Cosmetic Chemist AJ Addae On 5 Beauty Industry Shifts In Store For This Year

AJ Addae, cosmetic chemist and founder of product formulation company Sula Labs, believes rules will rule in 2023. She predicts there’ll be a stiffening of standards sparked by discussions about clean beauty lacking a definition and the class action lawsuit against Sephora involving whether the clean beauty products it carries are actually clean. She highlights the recent strengthening of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s cosmetics regulatory framework as evidence of a push for stronger product labeling and safety substantiation that will have broad ramifications for formulating products.  

“It’s going to be a moment which brands are realizing, oh, we need to tighten up, especially as they navigate the regulatory implications around the debate and conversation around clean beauty,” she says. “And doing this without the consumers getting wrapped up in flux.”

Ahead, Addae tells us more about how she sees the beauty industry evolving, from a shift in sunscreen construction to clinical testing across regimens.


Microbiome friendly skincare has been all the rage lately. Addae foresees it maturing to consider greater diversity within the skin microbiome. It turns out the skin microbiome isn’t necessarily the same from person to person. It can depend on where someone lives, how old they are and much more. Addae says, “Humans are very different, and we have microbiomes that are completely separate from one another.”

As the beauty industry learns about the differences in people’s skin microbiomes, it will learn about what truly works to keep the skin microbiome humming, too. “It’s a question of how do we tackle this in such a way that really does benefit the consumer and getting them on board with where the scientific community is in terms of where they’re critiquing microbiome based approaches in skincare,”  she says. “It’s way more complex than just throwing in a prebiotic and a postbiotic and calling it microbiome friendly overall.”


Instead of silo’ing sunscreens into chemical versus mineral, Addae envisions that the two will begin to merge. “We’re going to see a shift away from brands attempting to impress consumers with mineral-only sunscreens to instead mineral and chemical sunscreen combination formulations,” she says. “Those tend to be less of a formulation challenge, but also more aesthetically appealing to the consumer, which is a really, really important thing.”

Addae expects some brands to take a step back from making sunscreens altogether due to the mounting costs of the sunscreen formulation process. She thinks caution around sunscreen development is a good idea. Addae says, “What are you really gaining from just putting out a sunscreen just to be the first one to do it rather than to be the best one to do it?”

Sula Labs founder AJ Addae


With consumers getting smart about clinical testing, Addae suggests testing should spread to encompass full regimens of products rather than simply individual products that consumers don’t usually use alone. She says regimen-scale clinical testing is rare today and generally conducted by medical-oriented skincare companies. In the long run, though, she argues it can be cost-effective relative to one-off clinical testing on products.

Addae underscores that consumers want to know how products “work together as a system rather than just as one-offs because it does make it easier for them to know, if I use the system, what benefits am I getting overall from a clinical perspective? And to be able to piece apart where they’re getting those benefits from rather than just seeing clinical testing claims as marketing tools in order to prove efficacy for products here and there.”


Doctors may be skincare’s biggest stars now, but Addae anticipates chemists and scientists will be in the spotlight next. She points to Dieux co-founder Joyce de Lemos and BeautyStat founder Ron Robinson, who consulted on Hailey Bieber’s skincare line Rhode, as cosmetic chemists rising to prominence as they lead brands. “They’re able to really have a key voice into what the business looks like,” says Addae.

She mentions that the beauty industry often divides science from marketing rather than melding the two together. However, she detects science is increasingly informing the rest of the business. “If you’re a founder and have these technical skills, you’re riding the expertise of both of those worlds,” says Addae. “I think we’re going to see more of that definitely in 2023, not just from dermatologists, but from other experts in the field that have really key roles in how we scientifically advance research and development in regards to skin.”


Bakuchoil, a natural alternative to retinol, has made serious inroads into skincare formulas. Paula’s Choice, which prides itself on science-centered products, has even dipped into the bakuchiol pool, notes Addae. Traditional natural ingredients, though, aren’t the sole ingredients that can be alternatives to be existing powerhouses. Addae prognosticates there will be a jump in biotechnology-driven ingredient swaps in the future.

She says, “We’re going to be seeing more language around biotech alternatives to vitamin C, biotech alternatives to vitamin A, biotech alternatives to vitamin B, so that’s going to be interesting.” She adds, “Don’t get me wrong, they’re actually really great ingredients because they’re tried and true. They’re tested, we’ve seen them have so much efficacy from countless studies, but I think we’re shifting more toward, how can we get to that end goal of what these ingredients do by using alternative pathways?”