Sensory Evaluation in Personal Care: Interacting with Everyday Things

By: Jhanani Ramesh and Nnadilm Okafor

October 15, 2018, Dr. Gaewalin Ricklefs, Associate VP of Sensory and Expert Evaluation at L’Oréal, was a guest lecturer providing an in-depth look into the application and impact of sensory science on the Personal Care Industry.  She defined sensory science and how we use it when interacting with everyday personal care items.  Sensory evaluation is the scientific method used to measure, analyze and interpret the responses to products as perceived through sense organs. We use our five senses during sensory evaluation. 

  1. Touch - temperature, pressure,and texture of the product. 
  2. Sound - tone, pitch,and intensity as in the crispiness of chips or the crunchiness of wafers. 
  3. Smell - character and intensity. 
  4. Sight - color and brightness. 
  5. Taste - sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors. 


Sensory Evaluation: Humans as measuring tools

But the decision to buy an item involves more than just using our five senses: it requires different measurement tools and sensory evaluation questions to be considered.  These measurement tools include the need/want for the product depending on the season, the bias we experience from hearing priming words used to describe a product such as premium or well-liked, how much the product reminds you of a smell from a memorable event, and frequency of our exposure. In Personal Care, human beings become the measuring tools whether as a panel researching about the product or as people responding to new products. Hence, the taste and packaging of the same product would vary from place to place. Various methodologies can be used to understand the science behind the reactions and results. Considering body wash as an example, the reasons for the degree of moisturizing (feel), the longevity of the smell (smell), bubbles, the color of the body wash (sight), decibel of opening the bottle (sound) can be answered by science.

The session wrapped up with interactive exercises which tested our sensory evaluations. We evaluated pictures of lips with lipstick for their characteristics. We looked at evenness of the product, intensity (color, brightness), shine (amount of light reflected) and feathering (product migrating outside lip line into fine lines). Later, samples of moisturizers were given to students, who were asked to evaluate them based on smoothness,shiny factor of the product, thickness, appearance of white film and shiny factor when applied on the skin. We had tons of fun and learned a lot in the process. 

Sensory Evaluation: Interacting with everyday items

Students evaluated pictures of lips with lipstick

Some Takeaways:

  • Applying sensory science to personal care requires several different criteria and measurements as well as a strict procedure to ensure accuracy. 
  • Although using different instrumental tools to evaluate products is more accurate, but you need to take into consideration the different thresholds.
  • As the field continues to evolve, both finding a balance between sensory and instrumental evaluation and incorporating data mining will be critical to accurately predict consumer perceptions.