The Bad, the Banned, and the Maligned: Formulating with Your Hands Tied

The Bad, the Banned, and the Maligned: Formulating with Your Hands Tied

It’s getting harder to be a cosmetic formulator these days. You need to not only achieve product performance, but you have to use ingredients that are acceptable to your marketers, government regulators, and discerning consumers. That often means avoiding a lot of standard, reliable ingredients. We’ll examine which ones in this article.

Banned by regulators

Some ingredients are banned for use in cosmetics. FDA bans these 10 ingredients (or classes of ingredients) while the EU lists over 1300. The overreaching rule in both regulatory frameworks is that it is illegal to produce unsafe cosmetic products.

Vilified Ingredients

While regulatory agencies ban ingredients for proven health concerns, some sources—such as NGO advocacy groups, natural marketers, and misinformed consumers—call for ingredient bans without supporting science. So even if an ingredient is safe to use, you may be asked to avoid it. Such examples are listed below.

  • Preservatives

Pretty much all formulas need preservatives, but lots of cosmetic marketers want to use the phrase “preservative free.” This puts formulators in a bind. Some of the most effective and reliable preservatives have developed such poor reputations that many formulators just avoid them.

  • Surfactants

Surfactants are the most widely used functional ingredients in cosmetics but some of them have developed poor reputations, like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

  • Conditioning Ingredients

Some the best conditioning ingredients are from the petroleum industry, leading to a bad reputation, such as Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, and Propylene Glycol.

  • Talc

Talc (hydrous magnesium silicate) is a powdered ingredient that was linked to ovarian cancer in a study published during the 1990s. The most recent talc data demonstrated that talc is safe when used as directed. However, science doesn’t always matter in marketing.

  • Fragrances

Cosmetics without fragrance just don’t sell as well. Unfortunately, some groups have convinced consumers all fragrances are awful.

  • Color pigments

Some groups have declared that artificial colorants are carcinogenic, though this claim is not supported by science.

On the contrary, colorants are the most highly regulated ingredients in cosmetics. Each batch of colorant must be approved by FDA prior to use. Any color additive that is found to cause cancer in animals (or humans) may not be used in cosmetics.

Learn more about working with regulated materials and some alternatives to try in the Prospector Knowledge Center.

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