Top Cosmetic Science Stories of the Decade

This article on Gizmodo about the 10 Science stories that changed our decade made me think about the advances in cosmetic science that have changed our industry.

It’s pretty tough to narrow down but the following cosmetic science topics have certainly had a big impact.

1. Nanotechnology – Nanotechnology has been used in cosmetics since the early 1990s but it was only during the last decade that marketers caught on and started using it to sell products. The technology is promising but questions about safety have led to a backlash that could short circuit widespread use. Nanotechnology is currently used mostly in sunscreens. However, skin lotions, color cosmetics and hair products may all benefit from them in the future.

2. Green formulations. Little has affected cosmetic formulation in the last decade than the Green Movement. Proponents of this philosophy have prompted personal care manufacturers to completely reformulate many products to remove animal derived ingredients, add organic extracts and expunge formulas of any chemical that might sound controversial. Formulas also have to be sustainable and come from fair trade sources. The Sustainable Cosmetics Summit goes through all the things a cosmetic chemist will need to know to formulate “green” in the future.

3. REACH One of the most impactful pieces of regulation that has come to the cosmetic industry, REACH is the EU’s directive to get the chemical industry to prove the safety of their ingredients. This means that formulation chemists everywhere will have to think through the global compatibility of all ingredients. The practical implication is that your raw material suppliers will probably open factories in Europe so they can get around many of the toughest requirements.

4. Alternative preservatives. Parabens and formaldehyde donors were fine in the 90’s but in the last decade, they were some of the most vilified chemicals a cosmetic formulator could use. Raw material suppliers have been trying to come up with alternatives but the truth is, nothing yet matches the current preservatives for efficacy, safety, and cost. Finding alternative preservatives that satisfies the chemically frightened consumers is the Holy Grail.

5. Globalization – It used to be that you could create a formula for your market and if it sold well, you would launch it into other countries. But with new regulations and a more global focus, companies are beginning with a global mindset. In the last decade, formulation chemists had to think about all of the potential markets of their products before anything was launched. This prevented a huge reformulation effort when the company inevitably wanted to launch in new countries. No doubt, this trend will continue.

6. Animal testing alternatives – The last decade saw a huge push to get rid of all animal testing of cosmetics. Consumers don’t like and neither do cosmetic companies. Scientists have worked hard to come up with alternatives but the work isn’t complete and is proving harder than once believed. The EU is due to ban all animal testing by 2013. For the innovative cosmetic formulator, this could become a major challenge.

7. 55% VOCs – It started in the 1990’s but in the last decade, cosmetic companies had to completely revamp most formulas to comply with VOC regulations (Volatile Organic Compounds). The 55% VOC limit set on hairsprays was a significant challenge the radically changed the performance of most products. Since the cosmetic industry is a much easier target than the auto industry, there is no doubt these regulations will continue to make things difficult for formulation chemists. Fortunately, we’re up to the challenge.

8. New Sunscreens – The FDA has yet to issue a final sunscreen monograph but that hasn’t stopped raw material suppliers from working on new ones. Significant strides have been made in the last decade to create UVA blocking sunscreens. The launch of Mexoryl was the first new sunscreen available in decades.

9. Genomics – This is the study of the genetics of an organism and during the last decade, cosmetic companies used information from the Human Genome Project to create new products. Some marketing companies have jumped on the bandwagon and gotten ahead of the science by offering unproven DNA-matched cosmetics. These products are just marketing hype but personal care giant Procter and Gamble have actually used genomics to identify potentially game changing active ingredients for skin.

10. Open Innovation – Innovation was all the rage in the last decade. Perhaps the most interesting new route to innovative cosmetics was the concept of Open Innovation as illustrated by companies like Innocentive and 9 Sigma. These web-based companies provide a way to link up independent inventors with big companies to help launch products. This could be the wave of the future for the cosmetic industry and something that every cosmetic scientist should know about.

What do you think were the top stories in cosmetic science over the last decade? Leave a comment below.

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