Polish cosmetics industry has the position that the furniture business aims to achieve: a very strong image of brands belonging to domestic companies that do not have to be subcontractors for foreign partners to survive on the market. On the contrary to the furniture industry, Polish cosmetic companies are not able to use basic materials sourced locally.
With Mr Andrzej Sikorski – a cosmetologist, a founder of AS Cosmetics Service consultancy, that since 1998 has developed approximately 2.5 thousand formulas and technologies initiated to manufacture, and issued hundreds of safety assessment of cosmetics – I talk about the condition of the Polish cosmetics industry.
What is the scale of Polish cosmetics industry?
Andrzej Sikorski: In Poland operate from 400 to 450 large, medium, small and very small companies producing cosmetics. That’s a lot, but widely recognized are over a dozen domestic brands, such as Bielenda, Inglot, Dr Irena Eris, Joanna and Ziaja. Names of these brands come from first or last names of their founders. Some Polish entrepreneurs also give foreign language names to their brands, so their clients do not even know that they buy Polish products.
Many foreign design companies outsource their production in Poland. These orders are the primary source of income for many Polish furniture manufacturers. Does the cosmetics industry work similarly?
Not. Large Polish cosmetic companies are not subcontractors for international corporations. Only some smaller entrepreneurs work in such business model. Big domestic manufacturers do their business based on selling Polish cosmetics. Foreign corporations have their factories in Poland, where they manufacture goods for Polish and international markets. The biggest such a factory belongs to Avon – cosmetics produced in Garwolin are being sold in the entire Europe. Oriflame works similarly.
Who is stronger in terms of volume and value of sales of cosmetics on the Polish market? Several multinational corporations, or few hundreds of Polish manufacturers?
Major Polish companies such as Ziaja, Oceanic, Dr Irena Eris, among others, rule the internal market. Poles willingly choose Polish cosmetics. They trust in domestic brands, their quality, service system, including the departments of the complaint. A few years ago Joanna shook the Polish market of hair dyes, almost displacing „unshakeable” French L’Oréal. The initial key to success was a lower price of Joanna’s products, but when L’Oréal reduced prices of their hair dyes, it came out that Polish women prefer to use Polish products. Incidentally, the production of L’Oréal hair dyes takes place near Pruszkow in a factory where Pollena operated in the past.
Poles trust in Polish cosmetics brands and are willing to buy locally manufactured products.
Has the Polish cosmetics industry always been so strong, or it started to flourish just after 1989?
Poland has been the largest manufacturer of cosmetics in our region for decades. It’s an industry with traditions dating back to the 1920s. After the World War II, large factories of cosmetics belonged to a union, known from 1970 to 1989 under the name of Pollena. With the onset of the new system, those factories have been privatized. In my opinion, the authorities failed to respect the cosmetics industry. Fortunately, thanks to individual Polish entrepreneurs who started at that time private businesses, the industry did not collapse.
What happened to Pollena factories? Are they still in Polish hands?
Part of them, including Pollena-Lechia, was sold to foreign corporations at very low prices. Along with factories, rights to use brands that were produced in those factories were sold as well. Nivea cream – it has been manufactured in Poznań for ages – and Colodent toothpaste were among them. After the grace period, the new owner – Beiersdorf AG – sold Colodent brand to Colgate-Palmolive company. That single trade returned in almost the same amount of money that Beiersdorf AG had previously paid for the entire Pollena-Lechia factory with all brand that were produced at this place. It was not hard to guess that Beiersdorf AG did not need a toothpaste brand at all, and that the Colgate-Palmolive would be interested in purchasing this brand. A huge, thriving factory Pollena-Uroda is another example. It was sold to British company PZ Cussons involved in a production of soap and detergents. The new owner has led to the closure of the Warsaw factory and sold the buildings and a land for lofts. Fortunately, the Uroda brand was purchased by Polish companies, and products with this label are still available on the market, although not at such a scale as it was in the past.
