Insights / Haircare
”It’s not always the best way to produce natural ingredients if you think about the impact on the environment”
On the current trends and future of ingredients for our hair and scalp
1 Nov 2022

Who are you?

— I’m working as a product developer here at Maria Nila, where we create tomorrow’s hairstyle and haircare. I’ve been here for a year now — it was a very rare opening, as there are not many cosmetic producers in northern Europe at all.

In terms of trends for ingredients and formulations, what do you see now and onwards?

— For us in Europe and North America, when we are looking at trends, we are heading towards Asia. We often use to say that we’re very much on the frontline but Asia is always one step ahead of us. And now, after the pandemic, it’s been very much towards ’clean beauty’ which is also a very interesting concept because everybody has their own definition of it. We also see these treatments giving a feeling of luxury that is easy to use and you can do at home but still have a great ’salon result’. The pandemic has also created an approach towards cleanliness, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal — focusing on both our physical and mental health, says Hallberg. She continues:

— When you’re pinpointing more specific types of products or formulations, it’s very much down to ’skinification’ of the whole concept of cosmetics and especially haircare, going more towards formulas and ingredients that you have in skincare today. There’s a lot of focus on the scalp and scalp health, with a demand on both tools but also in the formulas and the products, such as serums, styling gels, and scrubs, and about the environment of the scalp, in order to get that healthy feeling and look. You really want to take care of the whole ’region’ — not only the shafts or the dead part of your hair.

”It’s really hard to modify nature so that you will have all the nice parts and can leave out the ’bad guys’”

Do you prefer to work with natural or synthetic, lab-grown ingredients?

— I’d say that it’s very much up to what type of ingredient it is. Nature has created different things as they should be, to be in the advantage of other ingredients or plants. On the other hand, it’s sometimes really hard to get rid of different parts of the environment or nature that maybe is not so good for us. Take essential oils, they have a lot of nicely packed antioxidants and vitamins but also a lot of harsh and very tough allergens when applying them to the skin. It’s the same with different perfumes — you can have a lovely scent created in a natural way but the allergen is always there. It’s really hard to modify nature so that you will have all the nice parts and can leave out the bad guys. In that sense, synthetic ways can be a good approach — you can really manage the process and create only the different molecules that you want without any extra byproducts that are unpleasant or create allergens, Hallberg explains. She continues:

— So, it really depends on the formula and ingredients, and it’s also not always the best way to produce natural ingredients if you think about the impact on the environment. It can be much easier to create something purely chemical if you think of heating processes and the electricity needed, especially now with the crisis and the war. You might need a big plantation of palms or similar to harvest from and then you need to modify and enrich everything from it so that you can call it plant-based or nature-based. Then, the impact of the whole process is so much more and the result might not be as good as the end-costumer or producer needs. So, it’s a very tough decision taking one side or the other for some ingredients, but we’re always thinking of choosing ingredients that have a low impact on the environment and are friendly to humans, animals, and the environment in the bigger picture. All of our ingredients and products are vegan — we know that no donkeys are used for any of our products to, for instance, harvest the coconuts for our coconut oil.

You just entered China. You’re selling through TMall, so there’s no need to do any animal testing, but it’s obviously a market with another view on this.

— Yes, China is an ’interesting’ market in that manner, having its own regulations and rules which don’t really apply to any other markets. Nowadays, with more companies seeing that it could be an advantage to be in China, the Chinese government sees that it’s important to have certain international players there. So, they’ve been allowing non-animal testing for the companies that really are against it, but in general, they always test everything that is going into China.

If we look at petroleum-based ingredients, it obviously derives from fossil fuels and also coat the skin and hair and can clog our pores. Why don’t we discuss them more? Are they too hard to replace?

— I think it’s more the fact that they haven’t been in the light as maybe sulfates, parabens, or silicones. They might be in the future because they’re obviously not made from a renewable or good source. I think that the main issue is that they are very convenient thanks to the optimized processes that they are made through and from. They can be made on a very large scale easily because we have built up these processes and factories for them. And, they are very, very cheap. And by all this, it’s hard to find a good replacement, because often, you can do quite as good ingredients but maybe not for the same price. Some (petroleum-based) ingredients are really, really hard to replace. For instance, paraffin oil — commonly named baby oil — is a very common one to use. It’s super, super cheap, you get super good results, and it’s very common all over the world because it’s so easy to access. But we have a very good replacement coming, hopefully in a year or two, depending on how the testing process and other things with the suppliers go. Vaseline is another very good and usable product nowadays and is common in daycare, haircare, and waxes. But here, we have a good replacement — after a very big process — which we are using.

What’s the biggest challenge in your job?

— Being novel and at the same time being traditional in the techniques — and creating what the end-customer wants in two years.

What’s the biggest challenge for Maria Nila?

— Like for all brands that we are working with and against on the market: to have a competitive product in both quality and price for the end-customers while always improving at a good speed, creating products that are new and novel, flexible, but still recognizable. One day, you’re in, and the next day, you’re out. Because this is cosmetics — everything is in trends and it’s like the economy; someone is saying that something is probably going to happen. It doesn’t mean that it has to, but it can ruin everything for your company. It’s really hard, especially since you can’t really be on the trends that are coming now — you need to be on the trends that are coming in two years. It takes time to develop the products and certify that everything is working as it should, says Hallberg. She adds:

— And, all this while there are challenges that none of us can really understand or work from when everything is happening around the world.

Key takeaways:

— By using synthetic ingredients, you can manage the process and create only the different molecules that you want without any extra byproducts that are unpleasant or create allergens.

— Also, it’s not always the best way to produce natural ingredients if you think about the impact on the environment.

— After ”clean beauty”, ”skinification” — going more towards formulas and ingredients that we have in skincare today — is a driving force, especially in haircare.

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