The development of green cosmetics requires the formulator to understand the big picture, as Dr Barbara Olioso explains
The other day I was thinking about the programme for the interactive workshop on natural cosmetics that I will be teaching at in-cosmetics Asia in Bangkok. I realised that to explain something there has to be a framework or definition; however when the magic words natural or organic are mentioned I see there is a gap between the emotional consumer perception and its technical meaning, which is complex, not always intuitive and not always clear. This causes confusion and even hot debates within the industry.
It is the role of the green chemist to be able to guide the client through the tortuous terrain, maintaining integrity with organic and natural claims while at the same time ensuring performance, consistency, stability and a keen awareness of price. Products have to be economically sustainable as well as environmentally so.
There are also times when the product’s performance is the key driver and the availability of natural alternatives to synthetics is restricted: for example, in the area of hair care. In this case the greenest option available is to go for ingredients
that are as environmentally kind as possible but may well not be 100% natural: for example, with regard to better biodegradability, cationics that have a higher biodegradability than the common Polyquaternium-10.
Luckily the cosmetic raw materials industry is becoming ever more sensitive to the green trend and is providing innovative ingredients that help to improve performance. An example of this is natural alternatives to silicones. The raw materials industry knows it needs novelty to drive new business and it seems to me that at the moment the novelty is coming from green functional ingredients (ingredients that are structural to the finished product) that enhance performance, rather than green ‘hero’ ingredients.
Barbara Olioso, consultant, Organatural
Being aware of all these nuances and knowing which combination to use is fundamental when developing green cosmetics. I see green cosmetics as as much a work of art as a science. Think of the analogy of painting; the painter needs to know which ingredients or colours are available on the palette before he or she can start the work. They also have to know what is achievable and feasible and roughly how much the painting will cost before putting the brush to canvas, otherwise the final result can be a nice painting that is too expensive or something that nobody wants. There are also cosmetic products claiming to be completely natural but where the natural ingredients are used just as hero ingredients in combination with synthetic or hybrid ingredients (a combination of naturals and synthetics). My workshop will focus on how to identify and use these authentic elements and also take delegates through the guidelines for organic/natural certification.
Once one decides what green strategy to adopt for a new development project it is important to realise that when it comes to formulating green cosmetics, a different approach is required to that of synthetics. To understand the difference between formulating green cosmetics and conventional ones I would like to use another analogy: a wooden house versus a brick house. A wooden house, like the traditional wooden huts typical of Thailand, requires natural raw materials whose availability and quality may vary. The natural materials are susceptible to the environmental conditions: they shrink and expand. Therefore when a wooden house is built, the craftsperson has to look not only at the design but also has to know the natural raw materials. You would not expect a builder of a brick house to have these skills and understandings because the materials and the techniques are different. In the same way green formulation and conventional synthetic formulation are different in techniques and in their raw materials. Many conventional brands are very keen to go green but find it difficult because it is not a simple conversion process where you can simply substitute a synthetic with a natural. The experience of being in a wooden house is very different from that of a brick one; the textures, the feel and even the smell of the building is different – and so with green cosmetics.
The whole picture has to be considered and this is a far more complicated and specialist task. But I would argue that it is also a far more rewarding task. And the resulting painting is richer and more harmonious.
in-cosmetics Asia will take place on 6-8 November 2012 at BITEC in Bangkok, Thailand.