Article by: Perry Romanowski

I saw a story indicating that the shareholders at Avon were going to vote on whether to remove “dangerous chemicals used in their beauty products that have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious diseases.” It made me consider the impact of things like these on cosmetic chemists. CHEMICAL FEAR

Non-science manipulating science

First, I find it silly that a topic like this would even be voted on by shareholders. It is illegal for a company to sell an unsafe product so unless Avon is breaking the law, they are already selling safe products. Why would the shareholders be involved in the decision of whether something is a safe product or not? This is just another attempt by fearmongers who lack the scientific evidence to support their irrational fears to manipulate people. I hope Avon doesn’t capitulate to such nonsense but if they did, they wouldn’t be alone. Johnson and Johnson is reformulating their products due to pressure from chemical fearmongers.

It really is troubling to me that an issue as important as product safety is going to be decided by a democratic vote. In a world where PR agents and people with degrees in English and Communication have as much say in product safety as scientists with PHDs in Toxicology, product safety will undoubtedly suffer.

But I digress.

Benefits to cosmetic formulators

while stories like these are troubling to the scientist in me, for cosmetic chemists, it’s probably a good thing.

How can this be you ask?

Consider the following.

Requires reformulation

When someone arbitrarily rules that a chemical in your formula can no longer be used, you will be required to reformulate. And from a job security standpoint, reformulating products is a benefit to cosmetic chemists. If your company didn’t have to respond to silly reformulation efforts like this, there would be much less need for the number of cosmetic chemists that are in the industry today.

Spur innovation

While reformulation efforts like this are mostly a waste of time, they also force you to consider new ideas that you might have rejected in the past. These new ideas may lead to innovative products that perform as well or better than the current formulations. Sometimes, change can be good even if it is driven by irrationality and unscientific silliness.

Creating standards

Another positive thing about stories like these is that they help to define exactly what constitues safety. In the cosmetic industry, each company gets to decide what they believe is a safe product or not. This can make it difficult for a consumer to know what level of safety that they feel comfortable with. Perhaps if enough companies start doing things like these, the FDA will develop standard test methods that companies have to meet in order to call their products safe. Maybe then fearmongering groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics will disband as they will be unable to use the uncertainty as a fear generating tactic. Unlikely, but possible.

Bringing down big companies

Since reformulation efforts almost always result in a change in performance (typically negative) a decision like this by Avon could open up the market for a smaller company who decides on such matters using science rather than democracy. That would allow them to create superior performing products and may result in them taking a significant share of the market. If you are a cosmetic chemist who wants to start a cosmetic line, a decision like this could allow you to create the superior products which will differentiate you from the larger, more skittish, competition.

While these fearmongering groups continue to annoy me they are not exactly bad for cosmetic formulators. Just remember, don’t fall into the trap of believing the nonsense they spout no matter how much benefit you as a formulator derive. Determinations of product safety should be made by SCIENTISTS not PR groups. And companies that given in to these groups deserve everything that happens to them in the marketplace.

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