Sustainability, Bioethics, and Global Cosmetics Development
Sustainability, Bioethics, and Global Cosmetics Development
  • Accepted 2021.02.19 09:35
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Noh Min Soo
Professor of Pharmacy at Seoul National University

I often attend academic conferences on alternative methods for animal testing in foreign countries regarding the safety assessment of cosmetics. When I attended the academic conference of the First Asian Society of Animal Experimental Replacement Law held in Japan a few years ago, there was one of the corporate public relations booths financially sponsoring the conference that I felt very impressive. Those like me who thought it was important to deal with customers in a neat manner, seeing the free-spirited attire and behavior of corporate employees, were more than fresh surprises. And when I saw soap products that were handed out in yellow envelopes similar to roasted sweet potato wrappers I saw when I was young as souvenirs at the promotional booth put them, I thought they might have lost my luggage containing the souvenir wrappers. It became interesting to note that the company awards a considerable amount of prize money to female scientists who study techniques that can reduce animal sacrifices. Upon returning to Korea, the company, which was founded in England in 1995, came to think that it has grown rapidly by effectively reflecting the concept of global sustainability and bioethics in the marketing of the cosmetics and household goods businesses. So, what does sustainability and bioethics mean in the cosmetics industry?

The concept of sustainability is introduced in ecology. Biological sustainability simultaneously reflects the robustness and evolutionary potential of life that adapts well to various changing environments. There are various adaptable creatures in wetlands or rainforest areas, and their survival and prosperity remain balanced through entangled interactions like nets. In addition, it is called sustainability to maintain diversity and evolvability without the destruction of order and balance as the ecosystem adapts to changes in the natural environment. The United Nations Environment Development Committee, also known as the Brundtland Commission, defined growth and development based on the sustainability of human society as "development without sacrificing the opportunity of the next generation" or "development without greed" to satisfy the needs of the present generation. In this extension, the United Nations Development Plan, the UNDP, laid out a model of development for mankind to prosper based on the sustainability of the planet. The idea that the earth's environment enjoyed by our generation should be passed down to our next generation in a state of order and balance similar to the present is having a profound impact on the business activities that seek profit. For profit-seeking companies, the reality of having to make additional technology investments to improve cost-effective current product production and distribution to conform to the high-cost sustainability ideology will be the same as the difficult higher-order equation. However, research and development of sustainable product technologies rather than greed of stakeholders is a challenge that our generation must solve together.

Sustainable cosmetics can be defined as products that pursue the health and safety of consumers and provide lasting value to the social environment based on the implementation of corporate responsibility for the environment. In the cosmetics industry, European companies tend to preempt issues related to sustainability. Cosmetics Europe declared the cosmetics industry's vision of environmental sustainability in 2017. The association agreed to make efforts to minimize environmental footprints of products based on their understanding of their environmental impact from the product lifecycle perspective. In order to achieve the common goal, it was agreed to promote the development of new products that could minimize or leave no environmental footprint by organizing key issues related to the environment in six stages according to the life cycle of the product. Looking at the major environmental sustainability issues highlighted by each step in the life cycle of products divided into design, raw material supply and demand, production, distribution, consumer use and post-consumer phase, the following are:

First, the product design process is to design quality that minimizes environmental footprint by taking into account the sustainability of the environment. At the same time, environmental impact assessments should be reflected for all raw materials and production processes that make up the product.

Second, it was agreed to set environmental and social standards for the main ingredients of cosmetics in the process of selecting and purchasing raw materials used in products. For example, efforts should be made to secure raw material resources and maintain biodiversity at the same time, at the same time, from the line that destroys or minimizes forests. Natural products that require protection at the biodiversity level, or those essential for the survival of endangered species, can be sold as unethical entities at a moment's notice.

Third, it is recommended to improve the utilization efficiency of water and energy resources in the process of producing cosmetics. Cosmetics companies should develop processes that can reduce carbon emissions in the production process and minimize the occurrence of environmental pollutants. For example, it can introduce production processes that use eco-friendly energy, such as solar and wind power, and mandate the use of recyclable containers and packaging materials.

Fourth, it is suggested that the energy-efficient means of transportation be chosen first at the stage of product distribution and that the goods be distributed. In particular, the government should refrain from over-packaging products for convenience in distribution, and encourage cosmetics to be transported using electric vehicles or emission-reducing vehicles to minimize environmental destruction such as fine dust generation in the process of transporting goods.

Fifth, it orders companies to develop technologies that can minimize the impact on the environment at the consumer use stage of products first. According to a recent Environmental Footprint Survey, the amount of exposure of cosmetic ingredients to the environment of rivers, lakes and oceans through sewage pipes during daily washing after using cosmetics is negligible. It is noteworthy that in July 2018, the U.S. state of Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreen cosmetics, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, which kill coral in the sea. In fact, about 60,000 to 140,000 tons of sunscreen were estimated to be exposed to the marine ecosystem annually, and it was found that Hawaiian beaches promote the whiteening of coral. Recently, my researchers pointed out that some sunscreen components are metabolic disturbance substances that induce obesity, and that there is a possibility of risk that can affect the human body through the ecosystem food chain. Companies should develop innovative cosmetics technologies from a sustainability perspective to design and develop products that can reduce the amount of cosmetics raw materials flowing into the environment through sewage. And, rather than encouraging excessive consumption of cosmetics, it is necessary to find ways to reduce overspending on cosmetics. Consumers should also use cosmetics wisely, taking into account the natural quality of skin-protecting cosmetics.

