99% saying the treatments were quick and easy.

Best Breakthrough Product (Color Cosmetics): Haus Labs by Lady Gaga Triclone Skin Tech Foundation

The result of two years of product development, 27 formula trials, 1,000 hours of lab work, and using more than 400 shade models to ensure an inclusive shade range of 51 tones, the Triclone Skin Tech Foundation is truly a labor of love. Customers loved it right back, with #hauslabsfoundation gathering over 10 billion views on TikTok. Suitable for all skin types, the medium coverage, long-wearing foundation contains patent pending proprietary fermented arnica to reduce redness, even skin tone, and protect from environmental stressors during wear. The formula also contains BioFerment 7 Complex, an antioxdiant rich ingredient to reduce inflammation and aging, as well as IntelliZen 7 Complex to promote skin healing.

As a brand founded by a visionary futurist, innovation is very much ingrained in the culture at Haus Labs. We set out to push the boundaries of clean artistry—creating products that are clinically proven to benefit the skin while still delivering high-performance makeup,” explains Gloria Ryu, Chief Product Officer. “Collectively, the team continues to drive innovation and newness, and has thus far successfully transitioned the brand to be "product-first," shifting from supplier library formulas to 100% custom clean formulas with proprietary innovation across multiple categories. The brand's DNA is rooted in Lady Gaga's commitment to artistry, self-expression, and inclusion. Each product celebrates individuality, designed to celebrate and be used by all ages, shapes, sizes, skintones, genders, identities, abilities, and skill levels.”

Best Breakthrough Product (Personal Care): Native Deodorant & Body Spray

Available in six best-selling scents, the paraben-free and aluminum-free product functions as a personal scent as well as deodorant, packaged as a nitrogen powered mist. It’s ingredient list takes a less is more approach, containing only denatured alcohol (made from corn), dipropylene glycol, caprylic/capric triglyceride, water, fragrance (a blend of essential oils, sustainable synthetic oils, and natural extracts), and nitrogen.

At Native, our goal is to inspire the world to lean into clean with no compromises. We’re keen on understanding consumer needs, where their needs aren’t being met, and how Native can step up to deliver via clean, simple, effective innovation. But we don’t stop there—standing out from the crowd means leaning into our signature craveable scents to bring good, clean fun to your personal care routine,” the team explains. “For our Deodorant & Body Spray, our goal was to create a deodorant spray that’s powered by an ozone-friendly natural propellant, that’s easy to apply and easy to love. It’s always a highlight to have Native fans be part of our innovation journey from start to finish. We listen to what they need to ensure we’re delivering on what people want most, all while keeping the good (smelling) vibes going all day long.”

Best Breakthrough Product (Wellness): Heat Healer Body Belt

Heat Healer was founded in 2019 by Lauren Dovey after witnessing the mental and physical benefits of sauna use. “Innovation in a saturated market is all about finding your niche within the broader landscape. At Heat Healer, we believe that the key to innovation lies in continuously solving problems and striving to make improvements to what already exists. By combining my background in business and product design with a passion for wellness, we carved out a unique space in the market,” Dovey explains.

Three years of research and engineering in the making, the Body Belt utilizes Triple Threat Technology consisting of infrared heat at a temperature of up to 140°F (distributed across 44 pockets filled with five different crystals and negative-ion-producing clay beads), pulse electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, and red light therapy. The infrared relaxes and rejuvenates muscles and joints; the red light helps rejuvenate and cleanse the skin, and PEMF frequencies ground the body and relax the mind. The device can be used on different areas of the body such as the lower back, shoulders, knees, thighs, or abdominals.

“The creation process of the Heat Healer Body Belt has been an incredible journey filled with both challenges and highlights. One of the highlights was bringing a product into the world that is truly unique and meets a specific need. Our mission has always been to intentionally bring products that have not been done before, with a sense of organic beauty and novelty,” Dovey adds. “The Body Belt was the most extensive project in our range, precisely because we were not willing to compromise on its design, development, and testing. We wanted to ensure it truly challenged what was on the market and offered a one-of-a-kind experience. Overall, the journey of creating the Body Belt has been a labor of love, and we're thrilled to see the positive impact it's having on our customers' lives.”

Best Breakthrough Product (Fragrance): 5 SENS

Designed to ignite the senses and bottle a mood, 5 SENS is a collection of clean, long-lasting, and sustainably sourced fragrances, available in 10ml and 30ml options. Fragrances come packaged in FSC certified paperboard cartons, recyclable glass bottles, and wood caps, as well as PCR plastic cap liners. The brand has also partnered with the Bring Change to Mind organization to help fight mental illness stigma, as well as the Oceanic Society to support global ocean cleanup.

