A texture revolution – Sensory secrets and consumer delight


1. VP of Research & Innovation, HCD Research
2. Michelle Niedziela, PhD HCD Research

We are living in the glory days of skincare with no shortage of products to choose from. Whether we are shopping in-person or online, we are flooded with cleansers, moisturizers, retinols, exfoliants, facial peels, serums, oils, masks, and more, and every combination of products in between. When it comes to the skincare industry, marketing to the senses and creating products with innovative textures has added importance. A unique and innovative texture helps a product stand out as a clear choice to consumers, helping them avoid the paradox of choice.


The texture or feel of a product, referred to as haptics, communicates information about the physical formulation properties of the product and informs our perceptions. From the initial feeling on our skin, we can develop emotional reactions and personal connections to the product that greatly inform our perception of the product’s efficacy, value, and added benefits. The advent of transformational textures has brought about a wave of great innovations in skincare product design. Products with transformative textures vary in their tactile experience, beginning with one texture, such as a varying form of solidity (rheology), and transforming into another texture, often that of an oil or milk. The science behind the texture transformation varies depending on the formulation, but it can involve changes in pressure, melting temperature, and salt from the consumer’s skin, or a combination of these factors (1). The transformative nature of these textures not only enhances the sensory pleasure but also offers functional benefits.


Transformational texture products have quickly gained traction with consumers who view them as a fun and exhilarating product that has unique benefits from each texture. These textures not only capture the attention of consumers but also provide a truly immersive and captivating experience. Carbonated clay bubble masks are a product that lives up to both the fun and specific texture-benefit claim. These masks are applied as a concentrated clay that draws out clogged pores and purifies the skin, but once exposed to oxygen, the clay bubbles on the skin reminiscent of the appearance of a chia pet. The oxygenation on the skin’s surface can help heal wounds by increasing circulation, delivering more cells to the areas in need of recovery. Increased oxygen and circulation can also increase your collagen production which helps develop plump bouncy skin (2).


Frozen gel moisturizers also deliver the same benefits of circulation and unique texture-benefits. At room temperature, these products are smooth gel-based hydrating moisturizers, but when placed in the freezer, the products have the added benefit of depuffing the skin and increasing circulation (3).


Additionally, there is a notable appeal that resonates with the ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) movement (4). ASMR enthusiasts seek out sensory experiences that trigger pleasant tingling sensations, often through auditory and tactile stimuli. The textures found in skincare products, such as scraping the icy product out of its container, produce satisfying sounds that captivate ASMR fans. These auditory cues, combined with the immersive tactile experiences offered by transformative textures, create a perfect synergy that allures and hooks ASMR enthusiasts. The crisp crackling of carbonated clay masks, the soft swish of a gel transforming into oil, or the gentle slathering of a creamy balm—all these tactile sensations evoke a delightful ASMR response, amplifying the appeal of skincare products and elevating them into an indulgent sensory journey for every consumer.


Skincare companies are infusing transforming texture innovation into even the most basic and mundane hygienic tasks. The simple task of removing makeup can feel like a chore after a long day. Newly formulated makeup removing balms remove makeup with precision and morph into an oil when the product is massaged into the skin, heating the product up. These products leave long-lasting hydration without a greasy or sticky finish. Other products such as butter-to-oil balms and gel-to-oil serums share the same goal of leaving refreshing hydration without the greasy shine. The light spreadable oil these products leave behind inspires a feeling of luxury that transforms ordinary skincare into an indulgent self-care experience.


Transformative texture products are being praised for their ability to create more customized skincare options. Gel cream products, for example, are most compatible with oily skin. These products are water-based and deliver quick hydration, unlike oil-based products that take longer to be absorbed. On the other hand, dry skin craves nourishing and emollient oil hydration that lasts. Regardless of skin type, products that have specific texture-benefits can simplify the need for additional skincare products, saving the consumer money.


