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The Role of Science in Beauty
By: Liz Grubow and Elle Morris
Posted: May 23, 2012
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The relationship between scientific discovery and artistic expression can be traced as far back as 1945, when the world’s first atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima, forever changing the human psyche and inaugurating the atomic age. With both scientific and civilian circles buzzing with discussion about atomic structure, visual representations of the atom became wildly popular. Striking combinations of straight lines and dots influenced iconic works such as the 1947 Ray Eames classic “dot” pattern and the mobiles of artist Alexander Calder. As the atomic craze gave way to the age of nuclear optimism in the 1950s and the advances in genetic coding in the 1960s, the double helix was adopted as the universal symbol of DNA. By the early ’90s, continued discoveries in the genetic code kept the double helix on the forefront of art and design, and boosted its commercial arrival in brand marketing campaigns and in packaging for foundations, moisturizers and even perfume. And in 1965, with the international space race in full swing, the pixel was used to explain images from probes sent to the moon and Mars. With its roots in digital photography, pixels have since expanded their applications from space exploration to beauty formulas, adorning packages and advertisements with promises of UV protection and precision in makeup and facial creams.
While the visual representations of scientific concepts are evident throughout popular art and culture, the process has a practical application as well: It is essential to building the narrative needed to commercialize these innovations. Consumers of beauty products are emotionally invested in a desire for physical transformation, but still require a logical framework in which to place new products claiming wrinkle reduction or teeth whitening.
In other words, while we may believe it is the product we seek—and subsequently purchase—it is science that truly delivers the actual transformation and satiates the underlying emotional desire. Thus, it is crucial that a product’s target consumer has a basic understanding of the science behind the product’s purported beauty benefit. Enter visualization, or a smart and succinct symbol of a scientific concept that allows the consumer to understand how science makes a product work.
Lancôme has mastered effective scientific visualization. Since its creation in 1935, the role of Lancôme’s rose emblem has evolved beyond a logo, taking on a central role in the brand’s communications. In recent decades, Lancôme’s designers have taken inspirational cues from science, particularly the wire frame design used in digital technology, computing and mathematics. Additionally, the rose has been photographed in motion to communicate oscillation. Using the same visual representations scientists rely upon to explain lofty concepts, the rose evolved as the primary visual platform for illustrating the science at play within Lancôme’s various formulas.
The Next Essential Ingredient
Over the course of history, discoveries fueled by industry, medicine, space and war have filtered down into innovation in beauty. For example, a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution introduced chemicals that could perm or color hair. The Information Age’s discovery of plant cell composition led to the integration of natural ingredients into beauty products, and with the ability to clone cells, chemicals and plants have been replaced with people as the essential ingredient of better beauty.