L’Oréal ACD’s Christina Fair explores skin care opportunities

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NEW YORK — L’Oréal USA’s Active Cosmetics Division (ACD) has generated remarkable growth in recent years by positioning its science-driven brands at the nexus of health and beauty care. As more consumers recognize the importance of that connection, demand for ACD’s dermatologically tested products continues to rise, a trend that Christina Fair, who became president of the division in November 2020, says has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fair is well equipped to lead the business. After working in the financial sector, she took a job at Avon in 2000, and joined L’Oréal eight years later, holding positions of increasing authority in the beauty care company’s Consumer Products Division and ACD.

Beginning in 2018, Fair ran ACD’s SkinCeuticals business, making it the top medical professional skin care brand in the United States. She had previously served as vice president of global marketing for SkinCeuticals, where she oversaw the development of two of the brand’s most successful product launches — Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 and HA Intensifier. She also spearheaded SkinCeuticals’ expansion into medical devices with the introduction of CryoCorrect, as well as personalization services with Custom D.O.S.E.

Fair, who, in addition to serving as ACD president, is a member of L’Oréal USA’s management committee, recently sat down with Chain Drug Review editor-in-chief Jeffrey Woldt to talk about the evolution of the ACD, its central role in driving retail sales of skin care products recommended by health care professionals, and the effort to expand and ensure access to quality skin care.

WOLDT: You’ve been in your current position for a little more than a year. Tell us about your background and career path prior to tackling this job.

Christina Fair

Christina Fair

FAIR: I’ve been in beauty for over 20 years now. I actually started out in finance. The beauty industry wasn’t even on my radar, but I ended up at Avon and from there fell in love with the cosmetics industry.

I’ve been at L’Oréal for 15 years and it’s been an amazing experience, you are always challenged and always growing here. I started my career in the Consumer Products Division, working in marketing on Garnier skin care and then on Maybelline US.

After seven years, I was given the opportunity to come to the Active Cosmetics Division, as vice president of global development for the SkinCeuticals business, which was one of my favorite roles of my career. That was in 2015, and I’ve been at ACD ever since. Following my tenure on SkinCeuticals development, I came over as the general manager for SkinCeuticals USA. When Marc Toulemonde, who at the time was the division head of ACD in the United States, was named chief digital and marketing officer for L’Oréal USA, I was appointed as the president of ACD North America. My previous experiences enabled me to have a strong understanding of all the brands and all the channels that we’re in.

WOLDT: How did you make the jump from finance to beauty?

FAIR: I was working in New York City in 2000 and, at that time, finance was a difficult culture for a young woman. I actually said to myself, “Where do I go that is a great company for women?” Avon, in 2000, was at the top of the list. Andrea Jung was the CEO at the time.

I worked in demand forecasting for several years before I went into marketing at Avon. Then I discovered that I love this industry. It wasn’t what I expected. When you’re not in it, you don’t realize the pace and excitement of the industry, so that was a permanent career change.

WOLDT: I’m sure your financial background comes in handy in your current role.

FAIR: Absolutely. My interest in international business is also helpful. I completed my undergrad degree in international business and economics, so the global aspect of L’Oréal is a big plus for me. Our brands and business models are very different in the different regions of the world versus the U.S., the learnings you get from traveling and seeing L’Oréal’s operations in Asia, Europe and Brazil are fascinating.

WOLDT: For those who may not be familiar with ACD, as opposed to other parts of L’Oréal, what brands fall under that umbrella and what needs do they address?

La Roche-Posay and CeraVe share a medical sales force.

FAIR: ACD is really rooted in the idea that everything we do is connected with skin health. Our brands in the U.S. are ­CeraVe — which was acquired in 2017 and is our biggest — La Roche-Posay, Vichy, SkinCeuticals and Dermablend. What’s amazing about the brands under the Active Cosmetics portfolio is that they’re very complementary and all rooted in skin health.

Another unique aspect of ACD is our channel diversity. You will find some of our brands in Walmart, but you’ll also find us dispensing to aesthetic dermatologists. You’ll find us on Amazon and also on Dermstore. There’s such diversity in the channel mix, but also a lot of synergies. CeraVe and La Roche-Posay share a medical sales force and call on dermatologists together and attend skin care congresses together, so there’s a lot of synergy in the science, the research and the resources for the brands.

WOLDT: Does that diversity benefit your retail partners?

FAIR: Our retailers are appreciating the expertise a dermatologist brings to the table in terms of topical derm skin care, and they are seeing the benefits of educating the pharmacist. Pharmacists are really the connector to adjunctive therapy for us in B&M. The synergies of our channel help us to both differentiate and strengthen each brand and product’s point of difference.

WOLDT: How does ACD’s focus on health and dermatology differentiate your brands in the market?

