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Ingredients & formulation

Growth of the cosmetic industry to boost use of sorbitol in formulations

The active ingredient extracted from vegetable sources has humectant properties similar to those of petrochemical compounds and offers benefits such as reduced environmental impact and toxicological safety.

Sorbitol, an alcohol obtained from renewable plant sources such as fruits and sugar cane, is expected to have a growth in demand from the cosmetics industry according to a global report by technology research and advisory company TechNavio. The ingredient is used as a moisturizer and emollient in lotions, creams, emulsions and toothpastes.

The report shows projections for the sorbitol market worldwide between the years 2017 and 2021, also including its use in the food and pharmaceutical industries. In Latin America, sorbitol sales are forecasted to reach US$ 282.2 million. In all regions, the increase is driven by its use in personal care products.

Renata Pagliarussi, managing director at Lush Brasil

Renata Pagliarussi, managing director at Lush Brasil

In Latin America, the cosmetics market is expected to grow at a higher pace compared to the US, due to the increased demand from emerging countries such as Brazil and Argentina. Higher demand from the cosmetics and personal care industry is likely to drive the search for sorbitol in this region over the forecasted period,” says Kshama Upadhyay, lead specialty chemicals research analyst at TechNavio.

Luiz Gustavo Martins Matheus, technical director at cosmetic ingredient manufacturer Mapric, says sorbitol’s humectant properties help promote water retention in the products. “Sorbitol helps maintain moisture on the surface of emulsifying formulations, avoiding the formation of a rigid film that may compromise the sensory attributes of the product. When used in toothpastes, sorbitol also has thickening and sweetening properties as well as serving as a co-emulsifier,” he says.

The ever-growing interest for natural and sustainable ingredients in the cosmetic industry should also increase the demand for sorbitol. "The advantage of sorbitol, as compared to petrochemical compounds, is the fact it comes from renewable sources and it is safe from a toxicological point of view. This has been proven by numerous scientific studies,” says Matheus.

He explains that sorbitol is produced by catalytic hydrogenation of glucose or fructose. In most cases, these monosaccharides are extracted from fruits such as apple, plum, grape and cashew. Energy consumption and emission of carbon dioxide as a result of this process are very low. In addition, sorbitol is a biodegradable compound as opposed to standard petrochemical humectants. “These claims can be very strong depending on how the manufacturer wants the product to be perceived in the marketplace,” says Matheus.

In 2014, global cosmetic retailer Lush replaced the palm oil in its vegetable soaps and more recently also removed all petrochemicals, including mono propylene glycol (MPG), from the production process. The ingredient selected to replace MPG was sorbitol, says Renata Pagliarussi, managing director at Lush Brasil. “All our soaps are currently made with sorbitol. We chose this raw material due to its humectant and stabilizing properties. It helps preventing loss of water from the skin and hair. Sorbitol is also found in our toothy tabs because of its sweetening properties that do not lead to tooth decay,” she says.

Pagliarussi states that Lush Brasil uses two types of sorbitol – one that is purchased by Brazil and produced in Indonesia, and another that is imported from England and made in China. She says sorbitol has similar properties to those of petrochemical ingredients with reduced environmental impact. “We believe that the increased demand for sustainable products will inspire other companies to follow the same path and replace environmentally harmful ingredients with sorbitol,” she concludes.

Amanda Veloso

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