The growing importance of upcycled ingredients in cosmetic formulations

The growing importance of upcycled ingredients in cosmetic formulations

By Sarah FitzPatrick and Lorna Radford, Enkos Developments and in-cosmetics Official Technical Advisor

Is there a way to formulate cosmetic products that are caring both for your skin and the environment? With an increasing demand from consumers for high-quality products which don’t damage the planet, at Enkos Developments we are looking at what this means for the cosmetics industry.

For decades, waste from other industries has found new life in cosmetic ingredients, with upcycled materials from the food industry providing sources for a wide range of cosmetic products. Examples include pressing high quality virgin oils from fruit seeds and pulp from the juicing industry (which uses on average only 70% of the fruit, with the rest typically going to landfill unless upcycled into cosmetic ingredients ). Or re-purposing used coffee grounds into exfoliating scrubs; creating extracts from wonky vegetables that have been rejected from supermarkets; and sourcing Rice Bran Oil leftover from the rice milling industry.

In recent years, upcycling has become a much more complex and advanced field with many ingredient suppliers now researching new ways to create high performance, upcycled ingredients that offer a wide variety of benefits to formulations.

Being sustainable often does not mean having to compromise on efficacy. In fact, the compounds which are unwanted or unnecessary in other industries are often desirable in cosmetic applications due to their bioactivity. For example, the high polyphenol content in olives imparts a bitter taste to olive oil , but these same compounds are invaluable in cosmetic products for their skincare properties.

Similarly, the food industry uses the juice and pulp of tomatoes for the distinctive taste, but the discarded peel contains the highest percentage of bioactive compounds such as the potent antioxidant lycopene .

Other industries can also provide valuable feedstocks. A novel Canadian company is approaching the problem of waste from the forestry industry – where tree bark is regularly being burned or buried, leading to an increasing problem of pollutants leaching into the air and soil.

The tree bark is rich in polyphenols that, when extracted in the correct manner, can be repurposed into active ingredients that offer multiple benefits for skin and hair. One of these active ingredients imparts anti-pollution benefits, offering a satisfying solution of saving the planet from further pollution, whilst simultaneously protecting your skin from its harmful effects .

Even looking inwards to the cosmetics industry, new sources of ingredients can be found. Vetiver roots used to make fragrance for the perfume industry have been repurposed as skincare actives for anti-ageing and hydration claims and can actually boost the endurance and intensity of fragrances within a formulation – bringing new meaning to long-lasting fragrance .

The rising trend towards upcycled ingredients is not limited to just active ingredients but encompasses functional ingredients too. Citrus peel has traditionally been used for essential oils within the cosmetics industry but with the upcycling trend focus has shifted to its main structural component – pectin.

Frequently used in the food industry for setting jams, cosmetic ingredient suppliers have drawn inspiration from this and developed a new texturiser and emulsion stabiliser from the side stream, able to create unique jelly textures in skincare formulations without harming the planet .

Increasingly, the cosmetics industry is not just looking at sourcing new ingredients but providing ingredients for other industries too. The by-products of emulsifier production have previously been sent to landfill but are still incredibly rich in nutrients, making them ideal to use as fertilizer for the agricultural industry . This is growing in popularity as a concept that moves us closer to the ideal goal of achieving zero-waste, with many active ingredients using the waste from their production to fertilise the next crop.

As our industry looks towards using more upcycled ingredients, we face various new challenges. Scaling up a cosmetic ingredient based on another company’s waste material means that the supply chain is more vulnerable to poor harvests as well as being dependent on the success and production of another industry.

Product claims such as organic, vegan, halal or natural, can be harder to make as the original ingredient has not been grown and processed specifically to meet these claims. For example, the discarded oak from wine barrel manufacture can be given new life as a cosmetic antioxidant , but this cannot be assumed to be organic. Even if the original agricultural procedures followed organic guidelines, the waste material may have gone through non-organic processing methods.

Within the petrochemicals industry, upcycling of plastic waste has been the goal for several decades, and recent advances in catalytic processing have brought us closer to this reality . New technology enables us to upcycle single-use polyethylene, such as from discarded plastic bags, into valuable liquid feedstocks for other industries, including cosmetic waxes and emollients .

As we move towards sustainable cosmetics, the impact and use of petrochemicals cannot be ignored as we seek to improve not just specific ingredients but the full life cycle of products. The complete replacement of petrochemicals with plant-based alternatives is another huge topic for discussion, but these developments give us hope for a future where we can continue to benefit from petrochemical materials in a way which is sustainable and less harmful to the environment.

At Enkos Developments, we enjoy incorporating cutting-edge, upcycled ingredients in our formulations across skin care, hair care, toiletries, and colour cosmetics. These ingredients allow us to create more sustainable products without compromising on efficacy. We have often been impressed by the high quality of upcycled ingredients, which we have generally found to be no more difficult to formulate with than traditional ingredients when developing new formulations in the lab.

The cosmetics industry always strives to innovate and improve on existing technologies, so we are looking forward to seeing how cosmetic ingredient manufacturers overcome the various challenges associated with upcycling to create the next generation of upcycled ingredients that moves us closer to a true zero-waste, circular economy.

If you are interested in learning more or seeing how Enkos Developments can help your brand with bespoke formulations using upcycled ingredients, then please contact us.

Want to know how to formulate to protect? 

[1] A. Barbulova et al., Cosmetics, 2015, 2, 82-92. New trends in cosmetics: by-products of plant origin and their potential use as cosmetic active ingredients

[1] F. Gutiérrez-Rosales et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., 2003, 51, 20, 5021-6025. Main Polyphenols in the Bitter Taste of Virgin Olive Oil. Structural Confirmation by On-Line High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry

[1] E. Papaioannou et al., Acta Biochim, Polonica, 2012, 59, 71-74. Lycopene recovery from tomato peel under mild conditions assisted by enzymatic pre-treatment and non-ionic surfactants

[1] Lucas Meyer Cosmetics by IFF, BioForexTra brochure Borealine™ Range

[1] Givaudan Active Beauty, Vetivyne™ brochure

[1] Cargill Beauty, FiberDesign™ Sensation brochure

[1] SEPPIC, MONTANOV™ Life Cycle brochure

[1] Laboratoires Prod’Hyg, Prodhyderm® XPP CE

[1] Editorial, Nature Calaysis, 20192, 945–946. Plastic Upcycling

[1] G. Celik et a., ACS Central Science, 2019, 5 (11), 1795-1803. Upcycling Single-Use Polyethylene into High-Quality Liquid Products

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Lorna has a First Class Master’s degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge and an SCS Diploma in Cosmetic Science for which she was awarded the highest ever mark. She is also the winner of the Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) Young Achiever Award 2018 and a member of the Society of Cosmetics Scientists (SCS) council and education committee. She is the founder of Enkos Developments and, with her English-Korean heritage and expertise in cosmetic science, Lorna is an acknowledged specialist in K-Beauty. As such, she is regularly invited to deliver technical and trends presentations to beauty industry organisations and gives practical science-based advice to consumers and helps demystify the jargon surrounding ingredients and products. Lorna is the Official in-cosmetics Global Technical Advisor.

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