Speaking Science with Dr Diana Howard

Bringing the human element to the world of research and development, and armed with over 35 years’ experience, Dermalogica’s Dr Diana Howard just keeps getting better and better. Ashleigh Sharman discovers.

If it wasn’t for a job ad at Redken the beauty world might have lost Dr Diana Howard; perhaps, even to the animal kingdom. She makes no secret of her dream of becoming a vet — working with large animals, living in Africa — and yet, despite a humble attitude, it makes her achievements at Dermalogica seem all the more special. You see, Dr Diana’s true gift is that of scientific communicator — the lab coat she wears is one of warmth, understanding and compassion and surprisingly not that of steely, unemotional lab technician.

Known by many through her accessible education videos for The International Dermal Institute, Dr Diana is even more vibrant in the flesh and makes the perfect addition as part of the touring launch of a new professional Dermalogica product. The BioSurface Peel range (launched in 2014) she says, heralded a new category for the brand and its tribe of skincare therapist across the globe.

Dr Diana Howard STORY 3
Dr Diana Howard for IDI on YouTube

“We know the number one consumer concern in the skincare arena is ageing skin or acne. Exfoliation therefore is the most requested treatment. This aligns with our mission to bring respect and success to the skin therapist. We wanted to give them tools that bring the client back. Previously peels were seen as the realm of the medical professional and exfoliation the realm of the skincare therapist, but with BioSurface Peel we introduced a treatment classified as a chemical peel,” explains Dr Diana.

We come to expect new products every year, every month; even so, when a brand undertakes a new category, the journey is a long and often complicated one. From formulation and research of ingredients, taking in the breadth of global regulations, to initial experimentation, stability testing, packaging compatibility and quality control, the entire process can take months.

“The whole process took about a year. We launched the peel in the States first so we could piggy-back off the research but it was always on a fast-track. We pride ourselves on working quickly, being an entrepreneurial company. I work very closely with founder Jane Wurwand; we get it to the point where we say “we’re really happy with the results we’re getting” — then I line Jane up to get a series of treatments, and she can send us all the way back to the drawing board,” Dr Diana says of her working relationship.

“I’ve known Jane for 35 years and I’ve been at Dermalogica for 20 years. The company philosophy, because it is headed up by a skincare therapist, is different to other global brands because it isn’t run by what I call ‘marketing suits’ that direct R&D — and I’ve experienced it firsthand. In our case, there is a new product taskforce which Jane and I head up; Jane leads product development as a skincare therapist, that’s a unique point of view. She visualises it and communicates ‘it feels like this, it looks like this; when a therapist uses it, it behaves like this’. I then do the research that will support this type of product, and finally, we brief marketing.”

It’s a reverse of classical marketing procedure, but this skin therapist-driven company is not about being ‘niche’ — it’s about fulfilling a promise. The process is certainly unique yet is the very nature of who Dermalogica is and imaginably, will never change. Thus, with a clear sense of the brand she works for and that she has helped create, it seems Dermalogica and Dr Diana’s DNA are somehow entwined and none more so than in the products she has created and the results those products have delivered. Take the story of PowerRich for example, Dr Diana’s birthday present to herself.

Dr. Diana Howard on tour.
Dr Diana Howard on tour

“I often joke with Jane that you can track the history of Dermalogica through our own personal needs. Twelve years ago, in the lead-up to turning 50, I told Jane I wanted my own product and PowerRich was born. We compiled a wish list of all the concerns we wanted to address, resulting in three formulas — some ingredients which I knew weren’t compatible.

“I have a tendency to be very practical and see things in black and white. Jane doesn’t take that view. We had the hardest time manufacturing this product and ended up hiring a pharmacist, who understood better than the cosmetic chemist what we were trying to do. You make a formula, approve it, it passes tests, then you make a pilot batch and adjustments often have to be made. We found out very quickly that you can’t make PowerRich in large quantities. We had so much trouble in the first few months; it had to be made in smaller batches. This wasn’t cost-effective but we were seeing such great results. And that’s why I’m ultimately so proud of that product; yes, it’s expensive but that’s one heck of a formula!” she says.

Confidently going against the stereotype of the scientist, who is at home in a lab and not fronting a media launch, Dr Diana’s 35 year career in R&D (and still counting) is unlike any other. A great communicator with an understanding of both the mindset of the professional skin therapist and the end consumer, it is no wonder then she is so entwined with the Dermalogica family — a family she confesses she probably sees more than her own.

Dr. Diana Howard
Dr Diana Howard

“What I think I understand best is, if we bring a product to market, we have to make it interesting. Yes, we can deliver results but my R&D team look at me as if I’m crazy when I say ‘make it interesting, give me something in there that makes me want to buy it’. I’ve carved out a technical marketing niche for myself at Dermalogica. I can explain in understandable scientific terms what gets the skincare therapist and the consumer excited; it’s what I love about what I do. There is nothing worse than R&D people presenting something on behalf of a brand and it is dead boring. You need to give people an exciting reason to use your product — otherwise you’re not doing your job.”

Dr Diana Howard is Vice President of Research & Development and Global Education, Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute www.dermalinstitute.com

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