Cosmetic Company Secrets from an Industry Insider

Airdate: 11/8/2013

Paula talks with industry insider Karen Young, former long-time executive at major cosmetic brands and now serving as a consultant in New York City. With her effervescent charm and dry sense of humor, Karen dishes on everything to what cosmetic companies don’t know to what they choose to ignore. You'll get a big dose of eyebrow-raising myth-busing in this exclusive show—even Paula was surprised by some of the revelations!

Paula Begoun: Hello. I'm Paula Begoun, the Cosmetics Cop, and I'm here with our radio show, “Keeping you Beautifully Informed.” And we're all archived on, which you probably know if you're listening to us or you found us through our Facebook page at Paula's Choice there. I'm doing it solo today. I'm typically with Bryan Barron who is stuck in some ungodly traffic someplace in the Seattle area.
00:00:31 We are part of the Paula's Choice Research Team. And Bryan is the coauthor, we both write the book, “Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me,” which is now in its ninth edition. And we also have a new, well, I don't know how new it is anymore if you're just listening, you know, depending on when you're listening to this. “20 Beauty Myths Busted.” It's a free download on our website at And I think we're going to keep adding to it because once you see the information on our website you'll know there's hundreds of myths that we bust all the time.
00:01:08 There's always so much to talk about. I'm tempted to want to talk about having been on safari. My media tour in South Africa, in the Kruger Park area. I launched Paula's Choice in Cape Town and Johannesburg in the month of June. And then in July took off for a couple of weeks on safari, which was, ooh, everybody should put a safari on their bucket list.
00:01:40 Everybody. It's just an unbelievable experience. And then I was also on a media tour talking to the beauty editors in Taipei, Taiwan, Beijing, and Shanghai, China, and Bangkok, Thailand. It's been busy, it's been great.
00:02:00 I love talking to beauty editors all over the world. But today, as opposed to talking to traditional beauty people in the fashion world, well, actually, this woman, Karen Young, who we're going to talk to, we'll I'm going to talk to. I keep saying “we.” I'm so used to having Bryan here; I'm not used to doing this alone. But I'm not going to be doing it alone because I'm going to be talking with Karen Young who is part of the Young Group.
00:02:29 Karen is for all intents and purposes, I don't even know what else to call her other than a beauty guru, a beauty whiz, filled with wisdom and insight. She is a beauty company insider as she's been consulting with, I mean, just about every major cosmetic company you can imagine since the nineties. She's been somebody I have worked with and consulted with over 20 – I hate to even say how long – 20 plus years.
00:03:08 I don't know – what can I say – L'Oreal, Estée Lauder, 17 years at different executive positions with Lauder including their Director of Color. Karen is an active board member of the Fashion Group International where she teaches a class – I've actually had a rare opportunity a few times to talk to her class where she teaches executives in the cosmetics industry to be better executives, to know what they don't know about the world of skincare and beauty just in general.
00:03:44 She is a winner in this world of cosmetics. By the way, for any of you who work in the cosmetics industry or are curious about working in the cosmetics industry, I encourage you to take a look at the Fashion Group International, FITS, Cosmetic Masters Program in New York. But, of course, you can always go to the Young Group,, to take a look at what Karen's doing and all kinds of stuff.
00:04:13 So, without further adieu, my associate and friend, Karen Young. Are you there, Karen?
Karen Young: I am here, Paula. This is such a treat.
Paula Begoun: This is such a treat! I can't believe I'm interviewing you after all these years.
Karen Young: I know. This is truly hysterical. This is like having a girl's conversation. Sorry, Bryan, but this is--
Paula Begoun: Well, I'm sorry Bryan is, I mean, Bryan is just – this was, I got to say, even though I'm a little chagrined to admit it, this was his idea.
00:04:41 “What about talking to Karen?” Well, one is we're always wondering who will talk to us, because so many people won't talk to us who are actually in the cosmetics industry. One of these days we do have to get an insider behind the counter or a trainer for one of the cosmetic companies. But, to actually get somebody to talk to us is a big deal. And I just am thrilled that you're willing to do this. Again, Karen Young, who started the Young Group. She's a consultant. What do you do for a living, Karen? What have you been doing over the past many years of your life in the cosmetics industry?
Karen Young: Well, Paula, next to you I think I have the best job in the world. As my husband likes to say, “Anybody who can earn a living whipping up face creams and lipsticks, really there's just something wrong with this picture.”
00:05:30 Years and years of marketing, branding, product development. And that's what I did in corporate life and that's really what I'm doing now. Also, a lot of consumer research and trend tracking. And a lot of traveling. I have not done a safari, yet.
Paula Begoun: You know, those lions and giraffes just don't need moisturizer.
Karen Young: No, they really don't.
Paula Begoun: They just kind of are self-sufficient out there.
Karen Young: Yeah. They manage on their own just fine. But I do log in lots and lots of miles talking to consumers and also marketers and product developers in lots of different markets because I don't need to tell you because you're really the queen of global marketing.
00:06:09 And you were doing it way before most companies were. It truly is a global market now and obviously it's having an enormous influence. The global reach of our industry is having a lot of influence on us here in North America. And the more I travel the more frankly conscious I am of how small the world is.
00:06:30 And while there are cultural preferences in terms of product forms and fragrances, sorry Paula.
Paula Begoun: Ha!
Karen Young: Women really, there are just a lot of things that we have in common with consumers around the globe. So, as I say, I have a great job.
