Formulating cosmetics during the climate age change

Formulating cosmetics during the climate age change

This year’s formulation summit was focused on the age of climate change, a topic at the heart of sustainability, showing us ways that the industry must go to meet the demands for change that the climate change crisis engenders.

Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, there was plenty of creativity evidenced amongst the brands, and inspiration on how we can tackle the complexity behind sustainability and how it can relate to the brand ethos, personality and resources.

Mintel, consumers in the climate change age

Mintel‘s Andrew McDougall shared with us details on consumer’s concerns, desires and expectations. David Attenborough’s documentaries have sunk into consumers’ minds and hearts, and sharpened a concern about the environment, the destruction of the rain forest and water scarcity and have built a stronger belief that eco-friendly packaging is important. They expect the brands to do something about the environment, and have clear goals, transparency and above all honesty, putting the planet over profit. Sustainability is becoming more mainstream and very much associated with the challenge of deforestation, which is linked with palm oil and palm kernel oil production.

Consumers want clear substantiation about an ingredient’s performance as well as the environmental claims made about it, as they not only wish to contribute to change but want some evidence that their choice and actions are having an effect.  In the age of online communication, dishonesty is not a good long-term policy as – sooner or later – it gets caught out; therefore, brands need to be aware of not making claims lightly.

Despite the desires and concerns consumers have, there are two main hurdles that are faced. One is the confusion about the meaning of sustainability practises, such as recycling, using less plastic, the degree of harmful chemicals involved, the protection of natural resources, Carbon neutrality, the making products locally, and so on. How do they know what these claims really mean and whether they are authentic? This could be an opportunity for education and engagement.

The second hurdle is the inevitable higher cost of eco-friendly products.

Natura, sustainability is about the Amazonian forest

Iguatemi Costa started his talk by sharing Natura’s statement, expounding their belief and vision based on being in harmony with yourself and with other people. In Brazil, the problem of high Carbon emissions is concretely experienced with the loss of rain forest. Therefore, Natura launched its own Carbon Neutral program back in 2007, to measure, reduce and offset its own carbon emissions.

Since then Natura has been monitoring itself carbon-wise. However, Natura has not just been focusing on reducing carbon emissions to help the Amazon forest, but also on projects related to reforestation, developing palm agroforests and cropping responsibly effective forest crops such as Patuua oil. These initiatives could provide innovative farming and business models in other forests and countries around the world.

Weleda, sustainability pioneer since 1921

Jayn Sterland challenged us with a tough question: do we have the courage to change, and to meet the COP26 climate targets and find environmental solutions? Weleda is showing its effort and commitment to the SDGs with its transparent corporate annual report and its development of over fifty ethical partnerships all over the world. A nice example of these partnerships is the project in the Argentinian desert, where the Jojoba tree is cultivated, and the local community is thriving as a result of the cultivation project.

Jayn also explained that, even if transparency is expected, the reality is not simply black and white, and as with social media, transparency can be a double edge sword. This is where certifications can help, by providing credibility from a third party without disclosing too much business-sensitive information to the consumers. For example, Weleda uses the UEBT certification Sourcing with Respect, to ensure that biodiversity and fair wages are in place for the Jojoba oil supply chain, as well as the Natrue cosmetic certification to prove that its products are 100% natural.

Apivita, sustainable beekeeping and much more

Kostantinos Gardikis shared many of the sustainability initiatives done at Apivita. The name Apivita comes from the bees, and the fact that bees are extremely important for us and the environment. They have developed a sustainable beekeeping system, where only essential oils and plants are used to look after them.

Apivita is also involved in a European biodiversity project to grow ethnic herbs and uses epigenetic analysis to develop effective polyphenols actives from grape waste from wine production. Kostantinos himself is also working with encapsulation techniques to increase efficacy of actives to reduce waste. They are also participating to the MariSurf European project to develop surfactants and emulsifiers from marine bacteria.

Apivita has its own clean formulation charter, based on the four pillars of Safety, Naturalness, Performance and Sustainability.

Packaging wise Apivita has been using a recycled PET, equivalent to 1.7 million 1.5 litre plastic bottles, and has been using FSC certified paper.

Apivita is also BCorp certified and uses the Breeam tool to measure the sustainability performance of its buildings and communities.

Neal’s Yard Remedies, serious about carbon and water

Louise Green and Susan Curtis from Neal’s Yard shared the efforts of their company to reduce carbon emissions and water consumption. In 2008 they became the first UK retailer to be certified Carbon Neutral.  Their key impact areas are from their premises (53%), staff commuting (23%) and third-party deliveries (21%).

In view of reducing their carbon emissions, Neal’s Yard have recently doubled their solar panel area (to 700 square meters) and have put most of their stores on renewable energy. Given their 2010 baseline, they are aiming to reduce their carbon emissions by 87% by 2050.  This will also be achieved by reducing energy use by using cold processing or low heat manufacturing wherever possible, and favouring crop processing at source, for example with essential oils production.

Water-wise, they have installed aerated taps in their premises, to reduce water use, and have been avoiding utilising water-intensive crops. Even rinse-off products are formulated to require less water.

Neal’s Yard also involves its customers in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and water use by sharing data that shows that most energy consumption for a body wash comes from the final use in the shower. They encourage customers to use cooler water, switch the tap off when washing their teeth, and give the customer clear information on how to recycle packaging (which has already been designed for recyclability).

