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Cosmetics Ingredients
The material selection platform
Cosmetics Ingredients

Sustainable Cosmetics: Going Beyond the "Natural" Trend

Rebecca Narewski – Nov 29, 2018

TAGS:  Natural/ Organic     Bio-based Cosmetic Ingredients   

Sustainable Sourcing/Circular Economy in Cosmetics Sustainability has become key in many industries and activities such as:

  • Health
  • Food
  • Textile, and
  • Whole beauty sector, including the fields of cosmetics

Cosmetics are highly relying on natural resources and richness of biodiversity. Sustainability is now at the core-center of the resilience of the industry.

The consciousness of the scarcity of resources has created a shift in the way the whole value chain is being considered.

These two issues - sourcing ingredients responsibly and considering the end-of-life aspect – are not only a growing trend within the industry but also a growing demand of the end-customer.

Let's understand how we can do this efficiently...

#1. Sourcing Ingredients Responsibly

What if the raw materials, the natural ingredients, disappear? Or lost a part of their properties?

This question has become an actual concern. Let’s have a look at a few major figures and examples, explaining why our (linear) system is not resilient:

 Linear consisting of extracting raw materials    

 Creating formulas and producing products    

 Selling them    

 Creating waste after usage…     

...and establishing a strong dependence on primary natural resources – the latter being renewable or not.

  • In 2012 (most recent figures) - 116 countries were facing a deficit in terms of biocapacity. Their inhabitants have consumed more than their ecosystems can renew in a year. In Europe, North America and North Africa for instance, the ecological footprint is above 150%.
  • Overshoot Day is earlier and earlier - A country’s overshoot day is the date that Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in this country – definition from Global Footprint Network. In 2018, Earth Overshoot Day took place on August 1st, meaning that “in less than eight months, humanity has exhausted Earth's budget for the year”. (source: Global Footprint Network)
Country Overshoot Days - 2018

And a few examples of what our linear system produces, more directly connected to the cosmetic fields:

  • Per year, 32 billion m3 of water is extracted from nature

  • If this pace goes on and at a global scale, beaches won’t have sand anymore within 20 years

  • 3.5 tons of solid soaps are thrown away each year in the hotel industry for instance; waste and negative impacts are numerous throughout the chain:
    • Product waste within the packaging when one cannot reach the full quantity contained in a container
    • Samples creating packaging waste
    • Packaging waste itself
    • Impacts by transportation
    • Water consumption, cotton consumption for the usage-phase.

    Cotton is a major water and pesticides consuming material, with its own stakes enhanced within the textile industry…

  • 30% of produced plastic ends up in the oceans: 80 million tons of plastic packaging is produced worldwide every year. Up to 30% of plastic packaging ends up in nature, untreated. Microplastics that are released into the oceans harm the ecosystem and ultimately find their way into our food chain. Additionally, oil, which is used to make plastic, is also a non-renewable natural resource.

  • Bees face a colony collapse disorder. In France for instance, 30% of bees disappear each year. This situation even got worse during the last four months. The use of pesticides and fungicides weakens and destroys bees’ immune system. And the crisis is escalating. 2015 was the first time in history that keepers lost more bees during the summer than in the winter. If colony collapse disorder continues at the current rate, managed honeybees will disappear by 2035 (source: Colony Collapse Disorder and Its Impact on the Economy – Kimberly Amadeo – September 3rd, 2018). This means bee pollination is endangered by our usage of pesticides and fungicides or more precisely, neonicotinoid class insecticides.

This is an example of the systemic dimension of our business models and the impact of our actions on the value chain. The survival of the current systems is at stake. Our companies, our industries are complex systems in which everything is inter-dependent. This weakens their resistance to systemic risks. Hence the focus on sourcing sustainably.

With the loss of biodiversity, the changes regarding the health and liveliness of soils, the disappearance of bees, it is about time to cherish and take care of the ingredients nature provides for the formulas. This is what led major actors of the industry towards a more virtuous business model and a growing interest for the circular economy.

Growing Interest for the Circular Economy in Cosmetics

Defining Sustainable Sourcing

Sourcing responsibly and circular economy, not only means to avoid harming nature but also, diminishing negative impacts, like:

  • Limiting our waste
  • CO2 emissions
  • Energy consumption...

It also means protecting the environment and natural resources, in order to guarantee the resilience of the organization. To protect the creations and their formulas, for today and future generations.

Numerous examples of the initiatives taken by cosmetic companies are becoming well-known:

  • Protecting bees and especially the most endangered ones, through partnerships with Bee Conservation Associations
  • Protecting natural extracts through creation or partnerships with Conservation Associations as well
  • Regenerating ecosystems: forests, lands, soils, weakened by monoculture, pesticides, fires…

It also means protecting the know-how, with impacts on a multi-dimensional level: Empowering local farmers or producers with the know-how enabling to protect and guarantee the quality of the natural extracts and providing proper social and working conditions in:

  • Environment
  • Fields, and
  • At a social level as well

Additionally, sourcing responsibly can express through a process making the most of the plant. The flower, the leaves, the roots can be used for one single product and/or used as co-products, as food for animals for instance. Or they can be used as a source of energy for the production. All within one production unit, locally, creating a more resilient territory.

