A marketing ploy, or something more?
We are more and more often seeing cosmetic products entering the market and proudly announcing which traditional ingredients are no longer included. When does it make sense to replace controversial ingredients, and when does it not?
There certainly are, in cosmetics products, ingredients which are the subject of a certain amount of public controversy. Only a few years ago products that claimed not to contain these ingredients were a minority. Meanwhile even big traditional brands are today joining the “Does not contain” movement.
But when is it really sensible to replace controversial ingredients with new ones? A major hurdle to be overcome here is that the safety of such alternatives first has to be scientifically demonstrated.
This is confirmed by Pierfrancesco Morganti of Mavi: “The proposed use of alternative preservatives is only justified when the majority of internationally published studies have a genuine scientific validity and when the majority of scientists can demonstrate that the alternative preservative is also really safe”.
For some time we have been seeing the “Contains no parabens” claims. Morganti takes the view that with products such as these it has not really been considered that parabens are already the most frequently used, and are at the same time the safest. “People who have an allergic reaction to parabens are in a minority, they recognise their problems, and are able to protect themselves”, he says.
In his opinion it is, on the other hand, particularly logical to use alternatives to the list of fragrance chemicals that have allergenic potential.
In the case of TiO2 und ZnO nanoparticles, which are used to provide very effective protection against UV radiation, and in particular against UVA1 and UVA2, and are being used in SPF-30 and SPF 50+ products, in his view there is still no alternative. Without these mineral compounds it would still not be possible to formulate effective, and yet pleasant to use, sun protection products.
Giancarlo Guglielmini, Scientific Regulatory Affairs Specialist at Sinerga, holds the view that alternative ingredients are justified where it is a matter of genuine technical difficulty, but the decisions to use them are mostly taken on marketing grounds: “It is impossible to offer a cosmetic product totally free from preservatives – unless it is sterilised”. In his opinion there are at the present time plenty of satisfactory alternatives to surfactants that are frequently used in cosmetic formulations in very high concentrations.
Prof. Dr. rer. nat. habil. Gerald Muschiolik, who is a Cosmetics Innovation Consultant, represents the view that there are today enough suitable natural products available to produce emulsions such as skin creams, lotions and facial masks, and which can fully replace chemically modified emulsifiers and fats, as well as isolated fragrance substances and chemical fragrances, so permitting the manufacture of products with clever formulations and no controversial ingredients.
For use as emulsifiers and consistency modifiers (petrolatum) there are, for example, suitable proteins from plant resources, or by using milk in combination with selected cell wall polysaccharides from Optisens. Alongside their use in forming emulsions they can also be used to adjust the required viscosity and consistency of the product, and they are also able to be used in products using exclusively plant-based oils.
To give a special fragrance note to products based on emulsions one can add oil concentrates to the oily or fatty phase. These plant-based oils contain extracts of plant components, such as lavender or camomile, which can also be used to generate a fragrance.
They can also contain colorant ingredients, or substances that support the skin care action, such as incense oil concentrate. The procedure to obtain this type of oil was detailed in COSSMA 5/2010, pages 16–17.
The dose makes the poison
Harald van der Hoeven, head of R&D at the active ingredients manufacturer CLR, is convinced that the heated discussion over the replacement of traditional ingredients is more of an emotional one than a rational one. On the subject of safety he quotes Paracelsus, who died in 1541: “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison….” And even today toxicology is based on the recognition of this knowledge. “Cosmetic formulations contain ingredients that are foreign to our bodies, but should not give rise to any harm. The safety evaluation, which is based on the safety and toxicological profile of each ingredient as well as on the safety evaluation of the whole formulation, is intended to avoid this risk. In any case I cannot repeat often enough that there must be a clear differentiation between natural and safe. ‘Natural’ has long been different from ‘safe’. Many brands promote their products as being natural, that they do not contain certain ingredients, and so are mild and safe. This is, however, a kind of negative marketing that takes advantage of the consumer’s fear of chemicals that exists all around the world. And fear is once again an emotional concept, and not a rational one.”
Satisfying the consumer‘s illusions
Obviously cosmetic ingredients must be safe, and many of the ingredients under discussion would clearly meet this requirement. If however the very simple message that “only natural ingredients are safe” is firmly lodged in the mind of the consumer, then it will be difficult to nullify this simple illusion. Regardless of whether the illusion is based on fact or not, i.e. regardless of whether the criticism of certain cosmetic ingredients is justified or not, cosmetics manufacturers will be heavily involved in trying to meet the wishes of the consumer for those so very natural ingredients. And so it is no wonder that ingredients suppliers have recently been very active in their efforts to precisely meet these wishes for alternative ingredients with appropriate new product launches. But, on the other side of the coin, we must remember that the development of new ingredients, thanks to the ever more strict safety regulations within cosmetics legislation, is definitely a costly exercise. After development of the basic ingredient there are a number of expensive tests required of the end product formulation in order to provide cast iron, watertight evidence of the safety of the newly developed ingredient. Fortunately, because the cosmetics industry is a very creative sector, we can be reasonably sure that in the coming years plenty more new and interesting alternative ingredients will appear on the market. So the market is on the move and we can but wait with baited breath for the fruits of creative development.
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