Paula Begoun: When you consult for Estée Lauder and when you work with Estée Lauder, you're not only consulting with them about their US market, you're also taking a look at it with them from a global perspective. Is that what you're saying?
Karen Young: It is.
00:07:03 I opened an office in Paris seven years ago and try to get to Asia once or twice a year.
Paula Begoun: Wait, you're telling me you have an apartment in Paris and you get a tax write-off for going there? Are you kidding?
Karen Young: Could you keep that a little more quiet?
Paula Begoun: No! I want a ticket. So, wait, so let's back up a little bit.
Karen Young: Okay.
Paula Begoun: So, you worked at Estée Lauder and now you, I mean, you worked at Revlon, or consulted with, RoC , Sally Hansen, Shiseido, Smashbox, Vichy, Coppertone, L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Almay, Avon, Bliss, Bath & Body Works. I mean, your list is just short of everybody.
Karen Young: That makes me sound seriously old, doesn't it?
Paula Begoun: Well, we are.
00:07:50 But we won't tell anybody that. So, now in your current role when somebody like Estée Lauder or L'Oreal call you in to consult for them, what are you consulting? What are you telling them that somebody else isn't telling them? I mean, what do you bring to the table that they're shocked about, whether they listen to you or not. And, actually, when do they listen to you and when don't they?
Karen Young: When do they not. Yes, that's a great question.
Paula Begoun: What is it that you bring to the table? What do they want from you and what do you want to give to them and what do they listen to? And what don't they listen to?
Karen Young: What don't they listen to?
00:08:27 Generally companies hire me to do three different, to cover three different areas. One is marketing concepts, to come up with a new positioning for a product or a line in skincare, or color, or hair. The second is really global research, looking at what kinds of products are being launched in various corners of the globe. What's selling, what's not selling, are there new textures or formats or delivery systems that companies might not have stumbled across because I live a little closer to the sidewalk than some of them.
00:09:03 And the third one is really an offshoot of that. And that is really looking at new product, I'm going to say textures, and delivery systems. As you know, very often we get inspiration from Asian products that tend to be much lighter and more watery and more gel like. And there is a lot of technology coming out of Asia that western companies are just beginning to look at.
00:09:03 So, it's those kinds of things. It's sort of a wonderful combination of marketing and product development which, of course, I just love.
Paula Begoun: So, two things that you said that I'm curious about. You said that you put out fires for these companies. What kind of fires do you put out?
Karen Young: No, actually what I was saying is it's their marketing people are so busy putting out fires--
Paula Begoun: So, what fires are they putting out? What kind of fires do cosmetic companies get into?
Karen Young: Oh, you know, we have a launch date at Store X. There is an ad running and the last batch somehow didn't pass stability.
00:10:10 The raw materials didn't come in. The packaging, the spray on the package isn't spraying, and oh my gosh, we now have a crisis on our hands. It's hard to imagine that these companies can actually go up against this kind of stuff but--
Paula Begoun: And you're talking about the big guys, right? You're not talking about the--
Karen Young: Yeah, no, it can be an Estée Lauder or a L'Oreal, a Johnson & Johnson, that kind of stuff absolutely does happen.
00:10:34 The batch of raw materials came in and it didn't pass QC. Or, I mean, it's amazing how often, even in these big companies where things are QC'd to death, that things actually can slip through the cracks, fall apart.
Paula Begoun: QC meaning Quality Control, right?
Karen Young: Quality Control, yeah. Exactly. As carefully as we try to tee up all these things, you know, every now and then that pump doesn't work.
Paula Begoun: So, you were saying that you do market research to bring to the table, particularly internationally, say out of Japan or wherever, new technologies.
00:11:15 What's the most interesting technology you've run into that you've wowed the companies you consult for, that have wowed the companies. Because, you know, when I think about people like Estée Lauder and L'Oreal, I mean, don't they have like three trillion making products? How is it that you bring something they don't know about?
Karen Young: That they don't have.
Paula Begoun: What is it that they don't know about?
Karen Young: That's a great question and the short answer is because they're so big, Paula, they probably have seen it probably before I did, but it took two years to get through the hierarchy, the paperwork, the red tape, and the politics.
00:11:52 And that is absolutely why. I, as an outsider, I may be able to short circuit some of that and get to people who really will turn it around more quickly. One of the technologies that was actually brought to me in the recent past was a foam delivery system technology from a pharmaceutical company in Israel. And, in fact, it had been shown to a number of the big companies that you and I are talking about. And it got stuck somewhere. You know, it was shown to R&D and they get busy doing other things and never showed it to marketing. So, those are the kinds of things that just get stuck in the pipeline of moving through these gigantic companies.
00:12:35 Another one that I found recently is a technology out of Japan. In fact, Fuji Film has developed it. It's a gel technology [technical difficulty] have put it in a skincare product called Astalift and it's a red translucent gel. And it's a very curious texture; you can kind of poke it and it looks as though the gel is breaking up. And then as you leave it for a moment it sort of melts and pools and goes back to its original shape.
00:13:04 So, these are more texture delivery system technologies than they are obviously new ingredients. But, you know, these are the kinds of things that allow cosmetic companies to put those three magic letters on the outside of the package – NEW.
Paula Begoun: New and different and nobody else has it until a year or two later.
Karen Young: Bingo!
Paula Begoun: And everybody picks up on it like BB creams and CC creams.
Karen Young: Perfect example.
Paula Begoun: Tell me, again, in your consulting role, what do they listen to and what don't they listen to?
