With or Without You

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | May 3, 2013

The latest word on preservatives.

When it comes to preservatives, the household and personal care industry often finds itself wedged between the need for safety and consumer sentiment.

On one hand, are tried and true conventional preservative technologies that have been used for years to insure the safety of products that are used by millions of consumers. On the other hand, there’s the continuing movement—whether fueled by sound science or a panicked public—to eliminate certain ingredients, including select preservatives, in formulations ranging from shampoos to high-end skin care serums to household cleaners.

“As preservation is placed under the microscope now more than ever, certain government agencies and formulators are considering limiting or banning many well-known and well-studied ingredients that have been used safely for years. These ingredients are being removed from the market either by regulation or by formulators voluntarily based on public perception concerns for the safety of preservative use,” said Laura Szymczak, global marketing manager at Lonza Personal Care Preservation.

“When it comes to personal care ingredients, especially preservatives, the internet has created a consumer who is more informed, educated, opinionated and engaged,” noted Lisa Jones, general manager at Coast Southwest. “These consumers are vocally seeking preservatives that are greener, more natural, and safe. However, the continuously running discussions in blogs, forums and chat rooms are not always based on a complete understanding of the science associated with a certain ingredient in a specific formula.”

According to Jones, misinformation can create impressions that produce customer-driven demands, and marketing and product development managers may encourage formulators to develop products with these demands in mind, narrowing the list of possible ingredients.

“In fact,” she continued, “sometimes it seems that it’s easier to market what a product doesn’t contain rather than to talk about how ingredients actually function together to provide benefits that are good for the consumer.”

According to Tal Green, personal care business  personal care business unit manager at Sharon Laboratories Ltd., many existing preservatives molecules were formulated out due to new trends, not regulatory matters.

“While legislation and science keep supporting common preservatives as safe, crucial and important, the demand from the marketing divisions for non-preservative formulas or very mild ‘green’ options increases.”

According to Green, the issue becomes critical when companies go too far and use very mild, unsuitable preservative systems, they risk “putting in danger their products, their brand and more important their costumer’s health.”

Companies continue marketing their preservative-free and “green” status to serve consumer demand, which is often swayed by emotion, not science.

“Consumers aren’t chemists; they are consumers. It is their desires that matter,” said Daniel Winn, chief strategy officer at Inolex, a Philadelphia based supplier of non-biocide based strategies and products for preservation. “We believe the future of personal care is about lifestyle.”

And lifestyle influences what people buy—in every CPG sector. Think of an eco-minded chap in the market for new car. He wants a green vehicle that matches his lifestyle and meets safety and crash test standards. It’s the same in the personal care market.

As Winn puts it, applying a nightly facial cream isn’t a scientific experiment, it’s an emotional experience tied to lifestyle choices.

“You need to make sure the emotional experience is right for that person, and making sure the cream is biocide-free is part of that experience.”

He continued, “We have an obligation to sell products that are safe from microbiological contamination and that meet their lifestyle needs.”

Challenging Formulations
The complexity of today’s personal care formulations also factors into the preservative puzzle.

“Personal care formulations continue to become more complex. These systems contain more actives and naturals and, as such, are more difficult to preserve. At the same time, preservation choices are becoming more restricted. NGOs are pressuring regulators and marketing groups to eliminate the use of many traditional preservatives,’” said  Linda B. Sedlewicz, country manager at schülke inc.

According to Szymczak of Lonza, “safety data is being scrutinized with an increasingly precautionary approach and the opinions of certain personal care organization boards are changing. This is of specific concern in the EU, which operates a positive list of allowed preservatives (Annex V of the Cosmetic Regulation). It is increasingly apparent that few new actives are being added to this Annex and those present are under increasing scrutiny and pressure. Thus, the number of available preservatives is being severely restricted.”

NGOs and politicians are stirring the pot in the US too.  For instance, earlier this year, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the H.R. 1385: The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013.

According to industry expert David Steinberg of Steinberg & Associates, Inc., if passed in its current form, this legislation would have a “deep impact” on preservatives.

“I don’t know how we can preserve cosmetics based on it,” he told Happi. The only way to meet its bizarre ideas would be unit dose packaging for everything. That would be environmentally disastrous and expensive to both industry and consumers.”

Another issue on the radar: methylisothiazolinone (MIT). Steinberg told Happi that at its March meeting, CIR agreed to reopen the safety assessment of MIT after it was named the 2013 “Contact Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Steinberg has his suspicions as to why there’s new concern about MIT.

“It is quite possible people are using it at too high of a level,” he said.

According to Steinberg, the way in which industry tests cosmetics can lead to over-preserved products, and lower usage levels might be the solution.

“I have been telling companies for over 25 years, that if you have a preservative, and it works at one level, try it at lower levels. If it is effective at lower levels, there’s less chance for sensitization.”

Seeking Solutions
Finding the right product and use level is essential in the preservative space, and leading suppliers are at the ready to help their customers meet all of their goals in today’s challenging environment.

For instance, experts warn against making a simple swap when seeking a greener option.

“When a formulator who has been using a proven preservative that has been on the market for years is asked to replace that preservative with a product that is newer or greener, it is not just a matter of replacing like for like,” said Amit Patel, innovation and applied science manager, Coast Southwest, Inc. “Preservatives are formula and environment specific. “In an effort to respond to customer demand, there is a risk of putting products on the market with ingredients that aren’t as tried and true as those we’ve been using, producing a less than 100% satisfactory result.”

