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General Blog postings

Are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) harmful as an exfoliant?

Are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) harmful as an exfoliant on the skin and what are the alternatives?

There are many methods of achieving skin renewal (exfoliation) in order to get back that youthful glow to the skin’s surface. Some skincare products use chemicals, some are physical and some are enzymatic (proteolitic enzymes that consume dead skin) exfoliants.

The simplest exfoliant is physical. The physical method uses abrasives. They can be quite aggressive and may leave some scarring from using these abrasive materials (such as crushed walnut or almond shell) to scrub off the dead outer layer. Admittedly this is a relatively cheap and effective way of bringing back a shinier skin but in some cases there are repercussions from using abrasives, namely soreness and redness of the skin (acne skin should never use this method). These may take several days to settle down and heal before the full effects can be seen.

The chemical method is the most aggressive type. The worst type use phenolics and resorcinol which are known carcinogens. Have you ever noticed that when some people are exposed to sun, they appear to blush? This blushing does not disappear until they leave the warm environment. The reason for this is that they may have used a chemical exfoliant which are known in the cosmetic and skincare field as Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA). These chemicals are organic acids and are used as high concentration acids. These include examples such as glycolic acid, Kojic acid, retinoic acid (vitamin A), etc.

Molecules of AHA examples
These chemicals act like any acid does except that they are more destructive than mineral acids (sulphuric, or hydrochloric acids for instance which can cause severe burns but can be neutralised before any great damage is done). The AHAs have a strong liking for the proteins in the skin such as the amino end groups and begin to burn from those points by dissolving cell bonds and so undermine the integrity of the skin. This can result in the exposure of the melano sites in the skin. When these are exposed unsightly brown colour stains or blotches can appear on the skin.
Once these acids have bonded to these groups there is no way to “neutralise” or dilute them. So they are unstoppable. What then happens is that they begin to react indiscriminately with all of the skin, be it dead or live. Unfortunately the reaction continues until the acid is all “used up”.
The role of the acid is to “burn” off the outer layer of the skin (regardless whether it is old dead skin or live fresh skin) and force the skin to repair itself by producing a fresh layer. The method is to create enough of a burn that the skin blisters. Eventually the blisters “fall” off (much like a sunburn).
If this process is performed often enough then eventually there is no more skin able to properly cover the capillaries in the outer layer of skin. Asian skin is much finer than European type and so are more significantly affected by these acids (brown stains). The capillaries help in the maintenance of body temperature. When the body gets hot, blood flows through these fine blood vessels and are able to cool the blood by natural radiation and dispersion of heat. Very much like what the radiator does for the car in order to maintain a certain motor temperature.

When these capillaries are exposed to the elements then the blood is clearly seen to course through them, giving the appearance that the person is blushing or getting a hot flush and cannot retreat easily to normal until the person returns to a cool environment and their body temperature cools down.
It is yet to be formally acknowledged whether AHAs are harmful to the skin but there seems to be evidence that it cannot be good for it. Eventually someone will be seriously affected by it if there haven’t been cases registered already.

Alternatives to AHAs
There are alternatives to the physical and chemical exfoliants. These alternatives are specialty ingredients called “proteolitic enzymes”. These enzymes are more selective with what is being consumed. They are more interested in consuming the dead skin cells only and leave the healthy skin cells alone. They act a bit slower than other methods of exfoliation but their lasting effects are much more profound. Ortron has carefully researched which types of enzymes can be used. Ortron needed to be very careful which enzyme to use as some enzymes can be rather aggressive, such as the pineapple enzymes, which are very acidic.


Image of the left hand treated with papaya enzyme over 5 weeks. The right hand has not been treated. (Image courtesy of Ortron Corporation Pty Ltd)

 Ortron has developed a patented papaya enzyme skincare range in cream and gel forms. In these creams the enzymes work symbiotically with several herbal extracts which achieve cell turnover. These give lasting and more desirable effects on the skin with very little, if no side effects at all. The enzymes take a little longer to achieve the desired results than the chemical and physical methods but with no harmful side effects of the others.

Papain is a non-irritating stabilised acid-free exfoliant which operate in the pH range of 6 to 7. Papain is a natural enzyme derived from the unripe papaya. The enzyme only digests the dead cell layer of the skin causing no damage to the underlying living cell layer (Proteolitic enzyme). People with sensitive skin can easily tolerate papain enzyme therapy whereas they may not handle the irritation often associated with AHAs , Retinoids and to a lesser extent BHAs in water based creams and gels.

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So you want to start up your own skin care range?


Typical things that people ask when wishing to start a range of skin care products of their own are

  • Why should I sell someone else’s skin care products when I can sell my own range?
  • I can’t seem to find any skin care product in the market that fulfils what I believe a product range should do. Can I make a better skin care range?
  • I have ideas on wonderful ingredients that should be marketed on my range. Who can contract manufacture and help me launch my skin care range?

Many people have the same great idea of starting their own skin care range but need to know what is necessary for them to research before they invest in launching their cosmetic skincare range.

As we are in the cosmetic contract manufacturing business, Ortron Corporation has been able to help many people start their range but have always given the following advice:

  1. Research where you are going to sell the product so that the retailers can get the skin care range (lotion; moisturiser; hair conditioner; foot treatments as people love to pamper their feet)
  2. What market are you targeting for example mature or oily acne skin etc?
  3. Find a reliable distributor that can reach a larger network of sales
  4. Establish a brand name and register it
  5. Get an idea of packaging and label design
  6. How will you be able to make your skin care range exclusive and set it apart from the rest
  7. Speak to a contract formulator that will put your product together so that you sell a finished range.

One of the biggest issues when selling your own range is that people want to / need to

  1. Notice the product range on the shelf because of the packaging and appearance
  2. Smell the product for any fragrance that resonates with them
  3. Try some of it on themselves to gauge how it feels and once again how it smells on themselves.

Rest assured that once people have tried your skin care product range and are convinced of the high quality then there is every possibility that you will have repeat sales.

The internet may not always be the best way to launch SALES of your range but is an excellent way to launch your CONCEPT and show how your product is exclusive and unique. 

Using online selling can enhance your sales but  if you are using this as the only distribution channel it may not provide the volume throughput you require to become viable long term.

Before introducing your new moisturising cream for example, you need to know that the people can buy the products from somewhere. This can either be via a shop or chain of shops or via a link to a webpage shopping trolley system. The last option is really to be created once you have developed a name for yourself. There will always be the limitation on the fact that people can’t touch and feel the product.

Ortron, as a small volume cosmetic contract manufacturer, has a vast and diverse library of over 350 cosmetic formulations which we can draw upon.  These range from acne treatments to foot treatments. We have the skin care product that can treat your customer from head to toe.

So we trust that this article has provided you an insight to where to start and rest assured that we at Ortron are very likely to have the right skin care formulation to give you the head start to make the product which will suit that very special ingredient you have in mind and  we can formulate this in your product to do what you will need it to do.

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