Is it true that Poland is the only country apart from Lithuania in Europe, where cosmetology can be studied at the university level?
Yes, it is true. Today, we can find cosmetology courses in about 15 Polish cities. Academies operate within medical and technical universities, or they are private institutions. This situation is unusual in Western Europe, where cosmetologists are trained at pharmaceuticals fields. Students from Europe and Asia study for example at Academy of Cosmetics and Health Care in Warsaw founded by Jacek Arct.
Cosmetologists who graduated Polish academies are sought-after specialist, especially in Great Britain.
Do we export only educated specialists, or do we send abroad also Polish cosmetics?
Polish cosmetics companies export their products to many countries: Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, just to name a few. Inglot is an example of Polish company that successfully sells cosmetics around the world. Due to the networking being done in Dubai, where we have an excellent image, Polish companies sell more and more cosmetics to The Persian Gulf region. We also make a good impression at Cosmoprof, which is the largest cosmetics fair in the world. More than a hundred Polish companies exhibited this year in Bologna at the official Polish National Pavilion.
Can we feel an atmosphere of fierce competition between Polish exhibitors at such an event?
Absolutely not. Cosmetics companies operating in Poland, including the major ones, have the common interest and act together. They are associated in the Polish Union of Cosmetics Industry. The president of the Union for the second term is Joanna Popławska from Oriflame. The Union is a member of Cosmetics Europe, operating at the European Commission in Brussels. Lobbyists take care of the interests of the entire industry. Competition between cosmetic companies appears at the end: on media and at points of sale. It is also worth noting that from 60 to 100 cosmetologists, representatives of laboratories and development departments working for various Polish cosmetic companies meet every year at the In-cosmetics fairs where they gain knowledge about novelties. We should regret that no Polish exhibitors offer cosmetic raw materials. That is the drawback of Polish cosmetics industry: we almost do not produce raw materials necessary for the production of cosmetics.
What are the resources of cosmetics ingredients?
Raw materials and components are imported. There are few exceptions, such as excellent quality detergents and shampoo ingredients produced in the PCC Rokita factory, but this supply is insufficient. The same components are being sold on Polish market by four or five western companies – they have a very strong position in Poland. Another example is botanical extracts produced by the Naturex company from Katowice, but this is just a drop in the ocean. There have been some attempts to produce in Poland a hyaluronic acid, which is one of the popular cosmetic ingredients, but they failed. Despite the fact that we could produce significant amounts of hyaluronic acid, we import it from China. Once processing animal and vegetable fats was highly developed in Poland, but now this sector almost does not exist. In my opinion, it is a big mistake.
What is the difference between ingredients produced from vegetable and animal fats?
There is no difference. For example, stearic acid and lauric acid, commonly used in the cosmetics industry, produced from vegetable or animal are the same.
For cosmetologist, there is no difference, but for many customers, including vegans, the origin of cosmetics ingredients is the key issue when making purchasing decisions.
I understand perfectly well and respect the needs of this group. Vegetarians and vegans have plenty products to choose from – there are many cosmetics made of ingredients extracted exclusively from plants. They are marked with special symbols. I would like to draw attention to another problem. Animal fat derived from the meat industry – and this business does not seem to shrink in the near or more distant future – is wasted. Instead of exporting this fat abroad, we should process it into, for example, detergent ingredients. Wherever you look on the basic material – an emulsifier, a detergent or an adjunct ingredient – you can always find hydrocarbon chains. Animal fat can be processed into, for example, washing powder and soap. One kilogram of animal fat exported abroad is sold for pennies: from 20 to 30 Polish grosz (about 5–7 euro cents – ed.). Foreign buyers know what to do with the animal fat at the industry scale. Meanwhile, the Polish cosmetics companies have to import ingredients such as cetostearyl alcohol, which costs from 12 to 15 Polish zloty (about 3–4 euro – ed.) per kilogram. They would not have to buy them and at the same time could save a lot of money if we process in Poland animal fat produced by the Polish meat industry into cosmetics or detergents raw materials. In my opinion, there is a lack of logical thinking and action. However, the revival of fat processing industry in Poland would have to be supported by the state. Private investors are not able to finance all necessary, long-term investment.