FAIR: I’ll tell you what we do very, very well. First, Active Cosmetics has the benefit of being under the L’Oréal umbrella, the No. 1 company in the world in beauty. All the investment in research and development goes into beauty — we get the benefit of this incredible expertise and innovation.

Second, we have the biggest sales force in the beauty industry. We call on more than 40,000 health care professionals between all of our brands. We have the credibility to compete with pharmaceutical companies. Having that relationship, educating the health care providers — whether they’re dermatologists, pediatricians, allergists or pharmacists — enables our sales force to make sure our science is understood and appreciated. That’s what has gotten us to the pivotal point of where we are today.

La Roche-Posay and CeraVe share a medical sales force.

Third, we are present at most skin care congresses. We attend 50-plus conferences a year as a division, and that’s where we meet doctors, where we speak about our science, where we educate what our products can do for patients. That’s very important to us too. We have best-in-class education. How we educate on our research and science, how our health care professionals educate on it, how we educate online directly to the consumer — education is just a core of who we are as well.

Another unique focus we have is digitizing our connection to the medical community. We created lorealdermatologicalbeauty.com, a B2B website, for health care professionals. On this platform they have access to clinical studies on our products, educational modules and brand information. Having the ability to create a B2B database where we can communicate with our physicians continuously, especially when they’re not in urban areas, has been a great tool for us. The site is only about two-plus years old.

WOLDT: Do you see an opportunity to do something like that for consumers?

FAIR: Our digital platform for consumers is quite rich too. We have brand-owned D2C platforms, which include product information, clinical results and services. We have over 10 million names in our database for ACD. COVID accelerated that process, but B2B is really a newer platform that gives us an interface with the health care professional.

WOLDT: There seems to be a great appetite among providers and retailers for innovative tools in the skin care category.

FAIR: We see telehealth becoming more integrated in how our health care professionals might be interacting with patients in the future. Telehealth is also something that we’re exploring as a new platform.

WOLDT: In addition to providing information to dermatologists, ACD also seeks their input. How does that relationship work?

FAIR: It’s pretty integral to the journey of creating product. Each brand works a little bit differently with dermatologists — along with scientists, professors, researchers — but in general, they come to us with insights about what their patients need. They travel the world to attend all the congresses as well, and see new ingredients and new therapies.

They share that knowledge with us. For example, we introduced tranexamic acid for skin care in the U.S., based on a doctor from Thailand giving us information about it, and then passing it along to our chemists and R&D team. We do the right research, but we also conduct panels. We share the formulations. We share what the product is going to do. What is the clinical outcome going to be? We have advisory boards that give us such incredible input to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for patients.

When we have the final product, the process continues. We then leverage the trust and expertise of our dermatologists, and they will do trials on their own as well with patients. We can collect ongoing data.

WOLDT: That’s in addition to your own clinical trials?

L’Oréal’s Innovation and Research Center in Chevilly-Larue, France

FAIR: L’Oréal, as a company, is very rigorous scientifically, and has a high bar for clinical trials and safety testing. At ACD, we take it to the next level to really understand the impact of our products on patients’ health and the appearance of their skin as adjunctive therapy.

WOLDT: How big is your R&D team?

FAIR: Globally, L’Oréal has over 4,000 employees just in research and development. We have 21 research centers around the world and 497 patents, and we spend about $1 billion in R&D annually. It’s at the core of what we do. L’Oréal was founded by a scientist, so it’s in the DNA.

WOLDT: Your standards seem to exceed those of most beauty companies.

FAIR: Yes, LOréal has extremely high standards. Health care professionals use our products, so they’re the ultimate judges for efficacy, and they just want the best for their patients. It’s great because they truly believe in our products for adjunctive therapy. They see the results first hand with their patients. Combining the right skin care routine helps to achieve the best outcome, whether you’re there for eczema or even if you’re there to get injections.

WOLDT: We’ve talked a good deal about dermatologists. Is there a role for pharmacists in this process?

FAIR: Yes, the pharmacist is at the core of our partnership with CVS, with Walgreens, with any brick-and-mortar retailer that sells prescription medications. We really aim to educate the pharmacist on the right adjunctive therapy. If you are getting a prescription that needs a sunscreen or a prescription that has any side effects on the skin, it is important that the pharmacist can recommend the right skin care to use with certain prescriptions.

We’ve actually created a new role within our division called integrated health. And we just hired a pharmacist to be part of that team and take the lead in educating pharmacists, partnering with pharmacists, and making sure that they have the right tools and the right knowledge to recommend the right adjunctive therapy for patients. It’s part of our longer-term strategy.

WOLDT: When it comes to brand building, you rely on recommendations from the medical community. Can you talk a little bit about some of the other means that you’re using to get the word out about ACD’s brands?

FAIR: To your point, it always does start with the health care professional. It’s the recommendation that leads to the patient going into the store to buy the product, and we have great loyalty once we reach that consumer.

