6 Unexpected Global Skincare Customs! For much of the past two decades, Marie-Helene Lair has jetted around the world introducing skincare products to journalists and customers. From Mumbai to Tokyo, New York to Vancouver, she visited the most exotic locales with the latest advances in skincare. First with RoC, then Chanel and now as the Scientific Communication Director for Clarins in Paris. What is unique about Marie-Helene is that she earned her Doctorat of Pharmacy specializing in teaching medical visitors the subtle art of formulation, application techniques and empathy. She has a wonderful ability to take complex scientific formulas and make them understandable by the public. What I love about her is her honesty. I remember interviewing her years ago when she was at Chanel and she was so honest in her explanations. Often, journalists will interview scientists who have been so media trained that they just recite press releases. Marie-Helene welcomes any skin question or concern. She approaches the topic with strong science but also a passion for beauty.
I recently caught up with her for breakfast at the Ritz Carlton. She declined breakfast opting for strong coffee instead. “I find that traveling so much, fasting during breakfast makes me feel better and handle jet lag. Good coffee and tea in the morning is all I need after a little yoga stretching.” As we discuss the new Clarins products launching for spring 2016, I ask her about her travels. This is when it gets particularly interesting.
“Nine years ago I traveled to Delhi and Mumbai for the first time. I was launching a luxury anti-wrinkle cream and I was reciting the same speech I use around the world. I had a series of slides to show journalists and I started in as I always do. I described how the product reduced wrinkles and improved skin texture. The journalists’ eyes got very big and they said nothing. As soon as the presentation was over, one of them came up to me and said, “We don’t mean to be rude, but your product in India is going to be a disaster.” I was stunned. “In India, wrinkles are considered a sign of wisdom. We don’t want to get rid of wrinkles,” she explained. “We prefer oils and fluids that are easy to apply and wear in such hot weather. Creamy textures aren’t popular here.” I immediately called my office and told them to change the launch strategy in India.”
She says she learns so much from bloggers and journalists around the world. “It always becomes a discussion with them. Skincare and beauty is so different country-to-country. This makes creating skincare products a big challenge. All of Clarins’ products are manufactured in France. There is one formula, but several textures to suit each climate and culture. So many beauty rituals are learned from your mother. It is the same with how we talk about our bodies and beauty.”
“What is the most innovative city in the world for beauty now?” She pauses, then replies: “Seoul by far. It is a very curious culture that wants to export its expertise and products. They are so open to new ideas and pair science with art. It is hugely dynamic and exciting.” Not far from Korea is Japan, one of Lair’s favourite destinations. “There is such a respect for nature. When chemists create products they look at it holistically – the environment, humanity, the ingredients. I learned the ‘purity’ is very important to Japanese women. They like a flawless complexion because they believe that is polite when meeting friends or coworkers. They are very concerned about dark spots. A clear complexion shows manners and respect in this culture.”
Several trips to the Middle East taught Lair that whitening and brightening represents status in this part of the world. She calls is the Michael Jackson effect. Women there ask about brightening technology. It is similar in Africa. Brightening means status.
“Germany is such an interesting country as they prefer short formulas and love watery textures. They love plant extracts and are almost obsessed with chemistry. They will study reviews and reports to learn about how a product works. They are very well-educated. Danish women take this trend one step further. They strong consumer advocates and will challenge every study.”
A trip to Taiwan revealed that skincare consumers there think of themselves as dermatologists. “They will study all the figures, all the studies, all the ingredients. They want to know every concentration and where every ingredient is from.” This results in highly educated consumers. They come to stores knowing exactly what they want and how the products work.
It’s not surprising to learn that Brazil is most interested in body and sun products. Lair has a trip planned their for next month so she’s excited to see how the fastest growing beauty market is evolving. If she has time, she may visit Mexico. “Mexicans are the most beautiful people,” she says. “But the last time I was there, I was overwhelmed by the pollution, pollution, pollution. It’s a very complicated market due to the mosaic of people and cultures. There are so many complexions and colours so it makes finding foundations a challenge.”
But the funniest story of Marie-Helene’s global skincare adventures may just be from Paris. “I was in a store in Paris and I noticed a number of Chinese tourists who were purchasing some luxury creams to take home with them. They made their purchases and the sales associates took it into a back room to wrap each item in paper and ribbon. When they presented the final purchase to the customer, she proceeded to unwrap each box and look inside. They wanted to make sure that the product was in the bag,” she laughs. The store manager quickly learned that all gift wrapping had to be done in front of customers.”