Despite legislation around the use of plastics in cosmetic products tightening in recent years, the industry still relies heavily on their use as additives. In products such as moisturising lotions, microplastics — polymer fragments that measure less than five millimetres in size — are commonly used as emulsifiers and viscosity regulators.
When such products are washed away, the microplastic fragments are introduced into the environment where they can remain for hundreds of years or be consumed by animals and enter the food chain. According to numbers presented by the UK Government in 2018, a single shower using a shower gel containing microplastics can lead to as many as 100,000 microbeads entering the ocean. Although exfoliating plastic microbeads have been banned in cosmetic products in the UK since 2018, microplastics from other sources are still present.
Teysha Technologies, a UK producer of biodegradable biopolymers argues that there is little reason for cosmetic manufacturers to still be using fossil-based additives in their products. The company, which has developed a natural polycarbonate platform that can create fully biodegradable substitutes for existing petroleum-based plastics, is in talks with several global cosmetic brands about using their material as a replacement.
“Polymers play an important role in most cosmetic products, from stabilising formulations to helping products remain on the skin for longer,” explained Matthew Stone, managing director of Teysha Technologies. “However, there is no reason why many of those polymers need to be unsustainable or environmentally damaging.
“In the coming years, legislation will only continue to tighten around plastic use. The European cosmetics industry is already facing the issues this can present due to the imminent rollout of the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA’s) proposed microplastic restrictions in early 2022. Making the swap to biodegradable, environmentally benign alternatives now will save the regulatory cost and complications of product reformulation.”
In 2019, the ECHA proposed new restrictions on the use of ‘intentionally added microplastics’. Although there are some exemptions to the proposed restrictions, the proposal would mean significant reformulation costs for cosmetic manufacturers. Industry association Cosmetics Europe has been critical of the impact the restrictions would impose on the industry, claiming the proposal would be “extremely disproportionate in its effects” on cosmetics manufacturers.
Teysha’s bioplastic, called AggiePol, is derived from sustainable feedstocks and can be physically, mechanically and chemically tuned to suit the needs of its intended application, with degradation time also being tuneable. This means it can be made suitable for use not only in cosmetic products as a functional plastic, but also in cosmetic packaging.