Eco-friendly everywhere
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Eco-friendly everywhere
  • By Lee, Kyung-goo
  • Accepted 2023.10.20 16:24
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K-Beauty Eco-Friendly R&D Trend
Lee Kyung-goo Team Leader, National Center for Cosmetics R&D
Lee, Kyung-goo Team Leader, National Center for Cosmetics R&D

'Eco-friendliness’ is currently by far the hottest potato in the field of cosmetics R&D in Korea. There has been an ongoing discussion in the Korean government since 2020 regarding the labeling system for recycling packaging materials. The cosmetics industry opposed the policy, calling it ‘ignorant’ for neglecting the importance of packaging when it comes to cosmetics products. After numerous debates, containers for cosmetics products were exempted from the recycling labeling system under the condition that more than 10% of said containers with a ‘difficult to recycle’ grade were re-collected by the manufacturers or brands themselves. In response, the Korea Cosmetics Association and major cosmetics companies in Korea announced in January 2021 the 2030 Cosmetics Plastic Initiative, which entails removing 100% of products that are difficult to recycle, reducing the use of petroleum-based plastics by 30%, promoting refills, and collecting containers of sold products. This, however, faced a strong opposition from civic, social, and consumer organizations, who claimed that cosmetics should not be exempted from the government regulation. This entire process drew the consumers’ attention, which in turn pushed the industry to devote more time and effort to the development of eco-friendly packaging materials.

 

Increasing recognition and awards given to products with eco-friendly packaging

The Korea Star Awards 2022, Korea’s most prestigious packaging awards contest, awarded packaging for products that contributed to reducing plastic waste and that are easy to recycle. Samhwa won the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Award for its ‘Glass airless pump packaging for Refill,’ which is easy to recycle and allows separate disposal. Yeonwoo, acquired by Kolmar Korea, was awarded for its 「Auto Loading Eco Dropper」 and 「Eco Shut Off Tube」 both of which are composed of a single polyolefin composite material, such as METAL, POM, and PP. Amorepacific and Dongwon Systems were awarded for their 「recyclable mono-material pouch for sheet mask」 and LG Household & Health Care for their VEILMENT mud massage body & facial bar, which features a solid, waterless bar and paper packaging.

 

Emergence of eco-friendly applicators, sprays, and coatings

Environmentally friendly applicators, sprays, and coating processes have been introduced to the market as well. HNB Corporation decreased plastic usage by 65% with its disposable make-up applicator manufactured from recycled paper, while ShinKwang M&P manufactured an 「air spray」 that uses natural compressed air composed of oxygen and nitrogen as spray agents, replacing aerosols that might pollute the air and deplete the ozone layer. CTK has created an environmentally friendly water-based coating technique to contribute to plastic recycling. Kolmar Korea, awarded in three major design contests as well as the 2021 World Star Packaging Award for its paper tubes, acquired Yeonwoo, the largest cosmetics container manufacturer in Korea, in April 2022. In August of the same year, Kolmar Korea Holdings and Yeonwoo signed a three-party MOU with Hanwha Solutions for the commercialization of eco-friendly cosmetics packaging materials. 

The materials industry also focuses on eco-friendliness 

The materials industry also focuses on eco-friendliness 

The environment plays a critical role in the development of cosmetic materials. First, there is ongoing active development of technologies that replace materials that have been regulated for their harmful effects on the environment or materials that consumers perceive negatively. Kolmar Korea succeeded in developing silica, which can implemented in place of microplastics used in color cosmetics, with natural substances. With this, the company was able to reduce the oil absorption property of color cosmetics by more than 50% while increasing applicability. CTK, through joint research with Professor Nam Yun-seong of KAIST, developed an eco-friendly sunscreen ingredient that coats titanium dioxide with natural 'tannin' instead of a polymer compound, which can reduce the problem of microplastics in inorganic sunscreens as well as concerns about active oxygen caused by photocatalytic effects. It has been confirmed that this ingredient can also block blue light by broadening the light absorption range from ultraviolet to blue light. 

Another area that is being actively developed is emulsification technology that does not require the use of surfactants, which has long been considered essential for manufacturing cosmetics. Amorepacific, even after receiving the NET certification in 2019, has continued to conduct in-depth research into its ‘surfactant-free micro-emulsion emulsification technology,’ which is named the Eclipse Emulsion. At the same time, Cosmax developed the world's first microbial emulsification system that enables emulsification without the use of chemical surfactants or machines using EPI-7, a beneficial microorganism found in human skin. 

