Always like the first time

Despite the 25 years it has spent on the market, the Milan-based ISPE is still strongly focused on avoiding the risk of considering its duty as a mere routine. Something that in the words of the co-owner and founder Luigi Rigano would affect the pursuit of quality that the company always practiced. The world was a lot smaller when Luigi Rigano, together with his brother Sebastiano and three more Milan-based entrepreneurs decided to give birth to Ispe, the Institute of skin and product evaluation they established in the Italian capital of fashion at the end of the eighties. Back in those days the Institute would mainly dedicate its activities of evaluation and testing on newly-developed products or active principles to national companies. They realized in fact that skills and competences in the tri-colored arena of evaluation were neither excellent nor widespread. And by adopting an English acronym ISPE immediately displayed the will of unveiling its capabilities to customers or potential customers worldwide. 25 years later history showed Rigano and his team were right and nowadays only 40% of the Institute’s revenues come from Italian companies, while more interesting opportunities keep springing up in the emerging markets abroad. Still, ISPE expects the Italian industry to overcome the crisis and get back to a massive activity of research and development.

Mr. Rigano, what’s the business idea behind the Institute of Skin and Product Evaluation?
We could look at ISPE as at a spin-off company of the Studio Rigano I used to manage in the eighties, when the demand for proofs of effectiveness on cosmetic solutions was rocketing, while the offer could not fulfill it due to a number of different reasons. Besides that, I found the quality of the reports describing the tests’ results was rather scarce and poor. Together with other cosmetologists and dermatologists we soon realized there would be some room on the market for the service we were committed to: that’s when ISPE started. Today the company’s board can rely on five managers and eight partners, with degrees in biology and pharmacy or a PhD in cosmetology.

Do you consider the decision of immediately turning to the global markets a winning move?
Undoubtedly. Of course Italy is a major player in the cosmetics business but acting globally we had the chance of facing different needs, a different demand and, last but not least, different kinds of skins and bodies. Also, we had the opportunity to partner up with bigger companies, being the typical national producer a small or medium firm, and as a researcher I could count on a wider audience to deliver my message and enrich my personal skills. And then again, we enlarged our business and evaluation methodologies in all continents, obtaining the ISO certification and exploiting as pioneers the sensorial evaluation methods for cosmetics that first came to the market 20 years ago.

Which countries worldwide are nowadays driving your business and what’s the role of Italy?
Today the largest part of our revenues comes from the international markets where a prominent role is played by such countries as Spain, the United States, Germany, France and Greece, despite the recent economic turbulences. But we are gaining satisfying results in Malaysia and Japan too. The Italian cosmetics industry still holds a strong position in the make-up segment and in the hair-care and dyeing lotions sectors. These kinds of products do not require the same in-depth effectiveness tests that the skin-care products, instead, impose. This is one of the reasons why we are so strongly focused on exports; and another one is that we basically work on new products and developments and due to the crisis the Italian players appear to be much more cautious than they used to. Sometimes, it looks like investments in R&D are slowing down due to the fear the companies have to bring the wrong products to the market at the wrong time. In the recent past, they would instead try to anticipate the consumers’ needs by the means of an uninterrupted innovation. There’s no doubt anyway that the future of the Italian industry lies in export to Latin America or the Far East.

What kind of technologies are instead helping ISPE in pursuing a constant innovation?
Here at our headquarters in Milan we recently introduced two water resistance testing pools which are entirely dedicated to the sun care products evaluation. Also, we invested in a 3D imaging system dubbed Primos that can allow a more detailed analysis on face wrinkles in order to define a face-lift treatment’s actual effectiveness. We consider both investments challenging, but successful too.

It looks like anti-ageing treatments are gaining momentum and becoming more popular with time. What kind of elements and trends are driving the phenomenon, in your opinion?
The average life expectancy is clearly on the rise and the once-called elderly people are now living a very busy, engaging, active life. Thus, they have to preserve the beauty of their skin and keep it healthy: the simple fact of looking old could in fact reduce one’s chances of a rich social life and people’s skin can reveal a lot about their health and wellness in general. This means skin-care and anti-ageing treatments’ popularity also depends on such issues as self-esteem and, ultimately, with psychology. This is clearly visible anywhere in the world: demographic trends are alike anywhere.

Could you describe the major parts of your duties and the most critical aspects of your job?
With its in vitro tests ISPE verifies the correct posology and prerogatives of any product; and also evaluates the capabilities of essences and raw materials, active principles and molecules: a major trend in our activity is to verify and evaluate solutions addressed to sensitive skins that display some form of intolerance to traditional cosmetics. The most critical aspect of our everyday duties is to always pay attention to details and maximum quality, without allowing our job to turn into a simple boring routine but always facing it as if it was the first time ever. This is one of the reasons why it is now rather complicated to hire skilled professionals. Because people who work at ISPE have to be very well prepared from a merely technical point of view, but must also be able to work with volunteers, for instance, or to talk both with technicians or physicians, and marketing people too. We do select them carefully, but we also keep training them after their enrolment.

Considering a continuous training as a key-factor for success, the Institute of Skin and Product Evaluation also offers its customers a variety of training plans and courses. They both deal with technical aspects and notions (theoretical and practical classes on instrumental evaluation, for instance) and with sales or marketing-related issues, by organizing dedicated seminars about, for example, the issues of sensorial analysis and quantitative descriptive evaluation. More information about courses and programs can be requested by sending an e-mail to

In almost three decades of history and business the Milan-based Institute of Skin and Product Evaluation (ISPE) has been developing a variety of skills in different fields and can offer its customers today a wide portfolio of tests and services. Its evaluation activities apply to any kind of material used in direct contact with the human skin, should it be a raw material or a cosmetic solution, toiletries or detergents, tissues or else. More specific protocols can anyway apply to other items or materials in order to support precise marketing claims, giving a producer the evidence it needs to demonstrate the tolerability and effectiveness of its products and foresee the possible consumers’ reaction to a product’s launch on the market. ISPE’s competences can thus play a key-role in determining, in advance, the chances of success or failure of a cosmetic product or tissue.

by R. Carminati