One of the biggest trends in cosmetics is making “natural”, “green” and sustainable formulations. This represents a challenge for cosmetic chemists because you are essentially limiting the number of raw materials available to use. It’s a bit like telling a painter to create a picture using only three colors rather than an entire palette. It can be done, but the results may not be as impressive.
Here are the top challenges that formulators face when attempting to create effective natural cosmetic formulations.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to figure out what your company considers “natural.” There is no single definition and the number of different standards out there are overwhelming. As a formulator, you’ll want to get specific direction on exactly which ingredients you’re allowed to use and which to avoid. If your company doesn’t know, then you should just choose one of the leading natural cosmetic standards and stick with it.
Creating reasonably functional formulas
Once you know which ingredients you are limited to, the most challenging part begins: creating products that perform well. There is one truism about most consumers to always keep in mind:
Consumers will not sacrifice performance quality for more natural formulations
This means you’ll have to find an acceptable benchmark filled with synthetic compounds, and try to match the performance. This is a difficult task especially when the best performing surfactants – moisturizing ingredients, thickeners and most every other cosmetic raw material – are synthetic compounds.
Keeping formulas safe from microbial contamination
The FDA has already issued more warning letters about cosmetic products in 2016 than in 2015 and the number one issue is microbial contamination. More and more marketing departments are trying to use their preservation techniques (or lack thereof) as a product benefit. This is a terrible idea but it is the reality natural formulators will face. When you can’t use parabens or formaldehyde donors as preservatives, you have to make formulation compromises that can significantly impact performance or end user experience.
Keeping formulation costs low
Another problem you’ll encounter when creating natural formulations is that they cost more than synthetic formulations. The difference may be minimal, but you should expect 50% or higher formulation costs. You should anticipate that your marketing people will ask you to cut costs shortly after you launch.
Proving your product is natural
Even if you do a diligent job of picking the right natural raw materials and matching performance benchmarks, you still may not be “natural enough.” For example, while your raw material supplier may have given you a natural surfactant the first time, who’s to say they didn’t spike it with synthetic sources to “boost” the performance (say, adding parabens to make the ingredients last longer)? To ensure that you are meeting natural standards, you’ll need to work with the suppliers to get all the appropriate paperwork. You may also have to satisfy inspectors who work for a private natural certification group that your formula and production conditions meet “natural” standards. This can be a hassle.
Of course, while formulating natural products is an added challenge for cosmetic chemists, it’s not all bad. At least it ensures there will be more work for formulators in the future.
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