2009 SCS spring symposium - It's not all black and white

Published: 6-Aug-2009

Feelings were expected to run pretty high at the 2009 SCS spring symposium (17-19 May), Cosmetic controversies - seeing the whole picture. Clare Henderson & John Woodruff report from the event

Feelings were expected to run pretty high at the 2009 SCS spring symposium (17-19 May), Cosmetic controversies - seeing the whole picture. Clare Henderson & John Woodruff report from the event

The Society of Cosmetic Scientists (SCS) really broke its traditional conference mould with the 2009 spring symposium, taking the angle of cosmetic controversies. In the event the debate was perhaps rather less heated than might have been anticipated from the programme but it certainly made for two days of strong presentations and good discussions during the panel sessions at the end of each topic.


First up for discussion were anti-ageing treatments, chaired by SCS president, Judi Beerling. How effective could (so called) cosmeceuticals become in the future? asked Tony Rawlings (AVR Consulting). “We have no chance of matching surgical efficacy but there could be some dermatological procedures that can do something,” he began. “Skin care products are basically at the bottom of the scale. We’re never going to match something like botox so why do we even try?” He did however point out that there are many more achievable targets.

For example, he does see the benefit of microdermabrasion as this has the ability to gradually improve photodamaged skin. He also suggested neutralised salicylic acid, which he said is just as effective as the acid but doesn’t sting. And he pointed to niacinamide and the work P&G has done on this to demonstrate an improvement in the appearance of facial skin. Peptides were also given the go ahead. “They do work if you’ve got them in the right formulation,” said Rawlings. Retinol has significant effects but Rawlings repeated that we only have the opportunity to diminish, not eliminate.

If there’s one area of interest for the future it’s nuclear hormone receptors, said Rawlings, one of which is retinoic acid. We can’t use retinoic acid but we can use retinol and we can use inhibitors to replicate that process. “Rather than worry about replicating surgical procedures try and match the effects of retinoic acid – that’s a more realistic target.” He also encouraged the industry to try and understand the biology better. For example, we understand wrinkles statically but not dynamically so there are many opportunities here.

“Cosmeceuticals?” he conclued, “I think we’re talking about cosmetics.”

A number of dermatologists followed Rawlings onto the podium. Focusing on the treatment of atrophic acne scarring, Chu said there’s almost nothing out there in the cosmetics industry addressing acne scarring and it’s a massive problem. Sufferers are plagued by ice-pick, box or rolling scars, or a combination, and there are a number of dermatological treatments available but at the moment cosmeceuticals play a very minor role in all this.

Cosmeceuticals, as dermatologist Veronique Bataille pointed out, is a very grey area. There is no legal definition and the result is that cosmeceuticals fall into both cosmetic and medicine categories, exploiting the borderline between the two, which inevitably leads to controversy.

Bataille discussed evaluating techniques and also touched on consumer trials but admitted these are a bit controversial; procedures are not standardised and skin biopsies are often not possible, particularly on the face.

Retinoids are the top agent we know and a wide variety are available. Vitamin E clearly works but do we use enough to be effective? Bataille wondered. Vitamin C, often used after laser resurfacing, is important for things like collagen synthesis and lightening effects but is not a powerful antioxidant, she said. However, the newer antioxidant idebenone is more powerful than all other antioxidants. Growth factors are more controversial and to date most are not well studied.

Cosmeceuticals can also have side effects, including irritant dermatitis and contact dermatitis as well as more severe allergic reactions.

For the future, gene expression analysis will look at RNA arrays to see which genes are upregulated by the compounds. We also need a better skin ageing phenotype, said Bataille. Pharmacogenetics will also be a very important area; eg not everyone responds well to retinoids and other compounds. New gene variants associated with accelerated skin ageing discovered via genome-wide analysis will lead to new areas of study for cosmeceuticals.

The next dermatologist to the podium, Tamara Griffiths attempted to put cosmeceuticals in context. She described them as the democratisation of beauty, ie what everyone wants. “The concept of beauty is hardwired – it is universal and cross-cultural,” she said. “It all boils down to reproductive potential.” Facial lines can have a significant effect on self esteem and quality of life, but if you want to be certain of looking ten years younger, just tell everyone you’re ten years older, she concluded.

The final dermatologist of the session, Stephanie Williams, discussed whether topical application of antioxidants can turn back the clock. The fundamental mechanism of ageing remains poorly understood and of the topically used antioxidants used a lot don’t have the evidence behind them. Work by Doonan et al (2008) suggested they don’t work, but Williams said there are examples of where topical antioxidants work well; eg evidence from drosophila flies and mice.

