Unlocking The Secrets of Ageless Skin - Olay

Unlocking the Secrets

of Ageless Skin

The Serious Science of Olay

There are some places in this world where it would really help to have a scientist

by your side, and the crowded skin care aisle of the local drugstore is one of them.

A woman searching for a product to counter the effects of aging is confronted by

scores of options, and the questions multiply as she studies the sleekly packaged


What do all of these ingredients do? Can some types of tree bark really improve

her skin? What’s the difference between affordable brands and the crazy-expensive

ones in high-end department stores? Why does her friend look younger than

she does when they’re the same age?

And the most important:

Which product will actually help her look younger?

Similar questions have been asked for decades by scientists at Olay, a product that was created by a chemist for his wife more than 60 years ago and continues to be refined by a legion of more than 1,000 skin care researchers around the world. Their mission is to know everything there is to know about how skin ages, uncover effective anti-aging ingredients and figure out how best to formulate products that keep women looking ageless.

In a sense, every woman’s face is a living experiment. As she goes about her day, her skin’s surface cycles continuously through its natural biological processes. New skin cells are generated, their health and appearance dependent, among other factors, on the genes they contain. Those cells, and those genes, are the subjects of a daily series of real-world tests, exposed to a relentless set of stressors such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In fact, “extrinsic” factors like UV rays and (to a lesser extent) air pollution account for more than 80 percent of the visible signs of aging: fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and dryness.

Getting multimillion-dollar science into a $25 jar is a serious business. At Olay, where quality and efficacy take precedent over the rush to market, it can take up to four years to develop, test and formulate a new or improved skin care treatment. To create products for real women, Olay starts with real women: Its laboratory research is driven by the mountains of information it collects in interviews, surveys and clinical studies of women of all ages and backgrounds.

Today, the search for answers about how skin ages and how to help keep it looking young begins deep inside skin cells. That’s where genes help determine how skin functions and looks, and where UV rays and pollutants do the damage that causes wrinkles and other effects of aging. And that’s where Olay genomics scientist Jay Tiesman spends his days, figuring out exactly how that damage happens, the first step in identifying ways to help prevent and mitigate it. Tiesman, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska Medical School, studies gene expression, the process in which information from skin genes is used to make collagen and other important proteins, which keep skin healthy and young-looking.

Tiesman and his team use high-powered technology to explore skin genes and how changes, triggered by external factors and natural aging, leave skin damaged and more fragile. Working in Olay’s research center outside Cincinnati, one of five around the world, they also analyze the activity profile and function of potential anti-aging ingredients, like palmitoyl pentapeptide-4, which, as Olay’s research confirmed, helps aging skin regenerate its youthful appearance.

Finding the optimal combinations and concentrations of anti-aging ingredients and how to formulate them all into one effective product is what the skin care business is all about. Olay is relentless about it. In 2000, it was one of the first to offer a product containing niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that, among other things, helps strengthen skin’s moisture barrier. It also helps reduce the visible appearance of pores and improve skin texture and radiance. In 2003, researchers at the National Institutes of Health showed that peptides, a chain of amino acids, play a role in skin surface regeneration. That same year, Olay introduced the Regenerist line of products with a new formula that included an amino-peptide complex, shown to be effective at reducing the appearance of wrinkles.


Exposure to the sun and other external factors combine with the passage of time to alter the structure and appearance of the skin. A number of compounds are known to counteract the visible effects of these changes.

The power of Olay’s genomics work to help women’s skin look younger is in the massive amount of data it produces that enables and supports its findings. Since 1999 Tiesman’s lab has run more than 625 genomics studies and processed more than 69,000 gene chips (tiny glass squares coated with DNA), more than just about any other lab in the country according to Affymetrix, the company that supplies the gene microarray technology. So far, the analysis of the thousands of genes has generated over 12 terabytes of data. “It’s very exciting,” says Tiesman. “It’s not only big science, but it also leads to actual products women can use every day.”

