Sustainability should not be defined by its separate factors such as renewable resources, carbon emissions, toxicity to the environment or human health, but it should be considered as the whole. More than a collection of technical challenges, it is a responsible approach that global companies are trying to define and implement in multiple and complementary areas such as corporate social responsibility, manufacturing, product profiling and sourcing.
In personal care, ingredients such as synthetic polymers, silicones, ethoxylated surfactants and preservatives are commonly used, proposing a challenge for raw material manufacturers to create ingredients that are sustainable with equal performance.
The aspect of sustainability that perhaps is most perceivable for the consumer is the emergence of resourceoriented raw materials with a better green profile such as those of vegetable origin rather than animal or petrochemical origin. Although designing such raw materials with a more sustainable profile will be successful in a limited number of cases, a new origin for petrochemical- or animal-derived ingredients (non-renewable origins) is of value, specifically when the ingredient widely is used around the globe. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is an example of a widely used ingredient in the personal care industry. Its frequent use justifies the review and redesign of its production process and petrochemical origin (non-renewable).
Some manufacturers of sustainable personal care products utilize the claim ethylene oxide (EO)-free, which often is associated with sulfate-free products. This claim is challenging for formulators, as it involves the total replacement of EO-based surfactants like SLES. The substitutes must maintain the formulation ease of using SLES (body wash, shampoo) while providing the level of performance expected by the consumer (foam, cleansing, mildness, conditioning). Recent surfactant structures and additives have been created that are free of EO and/or of natural origin, can offer pleasant cleansing, and perform according to the consumer’s needs. When certain raw materials cannot be easily replaced due to their unique properties (i.e., silicones for their silky feel), finding ingredients that make formulations more efficient remains one of the main challenges for formulators.