Biossance Clean Academy Jonathan Van Ness

Biossance is hoping to clean up the confusion clouding the clean beauty movement.

The Amyris-owned clean beauty brand has created an educational platform geared toward consumers and industry insiders alike. Called the Clean Academy, the platform consists of a series of courses, guided by “Queer Eye” grooming expert and Biossance brand ambassador Jonathan Van Ness, that will live on YouTube and CleanAcademy.com.

The Clean Academy launches with eight courses, each of which aims to decode a hot topic in clean beauty. The platform is meant to be brand-agnostic; an early video features Follain founder Tara Foley.

“Everybody’s heard the term clean beauty, but not a lot of people know how to figure it out and there’s a lot of confusion around what it means,” said Catherine Gore, president of Biossance. “There’s so many terms within the [clean beauty] space, I think it got to be too many terms for the average person to be able to digest or understand. Everyone defines it in a different way [and] no one knows what the true source is of all of the information. That’s our mission: selfless education to bring clarity to the consumer.”

Prior to joining Biossance in July 2018, Gore was a senior executive at Kendo Brands. She was one of the first 25 employees at Sephora and over the course of 11 years, worked her way up to vice president of Sephora Collection.

Biossance products

A sampling of Biossance products, which incorporate the ingredient squalane.  Courtesy of Biossance

Biossance is best known for its use of squalane, a moisturizer that occurs naturally in sharks and olives (humans actually produce squalene, which is a version of squalane). Using biotechnology, Biossance produces squalane from Brazilian sugarcane. The brand was born from Amyris, an Oakland-based laboratory that was granted $42.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a sustainable and affordable anti-malaria treatment. Since receiving that grant in 2005, Amyris has delivered 120 million of its anti-malaria Artemisinin treatments.

Amyris launched Biossance, its first consumer-facing beauty brand, in 2017. In an interview with WWD, John Melo, president and chief executive officer of Amyris, said the company first launched Biossance in hopes of industrywide adoption of the ingredient squalane.

“We typically do a consumer-facing brand when we want to accelerate the adoption of an ingredient,” Melo said. “We started [Biossance] because we had an amazing ingredient that was not understood. We thought a brand would help that and the deeper we got into the brand, the more we realized a huge lack of education. I want first to be known for raising awareness and educating, and then [the] great products we have to go along with it.”

Biossance is currently in 1,218 Sephora doors and is the only EWG-verified beauty brand sold at the retailer. Last year, it launched in Brazil and this year, it plans to expand to South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the U.K.

Industry sources say the brand is set to generate nearly $50 million in retail sales in 2019, which is more than double what it is said to have done last year. Direct-to-consumer is said to account for between 30 and 40 percent of Biossance’s business.

Jonathan Van Ness, Biossance brand ambassadorJonathan Van Ness, Biossance brand ambassador

Biossance brand ambassador Jonathan Van Ness.  Thong Luc

Clean beauty has accelerated over the past few years, as brands seek to be more transparent and meet the demands of a consumer who is increasingly well-versed in ingredients. In the first half of 2019, 70 percent of prestige skin care’s U.S. sales gains were attributed to natural brands, according to data from NPD.

Consumer confusion and a general lack of a widely accepted, comprehensive standard for clean beauty has led brands, retailers and organizations to develop their own. Sephora launched its Clean at Sephora campaign and revealed in July that it had tripled its list of banned ingredients. This week, clean beauty retailer Credo unveiled its Fragrance Transparency Policy, a two-part mandate that urges brands to reveal more information about the fragrances used in their products.

In its education materials, Biossance’s Clean Academy defines clean beauty as “products that are made without harmful ingredients, safe for the planet, sustainable and cruelty-free.” To encourage participation from other brands, the Clean Academy will host a gala in the spring of 2020, at which it will honor other beauty and fashion brands it believes are doing good in the space.

“We will be partnering with the EWG on that initiative and we’ll also honor a scholarship at that time to a student in STEM that we believe is showcasing signs of great improvement under the banner of sustainability,” Gore explained. “We think that will be a tangible moment for all of us to come together.”

Beyond Biossance, Amyris is continuing to develop in the clean beauty space and recently launched Pipette, a clean baby brand. Next month, it will unveil Purecane sweetener, a natural, zero-calorie alternative to sugar, and is focusing additional efforts on CBD.

“We’re very principal and mission-driven and we think the whole opioid crisis is just a disaster for the world,” Melo said. “We believe there’s a huge opportunity for certain blends of cannabinoids to actually be a great replacement for opioids. We think there’s a lot of work to do there, everything from developing the molecules to being good at the formulations to doing clinicals on these products, and we’re building out that capability as a way to focus on cannabinoids.”

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