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Today, hair care formulators aiming to formulate for the natural market are in a quandary as the performance of modern products is driven more and more by the use of innovative new synthetic materials. The bench chemist witnesses the weekly arrival of new iterations as manufacturers graft one functionality onto another to try to outdo the competition. Cosmetic chemists cannot seem to get enough of different silicone copolymers, acrylate cross polymers, quaterniums, polyquaterniums and syndets—and whatever hybrids the organic chemists can create—since high performance is generally imagined to require high-tech ingredients.
However, some formulators march to the beat of a different drummer, guided by a more natural rhythm, so their ingredient choices may be more restricted. Of the raw materials essential for advanced hair formulas, the two major types that are problematic for natural recipes are polymers and surfactants. This is not because they do not exist in nature but because formulators constrain themselves within the boundaries of what is viewed as acceptable in formulas labeled as natural. Regardless of which certifying organization is used to guide formulating choices, performance should not be sacrificed for a natural certification. This dictum from marketing and management holds sway in most companies unless a product line raison d’etre overrides it.
While the industry is not yet at the point where one certifying body has come to the forefront, there seems to be a consensus of do’s and don’ts among them. Lists of acceptable and unacceptable materials are generated based on safety and environmental concerns. In addition, certain chemical and physical processes may be given the imprimatur of that organization in order to display their logo. Under all natural and organic cosmetic standards, the agricultural practices of irradiation for sterilization and the use of sewage sludge fertilizer, or employment of genetically modified organisms, are as universally forbidden as they are with the original farm products. Further, some chemical processes including ethoxylation are universally restricted, while some processes such as hydrogenation and esterification are generally accepted.
Ecocert: Many formulators and raw material suppliers have jumped on the Ecocert bandwagon. This may be because Ecocert led the way initially, thus the volume of materials available to formulators under this certification standard is significantly larger than others. But even when Ecocert-approved cosmetics reach store shelves, many consumers, including those familiar with natural and organic certifications, will scratch their heads and wonder how many of the “chemical-sounding” ingredients listed on the label are natural. To paraphrase another cliché or platitude, natural is in the mind of the beholder. It’s all about perception; consumers are put off by chemical names, and INCI nomenclature does not always help in this respect—in some cases, baffling even chemists about what chemicals are actually contained in the product.
COSMOS: The Cosmetics Organic Standard (COSMOS)1 in Europe arose as a consensus among six national organizations, including Ecocert. This group published a final rule in January 2010 that accommodates different levels of ecotoxicology for different degrees of biodegradability—a fairly rational way to measure relative environmental risk. The greater the aquatic toxicity, up to a maximum, the more completely the compound must biodegrade. Conversely, the lower the toxicity, the less biodegradable the compound must be, within limits. Restricted compounds that persist in the environment, that are not biodegradable, or that are bioaccumulative, i.e., retained in an organism’s tissues, are prohibited.