Natural Cosmetics also Require a Chemistry Knowledge – Interview with Nataša Kovačić

BY Anja Bubik, PhD, Ing. Žaneta Milošová (Havírová)

Introduction

Nataša: My name is Nataša Kovačić, Ph.D., I am a chemist by profession and I am the owner of a company where I am involved in the creation and production of new natural cosmetic products. Besides chemistry in all its forms, I am interested in everything related to nature, its laws and consequences. In short, about natural life.

What does your job involve, what exactly do you deal with? How did a Ph.D. in Chemical sciences like yourself find themselves in the cosmetics industry?

Nataša: My career as a chemist led me to different areas of chemistry, from my specialisation in analytical chemistry to analysing ingredients in creams, toners, soaps… And soon, from analysing ingredients in cosmetic products, I came to the desire to reverse my knowledge, to turn ingredients into a product, to choose which ingredients to use and to combine them into a unique and, above all, effective natural product formula.

What is, in your opinion, the problem with modern cosmetics? What are some of the most important side effects of cosmetics on humans and the environment?

Nataša: The biggest problem with modern cosmetics today is the flood of products. And the fact that every manufacturer promises miracles. On the other hand, we have consumers who have a problem, but whose ignorance and astonishing marketing ploys make it extremely difficult for them to make the right and sensible choice. It is therefore very important to be able to choose and identify quality cosmetic products.

How can we recognize truly natural cosmetic products?

Nataša: It is difficult to recognise real, truly natural products without knowing the laws of cosmetics. Some manufacturers choose to certify a product for this very purpose (the certification on the product gives the product added value), some rely on the claims on the product, experts rely on the INCI ingredients. For others, the only criterion is the feeling on my skin: whether I like the product or not. For some, this criterion is enough.

What are some of the advantages of natural cosmetics? And the drawbacks?

Nataša: The main advantages of natural cosmetics, in my opinion, are the ingredients, which must be as chemically minimised as possible, taken from nature in as original a way as possible and put on our skin as such. The disadvantages? When ingredients are not in the right concentrations or proportions with other ingredients, natural cosmetics can be irritating, very bad for our skin. And the user needs to know their skin very well to make the right choice. By making the wrong choice, they can aggravate their skin problems.

Does your professional career affect you personally in your daily life (e.g.  do you avoid food, cosmetics and other products with potentially harmful ingredients?).

Nataša: I incorporate my professional knowledge into my decisions every day, when buying groceries, cosmetics, cleaning products, clothes, furniture, when building a house, when landscaping… I’m quite professionally “deformed”, so to speak.

Let’s move to a topic many times debated among consumers – parabens (Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic products and in medicine. (i.e. butilparaben). [1] What are they and what do they mean to consumers (from a standpoint of health)?

Nataša: Parabens, to clarify, are a group of compounds chemically known as hydroxybenzoic acid esters. They affect the pH of micro-organisms and thus destroy them. They are extremely effective in protecting cosmetic products against micro-organisms. They are not allowed in natural cosmetics, as there are doubts about their hormonal action in our bodies. Parabens can be partially absorbed through the skin. Funnily enough, quite a few parabens occur naturally in nature (e.g. in blueberries, olives, etc. ). However, I think that the concerns about their use in cosmetics are completely misplaced, because we use cosmetic products several times a day, for days, months and years. If we are inferring the accumulation and/or metabolism of a particular compound entering our body, then caution is necessary and justified when using that compound in a product.

What is your view on parabens as an expert in your field?

Nataša: As I said before, parabens can be potentially dangerous for our hormonal function, mainly because they pass through the skin into our body, potentially accumulating and entering our metabolic processes. I am also thinking about the potential danger of newly formed metabolic products, about which we know nothing; we do not even know what new compounds are being formed, what the concentrations are, whether they accumulate, whether they are incorporated further, whether they are possibly toxic? So, for me, it is too many unknowns, too much risk. I agree with the decision that parabens do not belong in natural cosmetics. However, I am also of the opinion that compounds with such a CV do not belong in products for human and animal use.

What natural preservatives can replace the synthetic ones and what is the problem with using these natural alternatives?

Nataša: Current guidelines on the use of preservatives in natural cosmetics dictate the use of antimicrobial compounds that are not on the list of officially authorised preservatives, but which nevertheless have an antimicrobial effect. Example: a compound is used that has another role in the formula (e.g. as a fragrance) but also has an antimicrobial effect.

