The essential role of innovators in driving meaningful change in personal care

The essential role of innovators in driving meaningful change in personal care

June 2024

by Zeynep Bagwell, Head of Personal Care in the Consumer team at 42T

Innovators play a crucial role in ensuring the delivery of lasting, meaningful innovation which necessitates a pragmatic approach focusing on solving genuine challenges with purposeful solutions.


When it comes to understanding the Personal Care landscape within the Consumer sector, there are few with the depth of expertise as 42T's newly appointed Head of Personal Care, Zeynep Bagwell, who has decades of experience as a scientist and a consultant in this field.

Personal care

Zeynep says, "Product development experts and innovators - like 42T - play a crucial role in ensuring the delivery of lasting, meaningful innovation. Because we are a multi-disciplinary consultancy with a wide range of expertise all under one roof, we're well placed to address a variety of technical challenges and bring a multi-faceted approach to complex challenges."

"We are also governed by pragmatism - solving genuine challenges with purposeful solutions - and we've done so for many consumer and personal care clients. Consultants are able to provide an essential sounding board or second opinion especially when entering new markets, can provide essential expertise at short notice as an adjunct to, or to free up, a clients in-house team."

This article focuses on examples of where companies, and clients, have successfully tackled innovation in their approach and products.

Taking a pragmatic approach

Companies like L'Oréal have exemplified this strategy by tackling intricate problems in skincare through tailored, meticulously crafted products. Their Custom D.O.S.E. skincare service, which acts like a mini skincare laboratory, combines formulation and manufacturing into a machine that sits on the counter, thereby enabling dermatologists to prescribe personalised solutions at the point of care.

The company emphasizes creativity, flexibility, and a deep understanding of first principles, which are essential skills required to achieve truly effectual innovation.

Innovative advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the personal care industry. However, their integration warrants careful consideration and evaluation. The implementation of AI in products, such as AI-powered skincare analysis tools, must be approached with diligence to ensure they align harmoniously with the overarching objective of delivering impactful and meaningful solutions.

Innovation in personal care

This balance is evident in the pragmatic approach adopted by companies like Procter & Gamble, which carefully integrate AI to enhance personalisation experience for the consumer through their Olay Skin Advisor tool. The skin advisor analyses selfies uploaded by users to provide personalised skincare advice, as well as product recommendations.

The trend towards minimalism is also reshaping the personal care market. Consumers in the US, for example, are increasingly favouring streamlined, minimalist practices over complex self-care regimens. This shift is evident in the skincare market, where individuals seek high-quality products that simplify their daily routines.

They prefer relying on just two to three essential products for both day and night skincare rituals. The emergence of multifunctional solutions, such as Dyson's AirStrait in the UK, underscores this preference for simplicity and efficiency, offering a single device that combines multiple functions to meet diverse needs.

Seeing the big picture

Addressing intricate challenges requires a holistic assessment of the entire system rather than merely fixing isolated symptoms. By identifying and addressing the root causes of problems, meaningful innovation emerges, driving progress forward. This approach is exemplified by companies like Philips and their HealthSuite offering, which focus on comprehensive health and wellness solutions that consider the body and mind as interconnected entities.

Recognizing the body and mind as an interconnected biological entity is crucial for fostering meaningful innovation. Consumers today increasingly acknowledge that improvements in systemic health can impact both physical appearance and mental well-being. Adopting a holistic approach to personal care solutions is indispensable in effectively addressing diverse needs.

This perspective is embraced by innovators who are striving to develop products that cater to overall wellness, integrating physical and mental health benefits, such as Oura with their Smart Ring technology. The wearable not only tracks physical metrics such as heart rate and activity, it also provides insight into daily stress level and readiness scores – highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to wellness.

This holistic mindset can expand to production and manufacturing spaces, too. In addition to innovative products, it is important to consider manufacturing processes and explore ways to optimize them for both manufacturers and the environment.

Innovators like Unilever in the UK take a comprehensive view of the entire production cycle, covering ingredient and material sourcing, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. Through their Growth Action Plan, they address long term ambitions around achieving net zero emissions across their value chain by 2039, and an end to plastic pollution through reduction, circulation and collaboration. Prioritizing sustainable solutions that can be seamlessly integrated across entire product ranges, rather than focusing on niche, token products, is essential to achieve a genuine and enduring commitment to sustainability.

