WHILE oxygen is essential to human life, it can of course also be a cosmetic product’s worst enemy.

For most cosmetics manufacturers, prolonging the life of their products means creating packaging with as tight a seal as possible – hence, the industry’s growing demand for airless packaging, helping assure both a brand and its consumer that a cosmetics product will be good to the last drop.

“Airless packaging protects the contents [of a cosmetics or personal care product] from degradation; particularly from oxidation,” stressed Benjamin Punchard, packaging specialist at UK-based global market research firm Mintel. Demand for airless packaging is currently growing at an unprecedented rate, he added, as more products offer functional benefits requiring more protection against external factors.

Kristy Hooper, beauty and personal care product manager, at global packaging solutions company MeadWestvaco Corp (MWV), based in Virginia, USA, insisted there are three factors making airless systems especially valuable to the beauty industry. Firstly, she said, airless packaging fully protects beauty product formulations from contact with air, preserving their effectiveness and increasing longevity; secondly, it allows consumers to extract more of the product from the bottle; and thirdly, it allows smooth delivery and more accurate dosing of formulas – especially when it comes to highly viscous products dispensed through a pump.

“MWV expects the demand for airless products to continue to increase in the beauty industry, particularly for skin care applications, such as anti-aging cosmeceuticals…[which] contain formulations that are often highly sophisticated or complex,” said Hooper. “Overall, airless packaging has experienced significant growth in the last few years for the following reasons: advanced formulations or use of organic materials; reduction of preservatives; little or no product waste; high density, viscous products that cannot be dispensed with a traditional pump; product protection; and controlled dosage.”

Punchard agreed that anti-aging products and others that contain anti-oxidants – hence at most risk from oxidation – are the types of beauty products most frequently using airless systems today. “[Airless packaging] is likely to be more [common] where added value functionality is present…so skin care where we have anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle and other added value, is where is it the most appropriate,” he said.

A spokesperson for Italian cosmetics packaging giant Lumson – a company that claims to have created the first and only airless system in the world using a glass bottle – added that with airless packaging offering more protection, this allows “a sensible reduction of preservatives.”

She said: “New, innovative and improved formulations need to maintain stability of specific ingredients. The airless system helps preserve sensitive cosmetic ingredients such as vitamin C, Retinol, etc., from deteriorating, [and] allows a reduction in preservatives, thus creating more organic and natural products.”

Most major cosmetics products will go airless, said Lumson’s spokesperson: “Skin care formulas, anti-aging creams, eye serums, liquid foundations, primers, hair care oils…..there is no limit, essentially, if you want to put on the market a product that needs to be protected from air in-take.”

When it comes to brands actually choosing and/or developing airless packaging, Hooper said that there are specific airless systems that work best with certain types of products. For example, she said, MWV’s HVD dispenser is ideal for oral care or hair care products, as “its unique design requires products be exceptionally thick in order for the system to work properly.” MWV offers a variety of airless product packages that cater to different types of products, including the HVD Airless (with precise dispensing for high viscosity products) and the Aria Airless (a low-output pump with metal-free fluid path).

With the buzzword in most packaging industries overall currently being ‘sustainability’, airless systems, too, certainly help advance alternative packaging. Compared to a pack using a traditional pump, for example, one important benefit of using airless packaging is its restitution rate; meaning product residue is reduced to a minimum, wasting much less product. Marketed as “the beauty of glass with an airless dispensing system,” Lumson’s TAG (Techno Airless Glass) System, for instance, can distribute almost any type of cosmetic formula, from low to high density products, and touts little to no product waste – with more than 95% of the product getting distributed.

And with eco-friendly packaging becoming increasingly important and marketable, the fact that glass is 100% recyclable makes TAG’s bottles even more attractive. Lumson’s patented multi-functional component called the ‘Eco-Lock’ system also allows final consumers to easily separate all plastic components from the product’s glass bottle after usage, simply by unscrewing the pump.

“The idea is to combine the beauty and preciousness of a glass bottle with all the technical and functional advantages of an airless system,” said Lumson’s spokesperson. Lumson is currently in the process of launching its Collezione Luxea – a complete cosmetics packaging collection including plastic bottles, glass bottles and airless glass bottles all using TAG technology, and the same innovative design. “Today our [TAG] system is the only one that allows a real high-end prestige to masstige positioning,” said the spokesperson.

However, advances in packaging and pump technology are making it easier for airless systems as a whole to move towards being greener, too, said Punchard: “Though pump systems can have many moving parts and include a number of materials [plastic, metal springs, etc.], pump design is getting simpler and springless pumps are common,” he said. “It is possible now to make most standard recyclable plastics from sustainable sources [ie plant-based PET bottles], so it would be possible to make these airless [systems] from similar materials.” As systems become increasingly simpler, too, he added, they may also become more and more suitable for recycling.

Global plastics manufacturer Promens, based in Iceland, for instance, launched its ecological airless dispensing system Ecosolution last year, which is 100% plastic and 100% recyclable. It does not contain any metal, glass parts or non-recyclable plastic, and so does not have to be disassembled by recyclers – all parts of the bottle and its dispensing system are recyclable.

MWV’s Pearl and Pearl Mini Airless pumps are also made out of plastic, rather than metal components, so they too are fully recyclable. In addition, said Hooper, MWV has reduced the number of components in its Pearl and Pearl Mini pumps: “Our [pumps] include only seven components, whereas a traditional airless dispenser has 12 to 13 parts…using fewer components means that we use less material to assemble the products and there’s less energy required for assembly.”

