Lab Lessons—Wise Words From the Bench With George Deckner


Formulating a personal care product requires understanding both the science behind the ingredients and the chemistry needed to combine those ingredients. However, according to George Deckner, research fellow at Procter and Gamble (P&G), the key to being an innovative formulator is knowing material science. “Materials are what lead formulation innovation. The formulation stuff is easy to get when you understand material science.”

Fittingly, Deckner began his 40-year personal care career in material science when he joined Onyx Chemical. This landed him at Revlon in quality control, followed by Charles of the Ritz where he worked for about 10 years as a senior chemist and developed products. After Charles of the Ritz was sold to Revlon and P&G bought their Bain de Soleil sun care line, Deckner continued developing formulation technologies and new material science. In 1985, an exploratory formulation and new material science development group was created, in which Deckner has a integral role.

C&T: What is one major lesson you learned in your first job in cosmetics?
One of the biggest challenges is getting useful information. The really good stuff you do not read in a textbook. At that time, I learned about the industry from courses on raw materials and formulation, and by reading industry magazines. There is a lot of information out there but not much knowledge. Knowledge provides perspective; it is easy to get information but not knowledge.

C&T: How would you recommend gaining industry knowledge?
If I had advice to give, it would be to find a mentor. Somebody that can teach you makes your job a lot easier. I really didn’t have one and I learned things the hard way by reading a lot of information and referencing it in the lab. Formulators at supplier companies can be a good knowledge source. The key is to find out which supplier formulators are good.

C&T: How can a formulator find innovative information?
The real breakthroughs come from understanding how other industries solve similar problems and reapplying this to personal care. We at P&G call this innovation by analogy. That is how you get really strong patent positions and breakthrough products.

C&T: What raw materials would you say have been revolutionary?
One that comes to mind is carbomer, which is a swellable polymer that can create clear gels and elegant skin care products with a light feeling and good application properties. That made it easier to formulate stable skin care creams. It is difficult to create clear gels with good aesthetics without these polymers.

In terms of anti-aging benefits, peptides have changed the landscape because they can provide consumer-meaningful benefits and clinical effects at low use levels (3–5 ppm). Anti-aging peptides have also revolutionized the way skin care actives are created. Similarly, micronized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have changed the way sunscreen products are formulated. You get tremendous SPF efficiency when you combine chemical sunscreens with particulate sunscreens.

C&T: How has the formulator’s role changed in the past few decades?
Personal care has become more sophisticated due to technologies that have transferred from the pharmaceuticals industry. The learning curve is steeper now because of this sophistication; therefore, people have to become much more specialized. But I think you are a better formulator when you have breadth of experience.

C&T: What changes would you like to see in the personal care industry?
A lot of products out there do not deliver meaningful benefits to consumers. I would like to see the industry become more consumer-centric by focusing on meeting consumer needs and not just a better marketing story. The consumer is boss, and formulators must make products people are passionate about.

C&T: How do you formulate across product categories?
The principles are identical whether you are cleaning teeth, hair or skin. A toothpaste is a cleaner with an abrasive, a surfactant, a little flavor and similar thickening agents to skin care. If you understand the principles [behind them], you can apply them to any products. The formulator has to focus on the core consumer benefits they are trying to deliver and improve those in a meaningful way.

C&T: What do you see on the horizon for personal care?
At the recent SCC Annual Meeting, Reversible Addition-Fragmentation chain Transfer (RAFT) technology was presented. The potential there to use the same monomers and get different functionality is huge. If I can use the same monomers to create different architectures with different functionality, this is a big deal; it’s one way of getting different products without having safety or regulatory issues.

C&T: Speaking of regulation, how do you overcome regulatory issues?
To me, regulatory issues are an opportunity. I figure out how to use then to gain a competitive advantage. [However, to do so,] you better become an expert in them.

C&T: What comprises an innovative formulator?
If you are not passionate about this business, go somewhere else. As a formulator, your source of competitive advantage is your passion. There are a lot of people that are smarter than me but no one as passionate. Attend online courses, read magazines, go to technical meetings and attend conferences form other industries—that is how you get ahead.

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