Earlier this month, the Dutch specialty ingredients major entered an exclusive alliance with French biochemistry firm Metex​ to deliver a cosmetic-grade 1.3 propanediol (PDO) ingredient, bio-sourced from non-GMO feedstocks. The move marked another clear nod from DSM on investment and expansion in biotechnology as part of a wider goal to cater to the conscious beauty consumer.

“With what’s happening in the consumer space, and also what’s happening with respect to natural resources and sustainability, it is becoming increasingly evident that biotech is the technology that’s likely to play a much larger role in the future,”​ said Rishabh Pande, vice president of marketing and innovation at DSM Personal Care & Aroma.

Biotech is ‘future-proof’ in beauty and personal care

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Pande said conscious consumerism and the wider environmental crisis would catapult biotech forward in beauty. DSM was therefore firmly focused on efforts to bio-source ingredients and invest in innovative technologies and partnerships in the field.

“We see biotechnology as a future-proof technology,” ​he said. 

Rishabh Pande, vice president of marketing and innovation at DSM Personal Care & Aroma
Rishabh Pande, vice president of marketing and innovation at DSM Personal Care & Aroma

The microbiome was one area of opportunity for beauty biotechnology, he said, but the “lowest-hanging fruit”​ was environmentally-friendly biotech ingredients that addressed the need for more naturals.

Demand for naturals was still on the rise, so it would be interesting to work out how biotech could be tied into this, Pande said. “[Consumers] assume natural equates to sustainable and as an industry it’s our responsibility to educate them on some of these topics because otherwise they have perceptions that are completely divorced from reality, and after we will bear the consequences.”

The term ‘engineered natural ingredients’, he said, would become an important way for beauty to describe biotech ingredients to consumers.

But will consumers accept biotech beauty?

However, incorporating biotech into beauty would not be without its hurdles, Pande said. “One of the big hurdles we face today is there has been a bad perception of biotechnology, at least in the context of genetically modified organisms, and this was largely driven in the agricultural space.”

But, Pande said as conscious consumerism continued to rise, acceptance of biotechnology would follow. “If you look at consumer trends, and the limited resources we have today to play with around the world, at least to me and others in industry, it’s becoming quite evident that biotech should get a larger consumer acceptance in the near future.

“…I think it will be a few more years before the widespread acceptance of this happens, but we firmly believe it will happen.”

Advances in other areas – the Impossible Burger making its way into Burger King, for example – would also make consumers “more comfortable”​ with biotech, he said.

Gaelle Bathany, director of sustainability at DSM Personal Care & Aroma, said an important aspect would be how the beauty industry engaged and communicated biotechnology.

Gaelle Bathany, director of sustainability at DSM Personal Care & Aroma
Gaelle Bathany, director of sustainability at DSM Personal Care & Aroma

DSM, for example, had already released methodologies on its ingredients – ‘sustainable impact cards’ that outlined where ingredients were sourced from, their form (natural, hybrid or synthetic) and social and environmental impact. “With this, we think we walk the talk of bringing transparency and traceability that our customers are looking for,” ​she said.

Pande agreed and added: “There’s many aspects to consider that we need to talk with the consumer about.”

For the time being, he said consumer understanding on biotech remained divided, between well-informed, early adopters and those who knew very little. “For us as an industry, not just as suppliers but brands too, the need of the hour is to start to talk to consumers about this and really have them understand biotechnology in a simple way. If you throw science and jargon at them it’s not going to work, they need this to be demystified. …The phrase ‘engineered natural ingredients’ will indeed become more and more what beauty brands will talk about.”

Biotech learnings from agriculture?

Asked if beauty and personal care could learn from advances made in agriculture, Pande said: “There is definitely opportunity to apply what has been learned and what has been done so far on the food and agricultural side, because there’s a lot of learning there. But I wouldn’t say we’re starting from scratch or need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ on the personal care side.”

So many aspects of biotechnology were relevant to beauty, he said, including use of food and agricultural by-products and the engineering of certain bacteria strains, it was just a case of refining beauty applications.