Product Development Office hours: 30 minutes talking Natural Product Development with Yoana Dvorzsak

We’re taking our most frequently asked questions and turning them into a new column: Product Development Office Hours. For our first topic, we are turning to our Director of Product and Component Development, Yoana Dvorzsak, to ask for her expert opinion on all-natural SPF formulation. 


Q: Let's start at the beginning. What are the most common requests you get from new brand partners around the use of naturals?

Yoana: The biggest question or request we get from new brands around naturals is brand founders or product developers asking for natural content in products. Basically, people want their new SPF product to have natural content. But right away we have to answer that with another question in order to dive further into what this new brand’s definition of natural is. Natural means different things to different people, and there is no regulation around the term. So we have to ask brands: does it mean all-natural, unprocessed ingredients, or does it mean naturally-derived ingredients?


Q: So what is the difference between “all natural” and “naturally derived”? 

Yoana: Some people consider everything that comes from the earth to be natural. Some people are okay with natural ingredients being processed. For example, you have to use an anti-oxidant in an oil in order to prevent an oil from oxidizing, which gives the product a longer shelf life. Other oils may come with an odor and then they undergo a deodorizing process. Some people don’t like that step, while others consider a product natural even after that step. Some brands don’t mind if an ingredient is naturally derived, as long as it does also occur in nature and is a like molecule or substance — some people would still call that natural. Others only consider the source to be what makes it ‘natural’ and that’s where “naturally-derived” comes from.


Q: Does Solésence have a standard for what is considered “natural”?

Yoana: We guide brands on how they can tell a story about a certain ingredient, but we don’t have a standard for natural ourselves. We are centered on safety, and conflating “natural” with “safe” can be a mistake. So what we focus on mainly are the toxicology and safety aspects of each ingredient that we use and we bring into our labs, expose ourselves to, and so on. That’s what we screen for. Everything must be safe and effective.


Q: How does a “naturals” claim impact texture, color, and other elements of a skin care product?

Yoana: It’s very material dependent; some materials are purified of impurities that could potentially cause challenges in product development. This is a conversation we have very early on with new brands so that we can discuss the consequences of deodorized versus non-deodorized oils or butters. The materials have come a long way and performance used to be a sacrifice, but with the clean beauty / green beauty movement, materials suppliers are continuing to innovate so that’s no longer the case. But there are still shifts in expectations that people have to anticipate when formulating with certain naturals.


Q: How does a “no-no list” come into play in product development?

Yoana: It comes into play in the very, very early stages — that’s a must-have along with a product brief. It’s really the foundational step of developing a product and helping everyone to see what your vision is. It’s critical to have this list separated out into wants and needs (must-have, nice-to-have, and so on) so that we can come up with the best product possible under your vision.


Q: What should people know about preservatives?  

Yoana: Preservatives are designed to kill bacteria, yeast, and mold. They absolutely have to perform at that level, and generally, I would say that you don’t want to mess with preservative systems. Think about how your product is packed out, think about your formula, think about where you will typically keep the product. Will it be in a humid environment like a bathroom? These are all important elements to consider.

In my previous life, I have been part of a recall because of a preservative system. You can harm people in many different ways if a preservative fails, and you can also harm your brand. I would say that you should be very, very careful with picking a preservative system with natural products. This is an area where the industry is still catching up. First, it was replacing parabens (which are naturally occurring). Then it was phenoxyethanol, which is now being phased out. There is a lot of innovation going on but that is one segment of raw materials that’s still a little lagging.

Especially now with Covid-19, I think it’s critical that people think about preservative systems in a totally different way. There are companies that specialize specifically in preservative systems and they have labs where they test these preservative systems on different strands of either yeast, mold, or bacteria. I would advise people to go to a company that specializes in preservatives and really educate yourself on why you need a preservative system.


Q: Any final thoughts you want to share on formulating with naturals, or natural SPF products?

Yoana: Make sure that whatever you pick is safe. We focus on the toxicology profile and safety profile of ingredients much more than the origin, because a product has to be safe to use. Safety and efficacy are key for us. From there, think of the “why” for your story — are you seeking to be sustainable, or something else? And let it be your guide.