Biotech in Cosmetics

By: Raphael Potter

Breakthroughs in Biotechnology are spilling over into nearby industries and revolutionizing society. The ultimate question, however, is at what cost.

Over the past two centuries, science has made revolutionary breakthroughs across every plane of human life. Causally, our standards of beauty, as well as our capacities in this pursuit, have changed. As we continue marching forth in our development of cutting edge technology, the boundaries between different industries—such as Biotechnology, cosmetics and healthcare—erode. The scientific innovations of today will be the products we use tomorrow, and we are now in a position to begin to analyze the real world effects of these technologies in regard to the cosmetics industry, whilst still keeping in mind the broader implications for society as a whole.

Humans have attempted to modify our biology, in addition to that of the other inhabitants of earth, since our genesis. While sometimes successful – artificially selecting wolves into domesticated dogs – such efforts were painstakingly long and inefficient. Humanity is now in a fundamentally different position in regard to our ability to manipulate and engineer the collective biology of the earth, and much of this progress is being made in the field of Biotechnology. However, this is a science, like many others, that is still relatively new. Only recently have the breakthroughs in Biotech resulted in tangible effects. To put things in perspective, the term “Biotechnology” is less than a century old, and the discovery of the structure of DNA occurred in 1953.

One angle to take in analyzing the effects of Biotech would be as it pertains to the cosmetics industry. The global beauty market is valued at approximately 300 billion dollars and is expected to climb to 390 billion dollars by the year 2020. The demand for cosmetic goods has been steadily increasing due to a variety of factors such as 1) increasing GDP per capita in emerging markets, 2) an increasingly aging population, and 3) better products. Given the increased demand, some companies have started looking down new avenues in expanding their product line. Concurrently, revolutionary breakthroughs in Biotech have spawned a multiplicity of small Biotech companies, with the number of Biotech companies in the U.S being estimated at 2800 now as opposed to 1300 in the year 1998. L’Oréal, the largest beauty and cosmetics company in the world, has two separate Biotech partnerships—1) Organovo, in an attempt to enter the 3D printed skin market and 2) Evolva, in using Genetically Modified Yeast. The new substitution for plant derived stem cells over traditional skin care products demonstrates the increasing recognition of the benefits that Biotechnology has to offer when compared to traditional methods. Biotechnology is significantly more efficient than traditional skin care products as stem cells have the capability of cellular regeneration, while the gold standard of the market, lasers, are extremely expensive whilst merely changing skin pigmentation as opposed to healing scars. The use of Biotech in large scale companies can also be noted by the acquisition of a skin care formula by Estee Lauder that is now being sold for $100 for one day’s usage. A major incentive in applying Biotech to the cosmetics industry lies in the fact that companies can market their products as being “cosmeceuticals”, a portmanteau of Cosmetics and Pharmaceuticals. The benefit of this is that companies are able to claim that their cosmetic products have Pharmaceutical drug-like benefits without actually having to undergo the long and expensive process of clinical trials for FDA approval.

In addition to the massive corporations creating partnerships with Biotech companies, a multitude of smaller startup companies are entering the space. Such companies have the potential to disrupt the status quo, and are thereby helping to push the industry forward towards Biotechnology. For example, a small start-up based out of London has an in-store genetic test that allows further individualization in skincare. Within 30 minutes, the company has a detailed genetic profile that can be used in creating a more personalized approach to skincare. Furthermore, the increasing pressure from consumers towards environmental conscientiousness also driving the industry. In addition to cost inefficiencies often associated with the standard industrial production process, there are often large amounts of inputs wasted in creating the products. A new emphasis on “going green” has helped push the cosmetics industry towards stopping such inefficiencies and loss.  

Cosmetics are generally thought of as being a product applied externally to improve appearance. In regards to closely related industries that share similarities with cosmetics, in that they are ultimately fixated upon the pursuit of perfecting human beauty, Biotechnology is beginning to make its presence felt as well. Height, Skin, Muscles: these are all aspects of the human body that humans have attempted to perfect throughout time. Human Growth Hormones, while naturally produced by the human body, have been synthesized and produced outside of the human body in E-Coli bacteria, giving rise to the massive proliferation of this biochemical throughout society. While there have been cases of individuals undergoing cosmetic surgeries to increase their height, the introduction of a new good such as HGH was one that largely created a new dimension to the possibilities of the cosmetics industry. While it goes without saying that using HGH without a doctor’s prescription is illegal, there has still been a sharp increase in the legal and illegal usage of HGH. Thereby, it is not far fetched to expect that the success of this drug will lead to the creation of new substitutes, thereby essentially creating a new sub-market of cosmetics. Additionally, while not often thought of as being Biotech, Botox is in fact a Biotech product which on its own is a market estimated at 3.4 billion dollars. Lastly, in regards to the skin care industry, Biotech has the potential to use of 3D bio-printing functioning human skin as an additional product – a move that is now being made by the cosmetics juggernaut L’Oreal.

The addition of such technologies pose major ethical questions and issues. We are on the verge of modifying human embryos and outfitting them with specific traits we want. Doing so will not only allow us to make pinpointed modifications of an adult’s genome, but will also change the eye and hair colors permanently.  With these rapid advancements in technology, producers will find themselves in a competitive market, consumers will face an unprecedented variety of options, and society will need to confront the broader implications of technology’s growing capabilities. Advances in Biotechnology and other “futuristic” sciences will continue indefinitely. Consequently, global civilization must keep itself in check and work in congruence with itself so as to not spark a biological arms race. One can only drearily contemplate the consequences of international competition in the “designer baby” market.

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Further References

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C. (2017, May 30). Fragrance ingredients made via fermentation have arrived on a commercial scale. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.cosmeticsdesign.com/Article/2017/05/31/Fragrance-ingredients-made-via-fermentation-have-arrived-on-a-commercial-scale

D. Genetic Enhancement. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.genome.gov/10004767/genetic-enhancement/

E. Plant stem cells in cosmetics: current trends and future directions. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.future-science.com/doi/full/10.4155/fsoa-2017-0026

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FN11

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