Standards & Sustainability

Published: 12-Feb-2010

Formulating quality organic C&T products may at last be getting a bit easier, but that's only part of the challenge. Clare Henderson assesses some of the hurdles

Formulating quality organic C&T products may at last be getting a bit easier, but that's only part of the challenge. Clare Henderson assesses some of the hurdles

Formulating cosmetics can have its challenges at the best of times but formulating organic cosmetics can be a real challenge. But life is finally getting a little easier for the organic formulator. As cosmetic formulator and consultant John Woodruff points out, when the Soil Association published its first standards in 2002 “about the only products that could conform to its standards were massage oils”.

“If you’re starting now it’s a lot easier than it was a year or two ago,” adds Judi Beerling, consultant to Organic Monitor. “We had extracts but for thickeners xanthan gum was about it. Now there is a wealth of products to try. The biggest thing is keeping up with it all.”

An increasing number of suppliers are introducing materials that help formulators do the job and an increasing number of materials also carry natural and organic certification. This isn’t really surprising. If you’ve visited any cosmetic ingredients show in the last few years one of the chief refrains, in addition to ‘anything new?’ of course, is ‘is it natural?’ or ‘is it organic?’ And suppliers wanting to be involved in this growth sector have taken note.

And it definitely is a growth sector. Organic Monitor values the natural and organic C&T market at US$7.9bn and says it is currently experiencing growth rates of 15-17%, though it still only accounts for about 3% of the market.

“Suppliers are becoming much more clued up as to what people want,” says Beerling. “In the past it was often a case of someone bringing out a lovely new ingredient and then including a preservative that you can’t use in organic products so you couldn’t consider it. A lot have now reformulated. They’re looking at their existing ingredients and asking whether they can make them more natural and a lot are going the Ecocert route as they realise that’s what people are asking for.”

“One of the major hurdles to producing a cosmetic to organic standards is the lack of permitted surfactants and emulsifiers,” says Woodruff. “Sodium lauryl sulphate is one of the few where the fatty chain is big enough in proportion to the size of the total molecule to actually meet organic standards but it is disallowed because of anti-SLS opinion.”

Wilfried Petersen, md, Dr Straetmans thinks this issue can be surmountable. “If organic means cosmetic with organic contents (eg according to Soil Association, Ecocert etc) emulsifiers are no problem,” he says. “Surfactants are a certain problem, but manageable. There are a number of good approved surfactants available, but thickening can be tricky (sodium chloride plus partially lipophilic co-surfactant, depends on the choice of surfactant system) or not aesthetic (xanthan gum).”

However, he adds: “If organic cosmetic means an organic requirement for emulsifiers/surfactants (eg Cosmos standard) it is almost impossible at the moment.”

“The main challenge is getting the right texture and sensory properties. Stability is also an issue as it is always unpredictable,” says Beerling, pointing out that traditional emulsifiers are often blended to give a more guaranteed structure. “But it was good at SCS Formulate recently to see alternatives to a number of materials.” There are certain olive-based materials that are improving texture issues and IMCD was offering natural alternatives to volatile silicones. Grant Industries’ Gransurf 50C, for example, is a 50% active emulsifier for use in w/o emulsions, formulated without cyclomethicone and containing low viscosity dimethicone as its solvent.

“Natural products often don’t feel great but we have specific ingredients to improve stability and feeling,” says Laurent Schubnel, operational marketing manager with Gattefossé. For example, Hydracire is described as a 100% vegetal active texture agent and is based on a hydrophilised complex of jojoba, mimosa and sunflower waxes. In o/w or w/o skin care emulsions it is specifically recommended to improve sensorial properties and stability.

“Some of the new materials really are quite easy to use, compared with blending your own,” says Beerling. She points particularly to S.Black, who has recently brought out some of its own materials; Sinerga, who has some good materials for instant emulsion; and Dr Straetmans who has considerable experience in this area. Symbio muls GC, for example, is part of Dr Straetmans’ Dermorganics product line. It is an emulsifier blend that contains only Ecocert listed materials and imparts basic preservation, and a polar oil component, Dermofeel sensolv, which has a non-greasy skin feel and is said to be an excellent solvent for colour cosmetics and sun care products.

Preservation is certainly an issue. “Very few preservatives are permitted and of those one is a named allergen and all present difficulties through lack of preservative efficacy,” says Woodruff. “By using hurdle technology and certain fatty acids and fatty acid esters or caprylyl glycol and phenoxyethanol it is possible to adequately preserve a product, although why these ingredients should be permitted instead of parabens is an emotional decision rather than a scientific one.”

According to Petersen, if organic means cosmetic with organic contents: “Preservation is a problem in specific areas or at above pH 6.5, very much depending on application.” But again if organic means an organic requirement Petersen says preservation is almost impossible.


So how important is it for ingredients and products to actually carry the endorsement of a certification standard?

For ingredients, “if a supplier is only working with the big multinationals they can probably afford not to but the average formulator doesn’t have time to be ploughing through every possibility,” says Beerling. “Big multinationals may feel organic is not something they need to do but they must be watching developments as much as anybody else.” In fact at Organic Monitor’s recent Sustainable Cosmetic Summit about half the delegates were non-core organic. Beyond Beauty’s recent Natural Beauty Summit also saw a lot of “representatives of the so-called ‘conventional’ industry,” according to organiser David Bondi.

