In this month’s column I decided to focus on the somewhat cringing “up-cycling” claims gradually attaching themselves to cosmetics these days. Sustainability wokeness gone mad, or is there something more?
The first time I saw the term “up-cycled” cosmetic ingredients, I finally concluded after a lifetime in the cosmetic industry, that its raison d’être is actually to mislead the consumer. Forget the legislation, and forget the skin (hair and nails) is an organ of the body to be kept well and healthy. Madness rules. Common sense now withered to dust. “Up-cycling” a piece of old furniture with colourful paint and a bit of bling-bling is a fine thing to do – you get a nice piece of furniture, the satisfaction that you have achieved something, saved yourself some money, and the knowledge that it is still your old much-loved sideboard. Except of course, that it has had some “makeup” put on it, and maybe some “cosmetic surgery” too. This is not what happens to cosmetic ingredients – at least not in the way marketing, influencers, and cosmetic journalists would have us now believe. The Oxford dictionary definition of up-cycle is “to treat an item that has already been used in such a way that you make something of greater quality or value than the original item”, i.e., “to take something that is old create something new and of higher value than the original”. The sideboard example being a case in point, and we can even use recycled material (waste) to help upcycle it. Yet, what about cosmetic ingredients?
As someone who has enjoyed working in the ingredient sector of the industry during the course of my career, up-cycling of ingredients did not happen in the way today’s cosmetic communicators like to imply. We took, for example, plant material and mashed it up in a variety of solvents and extracted identified chemical entities, studied them for their activity, and ultimately cosmetic application opportunities. The waste material left behind, was then recycled into compost or discarded by other waste management processes. For seeds, the discarded waste material (husks and shells) was ground and recycled into low-value scrubs. The high value chemicals (“actives”) were either purified further or left (as is often the case), in the aqueous or non-aqueous solvents suitable for cosmetic, even food, usage. In a nutshell (pardon the pun), this is not “up-cycling”, and these types of process have been around for eons!
Where it can be argued that ingredients are actually “upcycled”, is in the sector of chemical modification techniques. What I mean by this is where an active ingredient (natural or synthetic), has been chemically or enzymatically modified to produce an entirely new chemical ingredient, or, the same chemical ingredient modified in order to make it more soluble (e.g., phytosphingosine hydrochloride), and of higher value in terms of either the cost to the customer, and/or in terms of actual/additional benefit to the skin (hair, nails). A countless number of cosmetic ingredients already available to the formulator are made this way, and again everyone knows (I hope!), that this nothing new!
The so-called “up-cycled” terminology used nowadays in order to create “newness” stems from the woke madness engulfing what’s left of our collective common sense – all to make a big buck on the so-called “sustainability” gravy train. To remind product developers, brand managers, marketing and influencers, that the claims legislation (EU No 655/2013) demands of us the following:
“In the labelling, making available on the market and advertising of cosmetic products, text, names, trade marks, pictures and figurative or other signs shall NOT be used to IMPLY that these products have characteristics or functions which they do not have.” By implying ingredients and thereby the product(s) are “up-cycled”, when actually they are not, misleads the consumer. Know the real definition of the terms “up-cycled” and “recycled”, and be very careful using these terms. After all the cosmetic industry, at least in my mind, will never likely be truly “sustainable”, and you have (at least here in the EU) 6 criteria to comply with, as well as all the other legislation imposed on us from other interrelating sources. Woking-out your cosmetic claims will sadly see you fall of your bike!
As to bicycling? Well, the glorious Easter sunshine was a treat, and so I took my up-cycled bicycle made from recycled parts to make a bicycle of higher value – at least in terms of achievement, saving money (no petrol), and healthy exercise – and enjoyed a few spring days in the midst of the madness that currently surrounds all of us.
Happy spring, and don’t let the woke rain fall on your product claims – make sure you have an umbrella!