It's no secret that consumers have become increasingly concerned about the safety, sustainability, and lack of transparency in the beauty industry. This shouldn't come as a surprise; the conventional cosmetics industry is a 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 certain that the ingredients in your makeup were safe for your skin? Thanks to new breakthroughs in a rapidly emerging technology called biotechnology, we are now closer than ever before to a world that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.
What Is Biotech in Beauty?
Biotechnology is a multidisciplinary field that draws from biology, medicine, and engineering. It harnesses living organisms or their components to produce a wide range of products, including food, healthcare items, cosmetics, medicine, and more.
In fact, biotechnology has been a part of the beauty industry for decades. The first commercial use of biotechnology in cosmetics dates back to the early 1960s when Revlon began using enzymes to develop a line of hair-care products.
Since then, biotechnology has made rapid progress in the beauty sector. Today, many beauty brands use biotech ingredients. Some common examples of biotechnology in beauty products include probiotics (live bacteria) and cell-cultured collagen made from natural ingredients like vegetable or fruit extracts.
But biotech is also advancing in other ways. You can now purchase beauty products containing DNA sequences that have been proven to have anti-aging effects. There are even ambitious plans to create artificial human skin that could be worn as a cosmetic product.
The Same Ingredient, Different Method
Setting aside fiction, scientists are utilizing biotechnology to produce everyday cosmetic ingredients.
"Through biotechnology, we can manufacture common cosmetic ingredients in a laboratory with a smaller environmental footprint compared to natural sources," says Dr. Yana Valyukevich, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. This is because the process of extracting ingredients from living organisms consumes space, which reduces biodiversity and increases pollution.
Take hyaluronic acid, for instance, which is used in skincare products to keep our skin moisturized and plump. It is also used in medicines, such as eye drops and joint injections, for pain relief.
Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in our bodies and is typically derived from rooster combs or calf skins. The extraction process involves multiple steps and harsh chemicals, making it expensive and energy-intensive.
Plant-based sources of hyaluronic acid include sugarcane and corn sugars, but there are also synthetic versions derived from petroleum products—less sustainable than their plant-based counterparts.
This is where biotechnology aligns with sustainability. For instance, plant-based hyaluronic acid is obtained through microbial fermentation. In simpler terms, a bacterial strain naturally contains hyaluronic acid and is then fermented to yield the desired molecular weights ideal for skincare. This process allows for the production of common cosmetic ingredients in a laboratory with a smaller environmental impact than those derived from plants, animals, or minerals.
How Biotech Is Transforming the Beauty Industry
It's no secret that the beauty industry heavily relies on data. In fact, many of us are already aware of fascinating facts about our favorite products. Did you know, for instance, that the average lipstick contains only four percent pigment? Or that one tube of mascara typically lasts for about three months?
However, there is much more to discover about our beauty routines, and biotechnology is leading the way.
With its innovative technology, biotech companies can offer a deeper understanding of ingredients by scrutinizing them from every possible angle. This means they can also help make these ingredients sustainable, safe, and enhance their effectiveness in various ways:
The outcome? Brands can offer products with new benefits while reducing their environmental footprint and enhancing consumer trust in their brand through improved transparency about the ingredients used in their products.
The Challenges of Biotech
However, there are several limitations to biotechnology:
Cost: Developing new biotechnologies can be expensive and may not be affordable for smaller beauty brands due to the high capital investment required.
Public Understanding: Many people lack a clear understanding of biotechnology, which might discourage its adoption. The process involves combining different biological materials to create something new, which has never existed before in nature or history.
Proof of Concept: Biotechnology has not yet conclusively proven its effectiveness in the beauty industry. There is limited research on its impact on humans and its safety, which makes it challenging to trust and use the technology.
Regulatory Challenges: The beauty industry lacks uniform regulations for its products and services. This leaves many consumers opting for more familiar and straightforward skincare options.
Biotechnology is a powerful trend that has the potential to transform the future of beauty products. It has shown incredible promise in creating safer and more sustainable products. However, there is still work to be done. While biotech can improve product quality and sustainability, it faces challenges such as cost, public perception, and the need for more research. Nevertheless, we are just scratching the surface of what this technology can do for the beauty industry, and its full potential is yet to be realized.