Procter & Gamble skincare brand Olay recently celebrated one billion sales of its iconic Regenerist Collection jars worldwide. A jar of the Regenerist Micro-sculpting Cream, the leading product in the range, is sold every minute in Australia. Behind the products is a team of scientists responsible for creating the next big seller, which can take anywhere between six months or five years. Here, Olay principal scientist David Khoo shares an insight into his own career journey, the process of c
f creating an Olay product and the biggest challenges in his line of work. Inside Retail: What did you study to get into this field? David Khoo: Lots of life science: molecular biology and biochemistry, chemistry, cell biology. Big heavy textbooks dense with long scientific terms and molecular pathways. My dad is a retired professor of entomology, so I guess you could say biology is in the blood. IR: Can you explain a bit about your career journey to get to this point? DK: I spent a lot of time doing research in various labs — biophysics, cell biology and even a microbiology lab, studying viruses. None of which made for sparkling dinner conversation, but it gave me a deep appreciation of the intricacy of life itself, and how finely tuned it is. And I learnt how to follow long causal chains of events, because for any given biological event, there’s many factors and dozens of steps. A surprisingly useful skill because all of life — society, economics, geopolitics — is complex, and I’m fascinated by the interconnections. (Am I getting in the weeds here?) Anyway, after a while I began to realise that life in academia wasn’t for me. So I decided to make the leap into the commercial world. It was an exhilarating transition — much faster paced, a more collaborative atmosphere and a global outlook. It felt like I had opened a window into a broader horizon. And I still get to geek out — we’ve got a very sharp, talented group of scientists at Olay, spread across the globe. IR: How do you identify the most suitable ingredients for use in Olay products? DK: We’re big on the ‘omics’ — genomics, proteomics, lipidomics and we’re obsessed with understanding skin at the molecular, cellular and whole organ level. We do a lot of lab research and clinical studies and publish a steady stream of academic papers that seems to have nothing to do directly with actual products. But it’s a powerful starting point. This understanding helps us screen through thousands of ingredients and only the top one per cent make it into our formulas. These are the ones that are backed by lots of science. IR: What’s involved in the creation of an Olay product? How long does it take to bring a product from experimentation to completion? DK: There’s three main components: Discovery, Craftsmanship and Proven Performance. The discovery phase involves understanding unmet skin needs but that’s closely married with fundamental scientific research. The science is vital for us because it gives us an insight into what skin needs that consumers aren’t aware of or can’t express. This then leads to craftsmanship — prototyping and optimising formulas. Our formulators are masters in their field, and have earned numerous patents for their innovations. Proven performance involves a battery of technical evaluations and clinical studies in real life conditions with consumers all over the world. Over the years we’ve had to develop many of our own evaluations in-house because we wanted to measure skin benefits to a rigor no one had attempted before. The VISIA skin analysis machine is one example of this. We’ve since made the VISIA Skin Analysis technology available to the broader scientific and dermatological community and they’ve become widely used. It’s hard to say definitively how long it takes because it’s a non-linear process. I used to say “anything from six months to five years”, but you could argue that some of the products we’ve launched are the culmination of 50-plus years of research. IR: What has been your biggest achievement? DK: We don’t like to look back too much, but one of the biggest achievements we keep referencing is the Regenerist Micro-sculpting Cream, also known as the Red Jar. It’s been on shelves for a number of years now, but I’d still say if you’re new to Olay and want a recommendation, look no further than the Regenerist Micro-sculpting cream. It’s our gold-standard in terms of texture and efficacy. At the heart of that is our world-leading research on niacinamide for more than 25 years. We’ve published ground-breaking research on how it works, and we’ve optimised how to get it into the skin. There’s numerous independent studies floating around that it outperforms prestige products.