00:13:41 Like what do you wish, you know, when you tell them something you know and they just don't believe you. What is that? What happens?
Karen Young: One of the things that I try to impress on clients large and small is to make a best effort to avoid the hyperbolic marketing claims which everybody in this industry is frankly quite guilty of. As you know, Paula, because it's been certainly part of what you've been trying at least move the needle somewhat for many, many years. And as I've said to you many times, you have been way ahead of the curve on this one.
00:14:22 It's a hard thing to retrain marketing people to do because the industry is so competitive and as we just said we're all so driven by new and we've so trained the consumer to be driven by new – the claims that we as an industry make are just, they're frankly no longer acceptable. And even the consumer is beginning to say that. So, I think more than anything I try to focus on being realistic; what is this product going to do and what is it not going to do? And as you can well imagine, all too often that does fall on deaf ears.
00:15:02 Not because they don't believe me but because they know that company X just launched this product and the only way they're going to allegedly get ahead of the clutter and the noise is to make a bigger, better promise.
Paula Begoun: Right.
Karen Young: So, it's the “feeding the beast,” as I like to call it. Feeding the beast.
Paula Begoun: In your recent work, recent consulting work, what would you say is one of the biggest lies, and you don't have to speak specifically to a company, just generally, what was one of the biggest lies you've run into about claims that just drove you crazy?
Karen Young: Crazy. There are a lot of them.
Paula Begoun: Ha! There are a lot of them.
Karen Young: There are a lot of them. And I think the biggest thing right now is the one that just hits us in the face every day that we're involved with the industry and that's the whole anti-aging thing. It used to be six months, four months, two months, one month, two weeks, and now it's 24 hours if you use this product – you will wake up tomorrow morning looking like a different person.
00:16:10 And it just, oh my gosh, and as we know consumers are saying, “You know what? I've had enough. I don't know whom to believe. I don't know what to believe.” And as you know, Paula, because you probably talk to more consumers than anybody, but when I do focus groups or research with consumers they say, “I don't believe these claims, but…” It's always that there is going to be the Holy Grail somewhere. “I'm going to keep trying and shopping buying because…”
Paula Begoun: Hope springs…the industry knows that even though…
00:16:44 You know, it's funny you say that. Hope springs eternal. And so every now and then a company puts an overweight model or does, which soap company was it that did, was it Jergens or Dove?
Karen Young: Dove.
Paula Begoun: I think it was Dove.
Karen Young: Dove did the wrinkled ladies and the overweight ladies. Yeah.
Paula Begoun: So, that was the chubby image of women.
00:17:11 But we know overwhelmingly that that little blip of using real women in the beauty fashion industry lasts about 3.5 seconds and that the industry is really a thousand, you know, 99.9999% unrealistic pictures of women, and even those Dove women – the more “normal” looking women – were Photoshopped.
00:17:36 I mean, they were Photoshopped all over. Even normal looking women don't look that good.
Karen Young: Exactly.
Paula Begoun: They got their hair done, they got their makeup done. They got Photoshopped. So even in the real woman world they were still Photoshopped. So, let me ask you, the claims drive you crazy. On the other side of the coin one of the things many cosmetic companies have to deal with is the fear mongering around the evilness of cosmetic ingredients which I've written about extensively and I know you have opinions on.
00:18:11 How are the cosmetics companies, the Lauders, the Shiseidos dealing with this fear mongering that the organic natural cosmetic world is putting out there.
Karen Young: It's frightening and it's probably the biggest thing that I'm confronted with right now. I'll try to narrow it down a little bit because as you know it's a huge category.
Paula Begoun: Wait, you're not frightened about the ingredients, you're frightened by the influence…
Karen Young: The press.
Paula Begoun: …just to be clear.
Karen Young: Exactly.
Paula Begoun: Because I know we've talked about this.
00:18:40 You're frightened by the influence these fringe groups are having on the mainstream cosmetic industry.
Karen Young: Absolutely.
Paula Begoun: And hurting, actually, the quality of formulary from cosmetic companies.
Karen Young: And we're being forced to, and obviously it depends on your point of view, but whether it's parabens, or nano-particles, or silicones, you know, we collectively in the beauty industry have this “restricted list” that has been frankly primarily driven by the press without much science behind it.
00:19:14 And it is completely, as you know, influencing the way we now formulate products. I mean, I have to say my pet peeve is the whole paraben thing. And many companies try to stay out of that. Estée Lauder was one of them that promptly started reformulating. L'Oreal has tried very hard to stay out of the fray, but the press is so overwhelmingly powerful and as you point out all of these lovely fringe groups that honestly I just won't let anybody formulate with parabens anymore because you just know you're going to get bad press.
00:19:52 And the other piece of that as you alluded to is the whole natural organic green-washing thing, which is so confusing that even those of us who are supposed to understand what's going on here, it's really, really difficult.
Paula Begoun: I'm often shocked by the women really do believe – I get asked it all the time. “Should I be scared of what I'm using. Is it killing me? And I'm using this natural product.” And I know what those products contain. That's what we do for a living here at Paula's Choice is we review everybody else's products and look at what the formulas are and what they contain and what they can and can't do for skin.
00:20:36 And lots of natural ingredients that show up in natural products are bad for skin. And I'm looking at this woman telling me I'm so scared other products are killing me and I'm going, yeah, I know, but you're breaking out, your skin is red. I know what you're using isn't protecting you from aging, or sun damage, and on and on. And they're frightened of everybody else's ingredients except the company that is dong the fear mongering.
