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- Myth #1: Upcycled ingredients are dirty and contaminated
- Myth #2: Upcycled ingredients should be cheaper
- Myth #3: Compromised quality and efficacy
- Myth #4: Upcycling is limited to extracts and actives
- Myth #5: Unreliable supply chain
- Myth #6: Upcycling is a gimmicky trend and greenwashing
Raising awareness and promoting understanding are key drivers of the Upcycling Campaign, and the circular beauty movement. We want to dispel the misinformation and inaccuracies that are often associated with upcycled ingredients, so let's start by debunking some common upcycling myths:
Myth #1: Upcycled ingredients are dirty and contaminated
When we talk about waste, we don't mean trash but a by-product or co-product from another process or industry, such as forestry, food and drink. It's important to understand that waste doesn't equate to something unusable. Take the food industry as an example; perfectly good produce often goes to waste due to its 'ugly' appearance or lost demand. Unbelievably, 1/3 of all food produced is lost globally causing a staggering 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This waste comprises a significant portion of discarded resources that could, and should, be repurposed. Upcycling allows us to create higher value materials from by-products which are nutrient-rich and provide a plethora of interesting phytocompounds for personal care.
Myth #2: Upcycled ingredients should be cheaper
This is a common fallacy that we often hear because upcycled ingredients are derived from waste. However, this oversimplification ignores the journey these materials undergo. Upcycled ingredients are sourced from by-products, so secondary or even tertiary feedstocks. However, the upcycled feedstock still needs to be procured, packaged, transported and processed into the final cosmetic raw material. This is the same as if it were derived from a primary source. So upcycled ingredients are not cheaper, as they still need to be handled and processed. The issue here is that people think that this so-called waste has no value, but we are not rifling through rubbish bins; upcycled ingredient feedstocks still hold intrinsic value. They are often precious plant-based resources too good to waste.
It's also important to consider that various cosmetic ingredients can originate from upcycled sources, even if this fact isn't always prominently advertised. There are several potential reasons for this:
- The manufacturer has limited visibility on the complete supply chain;
- For legacy ingredients, product origin isn't openly shared as provenance and sourcing have only become key points of interest in recent years.
The difference with upcycled ingredients is that the supply chain can be made more transparent. Raw material manufacturers, as well as brands, now want to shout about their sustainability values.
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Myth #3: Compromised quality and efficacy
An often-cited concern is that upcycled ingredients compromise the quality and efficacy we demand from beauty products. However, such claims are far from accurate. Upcycled ingredients undergo rigorous testing and quality control measures to ensure they meet the same high standards in terms of safety and efficacy as any other cosmetic raw material. In fact, the sustainable practices associated with upcycling often result in ingredients that possess comparable, if not enhanced, quality and efficacy compared to their traditional counterparts.
An example of this is Blueberry NECTA® from The Upcycled Beauty Company. This is an active oil that packs a punch against blue light. It is made from cold-pressing blueberry seeds saved after the flesh has been juiced. Just 1kg of oil diverts waste from 800.000 blueberries. The Blueberry Necta® has been tested vs a commercially available Blueberry Seed Oil and is shown to outperform this control in terms of antioxidant potential. It is also standardized to contain higher levels of naturally occuring beta-carotenes (pro-vitamin A).1
Myth #4: Upcycling is limited to extracts and actives
While extracts and actives certainly contribute to upcycled beauty, the technology scope goes far beyond. Functional and excipient ingredients are also emerging as part of this movement. The Covalo platform as well as the Upcycled Ingredient Directory provide evidence of this diversity, showcasing a wide range of upcycled ingredients with various applications.
- SeaBalance 2000 from Carbonwave is an all-natural, upcycled emulsifier made from Sargassum seaweed. Described as being highly versatile and working in cold processes, SeaBalance 2000 boasts a pH range of 3.5-9.0 and can work with a concentration of oil between 10-25%. Sargassum is a floating seaweed that has become prevalent due to nutrient run-off and warming oceans. By using just one ton of Sargassum, Carbonwave can prevent 850kg of CO2e emissions.2
- The CosmeGreen line from Surfactgreen provides bio-sourced cationic surfactants upcycled from sugar beets and rapeseed. These functional hair care materials also offer different hair benefits, such as conditioning, detangling, strengthening and colour protection. They can be used as alternatives to sillicones, petrol-derived quats and other conventional agents to increase the sustainability of a personal care formula without compromising performance.3
- Mangoboost from Biolie is an upcycled natural preservation booster extracted from mango kernels, a by-product of the food industry. Produced with Biolie's zero-waste patented enzymatic extraction technology, tests have shown that this ingredient has antimicrobial power and thus can be used to support conventional or alternative persevative systems.4
However, it is true that the upcycled functional and excipient offering is not yet to the same level of sophistication as actives are. To help close the circulatory gap, we need to create 100% zero-waste beauty with focus on large-scale deployment of sustainable production, investing in cleaner, low-carbon and material-efficient technologies, while curbing virgin material demands and drastically reducing material consumption. We have a call to action to the industry: we need more of these upcycled technologies.
