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Science, R&D

Study reveals the promising potential of Brazilian clays for the cosmetic industry

Brazil is one of the countries with the highest mineral potential in the world, but many of the resources found in its subsoil have not yet been studied in depth. Take clays, for instance – despite being one of the main suppliers of these minerals for low value-added use in petroleum extraction, civil construction and soil fertilization, Brazil still imports most of the clays used on a large scale by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

These industries usually make use of imported clays, since there are no similar ones with the same degree of purity available in the domestic market, and suppliers have difficulty maintaining quality standards from one batch to the next,” says engineer Francisco Rolando Valenzuela Diaz, professor at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo (USP). According to Diaz, the lack of investment in R&D in the area limits the industry’s ability to achieve and maintain the clays’ properties over time.

Brazilian clays studied in the research

Brazilian clays studied in the research

Diaz is the coordinator of the study “Purification, rheology, mineralogical characterization, and modification of Brazilian clays for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and other high value-added products”, conducted recently with the support of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). The study assessed Brazil’s potential to change this scenario through the investigation and purification of clays found throughout the country.

Clays indicated for use in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals must satisfy stringent microbiological and toxicity requirements. “Some industries opt to use synthetic clays. Despite being more expensive, they have a high level of purity and homogeneity of properties across different lots,” says Diaz. In the cosmetic industry, clays can be used in the manufacture of different products, including face masks, soaps, deodorants, makeup, and nail polish, as well as in the purification of oils and fats. Their medicinal properties include the absorption of toxins, the provision of mineral supplements, and topical use for the treatment of dermatological conditions. “In some applications, the clays are submitted to surface treatments to make them compatible with organic standards.

According to Diaz, the project investigated 20 types of clay, which were purified and analyzed for their potential, reproducibility of results, and response to different solvents. “Out of the clays studied, the ones that performed best were kaolins from the state of Para and bentonites from Paraiba and Bahia.” The clay from Bahia, for instance, was confirmed not to be suitable for sophisticated uses in its natural state, but after purification, it yields three clays with different physicochemical properties and high potential for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

The research also proved that the clays studied can substitute coloring agents and preservatives in various formulations, contributing to the manufacture of ecologically friendly products. After identifying the regions of Brazil with capacity for producing high quality clays, the next step will be to research their structural and physicochemical properties in depth, to establish quality parameters and develop industrial processes that ensure the efficacy of the clays in different applications. “There are companies already interested in the industrialization of some of these clays for use in high value-added products. I believe that the increasing development and market evaluation of new products using Brazilian clays, both nationally and internationally, will have a very positive impact on the industry,” says Diaz.

Fernanda Bonifacio

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