Topical vitamin E is the predominant antioxidant of the skin barrier and is effective in providing photoprotection, increased hydration, improved skin barrier, slower skin wrinkling and has an anticarcinogenic action. But bioconversion of vitamin E esters is slow.

Topical vitamin C is the most plentiful antioxidant in humam skin but cannot be synthesised in humans while oral supplementation leads to only a limited increase on skin concentration. The esterified derivatives are most stable. It increases hydration, collagen synthesis and skin elasticity and decreases TEWL. It also provides photoprotection from UVA and UVB and reduces clinical signs of ageing. Williams referred to a one-year study with L-ascorbic acid with which she had achieved very good results. “It’s hard to do but I’d like to see more such studies.”

A good combination of synergistically working antioxidants, reaching all parts of the cell, are the ideal, she said. Examples were given of work with vitamins A and C plus ferulic acid, said to yield higher protection compared to conezyme Q10, idebenone and kinetin, and phloretin plus ferulic acid and vitamin C reducing MMPs and p53 expression.

The best antioxidants have a good mix of hydrophilic and lipophilic elements but it is also important to consider in vivo penetration and bioconversion as well as combining them with sun protection. “Used this way, antioxidants can help to prevent and even reverse signs of ageing skin,” said Williams. “In my opinion, they’re one thing that should be used in any skin care regime.”

But further research was called for in many areas including ideal formulations and delivery vehicles, active vs inactive derivatives, optimal concentrations, standardisation of botanical extracts, optimisation of skin penetration and dermal delivery, consistent product stability, safety, allergen potential and irritancy and interactions between different topical antioxidants.


Fragrance was the topic for the afternoon, subtitled To be natural or not. John Ayres (Pandora) fascinated his audience with a run through the creative fragrance drivers of the 20th century. The perfumer’s palette comprises around 6,000 materials but some of the evidence is anecdotal and only about 1,500 are used in perfumery today. Of these about 30% are natural and 70% synthetic, though the proportion of naturals in fine perfumery is a lot higher. Ayres also pointed out that delegates tend to take a long time to marry into new ingredients and use them.

Synthetic aroma chemicals allow you to unleash the hidden power of natural materials, said Ayres; eg Javanol from sandalwood oil. He also believes they inspire creative originality, provide strength and structure to a fragrance, capture the true essence of nature and provide consistent quality, availability and cost as well as performance and substantivity.

“Fragrance classics and modern classics owe their success to the creative combining of natural and synthetic ingredients. Naturals give richness, complexity, radiance and vitality, while synthetic aroma chemicals can provide depth, substance, power and creative originality,” said Ayres.

Tony Burfield (Cropwatch) is a big fan of naturals but explained how he feels the cultural heritage of art and perfumery is being destroyed by the restriction or banning of key fragrance ingredients on what he sees as dubious or over-precautionary safety grounds. For example, the fougère accord consists of a combination of bergamot, coumarin and oakmoss but all of these are either restricted or under threat according to SCCP (Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, now Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, SCCS) and IFRA (International Fragrance Association) rulings.

“The freedom of choice (to buy products containing naturals) has been forensically removed from the pubic via the progressive actions of various over-precautious regulators within the EU, US and Canada,” said Burfield. In addition to legislative pressures, the usage of naturals was said to have declined in perfumery due to downward pressure on ingredient costs (synthetics are comparatively cheaper), erratic supply (weather, political events, demand pressures) and from stability issues.

“Naturals breathe life into an otherwise simple blend of chemicals. They add depth and sophistication – whether it is floral absolutes, woody materials or citrus oils that are employed,” said Burfield, adding that whole fragrance styles/families would not exist without naturals, eg eaux de cologne.

Burfield also expressed concern about what he sees as a drop in ingredient quality in many cases. “We’re often left with a pale imitation of the original,” he said. “The legislation clearly lacks proportionality and is based firmly on the precautionary principle.”

Responding for IFRA, Matthias Vey presented the regulatory story. “Fragrance is a very potent source of allergen and we have to address that in all our policies,” he began. “Fragrance is still the second most common cause for contact allergy after nickel.”

Dermatologists highlighted the sensitisation issues to Europe and asked for measures. Since then there have been numerous opinions with the SCCP (SCCS). “We have to work with them if we want to change things,” said Vey, who agreed that there is currently too much confusion of hazard with risk.

IFRA’s mission is to ensure safe use of fragrance ingredients through self-regulation of the fragrance industry worldwide to protect consumers and the environment and Vey provided a number of examples of areas in which it is currently working, including QRA (Quantitative Risk Assessment) for dermal sensitisation.

