I decided to write this mood note as I was listening to a show called “La Méthode Scientifique” on the French radio. At first, I was only half listening, but then I paid more attention and even listened to it again. If you feel like it, and if you have enough time or want to take it, I recommend the podcast called: “Le morceau de sucre qui aide la médecine à couler” (“a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”).
Two renowned experts, one in Neurosciences, the other in Pharmacy, focus on the placebo effect. Some might say it is déjà vu, because it is as old as medicine. Or is it? There are traces of this effect in Ancient Egypt, and even Jean-Nicolas Corvisart treated his patients with the soft part of bread. Today, we know a bit more about it, in particular as regards its influence on various neurotransmitters, thanks to neuroimaging. For example, it is known that this effect is observed in all pathologies. Contrary to what was once believed, it is not just psychological: it has a real effect. It actually starts very early, upstream, with the person that gives the treatment: an emphatic, charismatic, enthusiastic, positive doctor can modify the drug’s effect. And there are surgical placebo effects. In some cases, the placebo effect is believed to represent up to 40% of the positive results observed, both in terms of immediate effect and effects over time. A physiological salt solution injection is said to have almost the same effect on knee arthrosis as the injection of corticoids. The effects obtained with a previous treatment are also believed to have an impact on the outcome of a new treatment. And apparently, there are endless other examples. In other words, the effect is real and strongly associated with the conditions in which things happen.
Why did I take interest in this phenomenon?
Because in the cosmetics world, the search for seriousness and truth over the past few decades led to adopt medical and pharmaceutical practices, in particular studies called efficacy studies. These should be conducted with absolute seriousness, and as a result, their authors should pay attention to remaining independent as regards the relationship between the product and the user, and should certainly not consider the conditions and the relationship between the tester and the product. How do we proceed in our business line? We conduct either meticulous clinical studies devoid of any dreamlike considerations, or consumer studies, which actually do not measure anything objectively – or almost – and remain hedonic. And yet, preference mapping studies have shown that preference criteria are often associated with organoleptic properties rather than biology, but it has not really changed the situation. In fact, products’ dreamlike aspects are hardly ever taken into account in these studies: brand, storytelling, price, type of presentation, positioning, etc. If the cosmetics world is that of pleasure and charm, studies’ conditions are much different from the conditions of use.
As a matter of fact, neurosciences show that the placebo effect can be observed in the brain, in terms of satisfaction, of course, but maybe also in terms of efficacy. The effect of cosmetic products on the reward circuit has already been shown, but always outside the product’s context. It is also known that the epidermis locally produces enkephalins related to the placebo effect.
A few cosmetologists focused on these issues: my humble person, within a context my fellows and I called “cognitive cosmetics”, when we worked on beauty territories based on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work, but also Karl Lintner, who wondered how satisfaction modified the efficacy level. In a study recently presented at the IFSCC in Munich, Germany, to which Karl was associated, Aubert et al. showed the advantages of skincare products could be obtained not only biologically (skin properties), but also psychologically (self-esteem, self-satisfaction, mood, wellness). This study made it clear that if psychological advantages are based on visible biological effects, their relative magnitude can be amplified by the psychological dimension. And this is in line with a previous study carried out in this field, which compared the efficacy of two creams (the first contained an anti-redness/anti-irritant active, the other did not) on the instrumental and visual levels, but which also involved making panellists regularly answer questions to get a self-assessment score. In addition, the level of wellness was measured via a questionnaire given at the beginning and end of the study. And the results were clear: the difference between the active and the placebo perceived by the volunteers in terms of real and visible efficacy (complexion homogeneity) was conveyed by higher wellness, sociability, and commitment scores… Here, the link between positive emotions and physiological efficacy may work in both ways, one increasing the other.
Another study carried out by Kansei Science Research and Kao Corp. teams was aimed at measuring the impact of products with a very pleasant feel on the skin’s appearance. A cream specially formulated for its ease-of-use distinguished itself from more standard products by its higher efficacy. The researchers observed a real effect associated with the texture’s easy application. Their conclusion was that “positive thoughts make you more beautiful!”
As a result, one can wonder whether we overlooked the efficacy and real ease-of-use of a cosmetic product.
The question is: when and how should dreamlike elements be integrated to an efficacy study to assess the real benefit of a product? It is a tough question, but similarly to formulation with multiple parameters, i.e. preference criteria optimization, it might well be a powerful factor for progress.
To finish on a humorous note, as cannabis is getting more widely used in cosmetics, and although cannabinoids can actually have an effect on the skin, is it the beginning of a new era? The cosmetics industry is creative enough for it, and it will definitely be better than making vegan products by replacing beeswax with cannabis oil!
Jean-Claude LE JOLIFF
 Arnaud Aubert, Francis Vial, Alexandra Lan, Bin Chen, Keesuh Lee, Dongfang Kang, Karl Lintner – East West synergy in cosmetics: Demonstration of an increased efficacy of an anti-ageing cream combined with Chinese Herbal Medicine – 30th IFSCC Congress – Munich September 2018
 Bedos, P, Leduc C, Damiez C, Sirvent A, Girard F et Lintner, K. Quantifying Wellness. Cosmetics&Toiletries Magazine 2016, 11, pp. 23-34.
 Tomohiko Morikawa, Shiori Nakano, Tomomi Seiya, Takeshi Murata, Hiroaki Ishii, Yoshito Takahashi, Rie Hikima, Motoaki Suka and Masayuki Matsumoto – Can your mind make you more beautiful? 30th IFSCC Congress – Munich 18-21 September 2018 –