At Beauty Heroes, we want to make sure that the ingredients in our products are all good for you as well as safe for the environment. You may not have fully considered it, but ingredients don’t only go on our skin, they wash down the drain, and in many cases enter our ecosystems. When ingredients don’t fully biodegrade, they bio accumulate, and that can have harmful effects on the environment. They might be invisible, but they are impactful.
It’s understandable that a lot of importance has been placed on reducing, recycling and mitigating product packaging. Packaging is visible, measurable and a real, tangible problem. But today we are going beyond packaging and looking at what’s inside the bottle and how invisible bio accumulating ingredients are extremely prevalent in our cosmetics, and what we can do about it. We asked a leading biologist, biochemist and clean beauty formulator Krupa Koestline to walk us through ingredient classes like silicones, acylates, microplastics and other petroleum-based ingredients so we can better understand how to navigate this invisible ingredient concern.
Krupa has a Masters of Science in Biology, A Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and has worked with brands from Neutrogena and Estee Lauder in her early career to now formulating many of the clean beauty products you know and love. There’s a good chance you’ve encountered one of Krupa’s proprietary formulas, from mascara to shampoo, she’s worked on a wide range of formulas, finding clean alternatives to common ingredients used by conventional brands that might have harmful effects on our health and our ecosystems. Krupa is candid and practical, and she’s seen a lot in her career. As a biologist, she takes the full lifecycle of an ingredient into consideration in her formulations, knowing that what goes down the drain lives on in our environment. If you’ve always wondered what happens to the ingredients once they’re washed way, we’ve got the answers for you today.
JJ: What is your background as a cosmetic chemist? How would you describe your approach to cosmetic formulation?
KK: With an educational background in Biotechnology and Genetics, I started my career in the cosmetic industry with Estee Lauder and Neutrogena. Soon after which I decided to switch paths and focus on natural and organic products instead. I grew up in India around Ayurvedic herbs, following a vegetarian diet being mindful of what I was putting in and on my body. My approach to formulation today merges all of that; with a sense of responsibility towards the health of the consumer as well as the environment. I formulate skin, hair, body, sun, baby care as well as sexual wellness products.
JJ: Do you formulate with silicones, acrylates or petroleum-based ingredients? What are the concerns with each of these?
KK: In the lab, I err on the side of caution and avoid questionable ingredients, especially if I can achieve a great product without them. It’s wise to limit exposure to these ingredients, especially due to the lack of research to establish long term safety in use. I avoid using silicones, PEGs and polyquats for this reason. To clarify, most silicones fall in the questionable category because of their environmental persistence and toxicity; while PEGs and Polyquats have more serious health concerns associated with them.
One silicone in particular, Cyclomethicone or D5 has been shown to induce an estrogenic marker which indicates its potential in hormone disruption. Other research showed that in neutral soil, Dimethicone can go through hydrolysis and depolymerization resulting in more cyclic silicones like D5.
Acrylates are a broad category – with some acrylate copolymers not as concerning as some of the methacrylate derivatives. These methacrylate derivatives are mostly used in nail care and are slowly phased out after being categorized as carcinogens by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Historically, because of their large molecular weight, polymers in general are not considered an environmental risk and therefore exempted from evaluation with REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals) in the European Union- which is why there hasn’t been enough research to study their environmental fate or toxicity. The principal concern with some of the cross polymers in this category is the presence of toxic residual monomers, which should be considered by brands that choose to incorporate these ingredients.
JJ: What are some of the most common ingredients we’ll see in products in these 3 categories?
KK: Some common silicones are dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane and dimethiconol. Common acrylates on ingredient lists are acrylate copolymers, styrene acrylates crosspolymer, carbomer, alkyl acrylate cross polymers, ethylmethacrylates. Petrochemical ingredients of concern are PEGs, polyquaternium compounds, and a very common preservative, phenoxyethanol.
JJ: My general impression is that these ingredients are synthetic, and a lot less expensive to formulate with, that is why they are so commonly found in cosmetics. Is this true?
KK: Exactly, yes. Most of these ingredients are commodity items that are much cheaper than their more natural and environmentally friendly counterparts. However, some ingredients, like PEGs, have specific functionality associated with them and are therefore hard to replace without compromising or changing the finished product.
JJ: What needs to change in the beauty industry when it comes to these ingredients to make them less prevalent? More consumer education and less demand for them? More innovation in green chemistry?
KK: Already due to consumer demand, there are many more greener solutions available now compared to a few years ago. However, there is a lack of regulation which leads to a lot of grey areas in the cosmetic sector. At the very least, a standard of proof needs to be established in the industry for brands to substantiate their claims.
JJ: What are some of the ingredients we can look for that are friendlier that can give a similar effect in cosmetics?
KK: Just a few of my go-to ingredients that could be used to replace some of the questionable ingredients, include coconut alkanes, olive oil unsaponifiables, lysolecithin, coco caprylate, brassica campestris/aleurites fordi oil copolymer.