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Controversial Ingredients: One Brand’s Perspective

By: Ada Polla and Anne Pouillot
Posted: November 29, 2011, from the December 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

Building a skin care brand is both exhilarating and challenging. One of the factors that contributes to both feelings, on a very regular basis, is the truism that the only constant is change. As we have worked to build Alchimie Forever over the past six years, we have changed courses a few times along the way. From medical distribution, we shifted course to spa and specialty retail. From independent sales representatives, we shifted to full-time direct sales representatives, before choosing to partner with Universal Companies as our exclusive distributor. The packaging for our men’s line evolved from jars to tubes. And most recently, we decided to reformulate our products to remove two “controversial ingredients”—parabens and propylene glycol. The latter change involved significant internal debate for us, as it has for our industry as a whole in the past few years.

The following is one brand’s perspective on the debate about “controversial” ingredients. We will:

  • provide an overview of why certain ingredients have developed a bad reputation;
  • discuss available scientific data that either supports or refutes such a reputation; and
  • present which, if any, alternative ingredients are available to the industry.

In response to some activist groups perpetuating ingredient myths, we aim to separate fact from fiction, science from the so-called “junk science.”1 And most importantly, perhaps, we highlight two independent, sometimes complementary, reasons to change a product’s formulation: science and commerce.

Let’s start with a look at the most talked-about controversial ingredients.

Preservatives: Formaldehyde Releasers and Parabens

Preservatives inhibit the development of microorganisms in cosmetic products by damaging the internal structures and cellular membranes to produce cell death. They serve to enhance the safety of cosmetic products, enabling products to remain bacteria-free over the long- term (three to five years). The controversy over the use of preservatives stems from the fact that anything that kills microorganisms is potentially toxic to mammalian cells. What needs to be taken into consideration is the concentration of these preservatives, as well as the contact time and point, which are determined to avoid side effects.