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Chemical Reaction: Looking Back on 10 Years

By: Steve Herman
Posted: August 5, 2008, from the August 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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What happened to our industry in the past decade? Ten years ago one could pick up a trade magazine, or any magazine for that matter, and not see the word “green” on the cover. Skin care featured high tech solutions to the problems of aging, and fancy chemical names on the label were enticements. Most treatment products today still rely on peptides and antiglycation and “better than Botox” miracle ingredients, but the buzz in marketing is all green, natural and organic. There is a great consumer demand for products to which these descriptors can be applied, but there are major problems for creating mass distribution: price, supply and functionality.

The biggest problems in organic formulas are the dearth of effective preservatives, emulsifiers and efficient surfactants. Consumers want natural and organic, and they will pay a little more for them—but they won’t pay a lot more and they expect them to perform just as well as conventional products. It isn’t easy.

If any part of our industry has been profoundly changed in the last decade it is fragrance. The perfume business once prided itself on being self-regulating, but that is hardly the situation now. It started with CARB and its VOC rules, hit full stride with the EU allergen list, and is now suffering from profound confusion over green and environmental issues. The fragrance industry started in good faith, establishing RIFM in 1966 to provide safety guidelines, and the result is a laudable record. The problem now is that the rules keep changing, and it is very hard to hit a moving target.

Perfume safety historically concentrated on the skin. The profusion of candles and plug-in air fresheners turned attention to respiratory effects, and RIFM added programs and specialists to address them. The green movement created increased concern about environmental fate. The rise of NGOs such as Green Seal, Greenblue, Ecolabel, ECOCERT, DfE inside EPA have contributed to the shifting ground that the perfume world is attempting to stand on. Hopefully, this year will start the return to sanity for the cosmetic and fragrance world, but it will exist in a new landscape forever changed by the environmental movement.

When Bob Goldemberg started his column, the ink was barely dry on the first edition of the CTFA Dictionary. When he retired, AHAs were the cutting edge of skin renewal. Now we worry about the environment as much as the skin or hair. A wise man would not dare to predict what 10 more years will bring.