00:21:00 Of course, they never tell you what problem ingredients their products contain, but, yeah, it's an insane – so, how are the Lauders and the Shiseidos, I mean, Lauder is not going to give up. They're not going to go all natural. They know that all natural isn't going to fly for skin. And lord knows an elegant product without silicone is almost impossible. And there's nothing wrong with those ingredients. What are they doing about this aside from I know that the industry went away from parabens.
00:21:31 That wasn't quite as tricky a formulary issue as some of these other issues.
Karen Young: Companies are, and again, the big guys, obviously it's much more difficult for them to make any of these changes, whether we're talking about silicones or parabens or whatever it is because they're dealing with thousands and thousands of stock-keeping units which are already formulated. And it's very difficult to retrofit that.
00:21:58 Estée Lauder did it. They reformulated every single SKU to eliminate parabens. And, of course, the cost to the company of doing that is just enormous. What each company does is simply they make an evaluation of these “restricted ingredients” and then they simply have to take a stand. Look, we have not found anything better than ingredient X for this purpose. It has been tested. We are comfortable with it. We will continue to use it.
00:22:26 But, of course, if you go farther up the food chain and talk to the raw material suppliers, there are many raw material suppliers in our industry who are trying to, for obvious reasons, come up with a silicone replacement. As you just said, formulating a really elegant, luxurious feeling product without silicone is challenging.
Paula Begoun: Well, and it's not smart. One is not only is silicone a benign ingredient for skin and actually a healing ingredient because it's used in burn units.
Karen Young: Exactly!
Paula Begoun: It keeps moisture in but lets the skin breathe. I mean, on and on; silicone is just one of those hero ingredients.
Karen Young: It is.
Paula Begoun: And it holds other ingredients more stable.
00:23:12 So, when you say they're trying to come up with options, I can't imagine, what options are they looking at, like cellulose gum? I mean, that stuff feels terrible.
Karen Young: Well, a lot of, and certainly where silicone is concerned, because of course what companies like the Environmental Work Group likes to say about silicones is it never degrades. It's there in a landfill or in the water supply for the next thousand years, so there are several companies who are trying to come up with – you just said – “green ingredients” that will replace that wonderful texture, what silicones add to an emulsion in terms of texture.
00:23:51 And, you know, there are some that have come close. But the downside, as you know very well, is they're probably much more expensive and/or they're much more difficult to formulate with. And these are the downsides to trying to replace many of these ingredients that someone has decided should be restricted.
Paula Begoun: Actually, you know, it's interesting, because one of the things that happens when you start making “all natural products” is you increase the need for higher levels of preservatives.
Karen Young: Preservatives!
Paula Begoun: And there aren't any so-called natural, although even the natural preservatives when you have to increase it that much, then you're getting irritation. Preservatives kill things. That's what they do.
Karen Young: Absolutely.
00:24:37 You're getting irritation and possibly you're making it more difficult to stabilize the formula.
Paula Begoun: You know, we're just reviewing a product line that, you know, we haven't run into this in a long time. A lot of the natural product lines, while the formulas may have issues in terms of irritating ingredients and jar packaging and fragrance, and I'm going to ask you about jar packaging in just a second, but one of the things that we haven't run into in a very long time is a company claiming that it's all natural but it actually isn't, it actually uses synthetic ingredients.
00:25:15 This is one of the first times in a while I would say in the past, I don't know, three, four years that we actually ran into a company that is lying through their teeth. Their products are about as natural as polyester. Do you see that – do you run into that in your research?
Karen Young: Yes.
Paula Begoun: Yeah, you see that, too.
Karen Young: Because as you know there is no definition for natural. It's completely arbitrary. You can use the word anyway you like. And consumers, as you mentioned earlier, consumers are incredibly confused about what does natural mean and what does organic mean. I mean, that theoretically is defined by the FDA and consumers really don't understand that either.
00:25:56 So, there are companies, and you can't say anything other than they are being genuinely misleading by trying to have consumers believe that there is something green – I won't even use the word natural – botanical about their ingredients. And, in fact, yes, if you sit down with your good Paula's Choice resources, Cosmetic Cop site and go through the ingredient labeling you soon understand that it is loaded with chemicals.
Paula Begoun: Right.
00:26:28 Right. And the other thing is a lot of these, and then we can move on, because this subject just drives me nuts, is that a lot of these grass roots groups that like complaining ingredients are never talking about efficacy. They're never talking about getting rid of Rosacea. They're never talking about – and have no research about getting rid of Rosacea, getting rid of acne, closing pores, reducing oil production, dry skin, anti-aging, sun protection, on and on and on.
00:27:00 They're never addressing those issues and those skincare needs because there's no research for it. They're just complaining about ingredients. I often wonder, you know, one of the things these grass roots groups never take on, this is my favorite rant, is they never take on hair dye. They never take on hair dye.
Karen Young: Oh, interesting.
Paula Begoun: The EU, which has like got this huge kick on what to include and what not to include in skincare and hair care products have never touched hair dye. I can show you a ton of animal studies, little mice getting dyed with dye ingredients and they get cancer. I mean, there's no question that hair dye is a problem.
00:27:45 I mean, that actually there is solid research on, but nobody wants to take – you're not going to get women to – can you imagine what would happen to the EU bureaucracy of the cosmetic regulations if they decided to make hair dye illegal?
Karen Young: Oh my gosh. That's a great example.
Paula Begoun: Or in the United States?
