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Airless Packaging

Keeping air out and product integrity in.

By Christine Esposito, Contributing Editor

Oxygen. It is essential to life. But in the beauty business, it can wreak havoc, attacking the chemical stability and microbiological integrity of a company's finely crafted formulation.

While most cosmetics aren't sterile—they contain a small amount of physically harmless microorganisms—an abundance of air/oxygen can cause microorganisms to flourish to a point that they could overwhelm the formula's preservation system, says Oak Brook, IL-based cosmetic chemist consultant Mort Westman.

And let's not even get into what might be on a user's hand each time she sticks her fingers into a jar of skin cream (yuck!).

Air, user interaction and even sunlight can cause discoloration, funky odors, and at its worst, a contaminated product. But marketers can breathe easy thanks to airless packaging technology. Not only does it help protect products from contamination during the filling process and when in use by the consumer, airless packaging aids in dispensability, adds distinction and helps increase shelf life.

When Airless is the Answer

A number of products—from skin bleaches to self-tanners to fine fragrances—can benefit from airless packaging. And as skin care science forges ahead—including the use of more fragile and sensitive products—there's no doubt airless packaging will play a larger and increasingly important role in the beauty business. More potent skin care treatments, organic offerings and functional cosmetics demand airless technologies. And according to industry experts, when it comes to many of these oxygen-sensitive formulations, airless is the answer.

"Conventional bottles and jars often provide an inadequate oxygen barrier for many of these products. This issue is solved with airless packaging," says Mary Frey, director of marketing, personal care division, U.S., MeadWestvaco Calmar.

Today's airless packaging is more ergonomic than in the past and delivers increased performance and aesthetics—key issues with cosmetic companies that want to marry form and function when it comes packaging their most unique and efficacious products.

More than eye candy, DuWop's Shadow Lift features anti-aging ingredients to firm the eyelid in a sheer liquid eye shadow. To package this $29 double-duty product, DuWop turned to SeaCliff Packaging, which crafted an ergonomic 5ml square polypropylene airless pump, coated with a metallic spray finish and decorated with a single color silkscreen. The airless pump reportedly delivers the product in a flawless dollop, according to SeaCliff.

Formulation advancements haven't been relegated to the prestige end of the beauty business. Companies targeting the mass market are formulating higher cost and more efficacious products that also require the numerous benefits of airless packaging.

"Air-tight packages are being used by consumer goods companies for a variety of formulations in many brands and in all distribution channels," says Jan Wilson, managing director, sales and marketing with HCP Packaging USA. "Certainly, formula technology has been the major factor in the need for, and use of, airless/air-tight packaging."

New Products

When it comes to choosing airless technology, marketers can select from a wide array of products in a variety of shapes and forms with enhanced performance, ergonomics and aesthetics. The following is a look at some of the more recent advancements being touted by component suppliers.

Continental's Airless Pump Dispensing System has a frictionless overcap closure with fingertip actuation that outputs 1.45ml per stroke. The orifice closes to lock air out, protecting the remaining contents, while maintaining a sleek appearance. The product, which is offered in 50-, 100-, 150- and 200ml sizes, can be filled on traditional equipment, and its zero CFC emissions make it environmentally friendly.

Flexpaq Corp. is offering an airless dispensing system in 3-, 5-,10- and 15ml sizes. It is available in a variety of colors and decoration options, according to the South Plainfield, NJ-based company.

HCP and its affiliate CKP have a new air-tight package that features "soft lips" Surlyn bottle technology for accurate shade representation and a flow-through applicator/air-tight mechanism that offers an airtight seal that delivers improved compatibility and prevents formula evacuation when not in use. Two flow-through applicators, a K-resin slanted top and a lip brush, are available.

Another important trend in personal care and skin care packaging is neutrality, as companies desire mechanisms that will have little impact on their finished formulation.

"Creams are actually more fragile/sensitive to contamination, air or light as preservative agents are less used than in the past," notes Eric Desmaris, marketing manager with Rexam Dispensing Systems. "It is critically important for personal care products to be pure and contamination-free, ensuring that any type of formula is never contaminated by the pump mechanism or by air or light. It's essential that preservative-free formulas keep their integrity throughout the life of the package."

Along those lines, Rexam offers Prodigio, which offers neutrality and dispensing cleanliness via CleanPoint technology. Unveiled at Luxe Pack in Monaco (with production scheduled to commence this summer), this airless dispenser features an airtight closure activated by an obturator. Once the cream has moved through, the obturator slides closed, making it impossible for product that might have been in contact with the air, light or skin to flow back into the dispenser. And because there is no contact between the lotion and metal parts or elastomers, Prodigio ensures high neutrality and thus promotes greater compatibility, according to the company.

A new development gives cosmetic manufacturers focused on premium skin care the option of an airtight valve configuration on MeadWestvaco Calmar's Aria dispenser. Available in both 15- and 30ml bottles and based on a piston-follower design, Aria Airless packages are suited for high-viscosity products. Featuring a PurePath dispenser, which eliminates the potential for any metal-related contamination, MeadWestvaco Calmar offers Aria Airless with or without an elastomer valve at the orifice, which adds another layer of oxygen protection, and also eliminates any potential for dried product at the orifice.

As personalization continues to impact the beauty business, companies are creating more consumer-specific and targeted treatments, and airless packaging is following suit.

One hot area is the male skin care market. And since male skin differs from women's (mainly from daily shaving), emulsions for men often contain higher percentages of active ingredients, making them more fragile.

To answer these packaging needs, Valois offers Titan, which it contends meets the technical and aesthetic needs of cosmetic packaging for men. Available in 50- and 75ml sizes, Titan's actuator makes it an ideal solution for balms, gels, aftershave lotion and skin care products. The piston pack—which prevents air from entering the package and protects formulations from oxidation and sunlight—features the Evolution pump, which dispenses highly viscous emulsions of up to 60,000 cps.

Another targeted airless package is the Digital pen, designed specifically for anti-aging eye treatments and serums. It features an elongated and ergonomic actuator that allows the consumer to apply the product around the eye without contaminating it with a fingertip, according to Valois.

If a company opts for airless, it may be able to cut formulation costs by reducing preservatives used in a formulation.

"Without airless packaging," says Frey, "formulators need to include expensive preservatives and antioxidants to address this issue. Eliminating oxygen contact, however, makes these added ingredients unnecessary. Eliminating such additives means eliminating costs."

However, airless technology itself is more costly than basic tubes, jars and pots, but thanks to advancements from leading suppliers, it is becoming a more affordable and practical choice.

"Airless systems are more cost-effective today simply because they preserve sensitive formulas, giving them a longer shelf and use-life. Airless systems also are made more affordable to customers because the filling takes place under regular atmospheric conditions; this makes for higher filling speeds which translates into lower costs for the customer," says Desmaris.

Industry experts say it's also wise to consider the benefits this type of packaging will deliver to the customer, such as more complete evacuation of product.

"It is more important for our buyers to purchase an airless [package] since skin care products are usually high priced and therefore evacuating as much as is possible is a major concern to the buyer," notes Vonda Simon, president of SeaCliff Packaging.

Gasping for Airless

As consumer demand for better products drives sales in the beauty care business, R&D teams will continue to push formulations further, and cosmetic companies will increasingly seek the benefits of airless technologies to protect and enhance these products.

"Clearly product movement towards more efficacious formulation has increased the value of airless packaging," says Westman. "Like a fine musical instrument, many of the active ingredients employed in these formulations require special care in order to maximize performance.

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