Can a face cream save the planet?
From face creams to new fuels, the fascinating world of natural bioscience holds exciting potential for the future. Few people know that the cutting-edge research into active cosmetic ingredients based on bioscience is also incubating new and exciting options for our world’s fuel and resourcing challenges. Deep in the heart of the French Champagne-Ardenne countryside, amid these famous verdant landscapes is a dynamic biorefinery platform that has the potential to change the future of oil‑reliant global industry.
It is here that the active cosmetic ingredients company Soliance, acquired by Givaudan in 2014, develops its pioneering bioscience products for use in cutting‑edge cosmetic applications. By harnessing biotechnological routes, Soliance produces natural ingredients, of 100% vegetable origin, whilst also providing a softer, ‘green’ alternative to chemical‑based techniques.
Soliance’s know‑how is based on three core pillars – ‘white’, ‘green’ and ‘blue’ processes: three discrete bioscience techniques that make use of fermentation, plant extracts, and marine life such as micro‑algae. Frédérique, biotechnologist and founder of Soliance explains the company’s capabilities: “The white ‘fermentation’ pillar exploits the high potential of microorganisms like bacteria to generate molecules that are then highly purified; the green pillar extracts key molecules from plants. By isolating molecules in this way – we can track the specific cosmetic function or activity, such as anti‑ageing property so that our customers can label the active ingredients in their products. Finally, our blue ‘marine’ pillar makes use of organisms such as microalgae. These feed off CO2 to produce molecules for cosmetic applications, and which have the added benefit of absorbing CO2 and rejecting oxygen, which is beneficial to the environment.”
Frédérique goes on to explain Soliance’s two proprietary ‘star’ products: these marry cutting‑edge bioscience techniques with environmental advantages, and are helping Givaudan better serve its global cosmetics customers: “We produce two flagship products that are now part of the Givaudan offering, and which are highly sought-after by consumers. The first, DHA (DiHydroxyAcetone), is used in self‑tanning lotions and is produced by Soliance using a high‑yield, ‘green’ process that is much faster and more efficient than its chemically produced counterpart. The second, Hyaluronic Acid (HA), a key component of anti‑ageing creams, is a type of viscous skin that emanates from bacteria during fermentation. We harvest and purify this ingredient for use as a very powerful moisturising agent – right now it’s the hottest known ingredient in all women’s face creams! Our very performant strain is all the more precious because hyaluronic acid cannot be developed chemically, and is very much in demand by major cosmetics companies.”
In a similar way to Soliance’s ‘white’ pillar, fermentation in bioscience has long been an area of Givaudan expertise, and the merging of the two company’s teams has brought about much fruitful knowledge sharing. Boris, a leading biochemist within Givaudan and with a speciality in fermentation has found his work highly complementary to that of Frédérique and her team.
Boris explains: “The mission of the Ingredients Centre of Excellence in Zurich, Switzerland is to employ enzymes to develop new fragrance ingredients, and it was within this context that the Biosciences team recently created Akigalawood®, where an enzyme known as laccase was used to transform a natural starting material into a new natural and captive perfume compound. Akigalawood® has recently been commercialised in a leading men’s fragrance for the Brazilian market. This novel material has a profile similar to that of patchouli, combined with vibrant spicy aspects of pepper and noble agarwood facets. This enzymatic process, which only requires mild processing with salt and water, is also a far more environmentally friendly way to develop new raw materials for fragrance use.”
This first success originates from a new approach that Boris and his team initiated, where enzymes are used to transform leftover residues and easily accessible natural feedstocks into valuable perfumery ingredients.” Boris states why Akigalawood® has such a successful and innovative profile: “Akigalawood®, which is now a Givaudan registered trademark, represents an exciting new addition to our perfumers’ palettes, in particular because it consists of various powerful and elegant molecules that are otherwise not accessible to the perfumers. Creating new ingredients through bioscience approaches is an excellent expansion to traditional chemistry and also has environmental benefits whenever we manage to make use of a former ‘waste’ product within our supply chain.”
The future of bioscience in fragrances
Boris has high hopes for the future of bioscience in fragrances, and the Givaudan-Soliance alliance is catalysing this: “The use of bioscience is growing in fragrances, and Soliance is helping us to develop our capabilities and to identify new partners to access the latest innovation platforms in this exciting scientific space. Previously, the industry had relied very much on chemistry, but these new successes mean that bioscience is becoming a stronger pillar and seamlessly expands the toolbox of fragrance chemistry towards novel innovative ingredients.
To catalyse this journey, Givaudan is entering into a collaborative EU research project with partners from industry, start-up companies and academic experts to study biocatalysis and its potential applications on an industrial scale. I envisage that, in the next five years, we can make even more technically robust enzymes in a similar manner, for use in flavours, fragrances and as cosmetic actives.”
Frédérique and her team are also continually innovating, thanks in part to their unique location in France and its agricultural heritage of wheat and sugar beet, which has a surprising advantage, as she explains: “Soliance is located in the heart of a very special science hub; we are surrounded by small start ups experimenting in the domain of bioscience.
Before becoming a scientific hub, the park was primarily an industrial platform where agricultural raw materials – mainly sugar beet and wheat – were processed to produce food ingredients like sugar, glucose, starch, gluten, and more recently ethanol. Now, amidst these industries are scientific entities, start ups, laboratories and pilot projects.
The companies here exploit the existing biomass from the local agricultural industry – for example ethanol from the sugar – using it for food and other applications, even exploring new fuels for what could be an oil‑free global economy. In the hub we all ‘feed’ off each other, mutualising our workflows, and creating our own circular economy. Our platform is unique in Europe and is giving rise to a new, greener industrial vision. We know that our work in bioscience for the cosmetics industry can be part of this, as Soliance technologies are sure to find applications elsewhere – its very exciting. So yes, cosmetics can help save the planet!”