Chemical Reaction: Looking Back on 10 Years

“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” —Enrique Jardiel Poncela

August 1998. The price of a gallon of gasoline was $1.50 in today’s dollars. Roger Maris still held the single season home run record, which would fall to Mark McGwire on September 8. The Euro, REACH and Katrina where years into the future. In GCI magazine, the first “Chemical Reaction” was published. Well, not exactly.

GCI magazine was then DCI (Drug & Cosmetic Industry). The magazine was owned by Advanstar, not Allured, and the column was called “Kosmetikos,” a perhaps slightly too clever name replaced in January 2001. The introduction of this column was made possible by the retirement of Robert Goldemberg. To loosely paraphrase Brahms: “It is no joke to write a symphony after Beethoven.”

Bob had written a column titled “Compounder’s Corner” for 23 years. He was part of a great generation of chemists that included the likes of Henry Maso, Marty Rieger, Charlie Fox, Bernie Idson and Graham Barker. They and their colleagues took cosmetics from the kitchen to the lab and made it a science. They taught and wrote and spoke at meetings. Bob had a very successful consulting company and was a co-founder of what evolved into the SCC continuing education program.

Two people were instrumental in the birth of “Chemical Reaction.” Peter Dichter, who wrote a marketing piece called “Peter’s Principles,” knew of the opportunity created by Bob’s retirement and arranged an interview with Nancy Jeffries, then the editor of DCI and now a contributing editor for GCI magazine. I already had a few publications under my belt, including one for DCI. That plus teaching at Fairleigh Dickinson University and being former chairman of the NYSCC, probably enhanced what in urban vernacular is referred to as my “street cred.” Nancy gave me a chance to write a three-column trial, and no one told me to stop.

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.

One certainty is that it will bring situations that are unexpected and challenging. Another is that GCI magazine will continue to be your trusted guide to an industry that keeps us all clean, youthful-looking and smelling good.

Thanks to everyone at Allured for their constant support and to all the readers who have said kind words about “Chemical Reaction” through the years. They are always in my mind as I write.

Steve Herman is the technical sales director for J&E Sozio. He has been an adjunct professor in the Fairleigh Dickinson University Masters in Cosmetic Science program since 1993, teaching Cosmetic Formulation Lab and Perfumery. His book, Fragrance Applications: A Survival Guide, was published by Allured Publishing Corp., Carol Stream, IL, in 2001. He has served as chairman of the SCC’s New York chapter, and was elected to fellow status in 2002.

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