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Lab Lessons—Wise Words From the Bench With Robert Hefford, PhD
By: Katie Anderson (Schaefer), Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine
Posted: March 1, 2012, from the March 2012 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries.
Robert Hefford, PhD
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C&T: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments?
Coming off of the success of the Herbal Essences brand, Clairol wanted to launch a hair color. It had done the basic formulations in the United States but we had to create a manufacturing line in Cramlington, England, to make that product. At the time, I was responsible for the whole production, including the packaging, which was very hard.
C&T: What was so difficult about the packaging?
For the hair color, we had to develop a bottle that proved to be stable with the developer. Also, if the cap was too big on the colorant bottle, it caused the neck to stress crack. There were always little problems, and it was difficult to get them done in time. When I started, I thought the formula was the hardest piece but after managing the packaging group for about three years, I realized that packing is harder. In a formula, you might get one or two things wrong and no one will notice, but if you get something wrong in the packaging, it is usually very noticeable, particularly with hair color. Hair color [will test] your packaging seriously, with a pH 10 colorant, dyes that will go through virtually anything, a developer at a pH of 3, etc.
C&T: What products do you find the most difficult to formulate and why?
Hair color is the most difficult to formulate because there is a perception of what the hair color will look like. [A formulator] may think he has a light ash brown, but the person who is approving the color might not think it is right. The person in charge of that hair color must work closely with the people in testing, and ultimately the hairstylists, to learn how they see it. There may be 20 versions of a color before the person approving it is satisfied. There is a lot of subtlety in the tonality of hair color, and it is difficult getting that right.
C&T: What do you see as the future of personal care?
The cosmetic industry is going natural, whatever that means. There are many interesting ingredients coming out of the natural world, such as those replacing petroleum-derived materials. If someone comes around and says he wants a natural formula, [the formulator] has to establish exactly what he means. I tell him to make two lists: materials he does not want to use and materials he wants to use. You’ve got to try to establish what you are trying to develop before you start. If you want to get to an end point quickly, this is important—and it often involves forcing someone to make decisions.