In water based products, preservatives need to be used to prevent bacteria from multiplying. Why don’t oil based cosmetics need preservatives, or substantially less of them?

Nataša: In principle, oil-based products do not need a preservative. However, in addition to the formulation, it is also necessary to consider how the product is used, whether it may come into contact with water during its lifetime, in which case preservative should be added for safety reasons. Example: oil-based shower gel.

What is the role of many ingredients like Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium benzoat and Benzyl benzoate. Are those substances natural ingredients?

Nataša: Both alcohols (e.g. benzyl alcohol) and certain organic acids and their salts (e.g. sodium benzoate, benzyl benzoate) act as preservatives. They are found in natural sources and are therefore positioned as safe natural preservatives. What needs to be kept in mind, however, are the concentrations used. In natural cosmetics, it is important to stick to the principle that only enough of a compound is added to do its job, it is not added ‘to stock up’ so that it will, as we like to say, stick! 

What is the role of essential oils in cosmetics? Do they pose a problem for the environment?

Nataša: Essential oils have a primary function as natural fragrances. In addition to this function, they have additional functions, e.g. aromatherapeutic properties (healing function) to antimicrobial properties (especially in combination with synthetic preservatives). Again, care must be taken with these compounds due to the sensitivity of the components of the essential oils to the concentrations used. Environmental problem? Possibly due to the temperature-intensive extraction processes (one of the extraction methods is distillation, which is one of the more energy-intensive processes).

Would you care to tell us abour limonene, linalool and citral  What are these ingredients found in many cosmetics? What are their functions in cosmetic products? Do they have any drawbacks?

Nataša: Limonene, linalool, citral are among the natural fragrance ingredients often used to scent cosmetic products. You know, every cream has to smell good, that is one of the characteristics of every cosmetic product. The compounds listed are among the 26 fragrance compounds that, since 2005, have to be listed in the INCI list of ingredients because they can cause an allergic reaction in a certain concentration. European legislation thus protects users who are prone to fragrance allergies. These compounds are also present in my products, as I use only essential oils for fragrance where these compounds ARE present. 

What about the issue of dyes in beauty cosmetics (i.e. lip gloss)? Do they only serve for visual appeal or do they have any other functions?  Do dyes have a negative impact on consumers (consumption of lipsticks, the issue of daily intake due to makeup)?

Nataša: A very broad question on dyes. Basically, dyes are organic compounds that can be soluble (soluble in water or organic solvents) and insoluble (called organic pigments). In addition to dyes, there are inorganic pigments. A huge field. As well as colouring, these compounds have various functions: sun protection, antioxidants (carotenoids), some dyes are also vitamins (Vitamin B12). As with other compounds in cosmetics, they can be of natural or synthetic origin, and there are definitely concerns about the use of dyes.

What is your opinion on synthetic coloring in products made for children? Did you ever think that kids choose (and parents buy) based on visual appearance instead of the quality of products? Are synthetic colorings (i.e. E133, E102, E129,…) objectively better than their natural counterparts?

Nataša: In the area of dyes in particular, there are many concerns about the use of natural dyes, which, because they are “natural and generally better accepted”, have been less studied toxicologically than synthetic, artificial dyes. This is an area that still needs to be explored. 

What is the criterion for our choice in the shop? In my experience, first of all, always the appearance of the product. Our eyes, our brains, are buying. Only at home, when we take the oilfragrtime to look at a product, we smell it first, of course, and only then we test it on our skin. And only after that comes reading the declarations, the claims on the product. This part is not the fault of the manufacturers, it is human nature. That is why education in product content is essential, so that the customer quickly gets a sense of the quality of the product he is holding in his hand at first glance.

Do you find the color carmine red (known as E120), which is obtained from an insect (Dactylopius Coccus) useful in modern cosmetics?

Nataša: No. Not even in natural cosmetics, no. The way the dye is extracted is unacceptable. Do you know that 1 kg of this dye requires 80 000 to 140 000 insects, which are either dried in the sun, suffocated in sulphur fumes or boiled with water? You’ll wish your lipstick was a different shade of red!

What do you think about the usage of fragrances in cosmetic products?