This is also the track followed by many new actors, niche brands, brands belonging to the slow cosmetic movement and/or the vegan movement. They carefully choose the components, the area where the components are being produced, the producers, and the extraction process.

The raw actives are enhanced, keeping most of the active molecules of the plants from which they are extracted, in order to provide:

  • A greater purity
  • An absence of synthetic residues, and
  • A better biocompatibility with the ecosystem of the skin

The slow extraction process is put into value as a means to protect the properties of the plants:

  • First cold pressure for vegetal oils
  • Steam distillation for water flowers or leaves
  • Extraction processes that do not “exhaust” the plants but preserve their quality and properties
  • Cold galenic formulation…

Not only for soaps – the most well-known products to benefit from the cold formulation, with the production of so-called native glycerin – but also for skincare products.

These products are made of 100% vegetal formula and enhanced as such.

Meeting a Growing Demand

Cosmetic Product's Must HavesThere is a growing demand for products such as:

  • Responsibly sourced
  • Sustainable
  • Ethical
  • Responsible…

The semantic field is large but focuses on an eco-conceived proposal at all stages.

It all started with health concerns, as in the food industry. During the last decades, the public became more and more allergic, facing trouble with sensitive skin. The end-customer is more and more educated and cautious about:

  • What they ingest and put on their skin
  • What they buy for themselves, the family and the children

The care is even greater for small children.

One can observe a major change:

  • From the past beliefs of a better efficacy of chemical formulas, relying on science and technology – observed in the 90s and beginning of the century, with a somewhat disregard and contempt for brands and products with a focus on natural features

  • To the demand of natural components, up to 100% in a recent research: it was quite interesting and even astonishing to see how clients reacted quite strongly to the percentages of natural ingredients contained in the formulas. The brand studied isn’t a brand focusing on these aspects. The clients are regular ones, not especially aware of the concerns or using sustainable products. A claim of “95% of natural ingredients” made them immediately wonder – and be suspicious – about the remaining 5%

This means the promises of the more ecological brands has created an actual reference in the global landscape of cosmetics. This also means there is a growing demand for more sustainable products without sacrificing efficacy and performance but even with increasing them. And this is what can be found with the production processes mentioned above.

There are a growing and global consciousness of environmental and social impacts of industries among end-customers. And it has actual consequences on the image, the perception, and the choices within the cosmetic field. Consumer insights from converging sources show that everywhere around the globe, more than 90% of consumers declare that they want products, services and retailers sustaining environmental and social matters. May it be in developed or developing countries, for mass-market or luxury brands, customers have growing expectations concerning the environment and social responsibility of brands.

More and more customers are chasing the toxic ingredients in the products they use, thanks to the growing publishing of press-articles. Same goes with the ingredients known as being responsible of environmental disasters, such as palm oil. Meanwhile, more and more companies are chasing the toxic ingredients in their formulas, as scientists discover the negative impacts of some components.

It has to do with responsible sourcing. It also has to do with the global CSR issues, which are becoming a major challenge as well.

#2. Focusing on the End-of-life

In addition to what we have previouslyZero Waste Approach discussed regarding the zero-waste approach of the plant, two main aspects are impacted here:

  • The formula itself, and
  • The packaging

The Formula

We have already covered the concerns on the innocuity of the formula on the skin. Same goes with the innocuity of the formula for the planet. Some surfactants are put into question because of their:

  • Negative impact during their dissolving process
  • Concerns on their biodegradability, and
  • Release of toxic components

Hence, focusing on the usage and end-of-life part of the chain. Another major example is offered by solar products and more globally, sunscreen protection. They are considered responsible of killing juvenile corals, causing colorful corals to bleach and “potentially induce or increase the frequency of mutation in corals by causing damage to their DNA” - NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science; research in Environmental Health Perspectives.

It is considered that 4000 to 6000 tons of solar creams end up into oceans each year, with consequences on corals as well as plankton and marine life. In response, some brands – often organic - position themselves firmly on this dimension and promise with mineral screens.

We saw that plastic waste and residues ending up in the ocean become a major concern. Microbeads are probably one of the major examples of the impacts of the formulas. As problematic as microfibers in the textile industry, microbeads used in facial scrubs, toothpaste, hand sanitizers, and other personal care products are non-degradable. Also, so thin that they are accused of hurting fish, wildlife and may even damaging human health, as they make their way into the food chain via waterways.

Packaging Issues and Formulas

No need to say that the packaging is an additional major issue.

In eco-conception, “waste is a design flaw”.

An eco-conceived packaging is / would be usable forever. Refillable containers imply a particular process in order to guarantee the innocuity of the formulas, the fit with hygiene norms and the efficacy of the product.

In order to get rid of packaging issues and waste, a different galenic form - as compared with the usual one – is chosen by some. In the circular economy, it is called the economy of functionality: the purpose, the function, prevails. Liquid products are being changed into solid ones. Solid shampoo bars are more and more present within the organic and slow cosmetic movement mentioned above, and seen as a potential means to avoid up to 552 million shampoo bottles thrown out annually…

Commercially Available Bio-based Ingredients for Cosmetic Formulations

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