Some suppliers are embracing standards wholeheartedly. Cognis for instance has taken the approach of going for everything and is investing heavily in green chemistry. “This is the easiest thing for a formulator,” says Beerling. Croda on the other hand has gone for Ecocert on its botanicals but not on other ingredients. “I think that’s a mistake as they’re missing out on the emerging natural trend. If somebody is just starting out and they have to check every single ingredient they just don’t have the time. It’s a big marketing tool for suppliers.” But of course certification doesn’t come cheap and some suppliers point out that it’s simply too expensive to have too many standards.

Consultant and formulator Barbara Olioso (OrgaNatural) agrees that the supplier’s choice depends on its market. “if you are a supplier aiming at the natural market it’s nice to be able to provide an organic choice. I like to use organic ingredients when it fits in the product and to support a green way of farming, but it has to be at a competitive price.”

For manufacturers of finished products starting out in this area, “it’s tough to convince people you’re truly organic if you don’t have a stamp,” says Beerling. “But if you’re more established and you build the brand the rest is secondary. It really depends how you get the credentials. But it’s a rolling thing – the more people who get certification the more people will expect it and you might miss out on the wave and possibly look as though you have something to hide.”

But what standard to go for? The choice is huge, as are the differences between them with each certification body developing their own guidelines. An online poll last month by raw materials supplier Cornelius noted Ecocert as the most used and it is probably the best recognised from a global point of view. However the new European Cosmos standard (developed by a European group of certifiers including Ecocert, Soil Association, Cosmébio and BDIH) was finally agreed earlier this year and products carrying the Cosmos label should in theory appear on shelf in January 2010, though producers will have five years to reformulate if they want to comply. But a number of criticisms are still being levelled at this standard and a lot of issues remain unresolved.

Some raw material suppliers have already achieved Cosmos for certain of their ingredients and others plan to if that is what the market wants. The market however appears uncertain about exactly what it wants or needs.

The aim of Cosmos is to provide a clear, harmonised European-wide label, but another European standard, NaTrue, began certifying products at the beginning of this year. It is also already working on a mutual recognition agreement with the Natural Products Association (NPA) in the US, though there are of course a variety of standard options in the US just as there are in Europe and the rest of the world.

“You kind of pays your money and takes your choice as to which works best for you,” says Beerling. “You need to do a systematic evaluation of each part of your formulation; ie ‘does it meet...?’.”

And Korres ceo, George Korres suggested at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit: “It is important to choose just one certification programme and run with it, as this will eventually help towards the formation of a more cohesive movement.”


But Olioso sees a slightly different picture. “In terms of finished product, even if a market report says certification does matter, I believe the future is in natural and sustainable and at present I do not see a certification that holds this vision.”

“Surfactants and emulsifiers based on sugar and palm oil chemistry appear to be tolerated by various certification bodies but they are very limited in what they can impart to a product, although in certain formulations they can and do work well,” says Woodruff. “However where is the morality in using foodstuffs for personal care or supporting the palm oil industry, which has caused such devastation in the east. It is no good claiming ‘our palm oil is from a sustainable source’ if it means unsustainable supplies are used by others.”

Sustainability, along with fair trade and local sourcing, is an increasingly important part of the story. But as Petersen points out: “It is hard to establish standards to select suitable raw materials for natural and organic cosmetics, and it will be even harder to set standards for the additional requirements. The discussion about the implementation of the green chemistry approach into the Cosmos standards can be taken as an example. It is almost impossible to define criteria that can be evaluated by a simple pass/fail procedure. Take the yield requirement (Cosmos standard 6.1.4, page 7) as an example: what if you have a process that makes a valuable raw material from waste material, but the yield of this process is only 45%? The remaining 55% is still waste, but if waste has been the starting material I would consider such a process a big success.”

Market research group Euromonitor says: “One problem with the Cosmos standard (and indeed other organic certification labels) is that it addresses just one part of how green a product really is. Cosmetics and toiletries with a high organic content could still have their ingredients sourced in a way that is non-sustainable and destructive to the environment, and in many respects this is just as important to green consumers when they choose a product for its natural content.”

And ultimately it’s what consumers want that will dictate how successful any initiative can be. Consumers today are both more informed and misinformed, but however justified the foundation there is a genuine concern about chemicals in cosmetics and toiletries. An Organic Monitor survey on a sample of 89 people found that 54% considered it very important and 35% important to avoid synthetic chemicals; a huge number of people still believe that natural is always best. At the same time people want products that perform and the C&T industry is ultimately expected to provide them.

“I have reason to believe that the current state of confusion may turn some consumers away,” said Stephen Johnson, sustainable development manager for Boots at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. “And once you’ve lost consumer confidence it is very difficult to win them back.” Johnson is in favour of certification but believes there is still much work to be done. “The world of one standard would make my life so much easier, but we are still a very long way from achieving that goal.”


Planned to be in use by January 2010

Natural certification

l No organic requirement

l Synthetic preservatives allowed

Organic certification

l 95% of the physically processed ingredients must be certified organic

l Minimum 20% organic content

l At least 30% of the chemically processed agro ingredients must be organic within three years of introduction of the standard

l Green chemical processes must be used

Source: Organic Monitor


Already in use

l Natural Cosmetics* No organic content required. Minimum levels of natural content and max level of nearly natural materials are specified by product type

l Natural Cosmetics with organic ingredients** Must also contain a minimum 15% of chemically unmodified natural substances and a maximum of 15% of nearly natural substances. A minimum of 70% of the natural substances of plant and animal origin must come from controlled organic farming and/or from controlled wild collection

l Organic Cosmetics*** Must also contain a minimum 20% of chemically unmodified natural substances and a maximum 15% of nearly natural substances. A minimum of 95% of the natural substances of plant and animal origin must come from controlled organic farming and/or from controlled wild collection

Source: Organic Monitor

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