One key initiative for ACD is investing in digital services. What’s our point of difference? It’s bringing education and the health care professional’s voice to our e-boutique. We have what we call pro services where we offer chats, one-on-one virtual consultations or live selling with an expert. Through social and e-commerce, we can give access to that professional voice. That’s a big component of it.

We’ve also increased our spend in media overall, including digital, programmatic and TV. For the first time ever, we have a TV commercial running for La Roche-Posay. It’s designed to increase awareness, increase reach and get the foot traffic into our retail partners. But we’re also very strategic about our spend, very efficient. We track KPIs quite closely to ensure that if we’re investing in the right channels with the right messaging and targeting.

Those efforts have definitely increased the awareness of our brands, along with the recommendations from health care professionals. Both our long-term and short-term strategies have proved successful for ACD. Our marketing budget has increased significantly, along with our growth as a division, which has been incredible over the last three years. We take that growth, and we fuel the businesses. We add more sales reps and we add more resources around education and increase investment in science.

WOLDT: How would you characterize ACD’s growth?

FAIR: We’ve managed, overall in the total business, to double the size of the division since 2019. Now we’re building additional infrastructure. It’s great because L’Oréal really believes in marketing, so that top-line growth is used to fuel the brand, and that’s what keeps the flywheel going.

WOLDT: You seem to have found a sweet spot.

FAIR: It’s been a very slow and steady build, developing the sales force, creating the necessary relationships. There’s been this convergence between what we’ve been building for a while and COVID bringing health to the forefront. During the pandemic, the consumer demanded trust, knowledge, education and recommendations. We were already there, which has really helped us accelerate our business.

WOLDT: Even before COVID, retailers were starting to embrace the idea that health and beauty are connected. That’s a big opportunity for them and for ACD.

FAIR: They did, and now they are creating the dermatologist-recommended category within their stores and deciding what brands should come under that umbrella. They’ve done a great job developing that destination and bringing it to the forefront.

WOLDT: How would you like to see that segment and skin care as a whole merchandised?

FAIR: When we strategize with our retailers, we discuss the importance of involving the pharmacist. With the right education, the pharmacist can drive patients to the category for specific adjunctive therapy.

In terms of education at shelf for consumers, we see that they want a personalized regimen, a personalized recommendation. It can be overwhelming when you see all those skin care products. So how do we bring education to the shelf? When you go to the store, you see people standing in the aisle and they’re on their cell phone researching products. We need to find ways to assist those people when they’re shopping.

WOLDT: How do you do it without cluttering things up and overwhelming them with information?

FAIR: We aim to make it simple for them. They don’t have a lot of time to stand in front of a shelf and identify their product. With CVS and Walgreens, we spend a lot of time educating their advisors, and positioning them as the people that can help you find the right product.

Another great tool is all the loyalty data that retailers have. It helps us understand consumer behavior — what the basket size is, what products people are buying together — and how we bring tools that will drive the business and increase brand awareness.

WOLDT: What can ACD bring to the table for retailers to leverage?

FAIR: The digital component is a big one, and a new one too. We recently restructured our entire digital team and added a lot of new head count. Now we have a team that supports target.com, walmart.com, cvs.com and other partners to really help build the online business, because that’s where you can have the most robust education and knowledge on ingredients, clinical results and health care professional advice. That’s where our core focus will be in the coming years — to build out and tailor platforms with retailers around the derm category.

WOLDT: Everyone in retailing seems to be talking about personalization. Is that a process you’re involved in?

FAIR: We do give advice to retailers in terms of diagnostic tools, as we have a lot of them ourselves, but in terms of the one-on-one personalization, not as much. We do have a one-on-one focus within ACD on our own e-commerce sites, but the general diagnostic tools that help you understand your regimen, we do partner with retailers to give some support and advice on that end.

WOLDT: You mentioned direct-to-consumer sales. How big a factor will they become in the skin care category?

FAIR: Brick-and-mortar came back last year, so it definitely helped level the playing field, but DTC is an important aspect for the future. For us, it’s still growing by double digits, even though our brick-and-mortar has also really ramped up. You can see that consumers are not going to abandon the digital environment entirely.

It’s always going to be a hybrid, so how do we build our digital capabilities and digital presence, but not forget brick-and-mortar? It’s not one or the other; it’s really this hybrid O+O, off-line/online experience that lives together. Like I said, you could be in a store, go online for product information and then buy in-store, or you could be online, and say, “I’m going to pick up the product at the store.” We have to look at it from the perspective of the consumer who shops both ways.

WOLDT: Auto-replenishment is another emerging opportunity.

FAIR: It is. And it’s a big benefit for the consumer too when it comes to core products that you know you need. It’s a good fit for Active Cosmetics because we have consumers that come back over and over again.