With their own set of high-tech tools — including a couple of cell metabolism analyzers that resemble printers and cost as much as a house — Olay principal scientist John Oblong and his team ask a different set of questions about how skin cells respond to stressors such as sunlight and other influences. Basically, they create in the lab an amped-up version of the experiment that every woman conducts every day as she goes about her daily routine. They subject healthy skin cells to carefully controlled doses of UV rays, cigarette smoke and every sort of industrial pollution, from diesel exhaust to concoctions modeled on Beijing’s infamous smog. “The real estate we’re interested in is on the face,” says Oblong, “because that’s where all the external stressors hit and what women are most concerned about in terms of beauty.”

While women look at the surface of their skin in mirrors, Oblong’s group takes a much deeper dive. After they’ve exposed the skin cells to a variety of stressors, they analyze them to identify the biological mechanisms at work. What they see are the many invisible changes that can cause the visible signs of aging, such as damage to the mitochondria, the internal energy system of cells. They also compare young and old skin cells to learn how (and how much) skin loses its natural resiliency as it ages. Once they understand all of the things that have gone wrong, and how they might affect skin’s appearance, they screen for age-defying ingredients until they find the ones that can help counter the visible effects of aging.

Once a new combination of ingredients has been identified, tested, refined and, finally, proven effective in the lab and in clinical trials, there are still plenty of questions to answer. Combining these key anti-aging and other essential ingredients into a consumer product that feels good, looks good and delivers the desired benefit — skin that looks younger — is a science unto itself. It’s formulation science, to be exact, where biology, chemistry and physics come together to create products that women actually want to use.

Olay’s formulation scientists build each new skin care product using a variety of components. These include the chassis, usually an emulsion; the “hero ingredients,” as they are also called; companion ingredients that help the heroes work effectively and efficiently; and “acute” or “experience ingredients” that deliver a tangible first-use benefit, such as erasing the look of shadows, and encourage consistent use, which is necessary for long term improvements.

It’s not simply a matter of mixing the proper ingredients together; anyone can buy paint and brushes, but that doesn’t make them Picasso. There is an art to formulation science, an art that Olay’s scientists have mastered over decades. The central challenge is to get the product to penetrate into the skin surface and deliver the actives, which is the whole point. “Skin is very well designed to not let stuff in,” says Olay scientist Frauke Neuser. In one case, the hero ingredients in a product under development were contained in water droplets that were themselves jacketed inside droplets of silicone. It felt smooth and silky on the skin, but not all of the ingredients were delivered where they needed to be, or fast enough. So Olay scientists flipped the formulation — water on the outside, silicone on the inside — which preserved the feel women desire and improved penetration of key anti-aging ingredients by 55 percent.

“We’re bringing together approaches that have never been brought together. It’s a choice to go as deep as we do. This is about truly discovering the biology of aging skin.”



Olay’s commitment to pure science is embodied by a landmark research project that did not directly involve any of its products. More than 1,000 women, ranging in age from 20 to 80, have participated in a program of clinical studies led by Olay scientist Rosemarie Osborne. The long-term objective is nothing less than a complete understanding of the molecular events that occur as women’s skin ages, a decade-by-decade accounting for the way aging skin looks and feels. “We want to identify new targets and develop superior technologies that speak to each of the decades,” says Osborne.

The Olay-led Multidecades and Ethnic Study compared the skin of women of different ages. The cross sections (above) reveal the changes in the skin's layers caused by time and environmental factors, such as the sun's ultraviolet rays. The photos (top) show the development of fine lines and wrinkles.

To compare how varying degrees of exposure to UV rays and other extrinsic factors age skin, each woman in the study provided three skin samples — from the face (greatest exposure), forearm (less exposure) and buttocks (least exposure). Using advanced technologies, like Laser Capture Microdissection, a highly precise tool for processing and studying such samples, Olay researchers have analyzed more than 20,000 individual genes and compiled a treasure trove of data from their subjects that will drive anti-aging research for years to come. One intriguing finding: Thanks to the action of certain genes, some women are what Osborne calls “exceptional agers” who look younger than other women of the same age. This opens a new avenue of investigation into the science behind successful aging.

Olay skin scientists feel a deep connection to the women who use their products, and it’s the science that forms the bond. “We’re learning a lot about what happens when a woman ages,” says Tiesman, “and you really feel like you’re along on the journey with her.” They may not be standing next to them in the drugstore, but their work is there, in the proven Olay products that help women look ageless