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How Biotech Is Shifting Our Ideas About Green Beauty

Recently, clean, eco-conscious beauty has become much easier to find (which we love!). But a perpetual concern—expressed everywhere from the comments section on social media to beauty brand boardrooms—is: What is truly green? And what about the caveats, like all-natural ingredients that actually deplete the environment?


Like many game-changing ideas, the answer may lie in a surprising place: biotech. After Bay Area innovator Amyris designed a method to mass-produce a lifesaving malaria treatment using molecules derived from sugarcane and a genetically engineered fermentation process. Its first brand, Biossanceuses this patented fermentation process to make an ingredient called squalane—an emollient previously derived from unsustainable sources like shark livers.



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Squalane is a highly effective moisturizer that our skin naturally contains. We’re literally born with a layer of it on our body, but we lose it over time,” says Ramya Viswanathan, director of new product development for Biossance, which has an all-female-led team. “Squalane also enhances the efficacy of the other ingredients it’s paired with, making it amazing in skincare.” At launch, Biossance became an instant favorite at Sephora and today has Reese Witherspoon as a fan and spokesperson. (Her de ella curated Biossance kit, The Sunshine Set, launches this month.) Since engineering squalane, Biossance says that 2 million sharks a year have been spared from liver harvesting for beauty products.

“By harnessing the power of biotechnology, we’re able to deliver high-performance products that reveal your best skin, without negatively impacting the environment,” explains Catherine Gore, president of Biossance. All the sugarcane used in this process is Bonsucro-certified, meaning it’s produced responsibly. “It is possible to have it all: a beautiful, efficient product that is driven by science and sustainability,” says Gore. “At Biossance, we believe the nerdy side of science and the charming side of beauty can coexist.”

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In fact, that’s what drew Witherspoon to the brand. “I was so impressed by the formulas and how they made my skin feel,” she says, who visited the labs herself. “I loved that it is female-led and that they re-create effective ingredients to be more sustainable.”

This biotech fermentation process fine-tuned at Amyris falls under what the industry often calls “clean chemistry”: where cutting-edge tech meets Mother Nature for a sharply decreasing footprint without compromising efficacy or safety. Since its launch, Biossance has won multiple awards for its formulas, several of which have gained cult followings, such as Squalane + Omega Repair Cream and Squalane + Marine Algae Eye Cream. Today Biossance sells one product every 15 seconds. “When you are inventing something these days it is usually reinvention, but this is really a breakthrough,” says Viswanathan. “We are so proud that Biossance is truly creating a more sustainable future for the beauty industry.”

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