Karen Young: Right. There are places where vanity still surpasses all of this. It's true.
Paula Begoun: I just, really, oh, I just – okay, so don't get me started. All right, let's go back to what do you think – here at Paula's Choice and the work we do on Cosmetics Cop, we've talked for years about the problem of jar packaging and not keeping ingredients stable and not being hygienic. You introduce your finger into a product and the bacteria further deteriorates the ingredients.
00:28:40 And women say to me all the time, “So why do they do that? Why do they put products in jars? Do they not know what you know?” And, of course, Karen tell me, do they know what I know?
Karen Young: They do know what you know. At least the R&D team knows what you know. I will say that in my experience, and I'm not going to say how many years, but in many years of working with marketing people and product development people in the industry, there are a lot of them who actually don't know what happens to certain ingredients in a jar.
00:29:10 And you and I have talked about this over the years. The class that I teach in the Cosmetic Masters Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, this is my 11th year; ten years ago there were a lot of, and my graduate students are primarily marketing and product development. I will say 85% to 90% of them ten years ago did not know this. They obviously weren't reading your book. But they did not know that there are ingredients that degrade when they're exposed to light and air and that, yes, the germs on your fingers are being reintroduced.
00:29:48 Today it is, I don't want to say unusual, but I would say that 80% of my classes today do know that an airless pump would be a much better vehicle for the antioxidants and the retinols and the whatever. So, we do have this conversation all the time. Why are you still putting products in a jar? “Well, you know, it looks good on shelf. It's heavy. It seems luxurious. The retailers really want something with a different shape.”
00:30:20 So, I have to say it's once again completely marketing driven. “We can't have all of our products in a tall, skinny, airless pump. Something needs to go in a jar. So, you know, what, we put our expensive cream in a jar.” So, yes, Paula you are absolutely right. It makes no sense. Many of them know better. And you look at companies who you know they know better, and yet they're still launching products in jars. So, stick your fingers right in there and let all those wonderful vitamins just degrade.
00:30:51 And, yeah, I wish I could defend my industry in this development, but I really can't.
Paula Begoun: Oh, there's a lot they do that's indefensible. So, let me remind everybody that we're talking with Karen Young from the Young Group. Obviously her company with her name. She has long been, and I mean why too long as probably she would love to be done with it, the cosmetics industry as a consultant and as an executive with companies from Lancôme, to L'Oreal, to Estée Lauder.
00:31:21 She's been a consultant now for the past many years with some of the leading cosmetic companies in the world, from Shiseido to Neutrogena, Johnson & Johnson, everybody. She also teaches a Master Class, a Cosmetics Masters Program at the New York Fashion Group International, FIT. You might want to take a look at that if you're interested in what it means to be an executive in the business world of the cosmetics industry. Karen's class would be one of the absolute best places to start, or just the Fashion Group International in New York actually has several cosmetic type classes.
00:32:04 The other thing, Karen you're speaking – where are you speaking? Where are you speaking at MakeUp New York? What is that? On Wednesday, September 25?
Karen Young: Yes. In September. That is a small trade show that was started, I think this is its fourth year. And as you know, Paula, like in any industry we have our trade shows, many of them global and many of them have been around for years.
00:32:33 And certainly with the recession the attendance at trade shows diminished severely. And what's happened since then is there have been a number of sort of smaller, very specialized trade shows that have sort of popped up and MakeUp New York is actually one of them. It was started by a Frenchman who started in Paris first. And I think this will be his third or fourth year in New York. And he tries to really focus on rather than the cosmetic industry as a whole he tries to focus specifically on color cosmetics and put together raw material suppliers, creative chemists with marketing and product development people in one place for a couple of days.
00:33:17 Obviously to facilitate the interaction. So, they have asked me to do a panel, and I'm not quite sure what my topic is yet, but yes, we'll get that pulled together.
Paula Begoun: Well, lord knows you have a ton you could talk about. So, is this at the Jacob Javits Center? Where is this in New York?
Karen Young: It's not. It's at a location that I'm sorry I'm going to have to look up. It's a much smaller venue.
Paula Begoun: Oh, I have the address here.
00:33:43 It's 548 West 22nd Street in New York.
Karen Young: The name of the place is actually something like West 21st, so that's just the name of the location. It's simply kind of a warehouse building that they used for small trade shows to keep people away from the bowels of the Javits Center which is not a nice place to be.
Paula Begoun: It's huge. It's huge. So, you can take a look at Karen's website, And you'll find the information about Make Up New York, where it's located, and then check out when she will be speaking. So, it's mostly about makeup artistry, makeup products, new trends in makeup, that kind of thing?
Karen Young: Exactly.
00:34:27 What's happening in makeup and how is it changing and what are people looking for. And the nail craze. And, of course, anti-aging is coming into makeup as much as it is into skincare. So, we'll probably end up playing with some of that. But, I think looking at global makeup trends and seeing what raw material suppliers are bringing to the table.
Paula Begoun: So, before I ask you about the best gossip you have in the cosmetics industry that would never show up in a fashion magazine or even in a newspaper, or on television, you know, I never write about nails.
00:35:03 There's really nothing to write about, at least not from my perspective as a consumer watchdog reporter. We looked at nail polish years ago. It's just boring. I mean, not boring like, nothing is quite as luxurious as getting a manicure/pedicure, but in terms of consumer information there's really very little consumer stuff. I think the most consumer oriented part was when gel manicures came out, longer-lasting manicures came out a few years back.