Unifarco, formulating ocean-friendly suncare

Laura Busata, Unifarco, has done extensive literature research on the impact of UV filters on the environment.  She found that the estimated amount of sunscreen lotion released into the coral reef area alone, is an astounding 6000-14000 tonnes per year. Sunscreen chemicals have also been detected in several parts of the world and have been found in jellyfish, which shows their persistent nature, bioaccumulation and their potential to enter the food supply chain. Several chemical UV filters (EHMC and Oxibenzone, 4-MBC) have been found to cause coral bleaching, even at levels of parts per million; Benzophenons can also cause injury to corals at ppb.

Mineral filters also have their environmental challenges, like uncoated Titanium dioxide which produces Hydrogen peroxide and Zinc oxide, which also have deleterious impacts on corals.

Despite the grim findings, the solution is not to avoid using sun protection, rather it is to acknowledge the problem and use eco-design tools when formulating sun care products.

BASF ecosun pass is one of the tools available to facilitate the complex ingredients selection.  It takes into account several environmental parameters such as biodegradability, aquatic toxicity, bioaccumulation etc. This is the best that the industry that can do for the time being, while new ecologically benign sunscreens are being developed.

Keracol, transforming food waste into innovative cosmetics

Meryem Benhoud gave us really interesting figures behind food production: one third (1.38 billion tonnes) gets wasted each year, and itself is responsible for 8% of greenhouse emissions (Source FAO). This led Keracol to find a food waste biomass that could be used as a starting raw material in the production of high value (and performance) actives, that would also cover processing costs. The selection criteria for the biomass was for it to be available in large quantity, inedible, unavoidable and not contaminated with different plant material, which simplifies its chemical characteristics and processing.

The biomass that met all these criteria was the blackcurrant skin from the Ribena production, which is rich in powerful and colourful antioxidant anthocyanins. Anthocyanins happen to have affinity for hair, so the Keracol extract has been used in a hair serum to quench the yellow tones of decolourised hair, thanks to its violet colour. After this successful project, the Keracol research team is now working with Scottish and English seaweeds to find another hidden treasure from a sustainable biomass.

Green chemistry, we can do it

Kevin Gallagher introduced us to the principles behind green chemistry, such as using renewable feedstock, and designing safer chemicals that can also degrade easily.  Today green chemistry can provide the cosmetic industry with all sorts of green alternative ingredients to silicones (cyclopentasiloxane), parabens, non-biodegradable cationics, non-renewable aroma chemicals, non-biodegradable aroma fixatives, and harsh surfactants.

Palm and PEG free surfactants obtained via biotechnology or fermentation, for example, sophorolipids, could also become the way of the future, as they also require less energy and are also Pro 65 friendly.

Who knows what will happen with Chemistry in the future, it may be replaced altogether by yeast and bacteria fermentation?

Microalgae, a green powerhouse of actives

Claudio Fuentes from Swansea University, introduced us to microalgae, explaining why they have a big role to play in the future as efficient sustainable solutions.

Microalgae are tiny but powerful: they are the basis of the food supply chain in the sea and also absorb 50% of total CO2 emissions. They can be grown in closed vertical reactors that use a small space, or very little land. They can produce more oil than terrestrial plants, with their 20-50% oil content. They grow quickly and they consume plenty of CO2. They can be used to produce high-value natural components, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, polysaccharides, proteins, peptides and carotenoids. All of these substances have application in the cosmetic industry, and even in pharma, as some of them are antiviral and anticancer in nature.

Packaging  strategies

Paul Day, a packaging specialist, guided us through the realm of packaging and how it is evolving in the current climate change age. Consumers are changing the way they interact with packaging, they are more willing to use refills and to recycle containers, creating the need for clear and simple instructions to make it easy for them to recycle. Retailers can also provide a point of collection for cosmetic packaging waste, either in stores or via delivery vans or post services.

There are many plastic materials being used at the moment, as well as many different packaging formats. Using less materials and simpler designs would facilitate recycling, making its processing less complicated and less expensive.  At present the cost of PCR plastic is higher than virgin plastic.

PCR plastic requires a monitoring quality and a setting of specification in order to achieve the consistency needed for cosmetic applications, and therefore closing the loop on plastic.

Paul mentioned the Plastic Neutral initiative by the Plastic Collective, a scheme based on the same principles and process of the Carbon Neutral initiative (measure, reduce and offset).

Applied DNA Sciences; DNA does not lie!

How do we know if an ingredient really comes from sustainable sources? Dr Barbara Brockway’s answer is through DNA tagging, which can be used in combination with Blockchain for a fully secure auditable trail.


It is really impressive to find out that some brands have been acting on sustainability for over 10 years and that now they are reaching a point where they are sharing their efforts with the rest of the industry and even with consumers. However, there are still many challenges ahead, such as the higher cost of ingredients, the way brands communicate about these initiatives (ensuring it is in a simple and authentic way), as well as issues such as packaging materials, effective and efficient design and the provision of infrastructure to allow more efficient recycling. Technology and science are essential to resolving these challenges and navigating the complex sustainability journey: we need more consideration of green chemistry, microalgae production, biotechnology, upcycled ingredients, eco-design and LCA tools, blockchain, DNA tags and much more.

This is also reflected in the demands of higher complexity that formulators face today when it comes to ingredient selection; for this reason I have written a handbook to assist the selection of multi-functionals ingredients to build a safe and effective cosmetic preservative system.

Has this sparked your imagination? Take a look at our exhibitor demos from the Formulation Summit.

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Dr Barbara Olioso, MRSC and MSCS, is the founder of the Green Chemist Consultancy, specialising in green cosmetics development for over 20 years. She was behind the launch of the first organic eau de toilette back in 2005 at Primavera, now owned by Espa International. She loves working with new concepts to drive innovation and value to new brands as well as well established brands. She also trains online on organic certifications and cosmetic preservation with multifunctional ingredients. She has been moderating the Sustainability Corner at in-cosmetics Global since 2018

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