Nataša: Scenting cosmetic products is a necessity today. It’s what customers want. But I have a different view. I incorporate a minimal amount of fragrance (essential oils) into my products – just enough to cover any unpleasant mood of the ingredients themselves in the product, or no fragrance at all. I myself smell extremely strongly and am extremely annoyed when I see a lady standing in front of me at the post office with all sorts of cosmetic products evaporating from her: from washing powder, softener, shampoo and hair regenerator, and on top of that, her perfume. My head is swelling with a headache, all the aromatic impulses at once. That is why I am extremely modest and careful when using fragrances (also because of the possibility of allergic reactions). 

Sanitizing products are an issue given the possibility bacteria obtaining the resistance to them. Are there any resistance problems in “natural”, more refined sanitizing products? Are natural sanitizers as effective as the synthetic ones?

Nataša: No. However, the timing and amount of disinfectant is probably different with natural disinfectants than with synthetic disinfectants, which are usually more concentrated. Again, the concern is that natural disinfectants, precisely for the reason of “naturalness and general better acceptance”, are much less studied toxicologically. 

Could we discuss a user experience from the Czech Republic?

(„I do not agree with the fact that manufacturers of cleaning and personal hygiene products, as well as nappies, do not specify the complete chemical composition on the product packaging and the detailed composition has to be intricately searched in safety data sheets for the most part. The manufacturers say they have no space for the information on the packaging, which is ironic when I find the ingredient list even on a lip gloss which is noticeably smaller compared to a 3kg bag of washing powder.“) As a chemist, do you agree with this?

Nataša: There is room. There are labels, like for medicines, which you peel off and can read even a large amount of print. For the manufacturer, such a label is a major cost. And that is the only reason why this information is not there. My concern is: what can this information tell the ordinary consumer, the non-expert? I know customers who read the declarations on products and count only the E-components. Even though, for example, E300 is ascorbic acid, so vitamin C, which is a perfectly OK ingredient? Critical thinking without knowledge? That is why learning is necessary.

Who ensures quality control over the cosmetic industry?

Nataša: The manufacturer itself comes first, with a quality system of work in development and production. Then the national inspection services, but they do not test the quality of the products, but the quality system of the work. Then the certification companies, if the products are certified. They test the suitability of the product. Product performance studies are carried out at the discretion of the manufacturer.

Do you think that the mindset of people towards cosmetics and care for their skin is improving?

Nataša: Yes. There is a growing awareness of ingredients and uses. People want to know what they are using and their relationship with nature is becoming important.

Do you think that consumers’ attitude towards natural cosmetics is improving? Do consumers with all the additional information value the quality/price ratio?

Nataša: Customer attitudes towards natural cosmetics are improving. Many people choose natural cosmetics when they have problems with conventional cosmetics, when they have sensitivities, and then they go back to nature, to its gentleness and to their trust in its knowledge. Technology has also advanced, and we can now have truly wonderful natural ingredients from nature that we did not have a few decades ago.

Do you have any advice for our listeners about cosmetics, what to look for and what to watch out for?

Nataša: First, you need to know your skin very well, what it needs. Depending on your age, depending on your appearance, depending on what you want to achieve with your cosmetics. Be aware of the limitations of cosmetics: unfortunately, a cream will not correct your genetic make-up, your lifestyle habits/practices that affect the way you feel in your own skin. And from here on, keep exploring in a creative nature. 

Would you like to close the interview with any final thoughts?

Nataša: Natural cosmetics are more than just creams. It is a way of thinking, of respecting ourselves and everything around us. Together, let’s create a better life and a better planet.

Thank you for your answers

The GreenGate team

Authors

  • Anja Bubik, PhD

    obtained her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Ljubljana, Medical Faculty. She holds a position as a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Environmental Protection, where she deals with environmental issues related to human health. As a head of the laboratory she takes care of the implementation of new research and teaching methods and participates in many applied and awareness-raising projects.

  • Ing. Žaneta Milošová (Havírová)

    She does what she enjoys – works as CEO of GreenScan. She studied at Technical University of Ostrava, where she got a master’s degree in Environmental engineering. She always cared about nature and things around it. She loves mountains, forests, animals and embraces modernity as well. That’s why she tries to look for a balance between nature and modern world.

2 Comments

  1. Emma

    I like it

    Reply
  2. Tom

    Nice interview I like it a lot! Thanks for new information!!!!!

    Reply

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