“The reality is we are living in a world of regulations but divided as an industry we won’t get anywhere. There are safety concerns that must be addressed and if we don’t act the regulators certainly will. Current misperceptions are often unfounded and we must help to provide reassurance that the industry is acting responsibly.” Vey encouraged the industry to enter into active dialogue with the stakeholders; eg the dermatologists.

He acknowledged that increasing regulation is leading to a shrinking ingredient palette but pointed out that synthetics are being targeted as well as naturals. In fact he considers the synthetic vs naturals debate an unnatural one. “In the end it should be synthetic together with natural.”

“Regulations seem to make perfume development almost impossible,” said the next speaker, George Dodd (AromaSciences Ltd). He set out his intention to interpret the synthetic vs natural debate through the multiple dimension of aromaspace. Synthetics, naturals and beyond was his theme and he took in other dimensions in the debate including aesthetics, philosophy, luxury, romance ands language. For a lot of synthetics it is possible to produce a natural version and in 30 years time we may return to natural perfumery, said Dodd.

He also touched on his work with Warwick University on what he termed real virtuality, a step change beyond virtual reality, with perfumery on your mobile phone for example. “At some point in the next decade you’ll be able to buy mobile phones with fragrance technology and all kinds of things will follow,” said Dodd.

The final fragrance contributor was Kim Halford (Simple Essentials) who shared some of her own experiences with clients where in many cases natural seems to be the only word they’ll listen to. Halford said legislation often makes briefs harder to fulfil but that it’s a challenge which in some ways makes it more exciting. And when it comes to naturals and synthetics she suggested a synergy was probably the best route.


Keynote speaker for the second morning of the conference was SCS president Judi Beerling who asked, Natural and organic, what is all the fuss about? Unfortunately much of the fuss is centred on the lack of formal definition of the terms with reference to cosmetic products. Despite such problems it is a growth area for cosmetic sales, fuelled by consumer concerns about chemicals and scare stories in the media.

Beerling talked delegates through the plethora of certification bodies, each producing their own version of natural and organic standards, although harmonisation has at last been brought a step nearer by the publication of the Cosmos standard for natural and organic cosmetics; a joint document by Bioforum, Cosmebio, Ecocert, BDIH, ICEA and the Soil Association.

In conclusion Beerling suggested that with less argument over the value of various certificates and logos growth in natural and organic cosmetics would continue and the emphasis from those supplying such products should be that the plant world has amazing benefits to offer, which should be the main thrust of claims for natural or organic products, not a fear of toxic chemicals.

John Woodruff (Creative Developments) used the title Natural or synthetic, whatever! to argue that choice of ingredients should depend on safety, efficacy and cost effectiveness and not on unfounded safety scares or efficacy studies that owe more to folklore than science. To counter the claim that natural is good and all else is bad Woodruff said that cosmetics are regulated by different governmental entities around the world with a common goal of ensuring that cosmetic products are safe and properly labelled. In Europe this aim is covered by Council Directive 76/768/EEC and all subsequent amendments, which lists permitted preservatives, colours, antiperspirant materials and UV absorbers, and only those materials that appear on the positive lists can be used in cosmetic products. The Directive also lists any limitations on the use if these materials in certain product types, their maximum allowable concentrations and any special labelling requirements.

He then discussed the benefits of using natural materials as emollients and for their natural antioxidant, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties but suggested that for emulsification it was preferable to use natural materials that have undergone chemical modification to provide safe and stable products. Similarly there are natural moisturisers such as aloe vera juice, algae extracts, various sugars and honey, but Woodruff considers glycerine, sodium lactate, sodium PCa and hydrolysed proteins more effective.

Peter Houghton (Kings College London) discussed the advantages of natural extracts over isolated compounds. Many compounds isolated from plants are used in medicine including atropine, codeine and vincristine and some like capsaicin and psoralans are used for topical application. While there is widespread belief that a compound extracted from nature is more efficacious than one obtained synthetically there is no scientific basis for this. However, extracts are complicated mixtures of substances and although there may not be a single active compound present, ingredients in the extract with similar properties may combine to provide a synergistic effect while those with different activities may contribute to an overall effect, termed polyvalence.

Polyvalence is used to provide a cocktail of drugs in conventional medicine to attack multiple targets and, because lower dosages of individual chemicals are possible, with less risk of toxicity and developing resistance.

