Biotech Beauty: What It Is And How To Use It In Your Routine

As long as the human race is on the quest for the fountain of youth, we will continue to be fed with a steady diet of buzzwords that denote innovations in the formulations of beauty products. Defining these confusing beauty trends can be a struggle, and they are often open to interpretation by cosmetics users — "natural" and "organic beauty," case in point. About a decade ago, people started switching from conventional cosmetics to organic alternatives, which contain mostly organically farmed ingredients and no synthetic chemicals. Meanwhile, natural products don't necessarily mean they are organic.

In recent years, we're seeing the rise of clean beauty, a trend that embraces both organic and synthetic beauty products as long as they do not contain potentially hazardous ingredients and are produced in a cruelty-free and eco-friendly manner. Another trend that overlaps with clean beauty — green beauty — puts a premium on eco-friendly production, ensuring that the ingredients are sourced, produced, and packaged ethically and sustainably.

If you haven't quite grasped the concepts of all those trends yet, don't worry! A new trend in the beauty world might be the next game-changer in your beauty routine. Today, if you're shopping for beauty products, you'll often bump into labels that call out certain products as "biotechnology." With a recent increase in the popularity of biotech-based products, biotech beauty is set to transform and reign supreme in the beauty world in the near future. Here's everything you need to know about biotech beauty.

What is biotech beauty

Many cosmetics developers use biotechnology to discover sources for raw materials that are sustainable, develop high-efficacy products with fewer resources, and assess the performance of these components on the skin. "Biotech beauty is the merging of biology and technology, harnessing biological processes to create and produce high-performance and more sustainable materials and ingredients that are valuable for beauty products," Tammy Yaiser, vice president of product development at biotech skincare brand Algenist, tells PopSugar.

Instead of using all-natural ingredients, like organic beauty, bio beauty uses organically sourced ingredients that contain bacteria or enzymes as a model to manufacture lab-generated, active alternatives. Typically, biotech companies in the beauty industry will cultivate a microbe in a well-controlled environment and regulate the organism to generate a compound or combination of molecules with higher purity and quality through fermentation or genetic engineering processes. For instance, One Ocean Beauty produces clinically proven marine active ingredients by feeding a small amount of organically harvested algae in its labs and making them reproduce extracts through fermenting processes. This means biotechnology allows cosmetic developers to create more alternatives to existing natural ingredients without damaging the planet.

Examples of biotech beauty products

Ingredients that mimic naturally occurring proteins or substances in the skin that need to be replenished for better skin health can be produced with the help of biotechnology. Some well-known examples of biotech beauty include hyaluronic acid, kojic acid, resveratrol, erythritol, squalene, and carbon-based ethanol. Comparing Biossance's lab-generated squalene — a moisturizing agent — with the real squalene found in shark liver, Catherine Gore, president of Biossance, tells T&C: "Our version is purer, more sustainable, and more reliable, and it ensures that the people who use our products never have to choose between efficacy and sustainability." Biotechnology can also produce natural preservatives for cosmetics through fruit and vegetable fermentation.

Arcaea, a biotech skincare company, views biotechnology as something that not only substitutes for hazardously acquired substances but also serves as a tool that creates new ingredients with game-changing functionalities. "We use innovations like DNA sequencing, biological engineering, bioinformatics, fermentation coupled with skin biology, microbiology, and product development to unlock the power of biology," CEO of Arcaea, Jasmina Aganovic, tells T&C.

How biotech beauty benefits the planet

Sustainable, advanced, and precise biotech beauty is good news for the planet and consumers. As we have a limited supply of natural resources, biotechnology offers a sustainable solution by generating ingredients produced from plant cells without harming the environment or wasting these resources. Biotech beauty products are far less water- and labor-intensive than their organically farmed and harvested counterparts. For example, instead of growing an entire plant to use its petals, leaves, or sap and discarding the rest, biotechnology produces only the plant cells it requires, minimizing environmental footprints and preventing overharvesting. 

Biotech substances grown in labs are free of toxins, heavy metals, pests, mold, insects, and other environmental contaminants. Biotech-based synthetic chemicals have a high level of efficacy due to their exact and reliable formulation. They are also better able to support the needs of different skin types and address various skin conditions.

Is biotech beauty better than clean beauty?

Biotech beauty is not a substitute for clean beauty as it is an answer to the challenges the latter faces. Generally speaking, clean beauty refers to cosmetics and skincare products that are independent of detrimental, unethically sourced chemicals that irritate the skin. To be recognized as "clean," beauty products must also be made from sustainably harvested materials and packaged in sustainable, planet-friendly packaging. Clean beauty is an ethical movement. The biggest obstacle that most beauty brands that lean into clean or natural or organic beauty faces is ensuring every ingredient is sustainably sourced and produced. Clean ingredients do not necessarily guarantee sustainable labor standards or a supply chain. Not to mention, skincare ingredients derived from natural sources can be significantly water- and labor-intensive, which doesn't do the planet any good.

Biotechnology can address these challenges by developing cosmetic ingredients that are more economical and environmentally friendly than ingredients obtained through conventional sourcing. For instance, the biotechnology company Amyris grows squalane through the fermentation of yeast and sugarcane in its labs, which spares the slaughter of millions of sharks per annum for the harvestation of squalene in their livers.

How to use biotech beauty

One way to make biotech beauty part of your beauty routine is to acclimatize yourself with famous lab-grown skincare brands. Orveda, One Ocean Beauty, Heraux, C16 Bioscience, and Biossance are reputable brands offering a diverse collection of anti-aging serums and moisturizers manufactured using biotechnology.

To better understand how biotech benefits the skin, it's best to start using a specific ingredient — for instance, hyaluronic acid. A naturally occurring protein found in one's skin and joints, hyaluronic acid is used in skin care products to hydrate the skin and keep it plump. Traditionally, hyaluronic acid is extracted from calf skins or rooster combs, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. A humectant like hyaluronic acid is beneficial to use daily for enhanced skin water content; you can introduce a lab-grown hyaluronic acid face mist or cleanser into your daily skincare routine. 

Another common lab-grown ingredient that benefits your skin is squalene. An emollient, squalene does a killer job of locking in moisture and keeping your skin deeply hydrated. Both hyaluronic acid and squalene are effective in plumping the skin and improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and are suitable to use together daily. Lab-grown alternative to palm oil is also an excellent option for soothing dry skin, boosting blood circulation, and lightening dark spots.