For the past decade, the natural movement has been gaining steam in the cosmetic industry. Every small player and most of the big players are attempting to attract consumers by giving them beauty products that are either “natural,” “organic,” “green,” “chemical free” or otherwise devoid of anything that sounds like it is synthetic.As a scientist, this has always troubled me.
There are two primary problems with the natural movement. First, it is based on a lie that natural things are safer or better for you than synthetic things.The existence of snake venom, radiation and viruses demonstrates the folly of this hypothesis. Second, the natural movement promotes chemical fear and scientific ignorance. Claims like “sulfate free” or “no parabens” scare people away from these chemicals despite the fact that their fears are not based on scientific evidence.I am no fan of the natural movement.
However, I am an optimist and try to see the positive side of every situation.Here are three reasons why the push toward natural ingredients is a good thing for cosmetic scientists.
Forced Innovation: The cosmetic industry is a mature one and the products have only marginally changed in the past 20 to 30 years. Most innovation has come in the form of new packaging or better marketing stories. From a formulation standpoint, the lipsticks of 1990 are not much different than those of 2010.
When cosmetic chemists are forced to reformulate and are restricted from using standard technologies, they have to come up with creative and innovative solutions. Thus far, the result has been products with inferior performance, but the potential for quantum improvements remains. Without the natural movement, many of the things being considered now would have been ignored.
Reexamine Basic Problems: The challenge of formulating naturally has caused cosmetic chemists to reexamine the fundamental consumer problems they are trying to solve. Rather than developing incremental improvements, this reflection has resulted in radically different product approaches. For example, the push to get away from sulfates and silicones was responsible for the development of non-foaming hair conditioners that “wash” hair.
May Improve the Environment: While it remains to be seen whether the natural movement in beauty products will have a positive impact on the environment, there are reasons to believe it could. For example, plant-based ingredients are renewable which may make them a better choice than petroleum-based ones. The focus on reducing waste is another positive aspect of the green movement. These reasons are good enough to encourage a rethinking of the way cosmetic chemists formulate.
I still don’t like the way natural beauty products are marketed, but the push to these types of products may not be all bad for cosmetic chemists.If you look at it as an opportunity to innovate, reexamine your premises, and help improve the environment you will conclude that it makes formulating much more fun.
About the Author
Perry Romanowski is the primary contributor to Chemists Corner (http://chemistscorner.com) a website dedicated to training scientists to become better cosmetic chemists. He is currently vice president of Brains Publishing which specializes in science education delivered through the internet. He spent the last 17 years researching and developing products to solve consumer problems in the personal care and cosmetic industry. His primary focus has been on hairand hair related products.
Perry received his B.S. in chemistry from DePaul University and also an M.S. in biochemistry. He has written and edited numerous articles and books, developed a number of successful websites and currently teaches the Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry continuing education class through the SCC. His latest book project is the third edition of Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry published by Allured. He can be reached thorough his website ChemistsCorner.com where he is available for consulting about cosmetic formulating, testing and internet solutions.