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Cosmetics and the 5 senses : Perception & Description

Agns Giboreau Your contact: Hlne AZOEUF, Sensory Dpt Director Tel +33 169 534 302

The questions addressed today

Why controlling sensory properties in cosmetics?

How does the body reply to the cosmetic world?

What kind of words are cosmetic sensory attributes?

How to define attributes for cosmetics' description?



Why paying attention to sensory in cosmetics?

Appearance of the pack? Consumers are emotionally attached to their cosmetics Sensory characteristics could create an emotional link between the consumer and the product / packaging :
Optimisation of the sensory characteristics of the product / the pack


Positive stimulation of one or many senses

Taste of the lipstick? Sound while closing?

Increase the perceived quality of the product and its emotional content

Why controlling sensory characteristics in cosmetics?

Facing the high demand of the cosmetic industry to base the marketing mix on sensations It is necessary to know how to control sensory characteristics

Sensory descriptive studies represent the most useful and the most used tool to achieve such a control.

The solution: Sensory descriptive methods

Objectives :
Measuring all sensations a product provides to a consumer at various stages of usage all along the product life Considering the link to consumer liking, sensory profile is used : For a watch on competition To know consumers expectations through sensory strengths and weaknesses To define the sensory optimum profile

How does the body reply to the world?

How defining a sense? A "sense" is a faculty by which outside stimuli are perceived. SENSE (broadly acceptable definition )
"a system that consists of a sensory cell type (or group of cell types) that respond to a specific kind of physical energy, and that correspond to a defined region (or group of regions) within the brain where the signals are received and interpreted."
(Source: Wikepedia)

Sensory receptor
Structure that recognizes a stimulus in the internal or external environment of an organism.

Smell & Taste : chemical receptors activated by interacting with the molecule

Sight : Photoreceptors transducing the physical energy of light into electrical signals.

Touch & Hearing : Mechanoreceptors responding to physical stimuli when membranes are physically stretched.

Certainly the most important sense as being the source of information for most instinctive action The most immediate sense The one that drives all other perceptions Appearance directly linked to symbolic interpretation

And in cosmetics?
Many visual characteristics of both consumption and liking.

PACK and

PRODUCT are involved in consumer choice,


Also a crucial sense as it is the main channel to oral communication, essential human activity Sound environment : central in human well-being Acoustic stimuli perceived from their source, their function, or a specific causal event

And in cosmetics?
The main issue concerns the PACK: Sound produced while opening and closing But also the hair or skin

PRODUCT: hand interaction with


The third distal sense Hardly recognized by consumers and implicitly memorised Highly linked to emotion Strongly influences mood and individual judgment

And in cosmetics?
Large role in cosmetics Reinforcement of the liking level of a given product or a given brand In luxury brands or personal care : symbolic impact sometimes as high as a visual property

Proximal sense, needing contact.


Muscles and bones

Thermal captors
Heat transfers

Pain sensations
Trigeminal nerve

And in cosmetics?
Major sense for cosmetics products : Graal softness, packaging handling, skin-hair-body contact, hand perception and so on.


Intimate sense In-mouth sensations Taste buds only responds to water soluble compounds, salts, acids sugars, peptides.. BUT : In the consumer mind : also refers to other sensations occurring in-mouth : aroma (through retronasal perception : strawberry, vanilla) & mouthfeel sensations.

And in cosmetics?
Critical for Oral care and lip sticks


Language What kind of words are sensory attributes for cosmetics?


Linguistic ressources
What linguistics resources are available to describe sensations?

Morphology (lexical form):

Noun, adjective, verb or constructed form? -

Semantics (meaning)

Focus on the object or on the subject?


Sensory adjectives
A lot specific sensory adjectives
Vision : e.g. dark, small, rough, green.. Somesthesia : e.g. heavy, tough, thick,
smooth, harsh..

Less specific sensory adjectives

Taste: e.g. bitter, acid Audition: e.g. loud

No specific sensory adjectives

Smell: No specific sensory adjectives in olfaction.