Its lineup includes Catch Feelings (a blend of lychee, ruby grapefruit, damask rose, and suede for flirty moods); Burn For You ( a mix of vanilla, cashmere musk, and cedarwood to indicate desire); Lit (a concoction of blood orange, bergamot, and wood for a deep dive into one’s inner world); Twin Flame (a medley of cucumber leaves, white musk, cardamom, and osmanthus for the act of reinvention); Life of the Party ( a blackcurrant, saffron, jasmine, and ambrox combination to magnetize one’s aura). “Our brand does away with the concept of a ‘signature scent,’ and instead encourages self expression, owning your energy, and wearing your mood,” founder Divya Gugnani explains.

Gugnani first developed a love of fragrances from duty-free souvenirs her father would bring back from business trips, but upon being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, she developed allergies and sensitivities to her treasured curated collection of perfumes. Dissatisfied with the clean fragrance offerings, she teamed up with a French master perfumer to create the range informed by focus groups to determine the white space for clean fine fragrance.

“When I first set out to create 5 SENS, I put a ton of emphasis on market research. We conducted focus groups in several large cities and spent a lot of time identifying customer needs in order to craft an offering that meets those needs in a new way. No one has disrupted the fragrance category with clean fine fragrances that have the intensity, longevity, sillage, and projection of their designer fashion house counterparts, while also being inclusive and accessible. The vision for 5 SENS became clear, and from there we innovated top to bottom to disrupt the fragrance space,” she adds.

Reflecting on the brand’s journey from concept to execution Gugnani concludes, “Building a brand is like a home renovation project. It takes longer than you think and costs more than you budgeted, but the result is worth the process. The highlight of creating 5 SENS has definitely been the team of people I’ve assembled to make it all happen. In terms of challenges, there were many. As a five-time founder, I still made lots of mistakes during the creation process. What didn’t kill us made us stronger, and the most crucial element of brand building is to overcome your obstacles and never give up.

Best Breakthrough Product (Men's): DefenAge 24/7 Barrier Balance Cream Men’s Formula

A hydrating, barrier-balancing, and skin-brightening product, the 24/7 Barrier Balance Cream Men’s Formula regenerates and rejuvenates the skin while improving radiance and overall tone and texture. Alongside DefenAge’s exclusive age-repair Defensins, the formula also contains niacinamide, liposome-encapsulated hyaluronic acid, and sea whip.

“This formula was inspired by DefenAge's principal scientist. As a martial artist, he needed something to protect, sooth, and help skin recovery after a session of jujitsu rolling. The personal formulation empowered his skin to rejuvenate quicker, helping hide battle scars from his team members in office,” notes CEO and founder Nikolay Turovets. “We hyper focused on the understanding of Defensin-molecules and their regenerative abilities. We then dove into men's skin and develop proprietary formulas that leverage Defensins and other key ingredients in order to create high performing men's products that deliver faster and longer lasting anti-aging results.”

Best Breakthrough Technology (Omnichannel): Obsess

The experiential e-commerce platforms allow brands and retailers to create immersive, branded virtual stores on their websites, with clients including Charlotte Tilbury, Armani Beauty, Maybelline, Laura Mercier, Neostrata, and Olaplex. The company was founded in 2017 by Neha Singh, a former software engineer at Google and Head of Product at Vogue, who saw a difficulty in translating the interactive nature of physical retail environments into the physical space. 

Thanks to its next-generation online shopping interface, the traditional e-commerce experience is transformed into an interactive and highly engaging 3D environment with virtual try-ons and consultations, social shopping, and photorealistic gamified elements. To date, over 250 virtual stores have been created, visited by over 110 million shoppers. Furthermore, these digital spaces can also be published to other platforms such as Roblox, with the AVA by Obsess 3D editing technology making management of the virtual storefront easy regardless of design expertise level.

“The key to a cohesive omnichannel brand experience is consistent messaging married with audience-centric, interactive storytelling. Leaning into first-party data can help with this. For example, in every Obsess-powered virtual store, we now collect and anonymize a new layer of 3D spatial data—which brands use to optimize their virtual experiences, in addition to other key channels within their marketing stack,” comments Samantha Lerner, Head of Marketing.

Visitors are actively engaging with these storefronts. Obsess reports that of those who frequented the Neostrata virtual experience and engaged with the educational games and quizzes within it, 70% added products to their cart, engaging with more than 13 content/product hotspots and spending 34% more time engaging with the brand. Overall, Obsess has found that playing a game in the virtual storefront increases time spent there by 367% on average, with consumers 72% more likely to add a product to their cart after completing the game. One prestige brand saw conversion grow by 112% with a 35% increase in average order value (AOV) and 109% more time spent in the virtual store versus a traditional e-commerce site. Another luxury cosmetics brand reported a 19% increase in AOV, breaking even on the annual costs of hosting the storefront in the first 45 days of it being live.

“Eighty percent of US consumers now identify as 'gamers,' and this percentage only increases when you look at Gen Z consumers alone. These consumers expect every online interaction to be highly visual, gamified, and immersive—whether they're gaming, shopping, or otherwise. Brands and retailers need to evolve their digital strategies to match these new needs of consumers, which means putting an emphasis on KPIs like engagement and time spent in order to drive conversion and brand loyalty,” Lerner states.

