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Cover Story

May 12, 2008
Volume 86, Number 19
pp. 15-20

Seeking Sustainability

Ingredient makers strive to understand and satisfy cosmetic labeling promises

Marc S. Reisch

TO READ ALL the marketing hype, it would seem that the personal care products industry is rushing to label as natural, organic, or sustainable just about every new product coming onto the market.

Bayer MaterialScience
Stranded Machine tests combability of green hair styling formulation.

In part, that is because toiletries and cosmetics carrying a "sustainable" or "natural" moniker are flying off the shelves, according to Gillian S. Morris, chemicals and materials director of consulting firm Kline & Co. Worldwide, manufacturers' sales of natural products are growing at an average annual rate of 15%, three times faster than the overall market, she says.

However, just what manufacturers mean when they tout their products as natural, organic, or sustainable is anything but clear, Morris notes. And that has opened up an opportunity for industry groups and certification bodies to offer various seals of approval that ingredient makers and formulators can use to authenticate their claims.

Lest anyone get carried away about this fast-growing market, be mindful, Morris points out that what may be called the natural category represents just 2%, or $4 billion, of the $180 billion-per-year global personal care products market, based on manufacturers' sales.

Soaps, shampoos, body lotions, and other personal care products are complex mixtures of ingredients. Those from natural plant-based sources, Morris notes, make up fully 30% of the approximately $10 billion global personal care ingredients market.

In addition to the simple lure of a fast-growing market, the greening of cosmetics has a more subtle business imperative. Much of the ongoing effort is tied into the desire of corporate executives to be seen as environmentally and socially responsible operators of sustainable businesses in just about everything from food production, mining, and building construction to energy and chemical production.

According to a study released in November by consumer attitudes research firm Yankelovich, investors in publicly owned companies want to own stock in sustainable businesses. Eight out of 10 such investors are more likely to invest in companies that are socially responsible, Yankelovich found.

But the message of social responsibility and sustainability has yet to fully infiltrate consumer ranks. A July 2007 Yankelovich survey of consumers and their environmental attitudes found that only one-third of consumers are more concerned about environmental issues than they were a year earlier. "Consumers are not drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to green," says J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich.

But he suggests that it is possible for companies to change consumers' behavior so that the green attributes of a product become a key feature in their buying decisions. Before that can happen, though, "consumers have to know what green means or has to offer to them."

MANY OF the larger personal care product companies are themselves grappling with what green means and have acquired providers of natural products both to understand the market dynamics of the natural category and to capture some of the growth the category is experiencing. For instance, two years ago the French cosmetics giant L'Or??al bought British natural products retailer The Body Shop for more than $1 billion, and then also bought Laboratoire Sanoflore, a French maker of certified organic cosmetics.

Although many personal care product companies tout their sustainable credentials, many of them seem not entirely sure just what is green, organic, or sustainable. Some have taken to certifying their products as green under a variety of schemes now or soon to be available through third parties such as Ecocert, the Germany-based industry organization BDiH, the Soil Association, Oasis, and Certech. It's all very bewildering, a research director at a personal care products formulator tells C&EN.

That confusion was palpable among cosmetic ingredient suppliers at the InCosmetics personal care ingredients show held last month in Amsterdam. Many of the exhibitors discussed their natural and sustainable ingredients. Some, such as Cognis, Evonik Industries, Croda, and International Specialty Products (ISP), have prepared product guides detailing ingredients that could be considered green or could fit the requirements of a certifying organization.

According to Rita Köster, home care global marketing director for Cognis, "The increased consumer demand for 'ecoethical' products, which combine ecological aspects with wider moral concerns, presents manufacturers with new challenges." Cognis has published an ingredients guide that ranks its products with up to four green leaves to indicate their proportion of natural and renewable components.

Skin Deep Immunolabeled skin cells (blue) show effects of laminin-5 peptide on fibronectin (green) synthesis, thus improving the appearance of skin.

For instance, products assigned four green leaves are derived 100% from natural renewable feedstocks purified with only water, alcohol, or a mild treatment process. Many of Cognis' materials are derived from coconut oil, palm oil, soy, and starch. Those receiving three leaves are derived from natural renewable feedstocks and have been chemically processed with catalysts or other reaction aids. Products receiving one or two leaves are "hybrids" that combine natural and synthetic ingredients.

