The Society of Cosmetic Scientists promotes education, research and collaboration to advance the science of cosmetics

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Thursday 9 March 2017



Dr Barbara Hall (Sureconsult Ltd)


The beauty industry is unique. To ensure its success it must not only keep pace with science, technology and fashion, but it must, at all times, be aware of its weakness, arising from its popular perception, that makes it particularly vulnerable to political, medical and public opinions.

The perception of the industry stems from the word “cosmetic”, derived from the Greek κοσμητίκή (kosmetike), “the art of dress and adornment”, with an additional meaning that has emerged over time: “superficial”“for external effect only”. The ever-present risk to the industry lies in the context of this latter meaning and industry’s vulnerability arises from the fact that few outsiders realise that behind the façade of colourful packaging and ephemeral products, reflecting fashion of the day, lies hard science, strict legislation and the one key invisible ingredient that never changes – consumer safety.

I shall begin my talk with “the genius in the bottle” and then recall the history of the risk and resilience that began over 20 years ago and continues to this day.

One manifestation of the industry’s genius is creation of products that are expected to fulfil to perfection consumers’ requirements for excellence – perfect to the sight, the touch, smell and taste and faultless in functional performance.

Just one example of the “genius in the bottle” is the production of perfumes: perfume factories where out-flowing water is cleaner than the water flowing in, extraordinary ingredients, such as the more-expensive-than-gold Orris Butter and the modern open access database of toxicological and safety assessment of perfumery ingredients.

This database did not exist in the early 1990s when the industry was caught unprepared for events of almost cataclysmic proportions: nitromusks, ubiquitous perfume (and therefore cosmetic) ingredients, suspected of being carcinogenic, were found in mother’s milk. I was there and with my colleagues played an active role in the recovery of the industry’s credibility. But the nitromusks were only the beginning, followed by further challenges to the safety of perfumes, hair dyes, vitamin A, exposure calculations and, more recently, the ban on animal testing, environmental impact of the plastic microbeads and the impending issue of plastic in wet wipes.

Resilience of the industry in successfully confronting these concerns has been another manifestation of its genius.

I shall conclude the lecture by referring to the insidious risk from within the industry itself: the lack of solidarity in defending valuable ingredients, such as diethyl phthalate and parabens and the need to resist the temptation of short-term gain brought about by “free from” claims. 

picture of students graduatingPLUS SCS DIPLOMA CEREMONY

Venue Royal Society of Chemistry, London 


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