The brains in beauty

Behind all those pretty bottles of skincare products lies serious, cutting-edge research.

A CANCER researcher and a cosmetics company may seem worlds apart. But for scientist Dr Daniel B. Yarosh, working with Estée Lauder Companies Inc gives him a chance to do what he does best: researching DNA damage and repair.

Dr Yarosh, whose expertise is in molecular biology and DNA repair, joined the group last year as its senior vice-president of research and development. He oversees the company’s research programme in the United States, Europe and Asia, and has a team of 72 scientists and researchers to assist him in creating innovative skincare technologies.

It’s easy to spot Dr Yarosh. He has that stereotypical nerdy scientist look and none of the flamboyance normally associated with men working in the beauty business. He also has a naturally smiling face and a great sense of humour.

“I started out as a pointy-headed scientist, only interested in research. And I found I was learning more and more about less and less. So I knew everything about nothing,” Dr Yarosh jokes during an interview in Manhattan’s London Hotel in New York recently.

The author of the The New Science of Perfect Skin is a respected figure in the field of “photobiology” (the study of the effects of light on biological systems) and has spoken frequently at international conferences. He has also served as a staff fellow and cancer expert at the US National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

To date, he has written over 100 scientific papers and is an inventor named in two dozen patents.

Before joining Estée Lauder, Dr Yarosh was president of Applied Genetics Inc Dermatics (AGI), a biotechnology firm he founded in 1985. In 2008, AGI was acquired by the Estée Lauder group and Dr Yarosh became an employee.

However, his relationship with the company goes back 16 years, when AGI started conducting research for the cosmetics giant.

“AGI was interested in research on skin cancer. We knew that DNA is the centre for damage and has many effects on the skin, such as wrinkles and pigmentation. So it was natural to go from DNA repair to skincare,” he explains.

AGI developed the DNA repair technology for alkylation damage (caused by smoke and pollution, in particular toxins and chemicals), which it sold to Estée Lauder. The technology is now used in the new Advanced Night Repair (ANR) Synchronised Recovery Complex.

“My philosophy about cosmetics is to have the skin act normally. To make skin operate at its best, we want all those cells to go back to the way they were,” Dr Yarosh says, adding that ANR helps facilitate the skin’s natural repair processes.

He’d started out as a scientist but became a businessman when he formed AGI. As the boss, he had to hire a director of research to oversee the R&D, but later realised running a business was not his forte.

“It was difficult for me to have someone in charge of research and me looking over his shoulder. I was at one point responsible for the well-being of 70 families. Each employee has a family and that’s a burden for a small company to worry about all the time.

“Now, I’m back to worrying only about science and someone else worries about the balance sheet,” he quips.

The company has research laboratories in New York and Minnesota in the US, Belgium in Europe, as well as Tokyo and Shanghai in Asia.

“One active area of our research is to understand how the skin is different among people in different countries. In Europe and US, women develop wrinkles first and pigmentation later. But in the case of Asian women, it is the reverse.

“We also have a study on genomics. We know everyone has the same genes but different ‘flavours’ of genes. For instance, if we want to make a product for Japanese or Malaysian women, we will say, ‘Okay we use the technology for pigmentation’, whereas in the West, we will use the technology for wrinkles.”

Dr Yarosh says Estée Lauder has a successful philosophy in that the group allows its R&D to go ahead and find new things instead of telling the researchers what they want.

“Science goes forward. That’s where advances come from. If you’re always chasing what someone tells you to do, you will miss out on all the new discoveries.”

For women who want to look good as they age, he offers some practical tips.

“Stay out of the sun, and wear sunscreen if you have to go out. The sun can be most damaging on the skin and is one of the main causes of age spots.”

To have good skin, he adds, one must also ensure good health and get sufficient sleep.

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