What convinces you an ingredient provides a benefit?

PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
In another discussion someone asked whether they should include Panthenol in their shampoo formula. I know this ingredient is used in a number of different hair care brands, but I've always just assumed it was for claims purposes.  That's because when I tested formulas with and without the ingredient no one could tell a difference.

This with/without test has always been my gold standard for determining whether an ingredient was effective or just a claims ingredient.  Results from lab tests, supplier data, other literature or theoretical notions guide whether to investigate a material.  However, if I put something in a formula and consumers don't notice any difference, I conclude that it doesn't provide a benefit.

Am I too skeptical?

What convinces you that an ingredient provides a benefit? For example, what convinces you that Aloe has any significant benefit in a formula beyond making claims?


  • definitely consumer perception via mother in law tests or monadic brief consumer use test with at least twenty people.Hair Care- salon for openers using half head studies followed by follow-up with patrons as per their perception.You have to expand from there into more sophisticated consumer testing which I think you all know.I am an open-minded skeptic and although in--vitro studies show panthenol penetrates hair shaft--absorbs water and swells to provide body, I haven't proven this as per the above.
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    Aloe? We have had consumers using our aloe cream on burns with real results, so we're in no doubt. Mind you, we use 100% concentration.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • johnbjohnb Member, Professional Chemist
    edited May 2017
    I have become very cynical in my old age about the vast majority of "ingredients" that are included in cosmetic products.

    That may be partially that I have more recently become involved with the formulation of topical small molecule pharmaceuticals where it is necessary to provide evidence (first to the company regulators then to the authorities) that any component of the product has a function. Stuffing a product with anything and everything that comes to hand, as some cosmetics seem to do, is just unacceptable.

    So what convinces me an ingredient in a cosmetic provides a benefit is evidence. This may be science based or practical based - provided an effect can be demonstrated. In the case of panthenol, as has been said, it penetrates hair shaft--absorbs water and swells to provide body but this effect is very difficult to observe so I would not include it in a shampoo. On the other hand, panthenol has a demonstrable conditioning, moisturising and softening effect in leave-on (or is that leave-in :) ) skin care products - especially suitable for a baby's bottom.

    I have particular difficulties all round with shampoo products which are claimed to provide numerous benefits. The function of a shampoo is, as far as I'm concerned, to clean the hair. At a stretch, I accept it might condition the hair as well. What I can't get my head round is the (sometimes wild) claims that a shampoo has almost magical properties of treating any/all malfunctions of the scalp (e.g dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis). Shampoos are rinse-off and only in contact with the hair or scalp for a very short time after which almost all of any "active" ingredient is flushed down the drain and lost. Wouldn't it be better to have shampoos return to their correct use and to have leave-on (leave-in :) ) scalp treatments as a separate product? OK, using a scalp treatment in addition to a shampoo and/or conditioner is extra effort but, if you are a sufferer of any disfiguring/discomforting scalp condition, you would be happy to put up with that and to know that some good may be being done and you haven't poured most of the active material straight into the sewer.
  • For skin care the time frame by which you allow user's to 'notice a difference' should be vastly different than the more immediate determinations made with hair care products. 

    Two facial products I currently use nightly (one containing a significant amount of azelaic acid / the other with small amounts of hydroxypinacolone retinoate and retinol) have made unbelievable changes in the appearance of my skin. However it took almost 60 days of once daily use before I could definitively say there was a difference and another 120 days to confirm in my mind that the changes were lasting and not attributable to other factors. 
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    Obviously, testing is the only true indicator of whether an ingredient is effective or not, but proper testing can be very expensive and time-consuming.  Unless you are the manufacturer of ingredients, it really is not to the benefit of most cosmetic brands to test the effectiveness of an individual ingredient.    

    For ingredients like Panthenol or Aloe Vera, which are widely used in cosmetic formulations, and are perceived by consumers as being effective, there really isn't much point in conducting studies as a cosmetics brand to prove whether there is a measurable benefit or not.  Those perceptions are already baked into the consumer consciousness through decades of marketing by other brands and/or ingredients manufacturers.  So, proven effective or added in for label claims, I rely on previous research and consumer perception.

    As there are many ingredients in cosmetic products there could also be a synergistic effect between the various ingredients so, unless you have an unlimited budget, as a cosmetics formulator focusing on the effectiveness of any one ingredient, unless it is a proprietary ingredient, seems to be rather futile.  I think it a better use of resources to focus on testing the effectiveness and perceived consumer benefit of the entire formulation.

    The "effectiveness" of cosmetics products are as much a consumer perception issue as a scientific issue.  We're all in competition with other brands that use label claim ingredients, so I have no issue with using certain ingredients that may not be rigorously scientifically-proven as the cost-benefit of doing so is beyond my objectives.  Hence, I rely on a balance of previous research, if it exists, and consumer/market perception.

    From a pure business perspective ... what's effective is what consumers like, perceive to be effective and what sells ... I really don't think consumers can tell any substantial difference between various cosmetic formulations ... their perceptions can be just as easily influenced by sensorials and fragrance as anything else. 
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • edited August 2017
    I think it's good to have a set of "science folks" who are skeptical about, for example, Tumeric Essential Oil, and other "holistic folks" like Dr. Axe who believe it cures torn knees, depression, and cancer.  I can research it all, and figure it out. There should be some work involved, right?

    When it comes down to it, it's always about the ingredients.  But keep in mind that science tells us that eating actual green leafy veggies is always better than swallowing a vitamin pill -- because there are undiscovered substances in the actual plant.   
  • I assume the question should be asked "what is a benefit?"  Is the benefit suppose to be emotional or physical?

    If you are asking for scientific proof or data this will be very hard to come by for most things that are suppose to be benefit...

    The with and without testing is on a physical level.

    Most people just want the knowledge they are at doing the bare minimum using something that is suppose to be good for them.  This is an emotional level.

    Whether or not it ACTUALLY cures or corrects a concern is another story.
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