The Interview: Nada Baalbaki, Global Scientific Director, CeraVe
CeraVe is the brand of choice for dermatologists around the world, who recommend it for its no-fuss but effective products that come at an accessible price. It's perhaps no surprise that it's so highly regarded among the scientific community since the brand has been developed by dermatologists and its formulations are designed to respect and protect the skin barrier.
Nada Baalbaki is its Global Scientific Director, and a skin barrier scientist, and she talks us through CeraVe's approach, her own career history, and how to tackle some of the most common skin concerns.
We’re excited to learn more about CeraVe, but before we do that, we’d love to learn more about you. When did your interest in skin health begin?
Both my parents are physicians, so I took an interest in healthcare and science from a young age. And, in early high (secondary) school I became more interested in skincare and cosmetic science, gravitating towards the more technical articles in beauty magazines and reading the ingredient lists of makeup and skincare products. That interest in skincare science formalized when I began at university and selected chemistry for my major with the intention to pursue a graduate degree in skin science & cosmetic formula.
During your studies and research into the area, I understand you had a particular interest in the function of the skin’s barrier, which is such a hot topic right now. Why do you think this has now come to the fore?
I was fortunate to join a research lab during my doctoral studies that focused on skin barrier function. As a combination of biology, chemistry, and physics, it is interesting as a researcher, particularly since there are still many questions to answer.
It makes sense it has emerged as hot topic in skin health since it plays a role in almost every aspect of skin health. The skin’s barrier is a complex and dynamic interplay of many actions and components, and we see it react to and play a role in the conditions your skin experiences from the outside (allergens, sun, weather, bacterial etc.) and the inside (inflammation, skin conditions like eczema, aging, etc.). The skin’s barrier is responsible for maintaining several balances, which for health balance is always the goal.
You joined CeraVe, whose products are expert in this field, in 2017, this seems like a brand made for someone with your interest and expertise, but please tell us what it was that drew you to CeraVe?
CeraVe’s approach to formulation completely aligns with my research interests. The formulations are thoughtfully designed to respect and restore the skin barrier with carefully selected ingredients and comprehensive tolerance and efficacy testing – every aspect of the brand leads back to skin barrier maintenance and restoration. Also, its history and ongoing relationship of developing products with dermatologists resonated with my interest in skincare that is rooted in science. I come from a family of physicians and feel strongly that skincare is a part of both physical and mental healthcare. CeraVe’s commitment to developing formulas that deliver our therapeutic skincare really drew me to want to be a part of this team.
Can you explain what your role at the brand entails?
As the Global Director for Clinical Research and Scientific Communication, a.k.a. the Scientific Director, my work focuses on developing clinical studies to test both our existing and new products using innovative designs that are relevant for both physicians and consumers. This begins with regular communication with dermatologists, hosting advisory boards with key opinion leaders and consulting with dermatologists to understand their and their patients’ need and to co-develop product innovations, scientific research programs, and design our clinical studies with the goal to support their needs to better care for their patients. Part of my role is to coordinate clinical studies that test that demonstrate not only the efficacy of our products but also dig deeper to generate knowledge on why and how they work. I also communicate our results in scientific journals and medical congresses to ensure we are sharing the knowledge we are creating about the skin barrier with the broader dermatology community. All of this is done in collaboration with dermatologists,
The brand does have a reputation as being a favourite among dermatologists, why do you think your fellow scientific experts so readily recommend it?
As a scientist, I believe in the products, so I understand why my peers do as well! CeraVe has been formulating products based on scientific insights from dermatologists and barrier knowledge from its original core products: the Moisturizing Cream, Moisturising Lotion and Hydrating Cleanser. As a brand we continue to work with dermatologists to identify the relevant insights and to generate new barrier knowledge as we develop new products. Their peers’ input is incorporated throughout the process from conceptualization to formulation and testing, so they are developed to be relevant for both dermatologists and their patients.
With products rooted in the science of skin barrier and backed by strong clinical performance and significant outcomes, the efficacy and brand love we see from people all around makes sense.
At the heart of CeraVe, hence the name, are ceramides. Can you please tell us what these do and why they are do important to skin health?