WOLDT: Consumers are concerned about a lot of things these days, including sustainability. How are you dealing with the broader social concerns that businesses are now expected to address?

FAIR: L’Oréal has a worldwide initiative that outlines sustainability commitments through 2030, called L’Oréal For The Future, which we’re taking quite seriously. Each division, each brand has goals and KPIs that we need to meet by 2030. They come into play throughout the business — everything from how products are developed to sourcing packaging.

For instance, CeraVe is going into recycled packaging, and these initiatives take time. ­CeraVe is one of our bigger brands, so the shift to recycled packaging will have a great impact.

For ACD, about 70% of our newer updated products have improved packaging with a lower environmental footprint. We have KPIs where we track our progress. 85% of our products updated since 2019 have a lower environmental footprint than before. Additionally, in March 2021 ACD celebrated a milestone for all of our ACD ­Eboutiques, where all D2C ACD e-comm orders are now packed plastic-free and with 100% recycled paper, derived from post-consumer waste.

In addition, we just hired a chief sustainability officer for L’Oréal in North America. It is becoming a core of the company, and that trickles down to all the divisions and all the brands. We’ve made progress, but there’s still more to do.

WOLDT: Late last year, L’Oréal announced its For Women in Science fellowships. What does that program say about the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion?

FAIR: It’s at the core of this company. Our long-standing For Women in Science philanthropic initiative brings to light how important it is to merge the core of L’Oréal, which is science, with equity and inclusion. These are all things that the company has been serious about for a long time. L’Oréal USA was just recognized with the EDGE Award, as the first company worldwide to be EDGEplus certified, a new certification from the EDGE [Economic Dividends for Gender Equality] global standard that enables organizations to go beyond gender and measure the intersectionality between gender and race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability and nationality. L’Oréal’s commitment is evident, and you feel it when you work here.

ACD has partnered with the Skin of Color Society, a dermatological organization that advances knowledge about skin of color. There isn’t as much research available as there should be, which is an important initiative that we want to contribute to.

For us, it involves partnering with doctors to really understand skin tones, and the impact of different skin diseases on different types of skin. All of this research is critical. We have the power to make a change as a big company.

If you look internally and externally, the progress that’s being made is amazing. Internally, our U.S. strategic management committee is more than half women, and we look at diversity at every level of the company. Then externally, it’s really making sure that we are providing opportunities to close equity gaps, and ensuring that our research and science, our content, and our education address the needs of people with different skin tones and types. It’s an incredibly important topic for L’Oréal.

We’re doing it collectively, and then all of our brands are really integrated in different causes. As a division, we partner with the Melanoma Research Alliance. We fund young scientists in their search to detect and cure Melanoma, and the work they do is fascinating and amazing.

CeraVe has an impactful partnership with nurses. We recently honored them as the Heroes Behind the Mask in print and digital media. It was a recognition of the nurses, and how much they’ve done during COVID. We interviewed five of them who shared their real stories, and it was really beautiful. When you listen to those stories, they make you cry. CeraVe is continuing this campaign and initiative into 2022 and beyond.

We acknowledge pharmacists too, always and especially on National Pharmacist Day. All of these health care professionals play such a critical role to us. We try to give back, celebrate them and highlight what they’re doing for us.

WOLDT: You talked about the work you’re doing with the Melanoma Research Alliance. Is sun protection a focal point for Active Cosmetics?

FAIR: It is an incredibly important category for us. It’s such a significant part of health, and education is crucial. The right products are important, ensuring that you formulate aesthetically, so people will wear them on a daily basis. To truly bring health to skin, you need to wear sunscreen. I always say, “If you can see the sun, the sun can see you.” Just because you’re inside doesn’t mean you’re not getting affected by the sun. It’s the education piece that is so critical with sunscreen, making people understand they need to use it on a daily basis, not just at the beach. It should really be a daily habit.

WOLDT: You touched on this earlier, but how has the whole COVID experience changed people’s perceptions of beauty care in general and skin care in particular?

FAIR: We saw consumers get so savvy as a result of the pandemic. Consumers increasingly want to know about brands, ingredients and who’s recommending them. We saw them spending a lot of time on our Instagram and Live platforms when we were educating. They have to trust the brands that they’re using, a key contributor as to why the dermatologist category within skin care is booming.

The consumer who’s buying dermatologist-recommended products is very engaged. They’re researching online. We’re getting a younger demographic as well. The basket size and routine is increasing, so there is a loyalty there that’s good for ACD.

For us, it’s a matter of continuing to invest in the sales force, including the new pediatric team for CeraVe, working with health care professionals, and making sure that we can bring that access to consumers. A lot of the consumers don’t have access to dermatologists and other health care professionals. Our belief is that we want to bring dermatological solutions to all. That’s how we’re building our future strategy and what ACD is dedicated to.


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