It's no secret that consumers have grown increasingly concerned about the safety, sustainability, and lack of transparency in the industry. This isn’t a surprise; the conventional cosmetics industry is major contributor to our current climate crisis.
But what if there was a way to make your beauty routine sustainable? What if you didn't have to worry about the safety of your products? What if you could be sure that the ingredients in your makeup were safe for your skin? Through new breakthroughs in a rapidly emerging technology called biotechnology we are now closer than ever before to a world that is inclusive, not exclusive.
What Is Biotech In Beauty?
Biotech is a technology that draws from biology, medicine and engineering. It uses living organisms or parts thereof to make products for food, health care, cosmetics, medicine and other uses.
In fact, biotech has been a part of the beauty industry for decades. The first commercial use of biotechnology in cosmetics was in the early 1960s when a company called Revlon began using enzymes to develop a line of hair-care products.
Since then, biotech has made rapid progress in beauty. Today, biotech ingredients are used by many beauty brands. The most common examples of biotech in beauty products include probiotics (which are live bacteria) and cell-cultured collagen made from natural ingredients like vegetable or fruit extracts.
But biotech is also emerging in other ways. You can now buy beauty products that contain DNA sequences which have been shown to have anti-ageing effects. And there are even more ambitious plans to create artificial human skin that you could wear as a cosmetic product.
The Same Ingredient, Different Method
Fiction-aside, scientists are using biotechnology to make the common cosmetic ingredients we use every day.
"Using biotechnology, we can make common cosmetic ingredients in a lab with lesser environmental imprint than natural sources," says Dr. Yana Valyukevich, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. This is because the process to extract ingredients from living organisms takes up space, which reduces biodiversity and increases pollution.
One example is hyaluronic acid, which is used in skin care products to keep our skin moisturized and plump. It's also used in medicines, such as eye drops and joint injections, to relieve pain.
Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in our bodies and is commonly derived from rooster combs or calf skins. The process of extracting it requires multiple steps and uses harsh chemicals, making it costly and energy-consuming.
Plant-based Hyaluronic Acid sources include sugarcane and corn sugars, but there are also synthetic versions derived from petroleum products - a less sustainable than their plant counterparts.
And this where biotechnology is a natural fit for the sustainability agenda. For example, plant-based Hyaluronic Acid is extracted from microbial fermentation. This is a fancy way of saying that a bacterial strain naturally contains Hyaluronic Acid and is then fermented to yield the desired molecular weights ideal for skin care purposes. This process allows to make common cosmetic ingredients in a lab with lesser environmental imprint than those made from plants, animals, or minerals.
How Biotech Is Transforming The Beauty Industry
It’s no secret that the beauty industry is highly data driven. In fact, many of us are already privy to some of the most fascinating facts about our favourite products. For example, did you know that the average lipstick contains only four percent pigment? Or that one tube of mascara lasts an average of three months?
But there’s a lot more to learn about our beauty routines — and biotech is leading the way.
With its innovative technology, biotech companies can offer a deeper understanding of ingredients by analysing them from every angle possible. This means they can also help make these ingredients sustainable, safe, and improve efficacy in a variety of ways:
More sustainable sourcing methods: Biotech companies can use their technology to find new sources for raw materials that are both sustainable and affordable — which makes it easier for brands to create products with fewer compromises on quality or price point.
Safer alternatives: Some biotech companies already help brands identify safer alternatives to their current ingredients by testing them against different contaminants (like heavy metals) and determining their impact on human health, animal welfare and environmental impact.
Improved efficacy: Biotechnology enables brands to create more effective products with fewer resources — so consumers can get better results with less waste generated during manufacturing processes
The result? Brands can offer products with new benefits while reducing their environmental footprint and improving consumer trust in their brand through better transparency about ingredients used in their products.
The Challenges Of The Biotech
The first type of limitation is that it can be expensive to develop new biotechnologies. Biotechnology requires high capital investment and hence may not be affordable to smaller beauty brands.
Secondly, there is lack of understanding about the use of biotechnology among the public. This might discourage them from adopting this technology as the process involves combining different biological materials to form something new which has never existed before in nature or history.
Finding proof-of-concept – the biotechnology has not yet been able to prove its effectiveness in the beauty industry. There is no research that shows how it works on humans and whether it is hundred percent safe or not. This makes it hard to trust and use the technology.
Problems with regulations – the beauty industry does not have a uniform set of rules for regulating their products and services. This leaves many consumers opting for more simple and familiar ways to care for their skin.
Biotech is a powerful trend that can truly change the future of beauty products. It has shown incredible potential to create safer and more sustainable products—but there's still more work to do. It can help drive product suitability—but it has its challenges and hasn't resulted in a 100% transparent marketplace just yet. Biotech is still too new for many people to understand or recognise its importance; we're only now seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this technology can do for beauty.