00:35:38 What is it with – when I'm in Asia, first of all, there are nail salons every five inches. I mean, they're on top of each other. Literally, one is on the main floor, one is on the top floor, one is on the floor above that. And they do the most intricate designs. You're starting to see that more and more here.
00:36:00 What is that? Is that an OPI-driven thing, the nail company? Really, just striking to me.
Karen Young: It's coming, in my opinion, from a number of different directions. And it started with the recession, 2007, 2008, 2009. Women either quit or went less frequently to the salon for manicures and for hair color and haircuts. They were doing much more hair color at home. And the same thing happened with nails.
00:36:33 Women who were perhaps going to have a manicure on a regular basis were going less infrequently and doing more at home. And that sort of caused this resurgence of nails. And that hit a little bit of a growth spurt. And then you turned around twice and OPI was bought by Coty, and Essie and was bought by L'Oreal. And so you now had big companies pumping money, R&D money and marketing money into two of the market leaders who began to vie for innovative positioning.
00:37:06 And then, of course, once that started you had a number of probably half a dozen really small nail companies who once again could move a lot faster than the big guys and start coming up with these, would have to say at the time, really unusual fashion directions. And to your point, Paula, really art for the nails. And Asia was definitely an influence.
00:37:32 So, it was sort of the perfect storm of women wanting to do their nails more themselves, companies having to get really creative to bring women back to the counter to buy more nail lacquer, or for salons to do something to get women into the salon. So, it was just sort of the perfect convergence. And as I'm sure you know the nail lacquer industry has come off now three years of 300% growth, 67% growth, and even now 19% growth this year.
00:38:05 The growth is slowing down, but there's still just – we're at about $2 billion in nail lacquer in the United States which is a pretty big chunk of change.
Paula Begoun: $2 billion for painting this little things at the end of our fingers and toes.
Karen Young: Bingo. There you go.
Paula Begoun: How do you like that?
Karen Young: Exactly. Exactly.
Paula Begoun: Karen, tell me about gossip. I mean, you're right in there. You're right in the marketing meetings and you hear the crazy stuff. I know that you weren't part of Cindy Crawford's decision to decide that melon was the next miracle ingredient and come up with a product line that is just nuts in terms of the idea that melon from some French doctor is the answer to skin.
00:38:53 But you're in on that kind of stuff from other companies. What, I mean, what do you know? You don't have to mention which company, but what do you know? What gossip is there out there?
Karen Young: Honestly I try to stay away from as much of that as I can.
Paula Begoun: Oh, no you don't! Everybody loves gossip.
Karen Young: Yes, but in terms of ingredients, I don't think I have anything that hasn't already been leaked. You know, it's the snake venom that is going to replace Botox. And you know now it's the snail mucus facial that we're all going to be having next week.
Paula Begoun: Wait, what is the snail? Wait, wait, even I don't know about – I know the about the snake venom. What do they call that Sin Venom?
Karen Young: I can't remember. There are a couple of trade names that they're using. It's the [top] of the Botox, right?
Paula Begoun: Sy-nake.
Karen Young: Yes, thank you. Perfect.
Paula Begoun: But what's the snail mucus facial? What the heck?
Karen Young: Snail mucus.
00:39:44 So, in Asia, and I was going to say Korea, but don't quote me because I don't remember which Asian country it actually started. You go to have a facial and they put, are you ready for this, live snails all around your face.
Paula Begoun: Ah! Blech! Yuck!
Karen Young: Somebody decided that that was such a good thing that they're now going to – don't ask me how they do this – harvest the mucus from the live snails and simply smear it on your face so the snail doesn't have to crawl over you. Don't even get me started. Oh my gosh.
Paula Begoun: Okay, I'm – so do you think that's really possible that that will come here?
Karen Young: It's actually been talked about in the press a lot in the last two weeks.
00:40:30 You know, we'll just be kind of enough to send you a couple of links when we're finished with this conversation so that you, too, can lust after a snail mucus facial.
Paula Begoun: Are the cosmetic companies asking you that you consult with? Are they asking you about whether or not this ingredient will fly?
Karen Young: I defer. I say, look, I am not a chemist. But there have been a couple of dermatologists who have commented on the proteins and the healing power of the snail mucus. And I just really, I just look the other way and say, okay, fine, it's time to go out for a cocktail.
Paula Begoun: Ha!
00:41:06 You know, let me just speak in terms of marketing messaging, because it's relatively easy as you know for a cosmetic company to find a dermatologist to say just about anything…
Karen Young: Anything.
Paula Begoun: …in terms, you know, I mean, I don't mean to give Cindy Crawford and her melon French line a hard time, but what dermatologist really believes that a melon extract is somehow the next answer for--? I mean, you could find a dermatologist to say – I wish they didn't come so easy to buy.
00:41:38 But they do. You can get them to say anything. The problem is what they say then, even though they'll go, well, there's no research, and probably not, and then they'll say, “Well, but this shred of research says maybe.” And then it's like that's the next miracle thing as opposed to in comparison to a million other brilliant ingredients this is really way too unknown and way too trendy.
00:42:05 And then it will be gone within another year or so after you've wasted your money on it, or two years or so after you've wasted your money on it. So, I just had to say that.
Karen Young: Paula, isn't that exactly what we do with antioxidants? It's the antioxidant of the month.
Paula Begoun: It's the antioxidant of the month.
Karen Young: Some wonderful new berry that somebody harvested in some poor rainforest somewhere.