Many manufacturers have shown that they understand how using haptic cues in their product formulation can surprise and delight customers. The multi-dimensionality of haptics provides further insight into how haptic cues correspond with one another. Haptic cues are said to be congruent when the degree of fit among different characteristics of a stimulus align, and incongruent when they do not. “Warm” and “heavy” would be considered haptically congruent while “lightweight” and “warm” are considered incongruent (5).

The beauty industry has captured this idea, specifically haptic cue incongruence, to create exciting and surprising products. An example of incongruent haptic characteristics in skincare products is “exfoliating” and “moisturizing.” Often exfoliating products have a coarse, gritty texture that leaves the skin craving hydration. However, liquid exfoliants, such as products that contain liquid BHA and AHA, have a more attractive allure due to their moisturizing finish.

It is evident that touch and texture are important selling points in skincare products. As businesses moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, many skincare companies faced a challenge in conveying the sensory experience of transformative textures to consumers who could not physically experience them in-store. To overcome this hurdle, these innovative companies adapted their marketing strategies by leveraging the power of digital platforms. They began creating enticing product videos on social media platforms, offering virtual glimpses into the transformative world of textures. These videos showcased beauty influencers, who served as trusted guides, demonstrating the application of products, describing their consistency, and passionately discussing the feel of the product on their face. Influencers skillfully conveyed the sensory pleasure of the textures, emphasizing the luxury by softly stroking their face after application. By providing these vivid and detailed descriptions, skincare companies effectively translated the tactile experience into words, allowing consumers to envision and connect with the transformative textures, even without physical interaction. This approach proved vital as consumers became more concerned about the hygienic nature of tester samples in stores, seeking alternative ways to explore and understand the innovative textures that held the promise of enhanced skincare experiences.

Beauty consumers view the moment of transformation as a moment of magic that strengthens the connection to the brand. Whether it’s a clay mask that bubbles on the skin or a gel moisturizer that transforms when frozen, these textures deliver unique and specific benefits to the skin, effectively addressing various concerns. This amalgamation of sensory appeal and functional efficacy showcases the brilliance of transformational textures as game-changing innovations in the realm of skincare product design. As more consumers sample these products, the use of single-texture products will create a moment of mediocrity and be seen as an opportunity for traditional skincare brands. The rise of transformative textures creates an opportunity for skincare brands to innovate or risk having their products fall out of favor.


References and notes

  1. BASF (n.d.). Get all touchy-feely with transformational textures. BASF Care Creations. Retrieved June 13, 2023, from https://carecreations.basf.us/stories/get-all-touchy-feely-with-transformational-textures
  2. Nussbaum, R. (2017). This Is What Bubble Masks Actually Do for Your Skin. Glamour. Retrieved June 13, 2023, from https://www.glamour.com/story/bubble-masks-skincare-what-they-do
  3. Whitfield, A. (2021, May 27). Trend Report: Hydration Heroes. Latest in Beauty. Retrieved June 13, 2023, from https://www.latestinbeauty.com/blog/trend-report-hydration-heroes/
  4. Marsden, Rhodri (20 July 2012), “’Maria spends 20 minutes folding towels’: Why millions are mesmerised by ASMR videos”, The Independent.
  5. Ranaweera, A. T. (2021). When consumers touch: A conceptual model of consumer haptic perception. Spanish Journal of Marketing, 26(1), 23-43. https://doi.org/210.1108/SJME-08-2021-0152



Dr. Michelle Niedziela (PhD) is a behavioral neuroscience expert in neuropsychology, psychology and consumer science. Experienced from academia (Monell Chemical Senses Center) and industry (Johnson & Johnson, Mars Chocolate) in R&D of innovation technologies and methodologies for consumer research. As Scientific Director, HCD Michelle focuses on integrating applied consumer neuroscience tools with traditional methods used to measure consumer response.

Amanda Lee is a market research professional with a passion for applying cognitive psychology and behavioral neuroscience to products and services. She is experienced in healthcare research (Snow Companies, HCD Research) and is interested in the CPG and Food and Beverage industries (Wegmans Food Markets). She encourages other professionals to connect with her on LinkedIn and reach out to network.