Sixth, in order to ensure that the used products are not decomposed in nature and damaged in the original environment, cosmetics companies must develop biodegradable containers or increase the use of recyclable packaging materials. Along with the efforts of companies for environmental sustainability, active participation of wise consumers will also be needed.

Producing and distributing sustainable cosmetics in terms of the environment means an increase in costs from the perspective of a company. Fair trade and bioethics are factors that increase costs along with sustainability issues. Prior to the Nagoya Protocol system, the economic benefits to indigenous peoples were almost negligible, compared with profits made by global companies using rare natural-originated materials in tropical rain forests or polar regions. Consideration of sustainability and fair trade is a prerequisite in the Nagoya Protocol system, which requires sharing of interests on the basis of the Origin National Preferenceism. Today, there are urgent tasks to suggest alternatives such as supply and demand of natural materials that conform to the new values of fair trade, development of materials that minimize environmental footprint, and development of raw materials that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of identification fees derived in the course of solving this task, it should be proven to be harmless to the human body and safe cosmetic materials. In the past, cosmetics were often tested at the expense of animals to prove that they did not cause toxicity, but now test tube-level methods are used to replace animal testing. In the case of Europe, manufacturing and selling of products sacrificed by animals at all stages of cosmetic development is prohibited, regardless of the current alternative testing methods.
Korea continues to strengthen laws and regulations related to bioethics by improving consumer awareness and social consensus related to animal protection. The need for an animal replacement test law in the cosmetics sector is not just bioethics that should minimize the sacrifice of animals in the name of human interests. When scientifically analyzing past animal experiments related to cosmetic safety assessments, the toxic endpoints, which are the basis for judgment, mainly evaluate serious side effects such as animal death, morbidity, and tissue damage, thus limiting the ability to provide information on the prediction of toxicity associated with actual cosmetic problems and irritating reactions. In addition, the statistical analysis of drug development shows that animal toxicity assessments do not accurately predict the toxicity expressed in the human body. In particular, toxic predictability was around 40 percent for primary irritation and hypersensitive reactions of the skin, prompting animal rights groups to question the toxicity assessment of medicines in addition to cosmetics. Currently, animal test results that evaluate the therapeutic effects of diseases as well as toxicity predictions are finding new solutions by recognizing that there are scientific problems in applying them to the human body by analogy.

With the latest trends in animal experimental replacement technology in the cosmetics sector, it is necessary to note the toxic development path Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP program). To overcome the limitations of animal replacement testing methods, AOP is a securing toxic prediction information through scientific and quantitative assessments in the entire process of exposing toxic substances to final toxicology. AOP is a fourth industrial technology in that the development of the AOP system for the purpose of evaluating cosmetics safety should be applied with individual genetic information, system skin science knowledge, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence technology. Cosmetics Europe is sponsoring universities or research institutes on the key challenges of the fourth industrial type that cosmetics companies cannot solve in connection with the development of AOP system for skin sensitization assessment. Japan's Shiseido is developing an artificial intelligence system that learns data under the AOP system and predicts the toxicity of new materials, as well as skin sensitization animal replacement testing methods verified by the OECD and alternative testing methods being developed in Japan.

And, in addition to toxicity prediction, the scientific concept of AOP can also be applied to cosmetic efficacy evaluation models such as wrinkle improvement and whitening. In conclusion, it is necessary to pay attention to the future technology of cosmetics companies in that fourth industrial technologies such as dielectric technology, data technology, and artificial intelligence will be used to predict the safety of cosmetics based on the AOP system or to develop efficiency evaluation methods.

To maintain global leadership in the cosmetics industry, sustainability and the pursuit of bioethics are not an option but a must. Leaders of the cosmetics industry should recognize that when they develop and sell products based on empathy from members of society, they can develop in the long term. Rather than asserting the need for animal testing by arbitrarily interpreting the allowable range of animal testing, the academic community where I work also needs to make efforts to stop unnecessary animal sacrifices in cosmetics research. It is easy to obtain research results at the expense of animals, but it is important to know that it is not as valuable as sacrifice, and as an alternative, it should try to apply fourth industrial technologies such as AOP technology to the cosmetics industry. Products that go against the sustainability of the environment or violate bioethics cannot be recognized anywhere in the world. I hope there are no more greedy companies that view sustainability, fair trade and bioethics as only raising costs. Isn't it natural that the UK companies that use environmental footprint zero packaging have grown rapidly in a short period of time? I believe that cosmetics companies that research and develop technologies for sustainability and bioethics will be respected and prosperous in the future society rather than the small profits they see in front of them.

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