00:42:27 And that is now the antioxidant. Whereas you, way before anybody else was reminding us, it's really a collection/cocktail of antioxidants that does all kinds of things. But, no, no, no, it's the antioxidant of the moment that we will all rush out and buy.
Paula Begoun: So, one of the things we've been writing about and I wonder if the cosmetics industry is talking about this. And from my perspective I would say that Lauder is at the head of this, is what I've been calling designer antioxidants.
00:43:04 That they take the active antioxidant, like say Resveratrol out of the grape extract, or the, what is it, EGCG or ECGC, whatever those initials are of the [Epigallocatechin gallate] – something out of the green tea.
Karen Young: Yeah, ECGC is as far as I can go.
Paula Begoun: The active antioxidant out of green tea. And they're stabilizing it, making it synthetic. It's like Idebenone to coenzyme Q10, they're taking the active ingredient, designing it, making it synthetic so the skin can use it.
00:43:39 It's stable and more potent. Are there new exciting designer antioxidants? I know Lauder in particular headed up the research on using curcuminoids. Avon did, too. Avon stopped – I don't know why Avon stopped because that was a brilliant group of antioxidants. Do you know of any new antioxidants that are these designer trends that might be coming down the pike?
00:44:05 I'm particularly interested in this area of research.
Karen Young: I don't know that I can name any specifics, but a lot of what is happening and you sort of touched on it with the Resveratrol from grapes and the ECGC green tea, is this sort of bio-mimicry, looking at botanicals that function a certain way with nature, whether it's withstanding sun or the stresses of the environment.
00:44:34 And then capturing the specific, and really that's what you're saying with the two that you mentioned. Capturing the quintessential, if you will, part of that ingredient. And then, yes, extracting that. And then from a marketing perspective talking about the bio-mimicry. Okay, if this plant can withstand, you know, we found it in an altitude of 60,000 feet and it survived harsh winters and therefore the DNA of this particular plant we've been able to extract and put it into our emulsion.
00:45:15 There's a lot of that happening, whether it's from the mountaintops in the Andes or a lot going on with marine ingredients that there is this, okay, because it survives 2,000 feet at the bottom of the ocean with no sunlight and it can sustain itself and regenerate, we know that by capturing the essential of that plant we're able to give that to your skin. There's a lot of that going on.
Paula Begoun: So, let me just remind everybody we're talking to Karen Young with the Young Group. She is an industry insider. She's been working in the cosmetics industry for years and years and years with Lancôme, L'Oreal, Estée Lauder, as an executive with those companies, and has been with her own consulting group, the Young Group, for, what, since 1999?
00:46:07 How long have you been…?
Karen Young: Oh dear, right, don't start. A really long time.
Paula Begoun: Well, somebody asked, just as a bit of a departure, somebody asked me just recently, a Chinese Magazine is doing a timeline. I'm kind of a little bit of a celebrity in China.
Karen Young: Celebrity, I can only imagine.
Paula Begoun: It's really weird.
00:46:28 I don't even quite know how to explain it, but a fashion magazine in China is doing kind of a timeline of my career. And one of the things they asked is – this is so sad – was when was the first time I was called the Cosmetics Cop.
Karen Young: Ooh.
Paula Begoun: And I know it happened, that it was Oprah Winfrey, one of the first times I did her show. And then when I really tried to sit down, so I said it accurately, it really was – are you ready? I can't even believe I'm going to say this.
Karen Young: Oh my god…I can't either.
Paula Begoun: It was in 1985.
00:47:01 I had just finished writing my first book, “Blue Shadow Should be Illegal.” Oprah Winfrey had just moved from Baltimore, where she was a reporter, to do a half an hour talk show on Sunday in Chicago. And I just happened to be visiting my family. I knew a producer at the station. And they said, “Why don't you come and talk about your book on this young woman's show.” And I did. And when she got the book and we were talking about it in the green room before I went on, she said, “Oh, it's kind of like you're the Cosmetics Cop, huh?”
00:47:35 And I just thought, whoa, I'm going to use that. I love the alliteration. It's really clear. I just thought, whoa! How cool is that. 1985. I wrote my first book in 1985.
Karen Young: That's amazing. Actually, I don't know that I knew that story, that that's where that came from.
Paula Begoun: Oh, isn't that funny?
Karen Young: But it had to be the ‘80s because, can I take 15 seconds and remind you of how we got together first.
00:48:00 Because it was in the late ‘80s. I was at Estée Lauder. I had just created a foundation called Lucidity that I was so proud of.
Paula Begoun: And I said something bad!
Karen Young: I was so proud of. I thought I had died and gone to heaven and that everyone was going to crown me queen for a day. And the next thing I know someone from R&D is handing me a copy of this review that someone named Paula Begoun had written about my baby.
00:47:27 And it wasn't a very complimentary review.
Paula Begoun: Oh no!
Karen Young: And I thought….
Paula Begoun: And you love me anyway!
Karen Young: …she just doesn't know what I went through to find all these light diffusing ingredients that are going to change your life.
00:48:42 And the next thing you know I went out and bought “Blue Eye Shadow Should be Illegal” and, you know, fell in love with you. And the rest is history.
Paula Begoun: I can't believe…so, just to back up for a second, so what I said about Lucidity, it's funny, because I don't have any memory really about most things, especially all of the thousands of products I looked at, but those were back in the days when I was writing the book myself.
00:49:07 I didn't have the team I have around me now. And I remember going to the Lauder counter and having her put Lucidity on one side of my face and nothing on the other side. And as she's putting it on I'm saying, “I just see more wrinkles.” And she's going, “Yeah, so do I.” And she said, “Here, let me take it off and start again.”
