Trends in Organic and Natural Products: A Q&A Session With Barbara Olioso, PhD

C&T: What are some ingredient trends that you are seeing in the organic/natural beauty industry?
Recently, I have been working with a number of food ingredients, which I love—food being a big passion of mine. One of these has been oats. Oats are a mine of cosmetic “gems,” from simple oatmeal to more sophisticated ingredients such as peptides, beta-glucan, avenanthramide, oat oil and even surfactants. These resulting products have different properties but have a common denominator of mildness.

Another key trend I see is natural alternatives to silicone. At in-cosmetics in Barcelona, there were several ingredient launches in this area, which I was really excited to see because they have the potential to upgrade and enhance the sensorial properties of natural and organic cosmetics without the biodegradability issues linked to the synthetic silicones.

C&T: What formulation technology(ies) have revolutionized the organic/natural beauty industry?
This is a tricky question because a revolution is needed in natural and organic cosmetics but not in technology. What is urgently needed is a global definition, and regulation, of natural and organic products and claims. Can natural ingredients that are hydrogenated still be called natural? Can propanediol, which is prolylene glycol derived from fermented corn, be classified as natural? It has a synthetic molecular structure but due to biotechnology, it has a natural origin. Different certification bodies have different views on what is acceptable. Personally, I think that these are not acceptable as naturals, but I am interested to hear what other people in the industry think about this. I will be writing a post about this topic on my Organatural blog.

C&T: What are some challenges encountered when formulating an organic/natural hair care product?
I am working on such a project right now, and I am facing two main challenges—a human one and a technical one. The human challenge is the client and consumer expectations for an instant sensorial gratification, which are unrealistic for a natural product. This is hardly a surprise given the way synthetics are marketed posing as naturals. For example, argan oil is often promoted as the miracle worker, but the silicones that produce the glossy sheen on hair in these products are often not mentioned.

The technical challenge I came across was to find natural conditioning actives that could compete with the mainstream actives. Ultimately, the product had to sell to an audience with these unrealistic expectations, so I had to use a raw material that was not completely natural but gave good conditioning on the hair and had good biodegradability.

C&T: What are some challenges encountered when formulating an organic/natural skin care product?
I think formulating natural and organic cosmetics is a joy because there are so many choices for high-performing natural ingredients. However, if a formulator is working according to a private organic or natural standard, the challenge is to know what ingredients are allowed and can be used in the finished product. It is paramount to research this at the first stage of product development to know what is available. If the ingredient desired is not registered but complies with the standards, the registration procedure can take some time, thus affecting the development time schedule.

Often, one will find themselves doing a balancing act to find the sweet spot between the 'personality’ and look of the natural ingredients, costs involved and consumer expectations. For example, I can be briefed to use certain organic and natural ingredients, but the client might not realize that this results in the product having a strong color, undesired smell or a prohibitive price. A good formulator has to manage client expectations, helping them be realistic about what can be achieved and its cost.

C&T: How do regulation and independent seals affect your formulation of organic/natural products?
They affect my formulation a great deal—thank you for asking me this question. There is legislation that can have devastating effects on natural ingredients.

For example, the European restriction on methyleugenol may result in limiting the use of many beautiful natural ingredients such as rose oils. We are all enchanted by the beauty and smell of roses, and rose absolute is the empress in perfumery. However, at a regulatory level, there are no companies protecting rose oils and providing relevant and significant data due to the high costs involved.

It would be helpful if the organic certification bodies, and even producers, could work together to help protect the use of natural and organic ingredients such as rose and perhaps share the costs. Otherwise, more restrictions will limit the use of useful natural ingredients that are important in delivering effective natural products.

C&T: Are there specific regulatory bodies or seal certification bodies that you trust more or are more recognized in the industry than others?
As a green chemist, I prefer a tailor-made approach to natural and organic that suits the product, the brand and the environment. However, if a product requires a validation of its natural authenticity, the question a formulator should ask is, “Are people familiar with this standard?” The answers vary from country to country. This is another reason to choose a truly harmonized system, so that organic and natural accreditation becomes globally and easily recognized by consumers for ease of export and cosmetic development.

C&T: What are some common mistakes made by formulators when creating an organic/natural product?
I often conduct INCI reviews for clients, and I never stop being surprised by the lack of antioxidants in products that are full of unsaturated vegetable oils. It is a shame that these lovely oils are going to market without good antioxidants. This is a most common mistake, and to me, it is a big one. The last thing a formulator wants is a rancid smell in a natural product. The solution is to find an effective antioxidant that is tested in the finished product.

C&T: What tools or advice can help a formulator who is just entering the organic/natural market segment?
My advice is to be persistent, to take time to keep up with the latest ingredients and launches, and try them out. Some will be good and some will not—it is a question of finding the “gems” that can help to improve formulations significantly.

C&T: As a formulator, are there specific concerns with sourcing natural/organic raw materials that formulators should be aware of?
Yes, it is paramount that you make sure that the ingredients you are going to use are in good supply. Jojoba oil is one example, where supply is an issue. Its price has rocketed in the last few years. This is partially due to crop availability, as well as supply contracts and stockpiling that limit the quantity in the marketplace. It is always wise to do a little research about the raw materials, especially when they are unfamiliar. And try to have a plan B supplier if possible.

C&T: What is on the horizon of organic/natural products?
One worry that I see on the horizon as a result of the increase in demand for naturals is the growing pressure on nature and the environment to supply these needs. How do we reconcile our need for nature with nature’s needs? I believe the answer to this dilemma is to make sure that we balance what is natural and sustainable. Protecting and promoting biodiversity will become even more important as forests are where a lot of interesting and powerful actives are waiting to be found—and the forests are disappearing fast. Nature and wild habitats must be considered more of an asset to protect rather than to exploit.

Another aspect of sustainability is the biodegradability of cosmetic ingredients, and I believe that green chemistry and green technologies will play a major role in the development of new and sustainable natural ingredients that are high performing and have good biodegradability.

Olioso will present The Interactive Natural and Organic Workshop at in-cosmetics Asia 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand, where she will discuss the points above and much more.

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