One of the most iconic and successful luxury beauty lines, La Prairie’s Skin Caviar collection, turned 30 last year and it’s getting better with age. The Swiss company challenged Dr. Jacqueline Hill, its director of strategic innovation and science, to enhance its classic bestsellers, and it just unveiled new and improved iterations of its most seminal products: Skin Caviar Luxe Cream, Skin Caviar Luxe Cream Sheer, and Skin Caviar Luxe Sleep Mask. When the collection’s Skin Caviar Luxe Cream was first introduced, in 1998, its combination of cutting-edge science with decadent ingredients set a new standard for skincare. You may be thinking, why fix what isn’t broken? Because science has advanced over the past 30 years while Skin Caviar’s classic formulation had remained intact and there was room for improvement. Through her research, Dr. Hill says, “We discovered that we could complement our caviar extract with biomolecules and their building blocks to enhance its efficacy.” What that translates to is an unprecedented concentration of the active ingredients in caviar that, combined with a host of La Prairie’s other proprietary compounds, yields a cream with lifting, tightening, and toning like never before.
“It was certainly an audacious decision!” says Dr. Hill. “We felt that our client deserved us to offer her the very best results for her skin. As a woman, I am always very excited to create products that I want to use myself; products that truly deliver optimal performance.” Which is what makes Dr. Hill’s work at La Prairie so unique: She draws on her knowledge as both a scientist and a female consumer to create what women really want.
In the beauty business, which is inextricably linked to science, there are few female scientists. According to a recent survey by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, women account for less than one-third of scientific researchers and developers globally. While gender disparities plague industries from Hollywood to finance, the lack of females in science becomes particularly surprising when you consider that beauty products are largely consumed by women. If Estée Lauder and Helena Rubinstein pioneered marketing cosmetics to women, isn’t it only logical that females lead the charge in the science behind beauty?
Among cosmetics companies, La Prairie has long been synonymous with science: The company began with a spa clinic, founded by a Swiss doctor in 1931, that pioneered cellular therapy. But the brand truly shot to fame in 1987 with the first product that harnessed the natural anti-aging benefits of caviar. That proprietary formula was a scientific breakthrough that continues to be a cornerstone of La Prairie’s collection. In her role, Dr. Hill is responsible for stewarding the company’s heritage of scientific innovation, spearheading the research and development of new ingredients, formulations, and products. As Dr. Hill puts it, she and her team are “the keepers of scientific exactitude” in everything La Prairie does.
For many years, the kind of work that Dr. Hill does was mostly kept behind the scenes. If beauty is about selling a fantasy, the thinking went, no one wants to be bothered with pH levels or cellular turnover. But thanks to the internet’s easy access to a wealth of information, consumers are increasingly savvier about the data that backs up beauty products’ claims. As such, science has become a key part of any beauty brand’s success. It’s no longer just about fantasy, it’s about technical prowess.
“I think that scientific innovation plays a strong role in luxury,” says Dr. Hill. “The packaging and marketing speech will lead the client to buying a product for the first time, but it is the technology and the efficacy of the product that will bring her back to the counter.”
With leaders like Dr. Hill behind powerhouse beauty brands like La Prairie, we are likely to hear more about the science and substance than just the packaging of our favorite beauty products.