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Myth #5: Unreliable supply chain
Giorgio Dell'Acqua, chair of the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists, was reported as saying that while ingredients from upcycled food production waste appear to have promise, logistics of securing the ingredients in a useable state are a roadblock to scalability.5
However, if we look at the history of personal care, upcycling, by definition, is not a new concept. Raw materials like lanolin, glycerine and many seed oils are all by-products of other industries. We don't see logistics as a difficult barrier to overcome, but personal care ingredient manufacturers need to establish good partnerships with local waste producers.
There can be drawbacks when moving towards more circular processes and developers can run into problems. Finnish brand Lumene, a pioneer in 'Sustainable Nordic Beauty', has developed a brightening cloudberry seed oil using Nordic cloudberries but found it challenging working with such a rare fruit as yields are low, with harvesting occuring during a small window of four to six weeks in summer.6
But we know it's not harder to work with upcycled supply chains, just different. Instead of the traditional linear economy and process of take-make-dispose, ingredient manufacturers can reverse this: investigate what is being disposed of within their community and determine what can be created. This leads to fascinating innovation without utilizing virgin resources.
In another example, to produce the natural hair styling active Faba TONIQ®, The Upcycled Beauty Company takes the waste leftover from hummus production. 1kg of this upcycled ingredient contains the water needed to process ~4167 chickpeas, diverting it from waste. No new materials are created — no existing resources are wasted.7 The supply chain in this case is very simple: all that's needed is a good partnership with local Mediterranean food producers. And if they are located nearby; even better (within 50 miles from their own manufacturing site). The producers take care of sourcing all those chickpeas needed to make hummus regularly throughout the year, and ingredient manufacturers can take from this type of continual waste stream of just a few local suppliers. The volume of food or beverages produced daily is vast compared to that of the resources needed to make personal care raw materials. There is a level of security built into upcycled supply chains as the quantity of certain waste streams outweighs the demand to produce a cosmetic active or functional ingredient.
The circular economy is also a system that is restorative and regenerative by design, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible. This emphasis on responsible sourcing helps promote a supply chain which is secure and dependable, contributing to a more resilient industry for the future.
Myth #6: Upcycling is a gimmicky trend and greenwashing
It is true that upcycling has become increasingly popular over the last years — this is clear from the increasing number of new materials launched with a proudly promoted upcycled origin. However, we know that sustainability is no longer a transient trend but a must as climate issues are now felt in real time. Upcycling is part of Circular Beauty — a green business model that focuses on repairing, reusing and extending a product's life cycle by minimizing waste across all aspects of the supply chain. To achieve Circular Beauty, businesses must look at every step in the creation and life cycle of a product from the ingredients used to how the packaging is disposed of. As upcycling increases supply chain transparency, it is harder to hide behind greenwashing claims and we are working with key stakeholders to ensure credibility. We fully believe circularity will become a normal part of everyday operations across the whole industry, and upcycled ingredients are just the first step for beauty and personal care.
Upcycled ingredients are derived from valuable by-products and their pricing reflects the efforts invested in sourcing, developing and processing. They also offer quality and efficacy that rival traditional cosmetic ingredients. Upcycling encompasses more than just extracts and actives, with a growing variety of functional material technologies now being offered. Upcycled supply chain concerns are also addressed through community building, transparency and responsible practices. Ultimately, upcycling is not a gimmick, but an integral part of the Circular Beauty movement, allowing companies to focus on responsible consumption and production practices.
- Blueberry Necta® by The Upcycled Beauty Company
- SeaBalance 2000
- Mango boost
- Thoughts on Upcyclced Ingredients, cosmeticsdesign.com
- Upcycled Cosmetics: A Nordic Cloudberry Case Study, cosmeticsandtoiletries.com
- Faba Toniq® by The Upcycled Beauty Company
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