Is biotechnology the future of sustainability in skin care?

An expert weighs in

Beauty Crew Beauty Editor / October 22 2023

The beauty industry is rife with greenwashing (read: brands who make false claims of environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical practices), so naturally we’ve become quite cynical when a brand informs us that their products or practices are sustainable

A word we are hearing about with increasing frequency in these conversations about so-called sustainable skin care production practices is ‘biotechnology’. 

Although it sounds like a synonym for the manufacturing of cyborgs (sadly, not the case), it is in fact a modern method of ingredient harvesting that seems to eliminate the need for unsustainable farming practices that are expensive and exhaust natural resources. 

BEAUTYcrew spoke to Nicola Kropach (Aesthetics Rx Brand Director and Product Development Specialist) — who has made it her mission to utilise biotechnology in every single product she develops for Aesthetics Rx — about this sustainable beauty innovation.

What is biotechnology?

In the skin care space, biotechnology refers to the isolation and replication of plant stem cells within a lab, Kropach explains to BEAUTYcrew. Rather than harvesting large quantities of plant crops and processing them into ingredients that can then be used in skin care formulation, scientists are able to create the ingredients required for formulation in a lab using DNA sequencing and a fermentation process that can multiply and grow plant, microbe and yeast extracts, creating ingredients bio-identical to those found in nature. 

“Don’t be put off by the science,” she assures us. “Biotech ingredients are made from living, natural ingredients — they are different to synthetic, artificial ingredients. The biotechnologist doesn’t attempt to modify nature and reproduce it with chemicals, rather, they use living natural extracts and produce bioidentical ingredients.”

How does biotechnology change the way skin care brands are able to harvest ingredients sustainably?

“There is such a demand for natural ingredients in skin care that eventually it could surpass supply,” explains Kropach. “Biotechnology is a valuable mechanism in preserving natural resources and reducing costs of farming them, because the plant where the cells are extracted from becomes a renewable resource.” 

“Choosing ingredients that are made through biotechnology means that the land, water and resources that would normally be required in farming is significantly reduced to almost zero,” she continues.  

According to reports, the global biotech ingredients market CAGR is expected to increase by 9.3 per cent between 2020 and 2027 (BIOTECH INGREDIENTS MARKET 2020 - 2027, 2020), says Kropach.

“You are going to be hearing a lot more about the exciting merge of sustainability and science,” she tells BEAUTYcrew. 

However, the biotech industry is still relatively green, and has only been around for 20 years.

“It is still a relatively new area of cosmetic chemistry, so not all types of skin care ingredients are available in a biotech derived material,” explains Kropach. However, biotechnology has become more sophisticated in recent years which has lessened the cost of ingredient harvesting and improved the quality of the ingredients themselves. 

“Today it is even possible to produce a higher quality ingredient with biotechnology than what you may find in nature,” says Kropach. “Biotechnologists can dial up the effects of a particular extract to make it more potent, consistent and ‘cleaner’ with less pollutants than what you may find in nature.” 

The best biotechnology skin care products

In Australia, Aesthetics Rx is leading the pack when it comes to utilising biotechnology in the production of skin care.

“At Aesthetics Rx the product innovation charter I developed mandates the use of them in every formula I develop, so the cosmetic chemists in my team know that they need to go and do the research, seeking out biotech derived ingredients before I’ll consider a particular ingredient in my range,” explains Kropach.

In fact, the brand’s adamant use of biotech ingredients has actually put pressure on suppliers to source biotech alternatives, and as a result it’s changing attitudes further up the manufacturing supply chain too. 

However, international skin care brands such as Shiseido, Bioeffect and Biossance are all formulating their products using biotechnology, and fragrances houses are even using ingredients derived from biotech research. Most notably, Versace’s Dylan Turquoise, is made using primofiore lemon extracts that were grown using biotechnology. 

We recommend:

Aesthetics Rx B Serum ($119 at Adore Beauty); Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Balancing Gel Moisturizer ($99 at Sephora Australia); and Bioeffect EGF Serum ($210 at Bioeffect).

Aesthetics Rx B Serum

Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Balancing Gel Moisturizer

Bioeffect EGF Serum

Looking for natural beauty recommendations? Here are eight natural beauty products beloved by celebrities.

Image credit: @edenbristowe

Briar Clark got her start in the media industry in 2017, as an intern for Marie Claire and InStyle. Since then, her keen interest in fashion and beauty has landed her gigs as a Digital Content Producer and Beauty Editor with titles like Girlfriend, Refinery29, BEAUTYcrew and beautyheaven. She loves the way seemingly innocuous topics like skin care and style have the ability to put a smile on people’s faces or make them think about themselves a little differently. A big believer in self love and experimentation, Briar has made a point of becoming the Australian beauty industry’s unofficial guinea pig for unusual treatments and daring hair trends. When she’s not testing out the latest beauty launches, Briar is big on broadening her horizons, mostly in the form of food but she’s also partial to travelling to new destinations both near and far (and of course, allocating an extra bag to bring their best beauty offerings home with her).