Naturals and Sustainability Special Newsletter

Biotech: How science is helping the beauty industry source natural personal care and cosmetic ingredients

Biotech: How science is helping the beauty industry source natural personal care and cosmetic ingredients

Biotechnology is nothing new. People have been modifying natural systems to make and alter products for thousands of years. What is new is the scale and specificity of biotech. Today, molecularly identical ‘natural’ ingredients are available virtually on demand.

The ingredients that power cosmetics and personal care products are largely bioactives originally found in biological sources — whether botanical, animal, or microbial,” writes Christina Agapakis, creative director of Gingko Bioworks in a recent Two Views opinion item on Cosmetics Design.

Going on to explain why microorganisms like yeast (or algae) are more efficient sources of these bioactives, she notes that “cultured ingredients—those that are the product of bioengineered fermentations—offer a more stable and sustainable source of innovative biological molecules for cosmetic actives and personal care.”

Natural demand

Beauty and personal care products made with naturals are undeniably in demand. And while many indie and startup companies are known for specializing in this space. The naturals movement has not been overlooked by multinationals. Just this week, Unilever acquired Seventh Generation, a natural personal and home care products company that saw more than $200m in turnover last year and has reported double-digit compounded annual growth for ten years. Unilever is also believed to be talks to acquire Honest Co., a natural cosmetic and skin care company founded by Jessica Alba.  

And, market research suggests that small brands and big corporations betting on naturals are set to win. “Mainstream beauty as well as niche and indie brands are finding traction with natural claims,” affirms Cosmetics Design in an item about this year’s Facial Skincare and Anti-Aging US report from Mintel. The report shows that natural skin care and anti-aging products are increasingly popular with consumers because “trusted and easily recognizable ingredients alleviate concerns about chemicals, pollution and unfamiliar ingredients.”

Who makes that?

Many brands and manufacturers are formulating with biotech ingredients, including fragrance makers Firmenich and Robertet. And there are plenty of specialty chemical and ingredient developers and suppliers in the biotech business too. For instance, Solazyme’s microalgae oils are being used by Natura Cosmetics in Brazil.

France-based Sollice Biotech, as another example, makes the anti-aging and skin soothing ingredient Collamung. It’s a biomimetic version of mung bean seed extract created through cold fermentation. While Lallemand, a Canadian company, develops yeast extracts, yeast peptones, and whole cell yeast for many industrial uses, among them cosmetic ingredient production.

Among the personal care ingredients Sederma makes with biotech or, as that company likes to call it “plant cell culture,” are Sebuless for oily and acne-prone skin and the anti-aging ingredient Senestem.

Contipro, a Czech company, dedicated to biotech has a portfolio of some 15 anti-aging ingredients, such as Hysilk a Hyaluronic acid ingredient made by fermentation that hydrates the skin and removes oiliness.

A few other companies (which have recently made news on Cosmetics Design) that are making fragrance and cosmetic ingredients with biotech include Twist Bioscience, Amyris, and Ginkgo Bioworks.

Above and beyond

And, as if biotech-derived ingredients aren’t doing enough to advance the beauty industry, Orion Genomics is using the science to make palm oil production more efficient. That company has developed a test to determine which seedlings will grow to be top producing trees, a strategy that could save growers time and water.

A scientist working at Applied Biology found a way to use biotechnology to induce goosebumps. And, now this tech is on its way into hair care formulations that are expected to limit hair loss from styling. 

Biotech can be found in the ingredient and product testing space too. Emulate, a life sciences company that got its start as part of Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, uses biotech to make organ-simulating chips.

What a living organ is, when it comes to safety and efficacy testing, is changing. How biotech can be used in products and agriculture is changing too. And ‘natural’ ingredients are changing as industry adjusts to a whole new world of profitable ingredient sourcing.

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