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Biotechnology: the future of sustainable beauty?


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During the 2010s and following increased urgency to reverse the climate crisis buzzwords around sustainability and ‘clean beauty’ rose to new heights.


“The age-old conflict between science and nature has permeated every industry, and the beauty business is no exception. The clean beauty revolution of the early noughties did little to resolve this emotionally-charged polarity, and the ‘no nasties’ tag employed by natural brands cemented binary thinking among consumers,” says Amy Nelson-Bennett, CEO, Positive Luxury, sustainability experts for the global luxury industry in a new report called The Future of Beauty & Fragrance.


“‘Clean’ – a term used interchangeably with ‘nontoxic’, ‘natural’ and sometimes ‘organic’ – was touted as kinder to both the planet and skin; ‘synthetic’ formulas, by contrast, were bad, toxic and more likely to cause irritation and disrupt hormonal balance.”


But if we were to look at the food industry we see biotech being used as a tool to advance veganism, reduce meat consumption (a proven disrupter of hormonal imbalance) and therefore reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from food production and beauty has the same potential.


A great example of this is squalane a bioidentical to squalene an ingredient used in many skincare formulations previously derived from sharks.


By being aware of greenwashing and the promise of biotechnology to find sustainable lab-developed alternatives to popular ingredients we might have a better chance of securing the future of our planet than if we only rely on natural resources.


Here Nelson-Bennett breaks down five things beauty pros should look out for when bringing products into their business.


1. Invest in innovation


Biotech is central to the future of beauty and brands that do not invest in sustainable science risk being left behind. Not only does this scientific innovation appeal to consumers, it also protects brands from potential price volatility within the supply chain as well as addressing consistency in supply due to climate change.


Raw materials are not the only area where brands should be innovating. Packaging – both primary and secondary – needs to be minimised. If a brand makes a scientifically sound, sustainable product and then wraps it in multiple layers of carbon-intensive, wasteful packaging then they have only won half the battle.


Innovation in both formulation and packaging offers an extraordinary opportunity for brands to enhance their margins and redefine themselves as a cutting-edge sustainable brand. In turn this will help pros using their products be less wasteful, improve margins and keep up with clients who are becoming more focused on sustainability.


2. Less is more


Luxury beauty brands need to reimagine newness if they are to become truly sustainable. In much of today’s beauty industry innovation is synonymous with new products, but this has to change. SKU (stock keeping unit) proliferation across all categories has become a vicious cycle that is expensive to maintain, wasteful, and commercially inefficient.Pros should seek out brands with a proven commitment to reducing waste.


3. Know your source


A disruptive relationship with nature can lead to the total loss of ecosystems and disrupt a company’s supply chain. If you are working with natural materials, identify which you depend on the most. Locate where they are coming from.


Then engage with your suppliers – requesting information such as certifications and environmental management systems – and research the location, looking for information on native species, flora and fauna. If you find that one of your materials has been sourced irresponsibly, find better alternatives. Explore bioengineered materials.


4. Inclusivity is key


The shift made by progressive brands from anti-aging to pro-aging is how luxury brands should approach inclusivity. This more positive approach to preventative skincare does not see a natural process as something to be fixed. It embraces an idea of beauty that is more nuanced.


Inclusivity needs to be at the heart of every decision a beauty brand makes, not just a decision made when marketing themselves. From the moment a product is conceived to when it arrives on shelves, brands must be asking themselves if they have been inclusive of race, religion, gender, disability and age. Refusing to do so is both a moral and financial failing.


5. Validate your claims


Certifications are the most credible way to validate your claims to clients. Explore brands with single-issue certifications such as COSMOS, Leaping Bunny and FSC, or holistic certifications such as

Positive Luxury’s Butterfly Mark – which not only assesses where you are now but works with you to forecast and prepare for material issues that will come your way in future. They are an essential part of doing business as a beauty brand and provide the platform for transparent, authentic communications with your stakeholders. 


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