Where is the voice of reason in re-formulation for safety and sustainability?

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain management Sustainability

This year’s industry events saw a flurry of green surfactants, non-nano inorganic UV filters and petrolatum alternatives, all accompanied by claims of their mild, sustainable and generally friendly nature.

Digging a little deeper reveals that in most cases such ‘replacements’ of common ingredients have been developed not because there is a genuine, scientific concern over human or environmental safety, but to answer consumer demand.

Non-nano scale zinc and titanium filters are not being offered due to safety concerns over their nano scale cousins; rather because there is a significant market for ‘almost as effective but not quite’ non-nano alternatives based on consumer concern.

Similarly, finding reliable scientific evidence to suggest formulators should turn away from sulfate-based surfactants and move towards sulfate-free alternatives is challenging, but these sulfate-free alternatives proliferate, as does consumer demand for sulfate-free products.

And of course, the majority of suppliers are providing both the original ‘bad guy’ and the replacement ‘good guy’.

Green surfactants are also flooding the marketplace, where the petroleum-derived part of the ingredient is replaced with a vegetable-based feedstock. But here there is a further complication; is the vegetable-based alternative sustainable?

In order to answer this, a number of companies are looking at coconut oil instead of palm oil, not because the supply chain is necessarily any more sustainable (it might be but there is no real evidence to support this) but because it has a better reputation in the eyes of the consumer.

On the one hand, it is logical - there is a market out there so suppliers and manufacturers naturally answer that need.

But where is the voice of reason in all of this?

Manufacturers are reformulating to tick all the consumer’s boxes, which in itself is dangerous as this is a moving target, and suppliers are innovating to meet these needs.

Valid moves towards safer and more sustainable products, which can be measured by reliable scientific information including life cycle assessments, do exist and should be celebrated.

However, it seems that much of the momentum generated by the genuine concern and motivation from consumers, as well as from a number of manufacturers and suppliers, is currently being wasted on new strategies that look better but do not necessarily have any real, positive impact.

Related topics Formulation & Science

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Paraben study

Posted by lynda Fassa,

Here's the original report linking parabens and their estrogenic activity to breast cancer:
it was reprinted in The lancet as well as many other respected journals
It does not negate the influences of parabens on breast cancer, quite the contrary, if you'll read the last page, though it certainly does not prove parabens cause breast cancer, they stipulate that their may indeed be a relationship to the use, in particular, of deodorants and later onset of breast cancer because of the frequent exposure and location of the product use and the breasts.

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The Lancet

Posted by Dene Godfrey,

Please can Linda provide the specific reference for the study in The Lancet that proved a link between parabens and breat cancer? I have been following parabens studies for over 10 years, and I have never seen this piece. Perhaps she is confusing it with the 2004 study by Darbre that claimed to have detected parabens in human breast tissues? If so, Linda is clearly not aware that the conclusions of the study clearly stated that the findings did not prove any link bewteen parabens and breast cancer. This is how disinformation gets spread around, and how safe products become demonised.

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The same old history ...

Posted by Dragos Ioan,

Nobody seems to notice that, unfortunately, diseases like cancer, Alzheimer and many, many others exist since the beginning of the humanity and thousands of years before people used parabens, sulfate-based surfactants, cosmetics, drugs and a lot of other "guilty" substances!
A specialist in mathematics said, once: "Give me enough points and I shall always find a correlation between the number of cows in a field and the lifetime of the main stars in the Universe!" And this is the case with all these studies, which link the incidence of some disease with any component in a cosmetic, food or drug!
But nobody is enough brave to tell people the truth: the main reason for all your health problems are due to the daily stress, at work and at home, to the contonuous fear of loosing our jobs, to the attitude of our managers, to the permanent violence in the towns - this is the truth, but it would be too difficult to act against such things - so, continue blaming parabens, sulfates and any other ingredient - it's easier!

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