Colombia’s undiscovered natural cosmetics ingredients

Colombia’s undiscovered natural cosmetics ingredients

Areas of the South American country are largely uncharted when it comes to plant species because of the danger researchers face from decades of war and criminal gang activity. Now the prospect of peace could change all that.

“When you look at the map of Colombia in terms of biodiversity, you see incredible gaps,” Brigitte Baptiste, a biologist and the director of the country’s Humboldt Institute research group, tells Roser Toll of the AFP.

Beautiful opportunity

Next month, the Colombian government will begin expeditions in to areas where very little natural assessment has been done. 22 such trips are planned with the goal of cataloging the Colombian ecosystem.  

As Alejandro Olaya, vice-president of the state science institute Colciencias, explains it, the government also “aims to identify natural products that can be sold to cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies, ‘to place Colombia in the bio-economy sector,’” reports Toll.

There is plenty of speculation around what gang members and demobilized guerrillas might do if a peace deal is struck. But, “the biggest surprise that awaits us is in plants and insects,” Maria Angela Echeverry, head of a conservation program at Javeriana University in Bogota, tells Toll. “We are convinced that 60 percent of the species on the planet have yet to be discovered, and most of them are in the tropics.”

Undue hardship

Conflict has been going on in the country for 50+ years. And now the government believes it is close to a deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The violence—kidnapping, ambushes, and worse—have made many territories in the country unsafe for naturalists and other scientist to explore. Researchers have come under fire for being in rebel territory. And, Toll recounts the example of ornithologist Diego Alarcon being kidnapped by the FARC in the northeastern Sierra del Perija mountain range.

Natural economy

Latin American countries are sourcing more and more natural personal care and cosmetic ingredients. At the same time, socially responsible environmental and business practices are being rewarded in the marketplace.

This year Mexico got into the prickly pear cactus seed oil business more seriously to capitalize on the interest in both naturals and international beauty rituals.  And late in 2015, Natura cosmetics of Brazil got involved with Sentinels of the Forest, which helps the country’s tribal peoples make a living off the ethical harvest of Brazil nuts for use as personal care and cosmetic ingredients.  

So when Colombia is at peace, the people, the beauty industry, and the land could all be better for it. 

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