ATA Science & Technology Division is for translators of texts relating to science and technology. This blog is for specialized technical translators who can benefit from the networking, terminology research, and professional development opportunities offered by other translators specializing in technical or scientific fields.
Monday, December 9, 2013
ATA54 Review: “Beautiful Translations: Foundations for the Personal Care and Cosmetics Industry”
ATA 54th Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas,
November 6-9, 2013
Session ST-11 “Beautiful Translations: Foundations for
the Personal Care and Cosmetics Industry” presented by Karen Tkaczyk on
November 8, 2013 Reviewed by Mery Molenaar
It is late Friday afternoon in San
Antonio, Texas, and
I am attending the ATA conference session on Beautiful Translations. This is
probably one of the most difficult timeslots of the entire conference as people
are about to wind down after two full days of networking and conference
sessions. Nevertheless, the room is packed and Karen starts with full
enthusiasm, determined to teach us a thing or two about the beauty and personal
Karen is a French to English
translator and has previously worked in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry,
so I am looking forward to spending an hour with an expert in the field.
Karen’s goal is to provide
us with a basic understanding of the industry. After a short overview of
today’s topics—regulatory framework, scientific and technical assessment,
ingredients, and marketing—we jump right into the first topic of national and
international regulations. Karen uses a nicely organized PowerPoint
presentation and lets us know that she will be sending us the slides by email
on request after the conference, so we can all sit back and listen.
The most influential markets for personal care products and cosmetics are
the US and Canada,
the EU, Japan, and Korea,
and it is not surprising that there are regulatory differences from one country
to another. Labeling requirements differ between regions, and certain hazardous
ingredients and testing methods used in one region may not be allowed in
another. Although people are working on alignment, there is currently very
little harmonization. Areas where there is no harmonization include the listing
of forbidden or restricted ingredients, animal testing and even the definition
of a cosmetic product.
In the US, cosmetic products are defined by intended use: “articles intended
to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or
otherwise applied to the human
body... for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” Karen points out that the
definition does not include the word treat,
and that cosmetics therefore are not considered drugs. When you buy a
moisturizer you do not find the words treat or cure on the product, although
marketing makes us believe that they do.
So what about fluoride toothpastes,
antidandruff shampoos, and antiperspirant deodorants? Are these products cosmetics
or are they drugs? Actually, they are both. While the cosmetics industry uses
the word ‘cosmeceutical’ to refer to cosmetic products that are also drugs, the
Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act does not recognize this term. In the US, the FDA has published over-the-counter (OTC)
monographs for these kinds of nonprescription drugs. Monographs are detailed
product descriptions, including drug indications, dosing, contraindications,
adverse reactions, etc., and as long as the active ingredients in cosmetics
that also have medicinal benefits fall within one of the drug monographs, an
FDA new drug application is not required. Karen stated that soap is a special regulatory case in the US, based on its specific chemical make-up, and pointed
us to a reference for finding out more about that.
In the EU, the assessment of whether a product
is a cosmetic product is made on a case-by-case assessment. Just this year, the
EU Regulation replaced the Cosmetics Directive, but even with this new Regulation
in place, rules vary for some countries, such as for the French pharmacy
system. The EU definition of a cosmetic product is too long for a slide and
Karen directs us to the handout she provided at the start of the session. This
handout also lists a wealth of other useful resources and is included on the Proceedings
& Handouts CD-ROM provided by ATA at the beginning of this year’s
It is becoming clear to me that translators
working for the cosmetics industry need to be well informed about international
regulations and make sure they stay up-to-date.
We now move on to product testing. How
well does a product stand up against contamination? Will a lipstick melt when
left in a hot car? Animal testing is controversial and now banned in many
countries, but what are the alternatives? Do your toiletries make it through
TSA on your way to the conference? As some ingredients and techniques become
controversial or are banned, the cosmetics industry is forced to constantly
develop new techniques and alternatives.
Karen explains several mechanical and
physical techniques used to test products. We learn that pumps are safer than
jars as no germs are introduced to the content and that the term ‘air-free’ is often
a misnomer. ‘Air-free’ in this context generally means that no air can get back
into the product. An example of this would be a pump action bottle where the
internal container volume shrinks as product is dispensed.
Next are ingredients. Again, we are
dealing with differences between the United States
and Europe. What makes this session especially
interesting is the wealth of real-life examples Karen provides us with. Take
sunscreen for example. In the US, active ingredients
are defined in monographs by name and percentage (%) and are listed first on
labels. In the EU, no such requirement exists. Karen emphasizes that when
translating labels, you always need to take the target audience into account.
Another example is the use of
parabens, a class of chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics. About 10
years ago, parabens were a hot media topic and the use of parabens as a
preservative to control bacteria, molds, and yeast became highly controversial.
Unfortunately, it has proven to be very hard to find cheap alternatives and the
industry has moved to reducing the need for preservatives by changing the way
their products are packaged—using pumps instead of open jars, and adding
solutes, such as glycols and salts, thereby reducing the amount of “free water”
in the product, as water provides a medium for harmful bacteria, mold, and
yeast to grow over time.
We end the session on the topic of
marketing. Pointing out that translating marketing and advertising texts requires
different writing skills, Karen recommends an article by fellow translator and
marketing expert Agnes Meilhac on this topic. The article was published in The ATA Chronicle in April of 2010. A
link to this article can be found on the session handout.
I am leaving this session impressed with Karen’s
expertise and her commitment to the challenges of translating for the personal
care and cosmetics business. The most profound takeaway for me is a point made
by Karen that when you do this kind of work, you really need to know
your chemistry and physics. Thank you, Karen, for a Friday afternoon well spent.
Mery Molenaar is an English to Dutch translator specializing in technical and
scientific translations. She holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics and
physics education and an MS in physics. Mery is originally from the Netherlands and currently lives in Longmont, Colorado.