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If I were on Survivor, my "luxury item" would be red lip gloss. In fact, in my 14-plus years as a beauty editor, I thought I'd seen and tried every incarnation of red gloss on the market. Until now. I'm walking through Avon's new Global Research & Development Center -- a 225,000-square-foot behemoth in Suffern, New York, that houses researchers, technicians, and machines. To my right: Hundreds of vats of pure, creamy pigment in shades of ruby, scarlet, carnelian. On my left: Additives that create pearl, matte, shimmer, and glitter effects, plus even a product called "flip color," which turns a flat hue holographic. Here my staple red gloss could be re-created in literally tens of thousands of ways.
Cooler still is the hair-care evaluation laboratory, with rooms set at different humidity levels and populated with Barbie Dream Head-type things that have natural hair of all textures -- straight, curly, and downright kinky. I stop before entering the 90-percent-humidity-controlled chamber -- why ruin my perfect blow-out? It's in there that the Advanced Techniques Anti Frizz Capsules were born, a treatment that stops fuzz and flyaways before they form, even in tropical weather.
Leave it to a company that's 72 percent female to reinvent the way we get gorgeous. In 2007 alone, 1,000-plus innovations will come out of this lab, with hundreds more in the pipeline, all designed to make looking and feeling your best easier and faster. The chemists at the helm have advanced degrees -- one's a molecular biologist, another's a neurophysicist -- but relating to real women is what gives them their brightest ideas. Here, a behind-the-scenes peek at what goes into making the products you can't live without.
"I started out in a totally different industry," says Lisa Lamberty, director of product innovation, global research, and development. "I'm a chemist by trade, but creating printing ink was my start. Funny, the way you formulate ink is not all that different from mascara -- it's a coating, a dye. But developing makeup is much more fun!"
"My best innovations occur when I think backward -- how the end result will meet the needs of women. With Daring Definitions, we thought, Okay, what do they want with mascara? Lashes they can really see. To meet that need, we created a unique latticework pigment that wraps around lashes and reflects light to give the illusion of the blackest black hue. It's not waterproof, yet it stays on all day, won't smudge, and comes off easily with any makeup remover and no tugging or rubbing the delicate eye area."
"Both my daughter and I contracted Lyme disease on our own property -- which made me want to re-create Skin So Soft and develop a bug guard that felt so comfortable to wear, you'd never leave home without it," says Michele Duggan, director of personal care and hair care, global research and development. "By working with experts in our skin-care lab, we were able to make a long-lasting sunscreen and bug repellent in a base that feels like lotion, not heavy or goopy.
"My latest priority is making every day a great-hair day. A line we're developing right now called Damage Repair contains a special polyelectrolyte complex that actually glues split ends together and lasts through a few shampoos so your hair will look vibrant and healthy."
Josie Adams, executive director of Color Cosmetics and Mark, global research and development, is a mother of three. "I never have enough time to do anything! Before Instant Manicure [sheets of dry polish that peel off, stick on, and last for a week], the last time I got my nails done was for my wedding day. Since my biggest challenge with polish was drying time, we figured out how to formulate tabs of already-dry lacquer that you fit to your nail shape. Since it's actual nail polish, it behaves like any other manicure, but without chipping or wearing away. "I can't live without SuperFull Mascara -- it converted me from being a non-mascara-wearer to a daily user. The new brush technology is amazing -- unlike traditional nylon-fiber brushes, plastic bristles sweep through lashes from root to tip in one swift motion with no clumping."
"I loved contributing to the creation of the Anew Clinical Line Wrinkle Corrector," says Laurence Dryer, manager of new technology, global research and development. "It's a high-tech, topical formula that smoothes out deep lines with a new retinol molecule that's extra gentle. There are many women who aren't ready for aesthetic procedures like Botox and injectable fillers, and this noninvasive treatment can meet their needs without their spending a lot of money or time making a doctor's appointment."
Reality check: "Not every idea makes it. We're constantly dreaming up products. Then the lab finds ingredients and tests them for real-world usability. Even if the formula works well, we can still hit snafus. Once, we were all set to produce a product made with an excellent natural ingredient, but when we went to harvest it, the local fauna had eaten the entire crop!"
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2007.