Ceramides are part of the skin’s moisture barrier – the outer layer of skin is of course made of skin cells, but filling in the gaps between these cells is a mortar composed of lipids. This lipid mortar is tightly packed and water repellent, so it limits what can move through the skin in either direction. Ceramides make of 50% of the lipid mortar and are key to its proper functioning. The lipid barrier is highly complex – it requires the right amount of ceramides and the right types, like a puzzle, to be at its peak performance. If there is any imbalance, that leaves opportunities for gaps which make it easier for water to escape the skin and for outside factors to penetrate. Many conditions, including dry skin, atopy and acne, are associated with reduced ceramide levels. All CeraVe products are formulated with 3 skin-identical ceramides, which are ceramides with the same structure as those naturally in the skin.
As well as dermatologists, influencers and beauty writers alike, push CeraVe, how does the brand engage this community or has the support come organically?
Much of the support for CeraVe has been organic. Our products work and those who try them often become loyal users. As a brand we love to collaborate those who already using CeraVe to share their experiences and love for CeraVe with a broader community.
The brand has a no-nonsense approach to packaging and pricing, given the results, it feels like it could be positioned in a more premium space in the market. Presumably it’s core to the brand’s values to make good quality skincare widely available?
You are right! Accessibility is a key pillar for CeraVe. We do believe that everyone should have access to skin health. Our mission is making ceramide-containing therapeutic skincare accessible for all; this is reflected in how we formulate, package, and position our products.
The skincare routines you propose are also very simple and straightforward, do you think as the consumer has become more informed on skincare, there has been a tendency to over-complicate their regimes?
A skincare regimen should be easy to use and easy to maintain as consistency is important. Skincare regimens do not need to be over-complicated to be efficacious; sometime using too many products together or too many products without consistency can lead to less optimal outcomes. We collaborate with dermatologists to not only formulate our products but also to build the regimens for when and how to use them together.
Let’s take two examples of a consumer, a late teen with acne prone skin and a woman entering menopause, what would be the CeraVe routines you would advise for each?
For the late teen with Blemish-prone skin, I would recommend our Blemish Control Cleanser in the morning followed by our Facial Moisturising Lotion with Sunscreen and the Blemish Control Cleanser followed by the Blemish Control Gel in the evening. This routine contains salicylic acid to help control the blemish-prone skin while also delivering hydration, ceramides to help restore the skin’s barrier, and sun protection during the day.
A woman entering menopause may notice their skin is drier with less surface oils, which is why I would incorporate on gentle cleanser and moisturiser with a humectant like hyaluronic acid. I would suggest our Hydrating Cleanser followed by our Facial Moisturising Lotion with Sunscreen in the morning and our Hydrating Cleanser followed by the Eye Repair Cream and Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum in the evening (+ the Moisturising Cream if they are particularly dry).
For those uninitiated to the brand, what would be the CeraVe hero products?
Our Moisturising Cream and Moisturising Lotion are the foundation of the brand, along with the Hydrating Cleanser and Foaming Cleansers to complete the routine. These are staples for daily skincare.
The Facial Moisturising Lotions with and without SPF are also key products for the brand. Sun protection is essential for every daily skincare routine and these products are the foundation of many of our facial routines that allow us to keep things simple.
What about body, there has been a lot of focus on the face, do you think now that consumers are ready to focus on full body care? You have great products for this also.
Definitely. Skin is our largest organ and covers us from head to toe. Skin health is relevant to every part. While the face is the area many focus on since it is most exposed, the body is important to how we look and feel as well. The body is also affected by dry skin and many experience eczema flares, so a daily skincare routine that helps restore the skin’s barrier is important for skin quality. And, fortunately, body skincare routines do not need to be complicated – a gentle cleanser and long-lasting moisturiser that restores the skin barrier are the basics for body care.
When it comes to new product development, how long does the process take and, as well as using the expertise you have in-house, do you solicit input from consumers?
New product development involves a diverse team of in-house experts and can take up to 2-3 years depending on the complexity of the project. We start all projects with dermatologists and consumer insights – beginning with conversations and research with both groups; they are partners in helping us to identify new opportunities to better meet their skin health needs. We continue to involve both dermatologists and our consumers throughout the process, engaging, consulting, and requesting their input as we conceptualize, formulate, then test new products.
When it comes to skin health in general, what is “the next big thing”?
This is a great question, and I am definitely influenced by my interest in the skin barrier. I mentioned before the skin barrier is complex and dynamic, and we still have many questions to answer. From my perspective as a skin barrier scientist, the deep dive into better understanding the role of the skin barrier in healthy and compromised skin will continue, particularly better understanding the interplay between the different aspects of the skin barrier as it relates to conditions like eczema, blemishes, and rosacea.