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Bye bye microplastics: Eucerin reaches sustainability milestone

The debate about microplastics in the environment has been increasing for many years. At Beiersdorf, we recognized the need for action at an early stage and introduced company-wide measures to avoid microplastics as part of our CARE BEYOND SKIN  sustainability agenda and pushed ahead with research into environmentally friendly alternatives. At the end of 2023, we reached an important milestone: following the changeover at NIVEA 2021, all cosmetic formulas of our Eucerin brand are now also completely free from microplastics as defined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

But how does the conversion of an entire skincare range with numerous formulas and product properties succeed? Our experts Wiebke Maerker-Scheel (Global Associate Sustainability Director Eucerin) and Dr. Christoph Ernst (Manager Global Product Development Dermo-Cosmetics) provide exciting insights into the process in this interview and explain why our commitment to sustainability does not stop here.

Beiersdorf - Wiebke and Christoph
Dr. Christoph Ernst and Wiebke Maerker-Scheel

Christoph, can you start by explaining why microplastics were used in cosmetic products in the first place?

Christoph: In the past, microplastic particles were used in cosmetic products such as scrubs, toothpaste, make-up and shower gels for two reasons. Firstly, as abrasives, which act as exfoliating particles to help remove dead skin cells and smooth the skin. On the other hand, it was used in leave-on products, which are products that are not washed off. Here, microplastics had the task of improving the texture and consistency of the formulas in such a way that the products could be applied more smoothly or had a more pleasant feel. These properties are still important. Our aim in gradually replacing microplastics was therefore to retain these functions. We started with this back in 2013. So it has been a long journey...

Beiersdorf team picture
Crossfunctional exchange between Research and Development, Supply Chain, Corporate Sustainability & Marketing

Wiebke, why did Eucerin decide to eliminate microplastics from all cosmetic products? Was it the reputation that the particles have enjoyed in the public eye for several years?

Wiebke: The reputation is not good, that’s true. But it’s the figures behind it that show that plastic pollution is one of the biggest challenges of our time. In 2017, it was estimated that around 3.2 million tons of microplastics are released into the environment every year, particularly via water and air. Even though the effects of microplastics on the environment have not yet been conclusively researched, it was important to us as a brand to make a change.

As part of our sustainability agenda, we therefore made a commitment with Eucerin years ago to remove all raw materials based on microplastics* from our cosmetic product formulations and thus improve the environmental compatibility of our products.

Beiersdorf Microplastic

How exactly have you managed to replace microplastics* in all Eucerin cosmetic products? So far, it has played a relevant role in the product formulas.

Christoph: In addition to careful consideration, it takes a lot of experience in product development to replace the functions that microplastic particles have taken on so far without compromising the skin care properties. For example, we now use alternative particles such as microcrystalline cellulose, almond granules, jojoba pearls or sugar for the exfoliating effect. For creams and lotions, we use natural thickeners such as shea butter or certain vegetable oils as well as biopolymers such as carrageenan and starch to achieve the desired texture and consistency. With every new product formula, however, one thing must be ensured above everything else: The substitutes must not only retain the functional properties of the product, but also meet our high standards for skin and environmental compatibility. We managed to achieve this for every single product in the Eucerin range.

To achieve this particular milestone, numerous product formulas had to be adapted. How did you approach this project?

Wiebke: That’s right, the complete changeover was a real mammoth project. As the revisions took over 10 years, we can of course only speak on behalf of the many people who were involved. Ultimately, cross-functional collaboration was the key to success. We brought together the expertise of numerous colleagues from the different Research & Development, Marketing, Supply Chain and Corporate Sustainability teams. As a team, we revised more than 70 formulas or withdrew them from the market if they could not meet our quality standards without the use of microplastics.

Achieving our goal of phasing out microplastics is not only proof of the strong cross-functional cooperation between all departments, but also an expression of our special innovative strength: it is possible to combine sustainability and product performance!
Felix Bäuerle, Sustainability Manager Product Innovation

Have we solved the problem of microplastics?

Wiebke: No, unfortunately the problem has not yet been solved. Microplastics are still an issue for many other products and industries. Cosmetic products have often been the focus of public discourse. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) identifies the main sources of microplastics in the oceans as washing synthetic textiles, abrasion from car tires and “urban dust”, which is defined as abrasion from households or construction sites, paints or varnishes. So there is still a lot to do in various industries...

Christoph: There is also the problem that the term “microplastics” has not yet been uniformly defined, which often leads to misunderstandings. Like the WWF, we are guided by the definition of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which defines microplastics as solid, water-insoluble plastic particles with a size of 5 millimetres and smaller.

What additional measures are planned to make Eucerin even more sustainable?

Christoph: We are indeed working on many different topics at the same time in order to combine the well-known high level of product efficacy with a reduced impact on the balance of the environment. Our product formulas are an important building block. For some time now, we have been pursuing a product development strategy of drastically reducing the proportion of poorly biodegradable components in our formulas. These include certain soluble synthetic polymers, silicones, mineral oil derivatives and special light filters and stabilizers. All these measures naturally help to make our products even more sustainable in the future.

Wiebke: In addition to our formulas, product packaging is also a key topic for us. We want to significantly reduce the amount of fossil-based virgin plastics we use to package our products. We have been working on this for roughly three years now and have already managed to switch almost all our PET bottles to recycled PET. It is also important to us to increase the recyclability and reusability of our packaging. We have had refill bags in our range for over 25 years – this saves a lot of plastic. But we are thinking even further. At the beginning of 2023, we launched a refill solution for jars for the first time – for our best-selling face cream, the Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler. We are working on more innovative solutions for the future.

What is microplastics?

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines microplastics as solid, non-water-soluble and non-biodegradable plastic particles that are less than five millimeters in size. Primary microplastics are intentionally produced as tiny particles to be used as product ingredients, for example in scrubs, shampoos, sun creams, cleansing products, make-up or lip care products. In contrast, secondary microplastics are the by-product of large pieces of plastic that break down into smaller pieces through erosion and the action of natural elements.

* According to the definition of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

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Carolin Schreyer

About the editor: Carolin Schreyer

Carolin is responsible for our Pharmacy and Selective Brands within the Corporate Communications team. In this way she takes care of international communication projects of brands like Eucerin, Aquaphor, Hansaplast and La Prairie.