Maria Castan: The Beauty of Science

Before we get started, I have a confession to make. If you’ve seen the other articles that we’ve posted from the Wella International Trendvision Awards in Berlin, you’ll know that I wasn’t the most qualified member of the Industrie team to attend. Case in point, I didn’t know that I would spend a morning going through the “interview circuit,” until the night before it actually happened. On that circuit, I had the chance to meet Maria Castan, the Scientific Communications Manager for Wella Professionals.


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As a bit of a science nerd, I am fascinated by that aspect of the beauty industry. For instance, how different chemicals and compounds can be manipulated to change our appearance. Our concept of beauty is born in a laboratory somewhere, the product of a series of chemical reactions mixed with various environmental stimuli.
woosh.

The day before, I had watched Ms. Castan present some new findings and products (there is one—we can’t talk about it yet, unfortunately—that is a beauty-science geek dream and seriously, one of the coolest hair products I’ve seen in a long time) with one of her fellow scientists, and their excitement was palpable.

Truly, this is a team of brilliant people who have a deep passion for what they do, which is always thrilling to experience. Their emphatic back and forth on technology and research factoids reminded me of sports fans reeling off the stats of their favorite players, the excitement mounting more and more with each new exclamation. Later that night, I would learn that the next morning I was going to be in the same room with one of these geniuses and I would be expected to ask intelligent questions.


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Ms. Castan didn’t start off in beauty. She began her scientific education studying bio-chemistry in her native Spain before moving to Germany to complete her studies, focusing on the protein characterization of the HIV virus. One would expect that someone who was a part of such a large team—300 in a physical lab, 2,000 total Wella scientific staff globally—no matter how brilliant, would emulate a cold, corporate, sort of flat science-y culture. This was not the case with Ms. Castan. I walked in nervous to be in the same room as a brilliant scientist and left thinking, “Man, if there was ever a person that you’d want to go check out a cool new Thai restaurant with, she would be that person.”*

Ms. Castan spent her first four years at Proctor & Gamble in research and development before transferring over to P&G Beauty, where she is now a Senior Scientist specializing in hair care, color and styling for Wella’s full portfolio of professional beauty brands. After talking about the sheer size of Wella’s scientific operations, and identifying which markets are most instrumental in developing which facets of the business (Would you guess, for example, that Latin America and India are the strongest for care products? Or that the U.S. and Europe are the go-tos for color?), I start to nerd out just a little bit and we get into some mechanics.

I learn, for example, that since each hair type is totally different and their structures are all unique, a completely different product needs to be developed for each type. The color that is created for Asian markets, Ms. Castan explains, is entirely different than what you find in the tube in Europe or the United States. Different countries have different regulations as well, which affects product development in a big way. In short, creating beauty products on a global scale is no small task.


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We talk a little more about formulations and what it’s like to work with such a large team. We even discuss the differences between boxed hair color and professional, and like so many times already that weekend, I realize that I am in the company of an incredible woman. In a space so often reserved for men (although thanks to a few viral hashtags in the past couple of years, women in science have become a more widely acknowledged group), Ms. Castan has not only shown her brilliance as a scientist, she demonstrates that if you are smart, talented, gracious and self-possessed, there is no need to prove anything, to anyone. It’s already perfectly clear.

*Ed. Note: I have no idea if Ms. Castan enjoys Thai food. I didn’t think to ask until after the interview, which is, incidentally, when I thought of most of my good questions to ask. And so it goes.

 

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