Despite their obvious functional and environmental benefits, though, airless systems have thus far been reserved for higher-end, luxury products, due to their higher manufacturing costs.

“Airless packaging in most cases will have a cost implication for brand owners,” said Punchard, adding that the majority of current challenges around introducing these types of systems still involve increased costs, and the potential time and money spent changing existing filling lines.

According to Lumson’s spokesperson, airless systems are generally more expensive than traditional packaging, as they are made with more components, and work with two different technologies: either piston or pouch systems. However, Lumson’s spokesperson claimed the margin was not that significant, adding when it comes to the really high price points, costs are often associated with decorations or elaborate packaging

“If the packaging is decorated, the higher the cost goes…[but] if you compare an airless package with high-end positioning to a traditional package with the same placement, the costs are fairly similar,” said the spokesperson.

Going into the future, added Punchard, “if production runs are large enough, and as capacity increases – increasing competition and reducing costs – then [we can] expect to see this style of packaging move into the masstige and then mass [markets].”

Investing in airless packaging is also becoming an important strategy for brands who are introducing more complicated formulations. Punchard said he expects airless packaging to become more common, too, as brand owners “increasingly leverage [airless systems] to protect their value-added ranges that they will be promoting to increase margins and profit.”

Eric Desmaris, business development director at Germany-based multinational airless packaging giant Mega Airless agreed that the introduction of more airless packs will come as a natural progression as the beauty market evolves, and continues to introduce more advanced formulations. “Yesterday’s atmospheric pumps and dip tubes simply can’t handle these [formulas],” he said. “For the customer, our airless packs provide a return-on-investment that is extremely attractive…[they] like the smooth actuation and precise, consistent dosage and [recyclability].”

And then there is Punchard’s prediction that technological breakthroughs will reduce costs so that it can be used in mass market products.

Some airless systems manufacturers have already begun catering to less niche markets, such as South Korea’s airless packaging company Yonwoo (supplied exclusively to Europe by Quadpack). Yonwoo has been working on improved production methods, to create a more economical range for the masstige market. According to the company, its ‘Econo’ range of PP airless containers have already proved to be a hit; so when Yonwoo invested USD8 million in two new production plants earlier this year, it dedicated USD4.3 million solely to the manufacture of its Econo cream jar.

According to Lumson, the airless packaging market is expected to continue to grow at a steady pace, with oncoming innovations and developments. “Packaging is becoming more and more a fundamental part of the final [cosmetics] product, and the main tool for its protection, and/or to enhance its features,” said the company’s spokesperson.

Desmaris added that while skin care remains to be one of the strongest categories in terms of airless packaging being adopted – especially in regards to anti-aging products – with “the rise of packaging premiumisation”, the industry is also seeing the need for heightened formula and easy, precise dosage in areas such as haircare, baby care, and sun care. As a trend, he said, “packaging premiumisation” has largely spread from luxury brand owners to direct sellers, with airless packs’ popularity growing significantly in the masstige market.

Packagers are going outside the box, too, with their latest airless systems. Earlier this year, for instance, Taiwan’s Sunrise Pumps released its new series of airless bottles that provides companies with a ‘King Size’ airless option. Due to technical requirements and limitations, most airless packaging is quite small in capacity – largely related to filling and dispensing pressures. Sunrise Pumps’ King Size option, however, is available in sizes of 200ml, 250ml and 300ml, and provides a slightly larger dispensed dose – 0.65cc, rather than the standard 0.5cc. The bottles are also made of recyclable food-grade PP (polypropylene).

Renowned German cosmetics packagers Louvrette, Gaplast and MegaPlast also got together this year to create an innovative airless system, called the ‘Prestige Jar’. It has maximum product protection with features such as barrier layers individually suited to the customer`s formulation, a restitution rate of up to 98%, and possibility of up-side down usage. The solid outer bottle has a flexible inner bag and external pump that prevents air from entering, using AirLEss Motion Technology. The companies claim the system offers barrier layers individually suited to formulations; a wide variety of decoration and finishing options; applications able to deal with numerous viscosities; a restitution rate of up to 98%; and the possibility of up-side down usage.

In terms of aesthetics, said Desmaris, “it’s both form and function that create a superior airless dispensing solution.” Some of the latest innovations from Mega Airless, for example, introduce hot stamping capabilities, offering “protection only the true airless pack can provide, with the brand building decoration that differentiates and attracts consumers at the point of sale,” he explained. The foil-based alternative to metallisation, he continued, delivers added value while, at the same time, is less costly and requires fewer production processes.

Despite some of the obvious advantages of airless packaging that exist for brands – and ongoing developments and innovations in airless systems – there are certain challenges in introducing consumers to this type of packaging, helping them understand their added value.

According to Hooper, MWV’s research shows that many consumers actually do not always recognise the difference between airless dispensing systems and traditional packaging, and thus, “don’t understand how an airless package ensures product integrity.”

Lumson agrees: “The biggest challenge is to make the final consumers aware that this packaging has some revolutionary features, [as] most of the time, [airless] features are only known among the cosmetics and packaging manufacturer[s],” said the company’s spokesperson. Because of this, Lumson has developed a ‘Responsible Recycling Packaging – Separate Glass from Plastic’ logo, to promote the eco-friendly features of its TAG System.

As beauty products continue to enhance their formulas, however, and add more organic ingredients, there will be an enhanced need for airless packaging, said Hooper. “Especially in the current economic climate, consumers want value out of their cosmetic products,” she said. “It’s important that the packaging allows the consumer to access the entire product.”