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Scrubbing Agents and Sustainability - What Matters

Effective skin cleansing is a pillar of occupational skin care. Scrubbing agents and surfactants are often used to achieve reliable skin cleaning. However, effectiveness is only one aspect that manufacturers must consider in the formulation. The substances used should also be kind to the skin and the environment. To meet both requirements, skin care manufacturers are constantly researching better solutions.

Even the ancient Egyptians used sand to loosen dirt from their hands. Therefore, the use of so-called scrubbing agents as skin cleansers has a tradition going back thousands of years and is still in use today. Over time, various substances were used to clean heavy dirt. This is because the requirements of users and knowledge about the substances used continued to develop. Thus, manufacturers must take many different aspects into account when choosing ingredients. For example, it is not enough for a substance to dissolve soiling effectively. Skin-friendliness is at least as important, and the aspect of sustainability is also becoming increasingly important. 

People's awareness of climate and environmental protection is more pronounced today than ever before. Of course, this development is not without consequences for occupational safety in general and occupational skin care in particular. For some time, people have not only been making demands on the ointments and creams that they use in their private lives. Their demands for occupational skin cleansing products are also growing. This is no surprise, considering employees in many industries must use them several times a day. "Employees clearly want products that have as little impact on their skin and the environment as possible," says Frank Severiens, commercial manager at skin care manufacturer Peter Greven Physioderm (PGP).

Good and environmentally friendly alternative

This is particularly evident in the discussion about microplastics. These plastic particles have been used since the 1970s in heavy-duty detergents as a scrubbing agent to loosen dirt however they have increasingly come under public criticism. The criticism is that microplastics are harmful to the environment. On one hand, because the microplastics are produced from petroleum, it’s resources are limited. And secondly, because they are not biodegradable wastewater treatment plants may not be able to filter out microplastics completely so the substances can end up in the sea and the environment. According to a study by the German Federal Environment Agency, however, microplastics in cosmetics are only responsible for a comparatively extremely small part of the pollution of the world's oceans. Nevertheless, the issue has generated a broad public debate, as a result of which many companies in the cosmetics industry have now decided to abandon microplastics.

Olive seed powder is a by-product that is used efficiently in terms of sustainability

PGP has been replacing microplastics with olive seed powder for some time. "As things stand today, this is a good and environmentally compatible alternative," says Frank Severiens. There are a number of good reasons to use olive seed powder. First of all, it is a renewable raw material and a by-product of olive oil production. In contrast to other alternative scrubbing agents, such as cork, olives do not have to be grown specifically for being used as scrubbing agents. On the contrary, olive seed powder is a by-product that is used efficiently in terms of sustainability. In addition, it is available as a raw material in sufficient quantities and can therefore reliably replace microplastics. The CO2 balance of olive seed powder is another advantage. Unlike other alternative bio scrubbing agents, such as walnut shell powder, it does not have to be transported over long distances. While most walnuts are grown and milled in California, most olives come from Southern Europe. This saves transport emissions. The most important advantage compared to the other alternatives, however, is good biodegradability.

At PGP, over 90% of the ingredients used now come from renewable sources. Sustainability within the supply chain is also emphasized. The RSPO Supply Chain Certificate is proof of this. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), established by the WWF, ensures that minimum standards are met for palm oil-based raw materials. And other awards for PGP products, such as the Blue Angel and the EU Ecolabel, are evidence that the company's sustainability efforts are being recognized.

Striking the right balance is a major challenge

Anyone who manufactures sustainable skin care products has to consider many aspects, because this often involves conflicting goals on very different levels. One frequent conflict is of a financial nature. Although many companies have now focused on sustainability in their corporate philosophy, they are not always prepared to pay a somewhat higher price for skin care products with exclusively natural and harmlessly produced ingredients. Another conflict is that of skin compatibility. The allergy potential of biological ingredients is in some cases higher than that of mineral oil-based ingredients or microplastics, for example. That is why it is always a great challenge for manufacturers to find the balance between environmental friendliness and efficacy, while not neglecting skin friendliness. 

One example from the point of view of sustainability, alternative scrubbing agents like olive seed powder are highly recommended. Moreover, they are usually very effective. But all abrasive substances that mechanically loosen dirt from the skin can - to varying degrees - remove the upper protective layer of the skin. This can cause micro-injuries, and the risk of contact allergy increases significantly. In extreme cases, wear dermatosis can even develop, which can eventually lead to occupational disability. "For a long time, many employees in occupations with heavy dirt were faced with a classic dilemma," describes Frank Severiens.

In response to these challenges, PGP developed a new type of dirt-removing agent called Active Soft Pearls® (ASP). ASP are wax pearls made from hydrogenated castor oil. They do not work with physical abrasion like conventional agents that are harmful to the skin but instead they bind dirt particles through their lipophilic surface structure. This gave users a gentle alternative to heavy-duty hand cleaners for the first time. While there are limits to ASP in the case of very adhesive dirt because of their comparatively low abrasiveness, the vast majority of medium to heavy-duty cleansing needs are effectively managed with ASP.

"In occupational skin care, we are always on the lookout for solutions that offer users significant improvements," explains Severiens. One of the major challenges here is to reconcile the requirements of effectiveness, skin-friendliness and sustainability as far as possible. "Development is demanding and time-consuming, but in the end users and the environment benefit."

 

 


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