But at mindbodygreen, “clean beauty” means formulas that are both good for you and the planet, which is another reason why this move toward biotech feels particularly exciting: Lab-derived extracts are often way more environmentally friendly.
You see, some natural ingredients may have a stellar safety profile but take a large amount of natural resources during the harvesting or extracting process. Pure vanilla bean, for example, famously requires loads of water to grow and extract—according to the Water Footprint Network, it can take up to 126,505 liters of water (around 33,000 gallons) to produce 1 kilogram of vanilla beans. Palm oil is also generally well tolerated by the skin (and thus popular in many personal care items), but its farming methods vastly reduce the natural biodiversity of our forests.
To meet this dilemma, the beauty industry again turns to biotech: For instance, a company called C16 Biosciences brews a sustainable alternative to palm oil using its microbes, essentially fermenting palm oil in a controlled lab setting. Another lab called P2 Science uses terpene chemistry to take the upcycled building blocks of plants and assemble them into new materials with the same look and feel as some of the industry’s most classically unsustainable ingredients, like petrolatum, silicones, and palm oil. Codex Labs is currently swapping out comfrey and calendula, which were previously harvested and macerated in oil, with biotech-manufactured equivalents, Paldus says.
On the hunt for these sustainable, lab-derived alternatives, brands have even started to develop compounds with skin and environmental benefits. Backed by the likes of Chanel and Mousse Partners, Evolved By Nature’s Activated Silk 33B technology, for example, uses peptides from natural, renewably sourced silk that can be used in skin care formulas, textiles, and even medical materials. For example, Anya Hindmarch used it to create a fully biodegradable handbag collection. In skin care, you can find it in Evolved By Nature’s Barrier Redux Emulsion serum.
It’s completely biodegradable, and it comes with skin-enhancing properties: “It has this really unique ability to bind to the surface of the skin and help the skin upregulate its own barrier function,” Greg Altman, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of Evolved By Nature, tells mindbodygreen. So not only does it replace less eco-friendly emulsifiers like cyclic silicones and mineral oil, but it also has skin-supporting properties on its own merit. Talk about a win-win situation.