Natural preservatives: myth or magic? asked Keith Roden (Thor Specialities). He discussed the relative toxicities of various synthetic chemicals and natural materials and concluded that neither natural toxins nor toxic synthetic chemicals are a problem until they are released into the environment and put in contact with humans by ingestion, inhalation or skin or membrane contact. Why do consumers believe that natural is good and synthetic bad? This is not a debate that can be answered scientifically, said Rodin, you simply believe it or you don’t and facts just get in the way.

Preservatives are chemical compounds added to products to prevent the growth of microorganisms. As such, whether they are natural or synthetic, they are toxic compounds capable of killing micro-organisms by interfering with cell walls, internal structures or processes to cause death of the cell. Anything that kills micro-organisms is potentially toxic to mammalian cells, and it is the concentration, contact time and point of contact that determines if there are any side effects from their use, not whether they are synthetic or natural.

Currently there are no natural preservatives listed in the EU Cosmetics Directive but materials with an antimicrobial action may be included in the product provided they are added to the cosmetic for some other reason. Roden believes that marketing a material as a natural preservative and stressing its antimicrobial activity as the real or only reason for including it in a product, while labelling it as a fragrance or other additive is deliberately misleading and against what is a basic tenet of consumers wanting to use natural products.

A number of materials were reviewed by Roden including some listed as preservatives that are generally approved for natural products such as organic acids, and other materials that claim to have preservative action such as grapefruit seed extract. So are natural preservatives a myth? No, said Roden, there are natural products with potential to preserve cosmetics, but they are not really suitable for the vast majority of products on the market. Tea tree oil may eventually classify as a true natural preservative but grapefruit seed extract and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate will never be classified as natural. And are natural preservatives magic? No, he said. Unfortunately the currently available ones possess no great attributes that would classify them as anything but mundane. It may well be that there will be no natural preservatives developed in the foreseeable future so rather than trying to make things that don’t work or using deceptive labelling, education of the end user may be the better route.

Continuing the natural preservation theme, Wilfried Petersen (Dr Straetmans) asked Preserving cosmetics: what more natural/safer options do formulators have? Peterson said antimicrobial substances are inherently unfriendly chemicals capable killing microorganisms and that the same properties may have more or less harmful effects on human (skin) cells. The question is not “are they harmful?” but “are they selective enough to kill microorganisms fast enough without affecting human cells?”

Petersen introduced a number of materials that can be found in nature and discussed their antimicrobial properties. Unfortunately most have limitations such as odour, allergic potential, limited efficacy or are only effective over a very limited pH range. Some surfactants have antimicrobial properties and there appears to be a synergy between these and organic acids. He concluded by saying that in rinse-off products organic acids alone may be sufficient for preservation but in emulsion-type products it is advisable to combine organic acids with surface active antimicrobials.


Continuing the questioning nature of many of the presentations James Clark (University of York) asked Green chemistry – a necessity or a fad? He said the chemical industry is too dependent on traditional virgin sources of raw materials that are becoming scarce, expensive and unreliable, and often come from regions with uncertain social and political conditions. Some key elements, including copper, nickel and cadmium, are becoming so scarce that waste tips are being viewed as a possible future source. In addition, over 90% of organic chemicals are based on petroleum feedstocks and it is increasingly important that alternative sources are found. The use of plant biomass is suggested, which when subjected to suitable processing can yield many of the materials currently obtained from the oil industry.

To achieve this aim a group called Sustoil for the sustainable use of plant oils has been formed with 23 partners from ten EU countries [www.sustoil.org]. There are problems of working with biomass, not least the volume required to yield useful results. One method to overcome this is the use of mobile biomass refineries using microwave technology. It is also necessary to implement life cycle analysis and to question each step for its environmental footprint and to develop routes to substitutes based on renewable resources and clean synthetic methods. Finally Clark described some of the supply chain partnerships that have been developed through the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York University [www.greenchemistry.net].

One company working with the University of York is Boots and Stephen Johnson is sustainable development manager there. He described its search for alternative feed stocks, innocuous reagents and the use of natural processes to produce alternative solvents. The Boots approach is to study the product journey from concept through production and distribution and to evaluate the environmental impact of the chemical substances used in Boots products.

The final presentation was given by Alban Muller (AMI) who continued the theme of increasingly scarce resources being shared by an ever increasing population. Muller said products need to be designed to be launched onto global markets, that are safe for man and planet, that comply with regulations, that convey a positive message and that are not confused by self-professed experts on the internet. Alban Muller adopts the Great Simplification Theory and evaluates all the impacts from cradle to cradle by studying their global ecological cycles. Muller suggested we take the REACH approach and discuss substances, not argue whether they are synthetic or natural.

So, potentially controversial topics but it would appear that there is at least understanding among various parties and hopefully a determination to work towards mutually beneficial goals.

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