Colgate-Palmolive VP: Regulations and consumer lifestyles shaping teeth whitening innovation

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Colgate-Palmolive continues to carefully navigate restricted uses on certain ingredients and is working hard to cater to all lifestyles across budgets, expectations and uses [Getty Images]
Colgate-Palmolive continues to carefully navigate restricted uses on certain ingredients and is working hard to cater to all lifestyles across budgets, expectations and uses [Getty Images]

Related tags: Colgate-palmolive, teeth whitening, Oral care, Oral care market, Toothpaste, Toothpaste products, wellbeing, Innovation, Regulation, beauty tech

The teeth whitening category continues to boom as consumers worldwide seek out brighter smiles, but differing regulatory frameworks and consumer expectations mean innovation must stay broad, says a Colgate-Palmolive exec.

According to Grand View Research, the global teeth whitening market totted up at €6.37bn (US$6.9bn) in 2021 and was set to surge at a CAGR of 5% between 2022 and 2030. The main push behind this growth was larger disposable incomes in developing countries coupled with wider media exposure worldwide driving consumers to seek out teeth whitening treatments to bolster self-esteem, life satisfaction and self-related physical attractiveness.

Regulatory frameworks differ worldwide

But the global teeth whitening market had marked differences in regulatory terms. A summary of teeth whitening regulations around the globe from July 2020​ highlighted just how differently brands and manufacturers had to operate, depending on the global region or country.

In Europe, for example, teeth whitening products were considered a cosmetic and therefore subject to the Cosmetics Regulation (EC) 1223/2009​ where the common teeth whitening ingredient hydrogen peroxide was restricted. Use in products sold directly to consumers was restricted at 0.1% and to between 0.1% and 6% when sold to dental practitioners. In Asia, use of hydrogen peroxide in teeth whitening products was also restricted, with levels varying depending on country.

In the US, however, under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)​ – recently updated at federal level for the first time in decades​ – use of this whitening ingredient was not so restricted,​ enabling wider use in formulations.

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Richard Sullivan, worldwide director of global knowledge management at Colgate-Palmolive, said it was these regulatory differences that defined many of the innovation choices made when developing new product ideas.

“Consumers desire whiter teeth, but the availability of safe, effective, easy solutions vary by region,”​ Sullivan said.

“In markets where levels of hydrogen peroxide are not highly regulated, such as the US, Colgate has developed safe formulations with the highest level of peroxide, which is challenging technologically.”

The brand’s pro series Optic White ‘Advanced Sparkling White’ toothpaste, for example, which took years of research and development, contained 5% hydrogen peroxide but had obtained the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of acceptance for at-home tooth bleaching. The seal was the result of independent scientific evaluations for safety and efficacy; the product, as with all Colgate-Palmolive oral care products, had also undergone extensive clinical trial testing, Sullivan said.

In Europe and Asia, Colgate had used a new whitening ingredient, potassium caroate, that was capable of bleaching stains on and below the tooth surface for its range of teeth whitening products. Like with its work with hydrogen peroxide in the US, the company had worked to overcome the challenge of the ingredient activating before contact with the mouth, he said, as many whitening compounds reacted with the water in traditional toothpaste.

Devices and technology

Colgate-Palmolive was also active in the devices and technology side of teeth whitening, he said, taking offerings far beyond regular toothpastes.

Its Optic White pro series in the US, for example, also offered a range of hydrogen peroxide whitening ‘pens’, designed for easy and precision application of a formula that dried to hold the active in contact with the teeth or tooth for extended periods of time. “This technology is used with a range of peroxide concentrations to enable safe and effective whitening at home, as well as professional in-office treatments.”

Many of the pens could also be used with LED devices that emitted a unique purple light, he said, offering consumers “professional-level whitening”​ via a series of treatments at-home.

Sullivan said “taking it one step further”​ Colgate-Palmolive had also developed a predictive tool with partners that could be used across dental clinics in the US, working with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) to simulate whitening and enable a digital visualisation of the final effect.

The hope was that these technologies could ultimately help inform and educate younger consumers who were vulnerable to social media trends and ‘advice’ being circulated from unvalidated sources, he said. “Technologies like AI and AR can support the whitening movement in a healthy way.”

Confidence and self-esteem

Asked why the teeth whitening category continued to prove so popular worldwide, Sullivan said: “When people aren’t happy with their smile, they often feel the need to hide it, ultimately impacting their confidence, self-esteem, and happiness.”

At-home whitening products, therefore, offered an accessible way to empower consumers to “look and feel their best”​, he said.

“We know that people are seeking treatments that provide a noticeable benefit and solutions that are convenient, do not cause sensitivity, and are safe for enamel. Many people have the misconception that whitening is expensive – that it’s an indulgence that isn’t available to everyone. On the contrary, Colgate has been developing whitening solutions for all people at all price points to offer the flexibility of choice.”

From premium professional offerings available at dental clinicals through to varied at-home treatments, the goal was for the brand to cater to all “preferences and lifestyles”,​ he said.

Sullivan said that whilst the at-home teeth whitening market had continued to grow year after year, and would likely continue to do so, many consumers were “dissatisfied with the in-market options”​ due to many products offering “overwhelming, uncomfortable, cumbersome and time-consuming experiences”​. And it was exactly this that Colgate-Palmolive wanted to overturn, he said.

“Our scientists and engineers see this consumer tension as an opportunity to evolve the teeth whitening process and to offer different solutions at different price points and in different formats,”​ he said. “Colgate is working hard every day to overcome consumer pain points by innovating with people’s needs, lifestyles, and budgets in mind – a commitment that’s exemplified by our products.”

From a scientific standpoint, Sullivan said there remained plenty of opportunity to address localised “problem stains”​ or stains derived systematically, as well as technologies to prolong the effect of initial teeth whitening treatments.

“We believe a bright white healthy smile is the gateway to a brighter, healthier future​,” ​Sullivan said. “So, with the Colgate brand found in more homes than any other​, we’re leveraging our global reach, unparalleled oral care knowledge, and innovative culture to democratise teeth whitening and make it more accessible to more people,”​ he said.

Related topics: Market Trends

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