Strategies for formulating green products

Previously, we talked about how sustainability will effect the formulating efforts of cosmetic chemists. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the different formulation strategies you might use to implement the sustainability principles.

Cosmetic Green Washing

Since there are no set standards, one of the easiest ways to appeal to consumers who care about sustainability is to practice green washing.  This involves adding non-functional ingredients with natural sounding names to your formula that look good to nave consumers and can support a natural story told by your marketing group. For some consumers just adding words like ‘Natural’ or ‘Organic’ on your label is enough to convince them your product appeals to their sustainability notions. Companies can even make aerosol products sound sustainable with the right green washing story. Many companies take this route because it is the least expensive and relatively effective on consumers.

Minimalist formulation.

While the green washing technique can be effective, as a scientist and formulator you’ll likely find the strategy less-than satisfying. A better approach is to incorporate the principles of sustainability into your formulation efforts. To do this I recommend a minimalist formulation approach.

The guiding philosophy of minimalist formulating is that less is better. This means while formulating you should strive to use
+fewer ingredients
+lower levels
So instead of ending up with an ingredient list that has two dozen ingredients you should try to get one that has less than a dozen.

Using fewer ingredients in your formulas has the benefit of reducing inventory storage, reducing transportation energy, and reducing formula costs. It also may reduce the overall chemical exposure of consumers to potentially sensitizing ingredients making them safer for more people.

Formula optimization.

The key to implementing a minimalist approach is to optimize your formulas. You should be constantly scrutinizing which ingredients you put in your formulas and finding exactly how much you need. This means testing them out at different levels until you find the best performance at the lowest level.

Knockout formulas.

One of the simplest ways to begin optimizing is to conduct a knock-out experiment. In biochemistry there is the notion of knock-out mice where they remove a gene and see how it affects the animal as inspiration for the name of this experiment. In a knockout formulation experiment you make a series of batches in which you completely leave out one ingredient then test to see how it effects the formula. Many of these batches will be completely worthless but some of them will perform just as well without the ingredient. And if the formula works without an ingredient, there is no good reason to leave the ingredient in the formula.

One of the problems with knockout experiments is that it doesn’t do much good showing you synergistic effects of raw materials. A more sophisticated version of this experiment is to run a formula through a DOE. DOE also involves creating a series of batches and adjusting the levels of ingredients to determine the effects on the formula. It’s just much more complicated, can require many more batches and doesn’t always give you much more useful information than a simple knock-out experiment.

Synergistic ingredients.

In addition to optimizing your formulas, another important strategy in minimalist formulation is to look for synergistic ingredients. These are ingredients that interact with each other to create even greater beneficial effects. The problem of course, is that these are difficult to find. In fact, if you do find some unique synergistic ingredients, you’ll have the basis for a patent. This is an added bonus of a minimalist approach.

The job of the formulator is changing.

You can no longer focus on just the end performance of a product and you have to take in consideration notions of sustainability. Following a minimalist approach and looking for synergistic ingredients are two primary strategies for creating sustainable formulas.

Chemists Corner

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