IS THERE A ROLE FOR BIOTECH IN THE NATURAL COSMETICS REVOLUTION?

Jude Huggan, Business Development Manager, IBioIC.

I’m in Berlin.  It’s my first time, but I haven’t managed to make it outside yet despite being here for 48h.  I’m here to attend the 2nd Sustainability & Naturals in Cosmetics Conference.  IBioIC hasn’t engaged with this sector to date, so the trip was more of a learning exercise.  It was good to hear about the current activity and future trends in the cosmetics sector, as well as gain an understanding the opportunities for the IBioIC membership and for Scotland more widely.

Consumer mega trends are definitely changing the focus of this industry.  The “green/ethical/sustainable” movement in the industry now accounts for 15% of the total global cosmetics market (the total industry is around $30Bn/year) and is predicted to grow rapidly over the next few years.  Brands are trying to tap into the market, but are aware now that the consumer wants transparency more than ever, is concerned with where ingredients come from, and wants to know how and where their product is manufactured and how it is packaged. 

But is this good news for the biotech industry?

In a word, yes!  It’s great to hear that consumers and brands want to see more evidence of circularity within their products.  The sector is making strides with respect to packaging; a great example of this is the work done by Terracycle.  They are working with brands (L’Oreal, Unilever, P&G) to design in recyclability in their packaging and are recycling plastic waste to make shampoo bottles.  There are others who are looking at different models – either using no packaging at all (Lush) or are providing their products in glass, stainless steel or aluminium receptacles (Beauty Kitchen, Body Shop).  This is good news for biotech companies who are looking to develop plastic alternatives (Biome Bioplastics, CuanTec and Oceanium). 

OK, so we’ve heard about packaging.  One could argue that this is a “quick win” for the industry as brands can market this idea and showcase what they are doing which appeals to the consumer.  But what is being done on the ingredient side?  Again, transparency is hot right now.  The consumer wants to know how their product is made and the impact this is having on the environment.  Brands are putting pressure on ingredient manufacturers and suppliers to ensure full traceability within the supply chain.  This is good news for biotech as consumers are looking for more sustainable products with better environmental credentials that the traditional manufacturing process.  Ingredient manufacturers like Croda, Seppic and INOLEX are all working on bio-based alternatives to traditional ingredients.  Brands are also looking at their carbon footprint and seeking ways to reduce this.   They are very good at recycling water and reusing starting materials, as well as using local supply chains for their ingredients.

I asked a question to the panel (made up of specialists from the flavours and fragrance industry – Firmenech, Alban Muller and Fragrant Earth International) about innovation in the circular economy.  The presentations across the conference mainly focussed on circularity within packaging and less so on relation to processing and re-use of co-products from other sectors, and I wondered if we hadn’t heard about it because this type of innovation wasn’t happening in the cosmetics industry. However, I was reassured by their answer – all big brands are working on this but the consumer wants a good story!  The cosmetics industry hasn’t advanced far enough in this regard that they are comfortable telling a story about this yet.  When the time comes I think this will be a great sustainability story that the consumer will love.

Scotland can be a key player in this regard.  The co-products of the whisky industry are commonly sold to fragrance houses as ingredients (many distillers already do this).  Oils can be extracted from waste coffee grounds to replace traditionally used oils (check out Revive Eco – an innovative company in Scotland doing just that!).  Waste egg shells can be used as alternatives to micro beads and have potentially many other uses within the cosmetics industry (Alterwaste are doing just this!).  And don’t get me started on the products you can get from wood! Anything you make from fossil fuels can be made from trees (great presentations from StoroEnso and BioBTX) or from marine sources. The cosmetics industry is wild about seahorse plankton (Beauty Kitchen) and products that can be extracted from the sea (in accordance with the Nagoya Protocol, obviously!!).  Companies are active in this area already:  Xanthella manufacture photo-bio reactors (PBR’s) and grow algae on waste CO2, MiAlgae grow algae on co-products to produce high-value products while Glycomar, MBL and Algaia source active ingredients from marine sources.  Another innovative company active in the food sector, ScotBio, manufactures phycocyanin grown in PBR’s, which can play an important role in supplying the cosmetics industry.

There are many innovative companies in Scotland who can have a huge impact in the cosmetics industry.  Traditional biotechnology (fermentation processes to produce ingredients) will continue to grow, but extractable products are becoming increasingly important as are innovations that can help brands reduce their carbon footprint (manufacturing/product design/packaging) and increase circularity of products.  Biotechnology can help with all of this!

Long may the “green/sustainable/natural” mega trend in cosmetics continue and I will watch with interest to the rise of biotechnology in these endeavours.