Research and development is also being actively conducted to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions from the raw material supply, production, and process stages, as well as to minimize the environmental impact caused by waste. At the 2022 Spring Conference of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists of Korea, LG Household & Health Care announced the results of an upcycling study that confirmed the chemical and biological characteristics of discarded citrus peels, an agricultural by-product, and how they could add value to cosmetics materials. GS Caltex, Korea’s leading petrochemical company, developed 2,3-butanediol, a new polyol that can replace butylene glycol, which is widely used in cosmetics, through a fermentation process using safe microorganisms that exist in nature and food, rather than through a chemical process. The company is now mass producing 2,3-butanediol in its large-scale facilities. 

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology developed an eco-friendly catalyst system that can synthesize propylene oxide, which is the basic raw material of propylene glycol used in cosmetics, using sunlight and oxygen rather than a chemical oxidation process that emits harmful substances. The study was published as the cover paper in Nature Catalysis. 

 

The importance of eco-friendliness throughout the entire product lifecycle 

Bans on animal testing that started in the EU in addition to stronger safety regulations for chemical ingredients, including raw cosmetics materials, are being increasingly adopted across the globe, along with the carbon tax and carbon border tax system, which also started in the EU. With this, R&D in the future is expected to put a greater emphasis on reducing energy use and waste throughout the entire product cycle from production to distribution, utilization, and disposal, as well as on human and environmental safety at the raw material and product stages. In particular, it is anticipated that this trend will be more pronounced in the development of general-purpose and basic materials with relatively broader usage, such as for sunscreens, surfactants, and polymers, as well as precursors required to make these materials. 

 

R&D supported by National Center for Cosmetics R&D

National Center for Cosmetics R&D(Head of Center Hwang Jae-sung, Professor at Kyung Hee University) is an R&D project organization that was launched in 2020 with the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare for R&D, projects management in the field of cosmetics. The Group has developed eco-friendly and sustainable made-in-Korea ingredients, technologies to test the efficacy of animal testing alternatives, new formulation technologies, and market diversification response technologies, in addition to conducting research on the application of dermatological science. Starting in 2023, the ‘Innovative Growth Skin Health-Based Technology Development Project Group(tentative)’ will take over and conduct the cosmetics R&D project for five years. The newly formed Group will be conducting research on the development of basic technologies for promoting skin health and the development of essential high value-added basic materials and supporting the evaluation technology in response to regulations.

▶ LCS Biotech, a new ceramide that is identical to the one in the human skin=Ceramide is a component that exists naturally in human skin and plays a key role in moisturizing and protecting the skin barrier. LCS Biotech produced an all-new 1-O-acylceramide through a fermentation process, developing it as a cosmetic ingredient for the first time in the world. LCS Biotech's EcoCeramide, a composite ceramide material containing this ingredient, is being acclaimed as an eco-friendly material thanks to its benefits on skin as well as the energy-saving, waste-free process.

▶ Bio FD&C developed a cosmetics ingredient through a callus culture of a wild plant grown on Ulleungdo Island=In response to the Nagoya Protocol (ABS), the company succeeded in the mass cultivation of a native plant of Ulleungdo Island by using a sustainable callus process, and created a cosmetics ingredient with proven effects for strengthening the skin barrier.

▶ Duck Jin, ultra-thin zinc oxide=With the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare's eco-friendly and sustainable mode-in-korea ingredients development project, Duck Jin developed a non-nano inorganic sunscreen by structuring the particles of zinc oxide, which is widely used as an inorganic sunscreen along with titanium dioxide, in the form of a thin film. Organic sunscreens that contain octinoxate and oxybenzone are prohibited in world-famous vacation destinations, such as Hawaii and Palau, as these ingredients have been known to cause great damage to the marine coral ecosystem (Island Ban). Nano TiO2, which has been widely used in inorganic sunscreens for improving stiffness and white residue, is likely to be replaced due to its nanoparticle safety, an issue recently raised in the EU.

▶ Daebong LS developed natural oil and bio-conversion cosmetic materials using native Korean plants=Daebong LS developed natural oil and bioconversion cosmetics materials by up-cycling agricultural by-products in Korea, including yuzu seeds, which are discarded after obtaining peels and flesh to make yuzu tea. These materials are expected to substitute palm oil, the use of which has been controversial for its environmental and social impact. 

 


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