Dr Chris Flower

Meet Chris Flower, Director-General of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association. Chris speaks with the media and ensures that the industry is well represented to the government and other opinion formers and members are kept up-to-date with best practice and legal requirements.
What is your job title and what are the main characteristics of your day-to-day work?

I am the Director-General of the CTPA. Each day is different – my main role is dealing with the strategy of the industry’s trade association in protecting the industry’s reputation. The products of the cosmetics industry are comprehensively regulated under the European Cosmetics Regulation. These laws are primarily to ensure consumer safety but actually control everything to do with the manufacture, labelling, sale and distribution of cosmetic products. In addition, self-regulation through guidelines and best practices have ensured the consumer gets safe, effective and high quality products. It is the manufacturer who carries the ultimate responsibility to make sure a product is safe – that responsibility is not handed over to a regulatory body.

In addition, I am also the ‘public voice’ of the Association and therefore the UK cosmetics industry.

Do you use any area of science in your current job?
I trained as a Chartered Biologist and specialised in toxicology. Although I do not carry out product or ingredient evaluations for safety myself, the training has proven of great value in explaining to people why apparently hazardous substances can be used safely when one determines there is no risk to the user of the product. There are many such examples, but I’ll pick one from everyday life: acetic acid is highly corrosive in its neat or undiluted form yet we happily and safely consume it diluted in the form of vinegar both as a condiment and a preserver of foods.
What other departments/professions do you work with?

We now work a lot with communication professionals in addition to the extensive contacts we have in regulatory, manufacturing and technical departments in member companies. We are frequently communicating to the wider public, especially about some of the scare stories that appear in the media, through the Association's consumer website www.thefactsabout.co.uk. The challenge is to communicate complex science in such a way that journalists and non-specialists can understand both the issue and our position.

We also try to contact academic researchers to find the basis of the stories sometimes appearing in the press as the facts underlying research can be less dramatic than some headlines might suggest.

The challenge is to communicate complex science in such a way that journalists and non-specialistscan understand both the issue and our position.
How would you summarise your career path so far?
When I left school I joined a major consumer healthcare company researching the benefits of fluoride in toothpastes. Every two or three years I changed departments and responsibilities within this company gaining a wide experience of research and development in many multi-functional teams. In 1996 I joined the CTPA; a much smaller company. We have approximately 200 member companies, each with their own problems and issues. Our role is to help these members understand what they need to do from the regulatory and best practice point of view to be consistent with industry standards. It can be challenging because the timelines may be short and the stakes high, affecting the business of the company. However, this is a key area of expertise – to be their emergency service, if you like.
What are the best things about your job?

The feeling that you’re making a difference both for individual members and for the industry as a whole. For example, CTPA carried out research on how cosmetics and toiletries help people feel better about themselves and raise their self-esteem. Improved self-esteem has a significant knock-on effect for the individual, making them more confident and able to perform better in their jobs and in society. This positive contribution to society from the cosmetics industry had not previously been documented but has been well-received by regulatory authorities, politicians, academics and other key stakeholders.

Contributing to the European level discussions regarding the cosmetics industry is also very exciting, though demanding. Increasingly, the global marketplace requires global solutions to problems and not local fixes.

Are there any specific skills essential to the job you do?

Broad shoulders and a sense of humour! You can’t take things personally as sometimes there are huge issues at stake and no matter how hard you try, you know you can only contribute to the solution rather than fix the problem .

You need to see arguments from both sides before deciding on an appropriate course of action, consulting experts within and outside the industry as necessary. I am always pleased to see how frequently many experts will give their time to help us and consequently support the credibility of the CTPA.

What qualifications are needed to do your job? Which of your qualifications do you find useful in your job?

This is not a job that could be done by someone who had not spent many years working with groups of people in some capacity and, I believe, who did not have some sort of a technical background, although that could be interpreted very widely. You could be a lawyer or a musician but you do need to have acquired appropriate experience.

Each person would bring something different to the job of course as it is not a job that is easily defined. Nowadays you need to be comfortable discussing issues with the media one moment, with scientific experts the next and then regulatory officials too. I have appeared on television and radio as well as in print presenting the industry position.

Apart from the sciences, I am glad I paid some attention to both English and mathematics. The first helps me to understand the fact that science is not black and white and the other helps in presenting information to different audiences, particularly when English is not the first language of that audience.

Is there anything you wished you’d studied when younger that would be useful now?
I sometimes think a better understanding of the law would be beneficial.
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