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.