00:49:26 I said, “Okay, take it off.” Maybe it's because I wasn't using Estée Lauder skincare products.
Karen Young: See?
Paula Begoun: So, she took it off and she put the Estée Lauder skincare products on me and she put the foundation back on and she said, “Well that doesn't seem to help.”
Karen Young: And that's pretty much what you wrote in your review, that the sparkly stuff on half my face really isn't doing anything for me at all.
Paula Begoun: Oh, how funny.
Karen Young: I was crushed.
Paula Begoun: Oh, Karen! So, other than insulting the heck out of you, when did we actually finally meet? Again, I'm talking to Karen Young who created the Young Group.
00:50:01 It is a cosmetic consulting group. Karen was an executive with L'Oreal and Estée Lauder and Lancôme before she started her own company and now consults with almost all of the major cosmetic companies that are out there. And we go way too far back. So, other than that time when I insulted the Lucidity product you created for Lauder, when did we actually meet?
Karen Young: It was a few years later and unfortunately I'm not going to remember the conduit.
00:50:30 But someone, you came to New York, and someone suggested that we get together and wet at a Japanese restaurant. And as I was heading there I said to myself, “Do you think she knows that you are the person she completely insulted a few years ago?” And, of course, you didn't, because I was a marketing director at that point and my name was nowhere near Lucidity. And I think as he introduced us at the restaurant I said, you know, and you knew a little about my background and I obviously had read everything you'd ever written.
00:50:59 And I said, “Oh, and by the way, I'm the person who did that Lauder product that you just totally panned.” And after that we just became great friends. And I've been the leader of your fan club ever since.
Paula Begoun: Oh, you are too wonderful. You know, actually, you are remarkable. So, I want you to know that ever since that experience with you, I actually now when I meet somebody in the industry, the first thing I do is apologize if I had ever down the road insulted them and to please not take it personally. Of course, a lot of people – I don't meet that many people because they don't want to meet me.
00:51:36 So, before I wrap this up with you, although it's been way too long since we've talked, and I'm glad we had this rare opportunity to do it on the radio show, if there was one – other than the Lucidity story that you made for Estée Lauder – what is another launch that you kind of have spearheaded over the past few years that you are the most proud of or that you feel like bragging about.
00:52:07 And how did you come up with it and how did you bring it to the market?
Karen Young: Ooh, that's a difficult question. I will, and I actually won't give the name of the company yet because they haven't launched, but I just finished doing a hand care line for a hand model and she knew nothing – sorry she's completely educated and has read your latest book by the way, but really didn't know much about skincare, strangely enough.
00:52:38 And used a lot of really wonderful things on her hands like olive oil. And I sort of put her through training paces and we put together really an anti-aging skincare line that will be sold for hands, although obviously could be used anywhere, but it's really focusing on all of the ingredients that you and I know work.
00:53:01 They're in there at a good level. And they are in airless packaging. But it was a battle. It was really a battle. But, you know, every now and then you do get a breakthrough and there is a chance to really do some good work and people do listen. But for everyone of those, Paula, you know, there's a client who just says, “No, that's too expensive. We can't do that. The airless pump doesn't work. I need a jar. And by the way, all those peptides and antioxidants, really, we're not going to do those, or they'll be down at the bottom of the ingredient labeling.”
00:53:33 So, you know, every day you have to hang on to those small victories.
Paula Begoun: So, Karen, when that hand care line launches can you come back on and brag about it and maybe have the hand model come on with you and we'll talk about the new product line?
Karen Young: That would be fun. I would love to do that.
Paula Begoun: All right. Karen Young with the Young Group. It is her group. Karen has been an executive in the cosmetics industry with L'Oreal, Estée Lauder, and Lancôme.
00:54:00 And now over the past many, many years – too many probably that she wants to count – consulting for major cosmetic companies all over the world. Karen, you're a remarkable woman. Your energy is unparalleled and I'm honored and privileged to call you a friend and associate. You'll come back on when that hand line launches.
Karen Young: That sounds great. And, Paula, you know, it's a mutual admiration society here.
Paula Begoun: It is.
Karen Young: I'm at the front of the line in your fan club. So, it goes without saying.
Paula Begoun: Thank you so much. We'll talk again soon.
Karen Young: My pleasure. Take care.
Paula Begoun: All right. Bye-bye Karen.
00:54:37 So, I am Paula Begoun, the Cosmetics Cop. Thank you, Oprah Winfrey for giving me that name. I've been running solo. Bryan Barron, the coauthor of our book, “Don't Go to the Cosmetics Without Me” was stuck in traffic. But we'll be here now to do our next show. So, you've got to come back to or Facebook, where we are located on Facebook at Paula's Choice.
00:55:05 And see what shows we've got going. In fact, the next show, again, the shows aren't going to be linear when you see them on, or you go the Facebook page – I'm going to be talking about my face. I'm going to be talking about all the different things I've done other than Paula's Choice skincare, now that I am approaching my 60th birthday year, to not look 60!
00:54:32 Talk about Botox and dermal fillers and cosmetic surgery and my own personal experience with the like. So, you're going to look for that show. It's going to be called “What's it's like to get Botox, dermal fillers, and cosmetic surgery.” Again, I'm Paula Begoun, the Cosmetics Cop, keeping you beautifully informed with our radio show. Please stay visiting me and my team at Take care.
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