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It's amazing how a specific concept or product can make its way into the marketplace and take it by storm without really being understood. Many people praise airless packaging and it's properties (and rightly so) but it seems that fewer and fewer actually know what the concept is or why it can be of benefit to a firm's products. As a hot topic, airless has spread throughout the packaging world and is now available from many sources. Unless you're a packaging proponent, technologist, or customer, though, the facts behind the mystique of airless packaging probably remain occult.
An airless solution is typically any sort of packaging and dispensing system that uses a difference in environmental pressure to create a vacuum that can evacuate a product from a reservoir once aq valve is opened. This is a different sort of propulsion from a traditional aerosol, which often requires a propellant (such as nitrous oxide or dimethyl ether) that is added to a product. The propellant maintains an even pressure in the container by evaporating a small amount, and when evacuated, evaporates rapidly so that only the product being dispensed remains as very fine droplets or mist. Airless solutions don't require propellants, they are designed in such a way as to seek a natural pressure equilibrium based on a differential between external, environmental pressure and the pressure created by a lack of air in the product reservoir. Consequently, the product is dispensed as it seeks to occupy free space outside of the container.
The first variety is based on a functional interior plunger, much the same as a medical syringe. The plunger creates an airtight seal in the interior of the barrel portion that houses the product, so when it is actuated, the product is pushed up from the bottom and evacuated completely. Physically speaking, syringes depend upon the potential energy of the apparatus coupled with the potential energy in a hand, becoming kinetic energy during actuation. The syringe is completely dependent upon the addition of energy from the person actuating it to work.
Packaging dispensing systems, particularly standard pumps, work a bit differently. A pressure difference is maintained between the exterior and interior of the packaging, and by actuating the pump, the addition of pressure inside the container pushes product out through a dip tube. Airless packaging, stemming from the same pump concept, does not amplify pressure in the container. When actuated, the system simply opens a conduit between the exterior and the product reservoir. As the product is evacuated, air enters from the bottom through a small valve orifice and occupies space under the barrel and the product contained over it. The plunger moves up, filling the space created by the pressure difference, and the product continues to flow. Less energy is required to actuate an airless system because of this usage of vacuum, which translates into less effort required by the user of the system.
The second common variety of airless packaging does not use a syringe-like plunger and barrel, this sort of airless system has an outer, hard container that houses a flexible bag filled with the product. Basically, when the product is evacuated during actuation, instead of air coming in and pushing a barrel up to keep the reservoir in a a prepped state, the bag shrinks due to pressure as it collapses on itself. It's sort of like a toothpaste tube, except instead of squeezing and making an effort to get out every single bit of product contained, the collapse occurs due to a combination of actuation, evacuation, and the equilibrium of pressure.
There are a number of reasons to use an airless solution. Some are technical, some are aesthetic. Here's our own top five list:
No propellant required
This may not sound like much, but it's a pretty big deal environmentally speaking. Many early propellants were CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), due to be phased out completely by 2020 according to the Montreal agreement, signed by 200 nations. The effects of all propellants currently used is not exactly known, however.
More accurate dosing
The stroke of the pump does not need to extract more or less product due to the depth of depression. One stroke of the airless dispensing actuator can be set to dispense an exact amount of product, making it easier to use for treatments that need to last a certain period of time, which correct dosing can regulate.
Less chemical interaction
There are many gasses in our atmosphere, and products tend to react in one way or another to those environmental components. Oxygen, especially, can accelerate product decay through oxidation (when a substance loses electrons due to an oxidizing agent - oxygen is, of course, at the top of the list). Our air contains more than just oxygen, though. In order of percentage, the air we breath is mostly nitrogen, followed by oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, neon, helium, methane, krypton, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, xenon, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, iodine, and traces of ammonia. Those
are a lot of substances that even in small amounts can affect a product that is most potent when in a vacuum. In an airless package, the product only interacts with air when it is dispensed, and even then the time between exposure and application is limited. So, products contained in an airless package tend to last longer on the shelf and to stay aesthetically pristine longer, as they don't suffer much discolouring due to oxidation. Many sensitive formulations especially benefit from this lack of interaction, and not only last much longer when compared with a standard pump system, they also retain their properties and efficacy.
When packaged, airless packaging can be set to be at equilibrium with the exterior atmosphere, it doesn't require added internal pressure to push a product out. The addition of pressure comes during actuation, when the customer depresses the actuator. Hence, airless packaging isn't shipped with added internal pressure, which can climb if transported at higher altitudes or when heated. Airless packaging, then, offers an intrinsic safety feature.
Easy to use
It may be a small thing, but one of the things most enjoyed by consumers is the ease of use that airless packaging offers. Regardless of the position of the product during dispensing, the system will evacuate the product effectively. Standard pumps that use dip tubes require the product to be right side up, as the product feeds into the tube from the bottom of the reservoir. Since an airless solution evacuates from the top, most can be dispensed at an angle or completely upside down, even when most of the product has already exited.
Benefits that didn't make it to the top of the list include the stylish and luxurious appearance that an airless pack can offer, the ability to retain product in the dispensing system cutting down on air re-entry, and many more. Regardless of the focus a company has for its new personal care or cosmetic products, an airless solution can go a long way in offering a better consumer experience resulting in repeat business and word of mouth new sales.