“Manufacturers need to balance the desire for preservative-free or ‘green’ products with the need to protect the consumer from microbial contamination in a product,” noted Hans Hummel, commercial development manager at Lonza Hygiene & Preservation, which markets preservatives in its Proxel line that are formaldehyde-free and offer broad spectrum efficacy for a wide range of product applications in cleaners detergents, and other household care products. 

According to Hummel, the use of lower levels of preservatives or replacements such as natural preservatives must be balanced with the ability to produce an adequately preserved product. 

“The use of natural preservatives almost always results in trade-off with performance and customers may be unwilling to accept this,” he said. “This can be challenging as formulators try to maintain the performance and efficacy of the finished product while changing key ingredients.”

According to Coast Southwest executives, many customers are putting together entire teams to evaluate preservatives in order to find a range that fits their particular needs, and eliminate unwelcome surprises.

“It’s that important to their future products, brand and reputation in the marketplace,” said Jones. “These companies don’t want to create safety issues or use a new preservative ingredient that causes a problem down the road by not preserving a product as effectively as was predicted or anticipated.

Coast Southwest offers Sharon Biomix blends, broad-spectrum preservatives that contain unique organic citrus extracts combined with other ingredients. The line is formaldehyde-, halogen- and paraben-free, with recommended use level of less than 1%. In addition, Coast Southwest is the exclusive distributor in the US and Canada for Biosecur C1605S, a combination of citrus extracts with certified organic vegetable glycerin.

According to Sedlewicz, schülke’s expertise in blending a wide variety of antimicrobials and boosters gives it the ability to offer unique solutions in very complex preservation challenges.

“Our broad and growing range of preservatives and preservative boosters offers our customers a wide range of choices for almost any preservation need,” she said, pointing to products such as euxyl PE 9010, which can be directly substituted for phenoxyethanol/paraben blends in most formulations. Globally approved, biodegradable, and heat and pH stable, it is an excellent choice for leave-on formulations, according to the company.

In addition, Sedlewicz pointed to the evolution of what “green” means in today’s market.

“Many of our customers are looking for ‘greener’ solutions for their products. However, the definition of ‘green’ has shifted away from natural/organic to sustainable and non-traditional preservatives.”

Along these lines, schülke offers sensiva PA 30. Half-natural, half-nature identical, it can be used alone to maintain the microbiological stability of many personal care formulation. Biodegradable and stable to heat and pH, this material is easily incorporated into many formulation types.

Experts see natural or nature-identical preservative systems playing an increasingly more prominent role in future formulations.
“In many markets, there is a need for more preservative blends that are natural or nature-identical, organic, Ecocert- and/or Cosmos-approved,” said Szymczak of Lonza, which offers a next-generation product line under the Geogard banner. The line’s five products—Geogard 111A (INCI: Dehydroacetic acid), Geogard  111S (INCI: Sodium dehydroacetate), Geogard 221 (INCI: Dehydroacetic acid & benzyl alcohol), Geogard ECT (INCI: Benzyl alcohol & salicylic acid & glycerin & sorbic acid), and Geogard  Ultra (INCI: Gluconolactone & sodium benzoate)—are comprised of natural and nature-identical ingredients that meet the requirements for organizations such as Cosmos, Ecocert, Soil Association and NaTrue.

Protecting the integrity of skin
care products is paramount.

At In-Cosmetics in Paris last month, Lonza rolled out Natrulon GPS 341, which can be added as a fragrance to enhance the aroma of a formulation. Although not a preservative since it is not listed on Annex V, there is a secondary benefit where the product imparts an excellent broad spectrum antimicrobial effect in cosmetic products, according to the company.

Inolex executives are ready to showcase a new addition to the company’s Spectrastat L series at INDA’s World of Wipes (WOW) Conference next month in Atlanta. The pumpable fluid is designed for high-volume, cold process wipe manufacturing, and will allow formulators to create biocide-free products.

According to Winn, leading manufacturers are evaluating this new technology, which will enable them to make this key “step change” in the wipes category.

The drive away from biocides, and other ingredients continues, according to suppliers that spoke with Happi.

“Cosmetic houses are still in pursuit of alternatives to formaldehyde donors, parabens, isothiazolinones and conventional preservatives that are cost effective,” noted Pat Lutz of Lincoln Manufacturing, which offers alternative preservative systems, including its Linatural MBS series. 

Time-Tested Technologies
Yet, even as companies seek greener options, trusted technologies like methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl parabens remain industry workhorses.

According to Manny Balsamides, VP-international at Protameen, his firm’s largest preservative offerings are those tried -and-true parabens. And while there had been shift away from those technologies in recent years, he told Happi that the same customers are back again and the volume of paraben sales is the highest in the company’s history.

“This might sound old school, “ Balsamides said, “however I can assure you that 99% of the formulators prefer to use parabens as a result of their effectiveness, their safety history and because one paraben or a combo of parabens at very low level in a formulation is cost effective and works on virtually any personal care product.”

Moving forward, companies in the household and personal care spaces must continue to navigate their preservative usage and their messaging.

“Finding credible ways to communicate timely and accurate information about the safety and realistic performance of preservatives is also a critical issue—for consumers, and for manufacturers and formulators who want to deliver the highest quality and best performing products that they can,” said Jones.

But no matter what path a company picks—traditional chemistries or alternatives—product safety must remain paramount.

“Preservatives are one of the least glamorous ingredient groups in cosmetic formulas, but are the most critical to making a product function,” said Patel of Coast Southwest. “If a formulator can’t keep a skin cream, shampoo or eyeshadow fresh, nothing else matters.”