Sustainable cosmetics? Raw materials ‘deserving of greater attention’, finds review

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

It is critical industry addresses the sustainability aspects of raw materials, say researchers - photo Getty Images
It is critical industry addresses the sustainability aspects of raw materials, say researchers - photo Getty Images

Related tags Sustainability sustainable ingredients sustainable formulation Green chemistry Raw materials Formulation sustainable cosmetics Life cycle assessment Ingredients Synthetic ingredients

Sustainable cosmetics is a complex and multifaceted issue, but future developments must focus more carefully on raw materials used in the formulation phase of a product’s life cycle, say researchers.

Writing in the Journal of Cleaner Production​, researchers from the University of Lisbon, Portugal reviewed the state of sustainability in the cosmetics space – a topic they said had received “growing interest”​ from consumers, industry, organizations and academics alike. Attention, they said, was being fuelled by concerns around safety, environmental and social impacts – key dimensions within sustainability.

The review analysed existing information studies on sustainable cosmetics to conclude how sustainability efforts could be better applied in skin care.

‘Improvements and further investigation to be made’

“Sustainability is definitely a word in the cosmetics agenda,” ​the researchers wrote in the review.

Over the last few decades, efforts to drive sustainable practices and develop products had been made, they said, but more could be done. “Undoubtedly, there are still improvements and further investigation to be made.”

One of the most important considerations to be made was product life cycle, they said, particularly the formulation phase.

“While sustainability impacts occur through all phases of the cosmetic product life cycle, selection of raw materials is deserving of greater attention as information on this topic remains scattered and diffuse,”​ the researchers said.

It was “critical to address the sustainability aspects of the ingredients”​ because of how significant the designing phase was in a product life cycle, they said. “A big part of sustainability in cosmetics depends on its ingredients.”

But, focus on this area was not without challenges, the researchers said.

Investigation and evaluation needed in ‘evolutive process’

“…One of the main challenges is the replacement of unsustainable synthetic ingredients for sustainable alternatives,” ​they wrote. 

Getty Images
Getty Images

And while several studies pointed to potential applications, the inclusion of “natural, organic or green chemistry derived ingredients”, ​they said, required greater investigation and evaluation around functionality, safety, stability and performance.

“…In this evolutive process, companies face difficulties when adapting to sustainable practices, especially when it comes to selecting ingredients to formulate their products.”

Moving forward, therefore, it would be important to make comparative studies between common cosmetic ingredients and sustainable alternatives to “facilitate the exchange”.

In the meantime, a focus on how to influence consumer consumption towards more sustainable choices would also be key, the researchers said.

Overcoming ‘a lot of misinformation in the marketplace’

Keeping up with consumer expectations was important but as competition increased, industry would need to up innovation while creating more clarity in the marketplace, they said.

“An additional consideration regarding ingredients is the fact that there is a lot of misinformation in the marketplace, since it is usually associated that all synthetics are bad and all nature-based are good, but this isn’t always true.”

In addition, many ingredients were known by one name, irrespective of origin (animal, vegetable, synthetic), and there was an absence of a single natural and organic certification for products.

Some form of sustainability measure across industry would be helpful, the researchers said, enabling consumers to better benchmark products.

“The cosmetic industry must continue its journey to ensure the functionality of its products by incorporating more natural ingredients, greener processes and packaging, not forgetting to influence the pattern of consumption, not just production.”

“…The truth is that the future of cosmetics relies on more sustainable approaches, and though a revolution will not happen overnight, each effort towards sustainability is a huge step for a better future,” ​the researchers concluded.

Source: Journal of Cleaner Production
Published: July 10, 2019 - Vol. 225, Pages. 270-290 doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.03.255
Title: "A step forward on sustainability in the cosmetics industry: A review"
Authors: S. Bom, J. Jorge, HM. Ribeiro and J. Marto

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