Ashland's Jean-Marie Botto leads the way in developing new skin care products
When times get tough, people buy cosmetics.
Morale boosters are important, American researchers have discovered. When the economy sinks, consumer spending follows suit – except on cosmetics. Apparently a little moisturizer, mascara and lipstick can go a long way toward helping boost self-confidence.
Global sales of skin-care products topped $100 billion in 2012, with particularly strong demand in Asia. Japan and China rank as the largest markets. And cosmetics aren’t just for women. Men around the world are getting in on the action. Research indicates that 25 percent of guys age 18 or older currently are using facial skin-care products.
That’s where Jean-Marie Botto of Ashland’s Global Skin Research Center steps in. He and his team, who are based in Sophia Antipolis, France, are on the front lines of the battle to keep consumers looking good – regardless of their age, gender or income level. The lab develops ingredients for skin and hair products which are marketed under the Vincience™ brand name.
Much of Botto’s current research focuses on biofunctionals, or ingredients that change the appearance of the skin. As senior manager of innovation and upstream research, he understands – perhaps better than anyone – that true beauty is not skin deep. There’s an increasingly complex science behind all of it. Genetics plays a role, but today Ashland’s scientists are carefully studying how diet, lifestyle and other factors figure in. In research circles, it’s called epigenetics.
Botto’s team is intent on bringing new ideas to the table for our customers, who include some of the best-known names in cosmetics.
“Our job is to explain how we obtain the end benefits when the final formulations – the creams and cosmetics – are applied on the skin,” says Botto, who discovered his passion for science as a kid when he came across a scientific dictionary during a trip to the local grocery.
Skin biology has been Botto’s passion since joining our laboratory near Nice, France, in 2000.
Answers produce more questions
“I have a huge curiosity about the mechanisms around life science biology and skin biology,” he says. “How do all these things work? Every time you find an answer, it produces 10 new questions. This is the fun part of the job.”
Ashland has developed hundreds of safe and high-performing products that help protect, nourish and revitalize skin. For example, Actopontine is a biofunctional that helps improve skin firmness and elasticity, leading to a more youthful appearance. The product won the China Personal Care & Cosmetics Innovation Award in 2014.
“Jean-Marie has a great knowledge in biology, beyond the limits of our specialty,” says Nouha Domloge, M.D., director of the research center and Botto’s co-author on numerous patents and publications. “To innovate, we have to see the current limits … and then project beyond that. He is very brilliant in that way. He brings us a high level of science by being up-to-date and knowing what is going on.”
The marketing of cosmetics has changed dramatically, Domloge notes. “Many years ago, cosmetics were sold with a story,” she says.
But then the landscape shifted. Two things happened. The pipeline of new products grew exponentially, and consumers began taking a much closer look at what they were buying. They became more discerning and better educated about the science of beauty.
“The language of communicating with consumers changed – it became more scientific. Consumers were going to compare those product claims and buy the product they trusted most,” she explains.
The communication with manufacturers also has evolved, says Botto. “We are (now) talking the same language. In past years, we were the scientists because we were developing the biofunctionals. But today, customers are also scientists. We speak the same language and understand each other,” he says.
Innovation is in demand
He recalls the time not long ago when a customer asked Ashland to take the lead in developing a new biofunctional ingredient that would target a very innovative pathway recently discovered in the skin.
“We stopped everything; everybody in R&D started working on this and in a few months, we delivered a biofunctional that is on the market today. This was a big success,” he adds.
“Because it is only 13 years of history, we do not understand very well how microRNAs work. We know the main processes regulated are epidermal differentiation and renewal (the constant development of new layers of skin cells), pigmentation and so on,” says Botto.
“So now we have to take this into the equation of skin biology, to know more of what sustains the physiology of the skin so we can invent new biofunctionals. This is very upfront research in skin biology,” he adds.
Making the research even more complex is ethnic differences in skin. “You can foresee that the Asian market is going to explode in the upcoming years,” says Botto. “This is why we start thinking about ethnically specific biofunctional ingredients.”
The scientific breakthroughs may go beyond skin care some day.
“I think the possibilities are huge,” says Botto. “We can imagine extending the knowledge to nutrition, pharmaceuticals, tissue engineering and medical applications. You can imagine a lot of things.”
Jean-Marie Botto remembers discovering the world of science when he was 10 years old.
“I found a book in a supermarket. It was something like a dictionary of science. I read it and compared all of the sciences, and biology fit well with what I wanted to do,” he recalls.
Botto went on to earn advanced degrees in molecular pharmacology, biochemistry, endocrinology and molecular biology. In 1997 he earned a doctorate in molecular biology and pharmacology from the University of Nice.
While completing his post-doctoral research, he served as an assistant professor at the University of Marseille and worked in labs devoted to neurobiology, olfaction physiology and neuropeptides.
“I was working in an academic lab and had a chance to come into industry,” he says. “I was told I would work on a lot of different topics, all related to one big topic: the skin. That was what decided it for me.” He joined Ashland’s Vincience laboratory in Sophia Antipolis, France, in January 2000.
Away from the lab, Botto enjoys hikes with his children, Clément and Noémie; Japanese martial arts, including iaido, jodo and karate, and target shooting. His wife, Valérie, is an Ashland chemist.
Hiking with Noémie, left, and Clément