Many cosmetic ingredients have come under consumer scrutiny in recent years. It has become incredibly difficult to navigate the wide array of claims of safety with so many ingredients being called into question. In September I will be participating in a broadcast (stay tuned for air dates) discussing natural vs. synthetic ingredients in personal care products. Of course I have said may times not all natural ingredients are the best choice and not all synthetics are the wrong choice when formulating cosmetics. There is, however, an illusion, that natural always means better and synthetic always means worse in the consuming public's collective conscious.
As a formulator I am very aware of the need to balance consumer demand with effective formulas. And yes, even on this blog, my judgement has been called into question on occasion. Every year thousands of cosmetics ingredients are reviewed by the CIR for safety and yet every year more news stories are published about the possible health risks associated with cosmetics.
With the new Autumn season upon us there will be many new products hitting store shelves and again the concern for safety will be present.
A question, ever present for formulators such as myself, is when to replace contentious ingredients with new ones? This is not as simple as it might seem. Mostly due to the fact that the allowed aletrnatives must overcome the hurdle of proving they are more safe through scientfic evaluation. Or more simply - are the alternatives less likey to cause more problems than the already used ingredients (assuming the ingredients cause any health issues at all).
Preservatives are often of great concern for consumers. It is actually impossible to produce a finished cosmetic without some type of preservative unless the formula has been steralized. Steralization, of course, will render all ingredients inert thus making the product ineffective. So the question formulators have to ask is: "which preservative causes the least allergic reaction?" not" which preservative causes no allergic reaction?" because there is a known reaction rate for every known compound. Consumers ask: "which preservative is not toxic?"
And herein lies the crux of the debate. Every single compound, found on earth, is actually poisonious (toxic). At the correct dose even water can be highly toxic to the human body. Take this example: 500 mg (1 tablet) of acetophenamin, taken once per day, is actually safe for the body and effective at reducing pain, however 7000 mg (14 tablets), taken all at once can actually cause death. Dosage level always determines toxicity. More simply - at what concentration does a compound go from effective (for its intended purpose) and become dangerous in general?
Paracelsus stated "All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison. . . " Modern toxicology still operates on this principle (which was established in the 1500's). Anything not produced by the body itself is, by very definition, a forgein and potentially toxic substance. This does not mean that everything not produced by the body will cause harm. Toxicology simply profiles each substance, as well as its use in a finished formula, for the probability of harm. The lower that probability the safer the substance can be deemed. Again there must be a clear differentiation between natural and safe. These are not synonymous just as synthetic and harmful are not synonymous.
Many brands market based on "natural" in a way that implies anything other than this is unsafe - this is just fear based marketing that capitalizes on the consuming public's collective mistrust of synthetic compounds.
I agree with the need for cosmetics to be safe. I disagree with the concept that only natural ingredients are safe. More natural based formulas are, however, what the consuming public wants to buy and the cosmetics industry will adapt to meet this demand. It must or it will lose customers. This process of finding alternative ingredients, which are safe, is both time consuming and costly due to strict development regulations.
The cosmetics industry is innovative, to be sure, and the marketability of more narural ingredients is an easy sell. It will be interesting to see what developments arise from these new consumer demands.