What is the origin of vegetable oils being used in the cosmetics industry?
Today, cosmetics industry uses mainly palm oil derived from oil palm plantations located in South Asia. Everything was fine until an oil was extracted from trees that had grown in areas suitable neither for other agricultural purposes nor housing. Then, the global demand for palm oil has increased to such a high level, that Asians began to clearcut rainforests to plant oil palms. Palm oil exported to the European Union must be certified for not being extracted from plantations that have an adverse impact on the environment, but even so I think it is an absurd that we get rid of animal fat we have in abundance in Poland, and we import palm oil from remote areas. In my opinion, it does not have to work like that.
More and more clients, not only vegans and vegetarians, carefully read the list of ingredients of cosmetics. Many customers avoid triclosan and parabens.
It has not been yet clearly proved that triclosan is harmful, but just in case I advise not to use cosmetics containing this compound. On the other hand, I think it is a huge mistake that cosmetics industry does not use parabens anymore. The mistake was not made by cosmetologists, but by media. Few years ago they spread the news about a woman suffering from cancer. Parabens were found in her lymph nodes, but it was not known how they got there, or whether their presence was the cause of the disease. Media pressed the panic button and since then people have avoided parabens in cosmetics. There is no demand, so there is no supply. But in fact, parabens are among the best-known preservatives used for the last hundred years, also in the food industry. In natural form, we can find them in pears and bananas. Thanks to parabens, flesh of these fruits does not mildew. Scientific Committee managed by the European Commission proved that the basic parabens – methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben – are safe. The Committee imposed restrictions only on isoparabens, as they are suspected of being reprotoxic, which means they probably may affect on a human fetus. In my opinion, it was not a good idea to replace parabens with a preservative called isothiazolinone. I would not be surprised if one day it comes out that producers of substitutes fed the parabens panic. Isothiazolinone displaced parabens even from wall paints. Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone are safe in theory, but when used in large numbers of products they started to cause allergies. Parabens are still used in pharmaceuticals, including various ointments, but they are not mentioned on labels, as there is no such requirement in the pharmaceutical industry.
When you eat a pear, your body gets roughly the same amount of natural parabens – they do not differ from synthetic ones – that are included in a balsam that you would apply from head to toe for three months.
Is there any cosmetic ingredient that can be sourced locally, and it does not raise any controversy?
Yes, it is a charcoal. Recently, the modern cosmetics industry started to include this ingredient in their formulas. Charcoal is an excellent absorbent of many contaminants. Once it was used in gas masks because it absorbs even war gasses. A surface of particles contained in one gram of charcoal is as high as 200 square meters. Charcoal absorbs pollutants like a sponge, so it works well as a supplement to washing cosmetics and cleansers.
Does it matter what kind of wood is used to receive charcoal?
For cosmetics purposes, I recommend charcoal made of wood from deciduous trees, because they contain less resin than coniferous trees. Birch and willow growing in Bieszczady Mountains in Poland are well-suited to this task. Pieces of wood are being closed in a retort and heated without access to the air – otherwise it would be burned – to a temperature from 450 to 700 degrees Celsius. Then charcoal sticks may be used as water filters, or in comminuted form as ingredients of cosmetics. An addition of black particulates result in a characteristic dark color of cosmetics, but they do not stay on a skin or hair.
I interview Andrzej Sikorski during a press trip to the Bieszczady Mountains, organized as part of a marketing campaign for the new Polish cosmetics brand ZEW for men. The press conference took place in the bosom of nature. Above you can find a short movie documenting the walk of press representatives to the mountain hut Chata Socjologa and our survival training.
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