Sensory nouns and verbs

Nouns :

Exist for all sensory modalities

- Can refer to different levels of conceptual elaboration of the stimulation -

e.g. lemon smell, velvet touch

Nominal adjective: e.g. fruity

Verbs :

Encountered in all fields Related to the effect of stimuli on the subject = effect

as well as to the impact of subject actions to produce sensations in an interactive process with the object = usage
Verbal adjectives: e.g. tingling, resistant,


Linguistic resources for sensory cosmetics

Sight Simple adjectives ++ color, shape, size, texture ++ source, concept + light, effect Hearing + sharpness, clarity, loudness ++ source, concept + effect, sound making Smell 0 Touch ++ substance, Texture Taste +

Nouns, nominal adjectives Verbs, verbal adjectives

++ source, concept + effect

++ source, concept + gesture, effect, usage

++ source, concept + effect

- Object descriptions - Subject feelings


What is the best form for a sensory attribute?

Its function ? To provide a certain value (= quantification ) of a given quality (=property).

Preferred form: Adjectives Adjectival form constructed on nouns or verbs


Description How to define attributes for cosmetic products?


What does trained panel mean?

12 or 15 subjects Recruitment : Recruited on
motivation, availability, logical, scaling abilities, sensory general sensitivity

Training (10-50 hours) :

(1) General sensory knowledge (2) Attribute generation & selection (3) Attributes learning

Once trained, the panel is able to measure sensory characteristics of products.


A. Descriptors generation
Wide range of products representing the products on the market Individual work : description of the perception for each product Debriefing with all the panelists in order to group the generated descriptors.

B. Training on sensory characteristics

Once the list of attributes is worked out the group goes through: - the recognition of the attributes, - the quantification of the intensity of the attributes on a structured scale
At the end of this training, the panelists are able to recognize and describe the sensations composing these products.

+ Checking of the panel performances

(sensitivity, homogeneity and repeatability)

C. Scaling : Test of the products


How to select attributes?


discriminate non redundant relate to consumer acceptance/rejection relate to instrumental or physical measurements singular precise and reliable consensus on meaning unambiguous reference easy to obtain communicate relate to reality
(Source: Lawless & Heymann, 1998)


How to write definitions?


be lexically homogeneous (the definition of an adjective starts with an adjective or a pronoun Avoid circularity as it brings no information (same etymological family) Favor description: analogy, paraphrases, synonyms, antonyms (explicit information, complement of the attribute) Illustrate with reference to products as a complement and specification of the definition (example)

(Source: Giboreau et al., 2006, Fd Qual & Pref)


Example of sensory attributes : Essenso Cosmetics

Attribute Definition Which moves easily in the cup Producing a long and thin ribbon Which does not oppose resistance to cover the skin Protocole Bend the cup to allow the product to flow and observe the product movement Press a small amount of sample between forefinger and thumb and gently separate fingers Spread a small amount of sample within a 4cm diameter area on the forearm and evaluate while applying Spread a small amount of sample within a 4cm diameter area on the forearm and evaluate the sensation after 3 rounds. Gently touch the skin with 3 fingers and remove hand

In the cup


At pick up


Easy to spread At application Greasy

Which reminds the texture of butter

Sticky 2 min after application Thick

That needs strength to remove fingers Which leaves a heavy residual film

Stroke the skin with the whole hand


Sensory profile

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Crme A Crme B




facile taler




facile f. peau film pntrer collante rsiduel




The 5 senses
All 5 senses are involved in cosmetic industries. The importance of each sense depends on the product type, with a large impact of usage conditions.

The methods
The sensory know-how coming from Food Sciences and statistics has been successfully transferred to cosmetic areas. Psycho-linguistics know-how allowed fine tuning of descriptor lists and definitions. Current methods show good performances.

The cosmetic applications

Wide range of applications from Quality control, to R&D and Marketing projects


Thank you for your attention

Any question?