Chemical impact on the skin and the planet
Many current cosmetics products contain harsh chemicals that consumers have difficulty deciphering when checking an ingredients label. The cosmetics industry has long been scrutinised over its use of chemicals such as parabens and sulfates that have a negative the environment and our skin. Cosmetic brands include certain “star ingredients” such as squalene or goat’s placenta for added benefits to the skin and claim such ingredients at the front of the packaging. Instead of reading through the long and confusing list of chemicals at the back of the packaging, consumers are moving towards shorter, natural and clean label ingredients when deciding which products to choose.
A paradigm shift
Amid the frenzy over specialty ingredients for cosmetics, sustainability concerns rose. Behind the highly demanded star ingredients are whales hunted for their liver fats, trees cut down for their oil content, sheep sacrificed for their placenta, and many more. Stories like these evoke emotions in consumers who have since demanded for a change such as green beauty, zero waste beauty or clean beauty. The natural and organic ingredients is a growing market that stands at $29 billion in 2021. Transparency is important. Green and clean beauty contains no toxic chemicals and are safe for the environment and consumers. Apart from the functions of the ingredients, the origin and methods of preparation for the ingredients are the packaging are also made known to the consumers.
These products strive towards 100% ethical and sustainable sourcing of ingredients, processing and packaging. According to a study done by the Personal Care Products Council, 68% of consumers regard sustainability as important when making a purchase while 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on products with positive environmental and social impact. Consumers can look for eco-labels such as the Green Impact Index by Pierre Fabre that assess a product’s social and environmental impact and display the extent of impact by certain numbers, shades of green or in alphabets. It is no doubt that with the consumers’ demand, the cosmetics market is responding by shifting away from the heavy use of chemicals to more sustainable solutions. However, one problem remains. It is challenging to source “star ingredients” sustainably as they mostly come from the wild, requiring an alternative solution to naturally extracted ingredients, while staying clean and sustainable – a reaction such as enzyme engineering.
Does synthetic biology deliver promise for change?
Synthetic biology and fermentation are stepping up as a solution towards the sustainable production of cosmetics key ingredients, as the sourcing of natural ingredients directly from nature harms animals, biodiversity, and impacts deforestation. There were few sustainable ways around natural extraction until synthetic biology came around. For example, squalene, a common skin care ingredient, used to be extracted from sharks’ livers. To reduce and put a stop to harming sharks to find their desired cosmeceutical product, scientists figured out the genes that encode enzymes which produce squalene in sharks. By introducing the gene into yeast or bacteria in labs, the microorganisms can produce squalene for cosmetic products, leaving the sharks unharmed. Apart from synthetic squalene, synthetic sandalwood oil has also been produced to save the vulnerable Indian sandalwood. Synthetic substitutes are nature-identical and harmless to the planets, however, synthetic production is a slow and inefficient process. Most enzymes that are meant to exist in nature may not perform as well in different micro-environments. As a result, the yield of synthetic molecules may not be enough to convince businesses to switch out the chemical and physical extraction processes that have been optimised for decades. Engineering enzymes and microorganisms may have improved the yield, but at the expense of time, where engineering processes take up to two years on average. Challenges like time and money could explain why we are not seeing synthetic ingredients taking over the shelves after all these years of sustainable efforts.
Accelerating the change with Allozymes custom-engineered enzymes
Allozymes’ custom-designed enzyme engineering technology provides the solution to sustainable cosmetics, working faster and at a lower-cost, providing the desired end results without harming the environment. Allozymes is working towards sustainability and cruelty-free, discussing and working with some of the leading global beauty and wellness companies to generate solutions. We specialise in designing and engineering the enzymes found in nature, at 10x the speed of traditional methods. Typically, finding the most effective enzyme is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The whole process of engineering could take up to two years in traditional robotics labs. Not only is the process time-consuming, it also requires a heavy amount of capital, limiting the amount of enzymes to be analysed. Luckily, Allozymes’s microfluidics technology could screen up to ten million enzymatic variants a day, boosting the search for the right enzymes by 1000x. Given our scale of screening, we can increase the scope of search for the right enzymes by magnitudes without compromising the revolutionary speed. Overall, in two months time, we can deliver enzymes that are more efficient, catered to your needs and ready to be implemented in your synthetic fermentation line.
Accelerating the change with Allozymes engineered enzymatic pathways
Besides engineering enzymes, Allozymes’ technology is capable of engineering enzymatic pathways within microbes to produce bioactive molecules that are safe for humans. Not only do we engineer specific enzymes that produce bioactive molecules for sectors including cosmetics, we also engineer other enzymes that work upstream or downstream in the production pathway. Many enzymatic production face pathway bottlenecks, which refers to a step in the pathway that is limiting the final yield of the product. By engineering the enzymes involved in the limiting steps, Allozymes can work around the bottleneck to boost the efficiency of the pathway and the final yield. Another common problem in chemical reactions is by-products which would constrain the final yield or compromise the purity. Through pathway engineering, by-products can be reduced or eliminated, channeling all the resources within the microbes to produce the final end product. With engineered pathways in microbes, our synthetic production can be easily scaled to thousands of litres to meet the high market demand for the bioactive molecules. The microorganisms we employ would be as safe as the bacteria and yeast used to produce bread, beer, probiotics drinks, yogurt, cheese and many more that we enjoy in our daily lives. The bioactive ingredients produced by Allozymes would be a synthetic substitute to its natural form, safe, and in scalable amounts.
Scaling up green cosmetics with engineered enzymes
After all the engineering process and fermentation in microorganisms, are our cosmetics ingredients green? The answer is yes. Our enzymes replicate the way nature produces bioactive ingredients. What’s more? The way we produce our enzymes is also sustainable and clean. As compared to the past robotic engineering methods, our microscale technology requires much smaller volumes for each screening experiment. For every enzyme engineered, we are averting 1611kg of plastic waste and 1600L of biohazard waste from being produced for every 100,000 experiments.
All in all, we have seen the paradigm shift in the cosmetics market from what was once criticised for heavy usage of chemicals, into one that is greener, cleaner and kinder to the planet. However, more work needs to be done to scale up the production of bioactive molecules to meet the growing demand in the market and drive traditional businesses to adopt new and sustainable bioprocesses. Allozymes’ engineered enzymes would catalyse the shift into the higher yield and more sustainable bioprocesses while our production of bioactive molecules might just be what traditional businesses need to switch into sustainable bioeconomy.