How natural are natural cosmetics?

Who does not use them day in, day out? Shower and body care products, creams and lotions, fragrances and make-up. The cosmetic product range from A to Z promises true wonders with its advertising messages, playing on the desire for eternal youth and beauty. Here, natural cosmetics for natural beauty are undoubtedly trendy. But how authentic, how compatible and how low in harmful substances are the products really? Does beauty really come from nature – as consumers expect?

Never before was being well-groomed as important as it is today. This applies to women and increasingly also to men, young and old alike. Even at work, an attractive appearance is seen as a competitive advantage. Tempting advertising statements motivate affluent customers of all ages to invest huge sums into cosmetics and wellness. Only the best seems good enough. There are specific products for each application. From traditional care products up to selected anti-ageing products with health benefits, the beauty business is thriving.

The desire of consumers to use high-quality care products made with natural essences and oils of vegetable origin, valuable balms or even medicinal plant extracts, increases the demand for appropriate ingredients from sustainable organic farming without pesticides. With the lucrative marketing of such products and increasing market volumes, simultaneously the risk of cosmetics fraud increases. Inexpensive raw materials from conventional cultivation in the case of biocosmetics, adulteration and fraud by use of cheap ingredients and inferior substitutes, illegal additives or even prohibited dyes have led to scandals before.

Close-up of a microscope of objectives and microscope slide
© Messe München GmbH
The latest products and services of cosmetics

In the consumers’ interest, the information declared on the packaging must be clearly verifiable. Legislation requires that cosmetic products, when used as intended, must be safe for consumers. Cosmetics must not contain any substances that have allergenic potential or that can cause skin irritation or other health problems. The tolerability and health-related safety of each cosmetic product are defined and confirmed in the context of toxicological safety assessments and tests under the EU Cosmetics Regulation. Legally compliant quality assurance systems ensure fulfilment of high standards. Misleading statements on the packaging of cosmetics and inaccurate indications of certain effects are prohibited.

Quality monitoring at a high level requires efficient analysis with state-of-the-art high-resolution equipment technologies and reliable detection methods, as they are demonstrated at the analytica in Munich. Here, renowned analysts and industry experts present, for example, the latest methods for the differentiation of saturated and aromatic mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOSH and MOAH), which is particularly important for creams and lotions containing lipids and oils. For hair care and anti-wrinkle products, analysis of waxy and water-repellent alkanes is just as important as examination of silicone substitutes with film-forming and antistatic effects is. Certain hydrocarbon mixtures and vaselines hamper natural perspiration and deprive the skin of physiological oils, which can cause dehydration of the skin and thus premature ageing or other skin irritations.

Preservatives, which not unfrequently release formaldehyde, as well as alcohols, fragrances, fillers and additives in a wide variety of cosmetic products can likewise sensitize the skin, cause eye and skin irritation, and even induce permanent allergic or toxic reactions. Therefore, powerful analytical methods that allow highly selective identification of such substances down into the trace amount range are indispensable. Analysis of fungicide and pesticide residues or of packaging materials and plasticizers also contributes significantly to consumer protection. This is also the reason for the success of natural cosmetics products, which are used not only in baby care and in the care of sensitive skin, but increasingly also in the daily care of discerning consumers.

Radiant whiteness of the teeth and under-surface cleansing of the skin or an in-depth effect suggest optimal use and effectiveness of toothpastes, synthetic detergents and tinctures. Targeted syntheses of washing-active substances or special active ingredients allow certain requirement profiles to be derived that take into account the individual needs of consumers. For a long time, the focus was on plastic-based nanoparticles, which, due to their increased surface area, can boost the cleaning power and increase the specificity of the product. Microscopically small plastic particles in peels and toothpastes, however, represent a massive burden on wastewater and water treatment. The problem of “microplastics” with their negative effects on the aquatic ecosystems and their fauna is now everywhere present. The dramatic consequences are still beyond prediction.

In shampoos as well as in other personal care products and creams, alkanols such as propylene glycol are often used as carriers for fragrances and moisturizers for binding liquid, with the goal of maintaining product and skin moisture and facilitating permeation of active ingredients. However, the situation becomes problematic if these substances irritate the sensitive skin and reduce the protective barrier of the skin that keeps out harmful ingredients. Foaming agents such as lauryl sulfates, with their degreasing effect, can dehydrate the skin and irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. Surfactants such as polyethylene glycol are used in many conventional care products because of their property of being active ingredient carriers and their good water solubility.

Certain groups of substances may be used in cosmetic products only if they are expressly authorized, such as dyes and preservatives. Prohibited preservatives and dyes and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel, however, are found again and again in decorative cosmetics. Especially make-up products, including children make-up, can be heavily contaminated with hazardous substances such as the banned carcinogenic and mutagenic preservatives and dyes, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Hair dyes may even contain carcinogenic and toxic aniline and anilide compounds, amines and diamines. Carcinogenic dyes and nitrosamines are found also in lipsticks and eye shadows; green-tinted products are sometimes contaminated with genotoxic chromium(VI).

Today, nanomaterials are found in many everyday products such as cosmetics. In sunscreens, nano-sized pigment particles act as UV filters. However, solar irradiation can indeed cause some substances to decompose into toxic and carcinogenic degradation products, which can damage the skin even more. Mineral-based filters seem to be more stable. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide also reflect and absorb the invisible UV radiation of sunlight. Titanium dioxide has been approved throughout the EU as a UV filter pigment since 2002, also in nanoscale form. In recent years, the EU cosmetics legislature has been intensively revised. Here, the term “nanomaterial” was introduced for the first time in cosmetics legislature.

When it comes to researching new types of active substances and manufacturing biopharmaceuticals and natural cosmetics, isolating and characterizing natural substances and new plant-based derived ingredients and explaining biosyntheses are becoming increasingly important. Researchers are also looking into the use of algae as organisms that can produce active substances for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Next-generation technologies continue to provide new impetus. The objective is to develop previously unimagined therapeutic approaches in dermatology and personalized functional processes in the future.

Natural cosmetics, natural regeneration care, and natural ingredients continue to be trendy and are enjoying increasing popularity. Powerful analytical methods and trendsetting technologies make a decisive contribution to the characterization of natural substances and secondary plant metabolites. Compliance with the standards and high quality levels are ensured by efficient analysis. At the same time, powerful analysis prevents cosmetics fraud. New impulses are given by personalized therapeutic approaches and functional processes.

Trend platform analytica

Learn about trendsetting questions of the cosmetics industry at the international leading trade fair analytica! Gain an overview of the market in your industry and find the right solutions for your issues!

From laboratory equipment through highly specific analytical and bioanalytical methods to automation and evaluation methods – the latest developments are presented by experts in Munich.

Find out about the latest industry trends at the analytica 2018, and learn on-site about the cosmetics laboratory of the future!