Where is the voice of reason in re-formulation for safety and sustainability?

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Supply chain management, Sustainability

This year’s industry events saw a flurry of green surfactants, non-nano inorganic UV filters and petrolatum alternatives, all accompanied by claims of their mild, sustainable and generally friendly nature.

Digging a little deeper reveals that in most cases such ‘replacements’ of common ingredients have been developed not because there is a genuine, scientific concern over human or environmental safety, but to answer consumer demand.

Non-nano scale zinc and titanium filters are not being offered due to safety concerns over their nano scale cousins; rather because there is a significant market for ‘almost as effective but not quite’ non-nano alternatives based on consumer concern.

Similarly, finding reliable scientific evidence to suggest formulators should turn away from sulfate-based surfactants and move towards sulfate-free alternatives is challenging, but these sulfate-free alternatives proliferate, as does consumer demand for sulfate-free products.

And of course, the majority of suppliers are providing both the original ‘bad guy’ and the replacement ‘good guy’.

Green surfactants are also flooding the marketplace, where the petroleum-derived part of the ingredient is replaced with a vegetable-based feedstock. But here there is a further complication; is the vegetable-based alternative sustainable?

In order to answer this, a number of companies are looking at coconut oil instead of palm oil, not because the supply chain is necessarily any more sustainable (it might be but there is no real evidence to support this) but because it has a better reputation in the eyes of the consumer.

On the one hand, it is logical - there is a market out there so suppliers and manufacturers naturally answer that need.

But where is the voice of reason in all of this?

Manufacturers are reformulating to tick all the consumer’s boxes, which in itself is dangerous as this is a moving target, and suppliers are innovating to meet these needs.

Valid moves towards safer and more sustainable products, which can be measured by reliable scientific information including life cycle assessments, do exist and should be celebrated.

However, it seems that much of the momentum generated by the genuine concern and motivation from consumers, as well as from a number of manufacturers and suppliers, is currently being wasted on new strategies that look better but do not necessarily have any real, positive impact.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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6 comments

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Yes, yes

Posted by Warren,

Can't agree more with the article or the comments made so far. EWG and the paraben story should be huge lessons for us. I guess we just have to stand up and say how wrong they are to our marketers. Customers do not have to have a scare to react!

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NGOs are killing us!

Posted by Julie Carter,

I completely agree, and this is a daily frustration with my job! A big culprit is the internet, and specifically Skin Deep (run by the Environmental Working Group). This NGO has a huge agenda, and they are out to pretty much kill synthetics, chemicals, non-natural, etc. For what reason? I don't know. Their website is full of misleading information from decades-ago science, while the real info is either missing or hidden!! And distributors and marketers use this as their "bible." So it is a daily struggle for us to make a good formula, but make the misinformed and uneducated consumers happy. No one is willing to speak up or fight back. It's the whole "The customer is always right" mindset, and it just shouldn't apply here! The customer doesn't always know what is best.

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Cosmetic Comps: Use Your Power For Good

Posted by Gay Timmons,

I find it amazing that the cosmetic industry, an industry that is better at selling an "idea" to a consumer than any other industry on the planet, is always so ready to "roll like a donut" when some goof ball scares a consumer. One comment to those marketers: use your power for good. This industry has the tools to educate and share science, instead they react to poorly sold fear.

We need to use the science the Katie highlights to make better products and a better world.

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