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Naturals in Europe

By: Marie Alice Dibon
Posted: April 19, 2010, from the April 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 4 of 5

What seems to be happening is that culture didn’t find its way through to the regulatory bodies, where a lot of what has to do with human health is ruled by bureaucrats, former pharma industry employees, chemists, and very few actual naturals and plant experts, but with even less industry people.

The European health agency seems to want to rule naturals the way it does chemicals. But maybe the one way to deal with naturals is to try to not fit a cube in a round box. Maybe the industry needs to look at this situation differently and start thinking of naturals in less narrow terms than their chemical description.

A reason for this is that, for the same product, a chemical description can vary greatly. It depends on the soil where the ingredient grew, the way it was harvested, the geographical location, its sun exposure, and on a myriad of other factors. Time is also a dimension. Much like wine, essential oils’ composition varies with time. “If you want to stay super scientific about this, you have to be irreproachable,” says Anton. “And there’s the rub—it is mission nearly impossible for complex blends.”

So how can new technology, the need for excellence and consumer safety, and the complex, intricate essence of naturals be reconciled? As usual, there is no magic bullet, but there might be an answer—the combination of a focus on technology and modern chemistry, and history and tales. The best strategy might be using technology to make use of the incredible wealth of knowledge accumulated over time by the world’s cultures. Why not go back to these pieces of ancient knowledge, and explore them using the awesome power of modern data processing? And why not explore further, integrating all the sciences at hand, including ecology, botany, skin physiology, biology and more?

Patrice André, head of active ingredients research at LVMH, firmly believes in a truly holistic approach of naturals leading to great science and expertise. He explained how Guerlain has become a leader in the science of orchids with their Orchidarium and shared his own vision of a true scientific, yet non-reductionist, method to explore, understand, research and develop natural active ingredients. “You have to understand where the science of cosmetic actives comes from,” André explains. “It really started with the chemists. Then, biology entered the arena via the exploration of skin physiology. As we explored skin, we focused on bringing it biocompatible ingredients, and that is how skin care science got vegetalized. We really have to be prepared, in the long-term, to offer products based only on the vegetal.”