In our latest In Conversation we talk with founders Perry Romanowski and Randy Schueller of the popular and informative blog The Beauty Brains to discuss their approach to addressing confusing and misleading cosmetics claims and what lies ahead for both the cosmetics industry and The Beauty Brains.  

Sheena:  You both have had such interesting careers as cosmetics chemists – formulating and testing beauty products. Where did you start? How did you first get into the industry?

Randy: My career as a cosmetic chemist literally began by reading an ad in the newspaper. I had just graduated from college with a chemistry degree and didn’t even know the the beauty industry hired chemists. I stumbled across an ad for a small cosmetic company in Chicago called Marilyn Miglin cosmetics. At the time their claim to fame was they made the most expensive perfume in the world. I worked there for four years and learned how to make high end skin lotions and color cosmetics. Then I joined the Alberto Culver company where I was responsible for developing and testing new hair care, skin care, household products. Eventually I was promoted to the Sr. Director of Global Research and Development for hair care.

Perry: My career started with the first company that hired me out of college, Alberto Culver. I was only going to work for a year, save up some money, then go back to college to get a PHD. However, life got in the way and I really enjoyed working in cosmetics and formulating products. I stayed at Alberto for 17 more years until we launched The Beauty Brains. While I liked working for the company, I prefer working for myself much more.

Sheena:  Let’s talk about The Beauty Brains. What inspired you to create the blog? Why focus on confusing and misleading cosmetics claims?

Randy: Perry and I met at Alberto Culver where part of our job was to explain the latest beauty science innovations to our sales team, our customers, and the beauty press. We also developed a knack for explaining beauty science to non-scientists. In the 1990s we began writing a series of articles for entry level cosmetic chemists in a journal called Cosmetics & Toiletries. Over the next eight years or so we wrote dozens of articles and even edited a couple of textbooks. In 2006 Perry told me he wanted to try this new thing called “blogging.“ Since we knew from our experience that people found cosmetics to be very confusing we decided to blog about the science of beauty products. We wanted to write about confusing and misleading claims because we knew we could help people be smarter consumers if they understood how cosmetics really work.

Sheena:  Addressing product ingredients is a prime focus on The Beauty Brains and highlights consumers increased interest in safe cosmetics, ingredient disclosure, and product claims. What impact do you think this interest will have/ is having on the industry as a whole?

Randy: It’s really kind of a double-edged sword. It’s good that people have unprecedented access to information about cosmetic ingredients. However, that also means that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. For every website like ours that specializes in evidence-based beauty science there must be 100 others that spread lies and fear mongering.

Sheena:  Revising the current Cosmetic Act has been a top priority for the FDA, industry trade groups, and non-profit activist groups. From your perspective do you think a revision is warranted? Are there any limitations that could result from having new legislation enacted?

Randy: The original legislation (and subsequent regulations) has done a good job of balancing protection or both consumers and the industry. Considering that there have been 70 years of scientific innovation since the original laws were crafted it certainly makes sense to update them. This is especially true considering how cosmeceuticals have blurred the lines between drugs and cosmetics. Unfortunately, given the climate of fear mongering that exists today we wouldn’t be surprised if excessive limitations were placed on the cosmetic industry. We’ve already seen this in companies that have banned animal testing before viable alternatives have been fully vetted. (We believe animal testing should be phased out as soon as possible but phasing it out too soon only stifles new product innovation.)

Sheena:  Where do you see the industry in five years?

Randy: We’re likely to see great advances in the development of new sunscreens and a deepening of our understanding of how cosmetics interact with the skin.  The current trend toward safety and greater transparency seems likely to continue, if not accelerate.

Sheena:  What’s on the horizon for The Beauty Brains?

Randy: We’re in the early stages of a website redesign and the creation of a brand-new book on anti-aging products.

1938 is the online magazine blog for Well-Kept Beauty, formally entitled Primer.

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