Best Breakthrough Technology (Supply Side): FusionPKG

With sustainable packaging solutions and custom development with integrated turnkey formulations on offer, FusionPKG covers a large range of customer needs. Their star offerings, the Airless-One and Atmos-One Mono-Material Pump Engine Technology, bring together design innovation, product performance, and an environmental consciousness while addressing industry-wide issues like pump recyclability issues. Both products are made from polypropylene for recycling compatibility (no disassembly required), while its airless design ensures optimal ingredient storage. Their 100% polyolefin pump engines are recognized by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and result in an overall lighter product weight, all while reducing waste and promoting a circular economic system. These mono-material solutions work across bottles, tubes, and glass designs.

Commenting on the biggest areas of impact when it comes to changes across the industry, Daniel Campbell, Director of Sustainability, Package Engineering & Quality, notes, “Improving recyclability in beauty packaging demands attention across several key areas including innovative design, investment in consumer education and collaboration across the entire supply chain. As manufacturers and material suppliers join forces to create sustainable materials, designers and brand owners play a crucial role in spearheading innovation through product design while retailers maintain their stance in propelling the demand for sustainable products and steering consumer choices. Additionally, educating consumers about proper recycling methods is crucial. For example, standardized labels and clear instructions help consumers easily identify recyclable items for proper disposal.”

Best Breakthrough Packaging (Suppliers): Apackaging Group

Offering a competitive speed to market of 90 days (in comparison to the average of six to12 months), as well as automated assembly lines and high-performance machinery that allows the company to produce over 600 million pieces a year, Apackaging Group has over 25 years of experience and 95 employees across the US and Asia, including its 120,000 square foot facility in Ohio. 

Its fully recyclable, mono-material, Infinity Airless packaging is made of 100% polyethylene (PE), including a PE spring instead of the standard metal material, which results in a lightweight and fully recyclable product. The airtight design also uphold formula integrity.

“Mono-material packaging is poised to have a significant impact on the future of sustainability. It simplifies the recycling process and makes it more efficient and reduces contamination in the recycling stream,” explains Hannah Palese, Creative Director. “As a result, mono-material packaging can help increase recycling rates, reduce waste, and lower the environmental footprint of products. It also encourages the use of recyclable and renewable materials, contributing to a circular economy and reducing the need for virgin resources.” But it’s not just the product that can help boost recycling in the future, as Palese notes that “educating consumers about proper recycling practices and contamination reduction is vital to ensure that recyclables are sorted effectively. In addition, product labeling and certifications, research and innovation in sustainable materials, and expanding collection infrastructures, are all factors that will help improve the recyclability rate.”

Best Use of Technology: Noteworthy

Scent and machine learning has been a hot topic in the fragrance industry. Noteworthy harnesses the power of the medium in the form of an AI and data science-backed quiz that creates personalized perfume recommendations based on factors such as the individual’s personality, color preferences, and life experience. At the end of the quiz, an individualized Discovery Kit containing four fragrance samples is sent out. The tool is the result of proprietary technology and a database built through a year-long longitudinal study and is said to be 89% likely to help the user find at least one fragrance they will love. Said database is continually growing and now contains millions of data points like age, location, and vacation destinations.

The company was founded in 2021 by Luke Weston and Ashley Boyce, who previously held executive positions at Unilever, after a research study in 2020 across 500 women which showed that 83% wished there was a simpler way to find their ideal fragrance. A further 74% also desired a unique signature scent, resulting in the development of Noteworthy’s now 17-scent strong collection of unisex perfumes, from the passionfruit and tonka bean creation 057 to the juniper, geranium, and sandalwood mix of 619.

“The biggest challenge was how to use AI to solve a consumer problem rooted in scent, which is one of the human senses that you really can't replicate or replace in a digital environment. So instead, we used the power of real human feedback and AI to create an algorithm that would help use people's personal preferences to match them with fragrances that the data told us they would love,” Boyce explains. “Our end goal was always to solve what we know to be a pain point for people, which is that nearly 80% of consumers feel that the fragrance category is difficult to shop, so we focused the technology solution around that.”

Since its inception, the company’s monthly sales have more than quadrupled with over $2.6 million in sales as of April 2023. Almost 500,000 individuals used the Noteworthy fragrance quiz in less than 9 months, showing a clear hunger for scent shopping solutions.

“I think AI will continue to help shape beauty decision-making for consumers with the ultimate end result of helping all customers find the right beauty products for them,” Boyce reflects. “Looking at the digital universe today, there are so many technologies that exist—some powered by AI, some not—that help give consumers more information and better experiences so they can better navigate the ever-evolving universe of the beauty industry. Ultimately, AI is being used to both create better beauty products on the back end and create new technologies that we haven’t seen before, as well as to provide better beauty experiences for shoppers on the other end. I’m excited to see where the constantly evolving digital beauty landscape will take us.”


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