The recent US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision to ban certain chemical ingredients in antibacterial soaps comes after years of considerable controversy and bad publicity. With no suitable alternative proven to be safe, the red light for triclosan has received a warm welcome from the probiotic industry. In fact, probiotic ingredients are well positioned to penetrate the personal care market, favoured by the trend towards natural and milder ingredients.
Game over for triclosan
Triclosan is an antimicrobial ingredient widely used in beauty and personal care products, the efficacy and safety of which has been called into question for some years now. In 2013, when the FDA first proposed the triclosan ban and challenged the industry to prove its efficacy and safety, the ingredient accounted globally for 1717 tonnes in beauty and personal care.
To date, 19 active chemical ingredients, including triclosan, have been banned in the US from use in commercial antibacterial soaps, driven by the industry’s failure to provide the required scientific evidence to support its claims. However, triclosan is still found in other cosmetic and personal care products, including toothpaste. Oral care is indeed the king category for triclosan, globally accounting for 1177 tonnes and is projected to grow by a 4% CAGR over the 2015-2020 period.
In advance of the expected ban, key players such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson or Colgate-Palmolive started phasing out triclosan from their bath and shower products in 2013. Unsurprisingly, with no obvious safe and cost-effective replacement for triclosan, volumes of antimicrobial ingredients in bath and shower products started to fall, with a year-on-year decline of 16% between 2013 and 2014 and a more drastic drop of 41% between 2014 and 2015. Actually, fewer products are now making antibacterial claims due to the huge uncertainty about the safety and efficacy of currently available alternatives.
Volumes of Antimicrobials in Shower and Bath Applications (2013-2020)
Bye-bye triclosan, hello probiotics?
In light of the recent announcement by the FDA that antibacterial soaps containing the banned chemicals are no more effective than regular soap and water, the industry is seeking safer and more efficient alternatives. Given the increasing environmental awareness among consumers, especially in Western markets, natural ingredients such as probiotics are becoming more attractive to consumers. The growing popularity of probiotics in non-food products such as cosmetics and the trend towards greener and safer ingredients could create market opportunities for natural probiotics ingredients with antimicrobial activity.
The North American market represents the greatest opportunity for probiotics, since there is no alternative to triclosan currently in use, while Western European markets are already saturated with salicylic acid as the key active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, which limits the potential market penetration of probiotics.
Challenges and opportunities for probiotic soaps
In today’s scenario, with triclosan out of the market, probiotic ingredients have a clear opportunity to penetrate the soap market. Probiotic soil-based organisms used in personal care offer some advantages over plant-based probiotics used in food and cosmetic applications. The use of soil-based micro-organisms that are able to form spores overcomes the major challenge that manufacturers of probiotic products face – stability. These ingredients are compatible with most of the chemical ingredients, including surfactants, which makes them better suited to be used in soaps. However, there are still some barriers that need to be overcome before the toiletries industry can embrace the probiotic trend.
Although a segment of the consumer population might be willing to pay a premium for green products, a potential barrier is the higher price of probiotics compared to other chemical antimicrobials. For instance, Chrisal markets Probiotic Hygiene & Care Shower Gel (USD12.95, 400ml), P2 Probiotic Power sells P2 i Clean Every Inch Gentle Face, Hand & Body Wash (USD14.95, 237ml) and Airbiotics provides probiotic hand cleaner (USD9.99, 10ml).
With new players potentially entering the market, the need to differentiate will be particularly important in the coming years. It is difficult for consumers to buy probiotic products if brands do not provide reliable information about their green credentials. Currently, labels include neither the name of the bacteria, genus and/or species, nor the bacteria concentration, which makes it difficult for companies to influence the purchase decision, especially in products claiming to contain multiple strains.
Consumers, especially young adults who are more environmentally sensitive than past generations, are increasingly looking to green certification labels to confirm that products they buy meet marketing claims. A number of green certificates, such as ecolabel, green seal or GMO-free, are now used by brands to create a positive image for probiotic green products by focusing on the environmental benefits of these ingredients. Mainstream brands could be at risk if they are perceived to be less green than alternatives, since some consumers may be willing to swap brands for a greener alternative. In addition, potential changes in the regulatory landscape could also limit the growth of this segment in the future.
The triclosan ban certainly offers commercial opportunities for probiotic ingredients. Although still niche, things are looking up for probiotic ingredients and further product launches are expected in the short-to-medium term. The industry needs to invest in clinical trials to convince the FDA that the probiotics are more efficient than plain soap and in green marketing to convince consumers that the ingredient is worth the price. This will play a key role in changing consumer purchasing habits towards premium green products.