Cognis is also seeking outside qualification of its ingredients. More than 80 of the active ingredients, emollients, emulsifiers, surfactants, thickening agents, and other products in the guide conform to the standards of Ecocert, a French organization that certifies organic cosmetics and foods and also monitors fair and responsible trade practices.

Chemophobia appears to be behind much of the move toward natural and green. Many natural formulations boast that they are "free from" ingredients thought to be irritating or that may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

"Sometimes it seems as if the more a product is 'free from' the better," says Iris Hütter, a hair, body, and oral care market segment manager at Cognis. As an example, she says the firm's Plantapon SF is a natural, Ecocert-qualified surfactant blend that is free of alkylether sulfates, ethylene oxide, betaines, and preservatives. Such a surfactant is suitable for use in infant products, facial cleansers, mild shampoos, and bubble baths for sensitive skin, Hütter says.

Evonik has its own list of 54 ingredients that meet standards for inclusion in Ecocert-approved formulations. According to Claus Rettig, president of Evonik's consumer specialties business, more than 80% of the raw materials and active ingredients that the firm provides to the cosmetics industry are made from plant-sourced and natural starting materials including fats and oils, natural fatty acids, or sugar compounds such as sucrose and sorbitol.

Ecocert is clear on what types of chemical processes are allowed and the types of ingredients it does not approve, says Laurie Kjeldsen, an Evonik personal care business director. That makes it easy for ingredient suppliers to qualify their materials for inclusion in Ecocert-approved formulations, she notes.

For instance, Ecocert-permitted processes include hydrolysis, esterification, saponification, hydrogenation, and sulfation, but chlorination is a process non grata. The standard also limits use of ingredients such as synthetic oils and other petroleum derivatives.

But a number of ingredients that Evonik supplies to customers, such as silicone derivatives, are not considered natural, although Kjeldsen argues they should be considered as products that can be supplied in sustainable ways. For instance, the firm has worked to reduce energy use in the production of silicone-based ingredients. And consumers would miss the unique "feel" that silicone-based ingredients can impart to hand creams and other products, she asserts. "Today, you can't get the same performance from an oleochemical that you can get from a silicone," she says.

And synthetic ingredients can come under the green rubric, she argues, particularly if they are biodegradable. For instance, the firm's Varisoft EQ65 cationic hair conditioner is biodegradable, making it what Kjeldsen terms "environmentally desirable," even though a product incorporating it would be denied an Ecocert label.

U.K.-based specialties firm Croda recently published a 28-page guide called "Up Close and Green" listing about 180 cosmetic ingredients that fit into various green categories. Many people are unsure about what actually constitutes a green product, notes Rachel Wright, a marketing coordinator for the firm. To help formulators find the green ingredients they need, the guide separates ingredients into categories such as naturally derived, biodegradable, and those obtained according to ethical trade practices.

SO MANY DIFFERENT labeling certification criteria exist that formulators are confused about standards and definitions, Wright says. For the time being, Croda hasn't listed ingredients in the guide as suitable for use under one certification or another. But the company offers to work with customers and help them choose ingredients that fit the green criteria they value most.

"Our customers want to play green," says Nancy Clements, personal care global marketing director for ISP. The firm has compiled a list of 12 ingredients that meet Ecocert criteria for use in cosmetic formulations. All are naturally derived and produced at Vincience, the French active ingredients maker that ISP acquired early last year. Plans are under way to include other ISP products on the validated ingredients list, including emollients and esters.

Other ingredient makers are working to qualify their ingredients to various certification standards. Sebastien Meric, vice president for home and personal care at the Novecare division of specialty chemicals maker Rhodia, says his company is working with Ecocert to qualify Rhodia ingredients. Somewhat unsure of how far customers will take their green marketing efforts, Meric acknowledges that "the market is still trying to define what green means."

For instance, Rhodia takes bean-derived guar and chemically modifies it to make thickeners and hair conditioner ingredients. "We hope common sense will prevail when people decide on the degree of chemical processing they will allow," says Andrew Douglass, a Novecare market innovation director. If it does, the marketing of green products and ingredients "will open up a lot of opportunities for innovation."

On a roll Evonik technician examines hair samples.

"We are getting more inquiries about the origin of our products," says Philip A. Matena, vice president of Innospec Performance Chemicals U.S. The firm sells a variety of surfactants, fragrances, and conditioners to the personal care market. "We're trying to understand the various certification labels and where it is cost-effective to have our products approved. The firm won approval for its Natrlquest E30???a biodegradable chelating agent listed on cosmetic labels as trisodium ethylenediamine disuccinate???for use in detergents and household cleaners. Matena says they should therefore be acceptable for personal care formulations.

