Why products don’t work the way they promise…

Institute of Personal Care Science • 4/26 Coromandel Parade, Blackwood SA 5051 • Ph: (08) 8463 0990 • Fax: (08) 8278 6360 • www.personalcarescience.com.au

When a product doesn’t work the way you’d hoped, there are 3 main reasons why. This article will take a look at some fundamental elements to improve the performance of your product range.

Reason #1: Formulation incompatibilities

There are some materials which can’t be used in the presence of other materials if you want to get good results. There are even more materials which are active over only a very specific (and sometimes narrow) pH range. When materials are in an incompatible environment, they will degrade and/or lose their bioavailability. Bioavailability is a measure of how much of the substance present is available for potential uptake/absorption. For example, 100% bioavailable means all that is present is available for uptake/absorption, while a measure of 50% bioavailability means that only half of the substance present
in the product is available for uptake/absorption. Where there is only 50% bioavailability, a substance just wouldn’t work the way it is supposed to. Here are a couple of examples where we see this happen in commercially available products:

  • vitamin C is undoubtedly one of the most difficult substances to formulate with and achieve good long term stability. This is especially true when it is in the form of ascorbic acid, as this is the
    least stable form of vitamin C. Ascorbic acid needs a relatively acidic environment to be stable (3.5 – 4.0) and deteriorates quickly in the presence of water and/or light. Other forms, for example magnesium (or sodium) ascorbyl phosphate require a pH of 6.0 – 7.0 to give the best bio-activity and shelf life. There are an increasingly growing number of vitamin C forms and derivatives becoming available, all with different formulating and stability needs. If your product looks in any way beige to brown, then the vitamin C has deteriorated and won’t provide the benefits you will expect.
  • vitamin A requires a pH of 6.0 – 7.0 to be stable and bio-available – at more acidic pH levels or
    as its derivative (retinyl palmitate) you just won’t see the anticipated results. Remember too that retinol is limited to 1% maximum input in Australian cosmetic products by the regulations.
  • dihydroxyacetone (DHA) reacts with amines, peptides and amino acids of the stratum corneum
    to produce brown polymers called melanoidins – it will also react with any collagen, proteins or nitrogen containing compounds present in a finished product formulation. Its efficacy is also affected in the presence of anionic surfactants. Yet we all too often see formulas where it is combined with the wrong surfactants or emulsifiers and with collagen or proteins present! Want a great tanning product? Then avoid these ingredients!
  • alpha hydroxy acids (e.g. glycolic acid and lactic acid) require a pH below 3.85 to be 50% bio- available. Finished products containing these ingredients with a pH of 3. 0 – 3.5 will tend to work the best; while those with a pH > 4.0 will have lost most of their bioavailability and efficacy.
  • beta hydroxy acids (e.g. salicylic acid) requires a pH below 3.0 to be 50% bio-available. Rarely will you see a commercially available cosmetic product with a pH this low, but those with a pH >
    4.0 will have lost most of the benefits of using this material in the formulation.

Be particularly wary of products that market a combination of materials requiring a high pH (e.g. retinol) and those requiring a low pH (e.g. beta hydroxy acids) – only one of these materials at best could be efficacious; or really bad formulation techniques yielding a product marketed to have a skin compatible pH (around 5.5) would mean neither of these are bioavailable in proportions suitable to be effective!

The exact compatibility requirements of the many hundreds of active ingredients available can vary considerably – make sure to check the bioavailability of the substances used in your product to ensure it has been formulated to achieve the best possible performance.

Reason #2: Incorrect use of actives and/or marketing

While reason #1 is the most common issue impacting efficacy, I also see products that simply don’t contain enough of an active to provide the results promised and/or don’t have the capacity to deliver them where they need to go in the required amount. Active ingredients can only perform the way they are intended when the formulation has been designed to ensure their stability and bio-availability AND
enough of the active is present in each application. The number of applications per day or per week is crucial along with the form of the product, to ensure good delivery of the active/s to the required layer of the epidermis. Don’t get confused and think that very small amounts of a substance won’t be effective. Peptides, for example, only need to be present in the order of parts per million (ppm) to provide outstanding results — so the position of an active in an ingredient list can be deceiving! What is more important is to know that the product has been formulated to deliver the actives present to where they need to go, and contains an efficacious amount of the active as proven in clinical trials when used in a similar manner. Ask for details of the testing conducted such as the number of participants in the trial, how often they applied the product and if the active was present in a similar form of product in the same amount.

Reason #3: Unrealistic expectations

Sometimes consumers just expect far too much from a cosmetic product! Cosmetics are supposed to be designed for topical application to provide a transient change to the appearance of the skin. They are not designed to, and should not promise to, provide long term physiological changes to the skin’s structure or the way it works. For example, skin whitening ingredients can use one or more methods to inhibit melanin production, and assuming the product has been formulated with compatibility, bio-availability and using the clinically proven amounts of active, it still won’t perform the way a consumer expects if:

  • the product is not used regularly by the consumer in the way in which it is directed
  • the consumer readily exposes themselves to considerable UV exposure and/or
  • the consumer is expecting to become whiter than the day they were born

Genetics, lifestyle and hormones can prevent a cosmetic product from ever working the way it was intended or has promised; and the consumer looking for a miracle in a jar is invariably going to end up disappointed. Be careful that you don’t over promise results to someone looking for a miracle because no matter how good your product is, they are unlikely to be satisfied. This can also happen where marketing claims and over-ambitious photo-shopping in advertisements exceed what a typical consumer can hope
to achieve from regular use of a product.

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