Interview with Dr Mark Smith – NATRUE Director General

July 2, 2024. In our second episode of interviews with experts within the cosmetic industry, we had the pleasure to ask some questions to Dr Mark Smith, NATRUE Director General. Our aim is to inform our readers about different professions within the industry and get to know their views on different topics.

If you want to read our first interview to Geoff Waby, expert in the US Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA), click here.

Dr Mark Smith graduated with a M.Chem (Hons.) degree in chemistry and an interdisciplinary PhD. between chemistry and genetics. Before joining NATRUE in June 2014, Dr Smith worked in research with two positions covering biotechnology (Leeds, UK) and the pharmaceuticals (Montréal, Canada). Dr Smith became Director General of NATRUE in July 2016 where his is responsible for the day-to-day running of NATRUE, as well as taking a lead role in all political, regulatory and scientific affairs of the association. Dr Smith is also one of the members of COSlaw Editorial Committee.

Can you briefly describe your job?

My current role at NATRUE involves a combination of activities and responsibilities. As Director General, I am responsible for the day-to-day management of the association. In addition, I take a lead role in all political, regulatory, and scientific affairs of the association, including representing NATRUE at international public or private organisations and institutions.

Can you share with us what made you decide to work at NATRUE?

Before working at NATRUE, I worked in laboratory research in Canada. I wanted to transition away from working at the bench towards something more applied where I could balance out my chemistry background with new opportunities. Initially, I started as Scientific and Regulatory Manager at NATRUE.

How does your job influence you when purchasing cosmetics?

The fact that all cosmetics must be safe by law establishes a confidence baseline. However, a big influence on purchasing decisions boils down to claims, and in particular environmental claims.

Considering your background, I imagine you are really interested in research and innovation. Can you tell us what you think are the most important innovations in recent years in the field of natural and organic cosmetics?

The natural sector has made significant progress over the past 15-20 years. The ability to innovate in this sector has been supported by the increasing availability of natural raw materials. The increased palette for actives and functional ingredients has further diversified natural cosmetic products to now cover everything from hair or oral care to sunscreens and body lotions. Recently, the most important innovations have centred around an increased focus on formulations using biotechnologically produced actives and upcycled raw materials.

What is your advice to cosmetic companies that are starting to develop natural cosmetic products?

First and foremost, be sure that you comply with baseline legislation for cosmetic products. Secondly, although there is no official definition for a natural cosmetic product, you should decide on what voluntary reference you would choose to support the product claim. Thirdly, please consider that your choice of reference tool may impact the available palette of raw materials that you can use. Lastly, if you are looking to provide the highest level of reassurance for a product claim, you should consider third-party certification to meet the independently verifiable requirements of a private, voluntary standard, such as NATRUE.

At COSlaw, we handle regulatory compliance. Many times, companies see regulatory compliance as a burden that limits innovation. What do you think about it?

On the one hand, regulatory compliance aims to protect human health, which means it is a fundamentally important aspect. Issues come when regulatory provisions may not reflect a science-based risk assessment, leading to disproportionate risk management, which can impact the palette of available substances that would otherwise facilitate innovation. In this instance, the defence of existing substances that have a continuous safety record may limit the capacity of industry to invest in new innovations. On the other side of the coin, there can be situations where industrial innovation outpaces regulation, which can also create compliance uncertainties.

Regulatory requirements and consumer expectations sometimes go in different directions – I can think of claims such as “free from parabens” and “not tested on animals”. How do you suggest addressing this issue?

Part of the issue lies in a disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to what industry already does to ensure safety of human health and its use of alternatives to animal testing. Taking these two examples, communication of science and regulation in an easily digestible format are crucial. This requires industry and its association representatives to work collaboratively to find the best platforms and methods to inform consumers and dispel the disinformation that can easily and quickly propagate across various forms of media.

In your opinion, what are the challenges that the cosmetic industry is currently facing and how can they be overcome?

The industry faces challenges related to protection of existing substances and the capacity to innovate for the future, as well as the overarching impact of the transition to a greener, more sustainable economy. Overcoming these challenges requires collaboration through associations or consortia to protect safe, existing substances; or a pre-competitive space to foster collective approaches to larger, existential issues like climate change and loss of biodiversity.


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