Cleaning up cosmetics with ‘Green Chemistry’

The chemical industry developed considerably during the twentieth century, particularly post-World War II, and chemistry is now very much a part of our daily lives. Most of the products we consume or use have at least one stage of production that is linked to the chemical industry. It is futile to imagine a future without chemistry; this form of science is ubiquitous in our modern society.
Not only cosmetics and health care, but also cars, medications, even televisions, smart phones, computers, not to mention ink pens, paints, solar panels, synthetic textiles, and batteries. None of these would exist if great scholars like Boyle, Lavoisier and Gay-Lussac had not established the laws that govern the interactions between atoms, through which we can now transform materials into almost anything.
The use and processes of these chemicals to create materials, products or substances is, however, a hot and negative topic. This is attributed to the rate of disasters involving serious human or ecological consequences.  It is a fact that during its expansion phase, the chemical industry released many substances into the air, water or soil, and this release was uncontrolled. Relatively recently, both the industry and politicians become aware of the extent and effects of this pollution and this has led to the need to change the mode of development of the chemical industry.
Consumers too are increasingly demanding more ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’ products. Today more than ever, thanks to information readily available over the internet, buyers of cosmetics want to know more and more about what is in the products they buy. Where does it come from? And most importantly, has there been any impact on the environment in the production of this product?
In the cosmetics industry terms such as  ‘natural’ and ‘green’ are used as marketing ploys immediately spurring the interest of the readers, but how much of this is true? How much of the product is legitimately ‘natural’?
It was in the early 1990’s, the concept of green chemistry was developed in the United States in order to provide a framework for the prevention of pollution from chemical activities. In 1991, the U.S. Agency for Environmental Protection (U.S. EPA) launched the first initiative of green chemistry research by proposing the following definition:
The objective of green chemistry is: chemical products and methods designed to reduce or eliminate the use and synthesis of hazardous substances.
The use of green chemistry aims to clear up any misconceptions related to the marketing mayhem of ‘natural’, ‘green’ cosmetics and how legitimate these products actually are. This radical approach to ‘cleaning up’ chemical formulation right from the stage of development, incorporating safe industrial processes and products will without a doubt ensure that wastes from these processes will not hurt or negatively effect human, wildlife or environment.
Most recently, those actively involved in the field of green chemistry have been developing processes that also have an economic advantage over traditional methods that can be adopted by the chemical producing industry.

The 12 principles of Green Chemistry

1.    Prevention
It is better to produce less waste than investing in sanitation and waste disposal.
2.     Atom economy
The synthesis should be designed to maximise the incorporation of materials used in the process into the final product.
3.    Less hazardous chemical syntheses
Where possible, synthetic methods should be designed to use and create substances, low or non-toxic to humans, and without environmental impact.
4.    Designing safer chemicals
Chemical products should be designed so as to fulfill their primary function while minimising their toxicity.
5.    Safer solvents and auxiliaries
Where possible, we must eliminate the use of auxiliary substances (solvents, separation agents) or use harmless substances.
6.    Improved energy efficiency
Energy requirements of chemical processes have an impact on the economy and the environment, which must be considered and should be minimised. It is necessary to develop methods of synthesis under conditions of ambient temperature and pressure.
7.    Use of renewable raw materials
As technology and financial resources permit, the raw materials used should be renewable rather than non-renewable.
8.    Reducing the amount of derivatives
Whenever possible, it’s recommended to use direct chemical synthesis processes.
9.    Catalysis
Catalytic reagents are more effective than stoichiometric reagents. It should encourage the use of more selective catalytic reagents possible.
10.    Design of non-persistent substances
Chemical products should be designed so as to dissociate into innocuous degradation products at the end of their useful life, this in order to avoid their persistence in the environment.
11. Real-time analysis of the fight against pollution
Analytical methodologies must be developed to allow monitoring and control in real time and in production before there is development of hazardous substances.
12. Essentially safe chemicals to prevent accidents
Substances used in a chemical process should be chosen to minimise the risk of chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires.

Sothys is already engaged in this process of green chemistry and sustainable development. To create natural ingredients with a low environmental impact, Sothys advanced research is committed to use easily renewable parts of the plant, and develop only non-polluting extraction processes.

Article supplied by de Spa Cosmetics.

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