Polyurethanes don't necessarily conjure up visions of green personal care ingredients, but the new water-based polyurethane dispersions Bayer brought to the InCosmetics show can be considered green, argues Steffen Hofacker, head of cosmetics innovation and business creation. A number of years back, the firm developed waterborne polyurethane dispersions for industrial and automotive coatings to replace solvent-borne polyurethanes. With the Baycusan line of polyurethane dispersions for cosmetic use, Bayer again hopes to replace solvents, particularly in hair sprays.

The polyurethanes are petrochemical derivatives, Hofacker admits. But because they contain no solvents or preservatives, "they are particularly environment-friendly," he says. And because of their water resistance and pleasant feel on the skin, he adds, they are useful in formulating mascara, eye shadow, and eye liners.

ALSO FOR MASCARA, eye liners, and other personal care products, DuPont Tate & Lyle BioProducts says it stands ready to provide cosmetic makers with a renewable solvent based on corn sugar. DuPont and sugar processor Tate & Lyle originally formed their joint venture in 2005 to produce a raw material, 1,3-propanediol, for DuPont's Sorona textile fiber. But the venture partners say this ingredient can replace petrochemical-based glycols such as propylene glycol and butylene glycol.

Joe DeSalvo, marketing director for the joint venture, says European customers tend to be interested in products qualified for use in certified formulations, whereas U.S. customers seem to have a more general interest in green attributes. The venture expects to get Ecocert qualification for propanediol later this year and will likely gain approval for the ingredient under U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification rules.

Penny Vanemon, personal care marketing director at National Starch, says customer interest in her company's natural polymers expertise is growing. What were once niche products have moved into the mainstream, with more retailers now interested in selling functional products based on plant-sourced ingredients. National Starch, which was purchased by AkzoNobel earlier this year, says it is meeting formulators' needs for organic products with its certified biopolymers, called Naviance, which are based on corn and tapioca.

At Eastman Chemical, James McCaulley says company scientists have been striving to understand the various definitions of natural and are trying to do their best to meet customer expectations. Two years ago, the Eastman global market manager says, the firm introduced a skin antiaging phytolipid, NutriLayer, based on rice bran oil. That ingredient is isolated from rice bran oil by conventional solvent-based extraction technology.

But one customer asked whether Eastman could produce esters of rice bran with only water or ethanol as the solvent. At first, McCaulley says, Eastman scientists laughed that they were being asked to do the impossible. But as they thought about the problem, they decided they could produce the esters with no added solvent. They came up with a unique manufacturing process in which a supported biocatalyst enzyme transforms rice bran fatty acids.

Because the process does not use solvents, "we have no tricky and energy-intensive isolation steps at the end," McCaulley says. Moreover, product yield is greater than 90%. The company says it will look into qualifying its new ester for use in certified cosmetics if customers want that service.

Serge Rogasik, global marketing director for BASF beauty care solutions, says his firm is aggressively looking into ecological certifications for its products. "We're not strong in certifications yet," he says, in part because "there are no global agreed criteria" for the certification schemes. "We're a global company; we need global standards," he says.

For now, BASF has developed a library of 4,000 botanical compounds that it scans for cosmetic applications. But the company takes the sustainability of the plant source seriously, Rogasik says. Recently, it was working on a skin-whitening agent, largely for markets in Asia, based on a plant source. Chinese providers certified that the plant came from a renewable resource, but a BASF audit rejected that claim and so BASF dropped its plan to develop the new product.

Like BASF, many ingredient makers are striving to accurately assess and describe their products for their customers in the personal care industry. Some are even ready with guides to help customers make choices. All say they are eager to help personal care companies introduce products with a lower impact on the environment. Still to be sorted out, however, are the definitions and certification standards for what is truly natural, good for the environment, and sustainable.

Cover Story

  • Seeking Sustainability
  • Ingredient makers strive to understand and satisfy cosmetic labeling promises
  • Sorting Through The Confusion In Personal Care Certification
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

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Cover Story

  • Seeking Sustainability
  • Ingredient makers strive to understand and satisfy cosmetic labeling promises
  • Sorting Through The Confusion In Personal Care Certification

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