Sure, people love their department store lip gloss, hair gel, foundation, and mascara. It's one of the things that makes them nervous about switching to natural cosmetics. They want to do their part to make a positive impact on the world, but can't they have killer lashes at the same time?
Natural cosmetics have come a long way since the cottage industries run out of people's back rooms. It's even possible to recreate your favorite brands yourself using natural alternatives for popular cosmetics.
Perry Romanowski is a cosmetic chemist and the brains behind Chemist's Corner, a website devoted to deconstructing popular cosmetic brands so you can make them yourself at a fraction of the store price.
Perry knows a lot about cosmetics. We talked to him about what's great and what's just hype in the cosmetics world, what to look for to replicate your favorite brand, enzymes, and other useful topics.
Chemist's Corner teaches cosmeticians to replicate popular cosmetic products. How might someone analyze a product to create it themselves?
There are two primary ways you can replicate a popular product. You can either try to copy it directly by using the list of ingredients to guess at their formula. Or you can identify the characteristics of the product that you want to duplicate and use ingredients that can mimic those characteristics.
Cosmetic chemists typically prefer the latter approach, but copying a formula using the list of ingredients can be a quicker way to go.
You talk about the dangers of greenwashing. Can you explain greenwashing and the risks it brings?
Greenwashing is a marketing trick that cosmetic companies do to create the illusion that their products are safer, better for you and better for the environment. The reality is that cosmetics and personal care products are safe and the new products that play up the "natural" angle of their manufacture are just tricking consumers. Those "natural" products are no more safe or effective than the "synthetic" products. Greenwashing mostly has the effect of making consumers spend more money on products that are of similar or inferior quality.
There's been some developments regarding the use of enzymes in natural cosmetics, like requiring less use of energy and removing byproducts like odor. What are some of the implications of using enzymes in natural cosmetics?
Enzymes can and likely will have an impact on the types of compounds used in cosmetics in the future. However, enzymes are chemicals and will have to be safety tested too. The EU has made it very difficult to qualify new raw materials because they have banned animal testing, and there are not enough predictive non-animal safety test procedures. We'll see what happens. But enzymes have been around for a long time, and researchers continue to investigate new applications. There just haven't been any big breakthroughs that have replaced standard technologies. At the moment, this technology is more hype than anything.
One of the challenges facing natural cosmetic companies is the lack of preservatives. What are some solutions a cosmetic company can adopt to help their products last longer?
For marketing reasons, natural companies have to avoid effective preservatives like parabens and formaldehyde donors. Many of them use Phenoxyethanol (although this isn't particularly natural), which can be effective. Also, using organic acids like Benzoic acid can be effective. These products must have a low pH for the acid to be effective.
Other things that companies can do is to produce water-free products (anhydrous) which don't typically require preservatives. Companies can also produce under aseptic conditions, use single use packaging or pump packaging, or put an expiration date on their products.
Chemist's Corner runs a natural cosmetics course. What are a few things you cover in your course? How can a company become more successful by investigating natural cosmetic solutions?
In the naturals course, we cover a wide variety of topics like natural standards, natural raw materials, product formulation, testing, and natural cosmetic marketing. We take a serious look at how a company can create functional cosmetic products which can be marketed as "natural." One of the key things that a company has to do in order to succeed in the natural cosmetic world is to find (or define) a natural standard that they can follow. They need to find reasons why their products are functionally superior and avoid fear marketing.
Are there are any particular natural products or brands you particularly recommend, and why?
The natural products that can be looked at as leaders in the industry and who have the best technology are Burts Bees and Aveda. The primary reason is that these companies spend the most money on research and development, and they also meticulously safety test their products to ensure the products are safe and functional while maintaining natural standards. Many smaller natural brands do not do adequate product safety testing and have had to recall their products due to non-functioning or microbial contamination.