Insights / Beautytech
”This kind of AI is old technology — the new is to use AI to screen for ingredients”
On how new technologies are taking over beauty
21 Dec 2022

Who are you?

— I’m the scientific director for Kiehl’s, overseeing everything from formulations, ingredient selection, clinical test design, and demonstrating our efficacy, and working closely with our beautytech team.

From a scientific angle, what’s the most important for you in your daily operations?

— To make sure that your formulation is grounded in the fundamental skin physiology, says Ilaya. If you don’t understand how the skin works, then anything you’re putting on to it won’t work. So, you have to understand how the skin interacts with the environment, how it interacts with oil and water, and all the other crucial things when you’re formulating different types of bases and textures. It’s also about understanding the ingredients that are out there, how they interact with the environment, and how they can potentially interact with your skin. So, that’s why, for instance, ingredients like Retinol and Vitamin C have stood the test of time. We know the biology from a plant perspective and a skin medical physiology perspective. However, as an industry, in formulation, we’re not 100% there in understanding how to formulate them 100% bulletproof. We’re getting close but there’s still some technology that needs to be developed around furthering the stability of the formulations. We know that, for instance, after a certain amount of time, Vitamin C formulations can degrade with Retinol. It’s a big challenge for us as an industry.

You mention Retinol and Vitamin C and they are clearly two focus ingredients, for you and the industry. How will you develop it onwards?

— For those two, we know so much about the physiology but in this day and age, we’re also understanding more about how skin ages and how epigenetics (how behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way the genes work, Ed’s note) can be influenced by the environment. We can also understand different lifestyle factors and it’s shedding new light on how we use Retinol and Vitamin C and how we integrate them into the skin. Also, what’s very interesting is that Vitamin C and Retinol really work well complementary together because they work on different pathways in skin to improve collagen and also delaying the signs of ageing. So, we have an added oxygen pattern, the building blocks, and the stimulation — it’s like putting money in the bank with these ingredients.

The safe bet?

— It’s the safe bet, Ilaya states, but there are always new things that can be uncovered with it and that’s what we’re finding out now. Also, when it comes to clinical testing, diagnostics, and looking at the cosmetic effects on skin, we’re getting better and better at leveraging Artificial Intelligence. This helps us understand all the different interactions that you see in the genetics and different platforms to really see what else can Retinol and Vitamin C do. That’s why we’re seeing this resurgence in the popularity — not because a new generation like Gen-Z is actually discovering them but because there’s newness around understanding these ingredients in this modern setting using AI, using different types of clinical populations to look at their activity as well.


How do you work with AI?

— Our DermaReaders use AI to increase the sensitivity of detection of skin issues, where we’re able to peel beneath the layers to show where redness is and why it is occurring. Also, I’d say that this kind of AI is currently old technology — the new technology now is to really use AI to screen for ingredients and basically figure out how the ingredient might interact with the skin. So, we don’t have to risk skin irritation — we can predict it and then we can get pretty close before we take it into the clinic and test on the skin before we start to formulate with it. 

The DermaReader.

And is this something that you mainly work with in-house, or can it also benefit end customers?

— We use it all the time in our research, so it’s to help fine-tune our formulations and what type of ingredients we use. We also work with our ingredient suppliers to bring it to the consumer. For the DermaReader, we’re working with our clinical partners, to figure out how we tell our consumers more about it. We do this so that they can make more informed choices on what they’re putting on the skin, and what their regimen looks like, and also help our skincare experts to help you understand so that you can make the right choices for what products to put on your skin.

What do you predict will be the next big thing within beauty, science, and beautytech?

— What we’re seeing now is that everyone is jumping to the ’retinol bandwagon’ but I think genetics is going to come more into play, as we understand how the environment impacts the skin. We saw it rise a few years ago but it was sort of abandoned. Now, when we have other ways like Artificial Intelligence, it’s going to enable us to do more things that we weren’t previously able to do in the first wave of genetic understanding of skin ageing. I think that that’s the next frontier for us. And, we’re also looking at Augmented Realities. How do we visualize what’s happening in the skin from a clinical point of view while also educating the consumer? How do we bring them into the metaverse? It’s very unshattered territory right now…

Have you as a brand entered the metaverse yet? It’s not so big in beauty.

— We have started with some gamification in virtual worlds but from a scientific point of view, we haven’t fully delved right into it just yet. So, there’s huge potential.

Looking forward, what is the industry’s biggest challenge?

— Sunscreen formulation. Every year, we see new sunscreen — especially here in Europe except for the US — and the next year, you don’t see that sunscreen anymore. Aside from the challenges with the regulatory landscape, we also have sustainability to deal with as well. We’ve heard of all the controversy for ocean pollution for sunscreen filters and we’ve also talked about the degradation of coral reefs, even though science is still doubtful whether it truly does harm the reefs or not. This is something that not only our industry but also the water scientific community needs to be involved in and really understand, says Ilaya. She continues:

— These sunscreen filters often require a lot of different formulation components, often synthetic, to stabilise and protect the filter. Then, the textures of the sunscreens and the durability of different environments have to be waterproof and you always need some microplastic in it to get the quality. And for textures, not everyone likes the greasy, heavy feeling of a sunscreen but not everyone can wear a mineral sunscreen and there are so many different factors to think about.

And then you end up with, like, 50 different.

— Exactly, and it feels like, every summer on the market, there’s a new one, something completely different that comes out…

Nancy Ilaya.

Key takeaways

— AI is now used for screening for ingredients and figure out how they might interact with the skin.
— More in more is being understood on how epigenetics can be influenced by the environment.
— AI also helps brands to do more things when it comes to the genetic understanding of skin ageing.

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