After working in skincare product development and in the beauty industry for over ten years, I’m often asked what my favorite beauty products are and why.
The “why” is easy to answer, because it’s part personal preference of course, but the other part has a lot to do with the texture of the product. The reason for this is because without even most of us realizing it, texture plays a large part in formulation, design, and of course, feel.
Consumers assess sensorial attributes subconsciously
A product’s major point of differentiation is the texture and the sensorial effect the product offers. We don’t always think about this because it happens so subconsciously. For example, if you can remember back to the last time you sampled a new product, you’ll recollect smelling it first, then using a small bit and spreading it a little, then a lot. Without even noticing, you will be making sensory assessments about how much you like or dislike the product’s aroma, pickup, immediate texture, play time, rub out, and after-feel.
Consumers link texture to functionality
I recently had the opportunity to interview a brilliant consumer psychologist professor and consultant, Carole Berning, on the topic, who said, “Sensory attributes have a major impact on consumer product perception and appeal across all five senses and every product category I've ever worked on. There are likely thousands of examples of how modifying a specific sensory attribute results in significantly altered product performance ratings as well as overall ratings and sales.”
Texture, according to Carole, is one of the crucial factors consumers rely on to determine a sense of a product’s quality specifically in personal care products. For example, the more dense or thick a formulation is, the better it is perceived for moisturizing, while lower viscosity is perceived to be "watered down" and less effective. Characteristics of lather also alter perceived product performance such as creamy versus airy versus low sudsing for rinse-off products.
Mintel conducted a research in the UK that demonstrated the above, and even dug deeper differentiating female vs male perception. Consumers are indeed making a clear link between sensory factors of a product and its functionality:
However, from a technical and formulation standpoint, the thickness or more bubbles a product create doesn’t necessarily means it is more moisturising or cleansing—the latter performance would be more related to the level of actives a formulation contains. Formulators, though, understand consumers’ perception and take this into consideration when developing a formula. In an interview with Gajan Haas, Director of R&D at Twincraft Skincare, he mentions, “From R&D brand based, as a scientist when I look at the technology, I look at what we are going after: how the product feels, appears and application. Texture plays a major role and Korean Beauty firms are maximizing on these features. Korean Beauty brands are marketing products with different sensorial and texture experiences, for example: a gel that breaks down and releases hydration onto skin plus a cooling/tingling sensation. These textures are developed by using different emollients and polymers in combination. Polymer technology has been advancing/improving every year. So a formulator will have to choose the right polymer in combination with right emollients and solvents to provide certain texture and sensorial effect.”
Texture importance in driving functionality
In addition to the sensorial attributes textures provide on a psychological and physical level, it’s also a main driver in the functionality of a product.
For example, a study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics on the influence of SPF and the quantity of sunscreen applied (August 2012) had shown that an SPF15 can be more efficacious than an SPF30 when the former is applied properly onto the skin and the latter is not. This was demonstrated by comparing 20 commercially available products with SPFs varying between 10 and 50+. The two graphs below illustrate some of their findings.
So, the real question is, what does it mean when SPF is not applied properly (e.g., lower quantity, etc.)? Simply put, it’s when the product does not feel nice on the skin!
And Cosmetics Formulators are aware of this. Monica Advani, Sr. Formulation Chemist at Cosmetic Solutions LLC, commented during an interview, “This is where the feel of the product and the overall sensation experienced is key. And ultimately, the product must be efficacious. Texture is a key driver in all of these aspects. Overall, the benefits of texture are not only from a perspective of appeal, but function as well.”
When it comes to skincare product development, we've learned when we like the sensory effect, texture, and fragrance of a product, we will apply it better and more abundantly, thus getting more/better benefits from the product.
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