Shaping the future landscape

A forward-thinking mindset is vital in a rapidly changing market. One prevalent pitfall is the tendency to over-invest in fleeting trends.

It is easy to get caught up in buzzwords and social media hashtags, losing sight of the emerging landscape. Effective innovation demands a balanced approach: a firm grasp of current trends, a forward-thinking stance towards emerging technologies, and a pragmatic commitment to sustainability and practicality.

Innovation in personal care

This balanced approach is embodied by companies like Nestlé, which successfully navigate the market's complexities by combining current trend awareness with long-term strategic planning. For example, they offer customised nutrition solutions through ventures like Nestle Health Science, which addresses the personalisation trend, while they shape the technologies of the future through their innovation centres.

Pioneering thought leaders in the personal care industry must possess a deep understanding of current offerings while maintaining a forward-thinking perspective on the market's future trajectory. As the saying goes, "prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future."

Innovators must anticipate and meet unarticulated needs to drive meaningful progress. This foresight is crucial for companies like Beiersdorf which continuously innovate to stay ahead of market trends. The company recently conducted their SKINLY study, where more than 17,000 customers used a purpose-built device to provide skin measurements, which will then be analysed with AI powered tool, to determine the effects of external influences on the skin.

Facilitating the exchange of knowledge and insights within industry partnerships is vital for maintaining a dynamic flow of information. Collaborative innovation thrives on practical solutions and illuminating perspectives gleaned from market trends and critical challenges. Fostering networking opportunities among industry leaders proves indispensable in cultivating synergistic relationships. This collaborative spirit is evident in initiatives like the UK's Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) network, which brings together industry professionals to share insights and drive collective progress.

Staying on the right side of regulations

Beyond individual companies and industry initiatives, the role of regulatory frameworks and government policies is crucial. In the European Union, regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) influence how personal care companies handle consumer data, particularly when leveraging AI and other digital tools. Ensuring compliance while fostering innovation requires a nuanced approach, balancing the need for consumer protection with the drive for technological advancement.

Similarly, in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a crucial role in overseeing the safety and efficacy of personal care products. Innovators must navigate these regulatory landscapes carefully to bring new products to market while adhering to stringent safety standards. This regulatory environment encourages the development of safer, more effective products, ultimately benefiting consumers.

Innovation in personal care

Collaborating with pioneers

In addition to regulatory compliance, the role of education and training in fostering innovation is significant. One recent example is Unilever’s collaboration with Imperial College London, University of Manchester and University of Leeds to design and manufacture sustainable flexible packaging.

Partnerships such as these facilitate the transfer of cutting-edge knowledge and technologies from academia to industry, driving the development of innovative products that meet emerging consumer needs.

Recognising consumer power

Moreover, the rise of consumer activism and the demand for transparency have pushed companies to innovate in areas such as ethical sourcing and corporate social responsibility.

Consumers are increasingly seeking products from companies that demonstrate a commitment to ethical practices and environmental sustainability. This shift has prompted innovators to develop products that not only meet consumer expectations for quality and efficacy but also align with consumer values and principles.

Innovation in personal care

For example, in 2022 Colgate-Palmolive successfully launched their recyclable toothpaste tube, made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) across the US. According to the company, recycling the tube alongside with plastic bottles requires no extra steps – “no rinsing, cutting or cleaning before tossing it into a recycling bin.”

In conclusion, innovators are essential for driving lasting and impactful innovation by strategically tackling real challenges with purposeful solutions in the personal care market. The interplay of creativity, technological advancements, regulatory frameworks, and consumer values shapes a dynamic landscape where meaningful innovation thrives, benefiting consumers and the environment alike.

How can product developers help?

At 42T, we embody these principles as a collective of deep innovators. Through strategic partnerships, we address technical challenges head-on, delivering thoughtful solutions while shaping the future of the personal care landscape.

Contact our team today to learn more about how we can support your journey towards service-oriented success. Read Consumer case studies here.


If you would like to find out more, please contact Zeynep Bagwell:

Zeynap Bagwell

zeynep.bagwell@42T.com | +44 (0)1480 302737 | Zeynep Bagwell | LinkedIn

Zeynep has worked with top multinational companies across a wide range of sectors, particularly in consumer healthcare and personal care. She is passionate about identifying complex challenges and collaborating with people across different backgrounds to solve these challenges in a meaningful and efficient way.

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