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Lab Quest: Beauty and Technology

From microalgae to maca root, ingredients andtechnologies under the beauty microscope.

In laboratories across the world, chemists are dreaming up the next big breakthrough in beauty. Many approach the task with the type of kooky imagination Willy Wonka unleashed in his chocolate factory. While blue-sky ideas such as lip glosses that stay on for 48 hours, fragrances that smell of Mars and hair sprays that transform straight locks into curls in minutes are unlikely to be seen on shelves anytime soon, there’s no doubt that innovation is the most influential transformative element for the beauty industry. But nailing the next mineral powder, olfactory note or antiaging active ingredient that will redefine the major categories is no easy feat. Here, WWD Beauty Biz uncovers some cutting-edge new technologies and ingredients that could shake up the status quo.


Fragrance: tapping into nuance to create new experiences for the nose—and soul.

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What does a starfish, copper metal or the middle of a desert smell like? Headspace technology introduced several years ago has allowed perfumers to enclose all kinds of objects under glass, record the chemistry of the surrounding air and re-create it in the laboratory later in order to nail down a more authentic note. Now they’re looking for other novel ways of fine-tuning fragrance notes, such as the culinary world of aroma bases. “We copied a peach flavor formula into a scent molecule recently that was a lot more real than the cloying sweet peach note we used to use,” says Dirk Braun, vice president and senior perfumer of Symrise.


Meanwhile, Pierre Negrin, a perfumer at Firmenich, predicts edible notes will move from gourmand sweet notes to savory. “What’s missing is another dimension to food notes, such as salty foods or drinkrelated notes,” Negrin says, adding he laced a rich new rum note in several men’s fragrances slated to launch next year. On the savory side, Thierry Mugler’s latest, Womanity, which was developed by Mane, contains a caviar note.


Touted to bend fragrance-making rules are neurofunctional fragrances— sensorial scents formulated with notes that elicit an emotion when smelled. Symrise is undertaking a study to rate consumers’ responses to particular fragrance materials by measuring heart rate and body temperature in an effort to tap into a gamut of emotions. “We’ve done happy and relaxing through scent, but what we’re studying is other feelings which will eventually lead to new fragrances,” says Braun.


Bottling the scent of cut grass to soothe nerves is an idea dreamed up by Dr. Nickolas Lavidis, senior lecturer from Synaptic Biology Group, specializing in nerve system chemistry, from Australia’s Queensland University. Lavidis noted that a holiday in Yosemite Park and mowing his lawn elicited the same calming effect, so he identified the natural stress-busting chemicals from grass and pine trees and formulated them into Serenascent, a spray for the ambiance, room or bed. Serenascent, which launched online in June, works by accessing the brain structure, changing anxiety levels and inducing a restful sleep, says Lavidis. “Serenascent is a mixture of hexanals, hexenols and pinenes in very specific ratios. Specifically, it greatly reduces the structural changes that occur in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory and spatial orientation, during prolonged stress, thus maintaining normal memory function,” he explains. Serenascent’s aroma varies from freshly cut grass to crispy green apples to the smell of Christmas, Lavidis says, depending on who’s asked.


Skin care: Mining the sea for antiaging ideas.


Antiaging technologies can come from the most curious of places. Elderly Japanese workers in a sake brewery who sported soft and youthful hands from a liquid found in the liquor’s fermentation process is the legendary story behind SK-II’s Pitera ingredient. Scientists have turned to the sea to extract skin care’s next biggest ingredient. When studying microalgae strains for biofuel, the clean-energy firm Solazyme also looked for a strain that boasted beauty benefits, and hit on Alguronic Acid five years and 10,000 strains later.


The firm says the acid is a powerful antiaging ingredient that is vastly more effective than hyaluronic acid. “Microalgae is able to survive in extreme conditions and flourish, and protect itself, which is why Alguronic Acid is so effective,” says Frederic Stoeckel, Solazyme Health Sciences vice president and general manager. “It is an amazing story, and I believe it will change the landscape of the market.”


According to independent in vitro testing by BioInnovation Laboratories in Colorado and human skin testing by Essex Testing in New Jersey, Alguronic Acid showed a 44 percent reduction in free radical damage, a 66 percent increase in elastin production (in vitro) and 74 percent suppression of hyaluronidase activity (in vitro). Eighty percent of women in a clinical study reported skin tightening (in vivo) and 49 percent, a reduction in redness and inflammation. Solazyme will launch Alguronic Acid via two lines created in-house. Altruest, a serum and beauty supplement containing the first generation of the ingredient, made its debut online at in late May and is priced at $119 for a 30-day supply of serum and the supplements. Phase two consists of an updated version of Alguronic Acid to launch in luxury specialty stores next year.


Forecasting the evolution of antiaging skin care after vitamins, peptides and phyto stem cells, the German firm Rovi says the next step is found in the science of the aging process. “The trend in cosmetic science is to learn about new functions of the skin’s aging process and design active ingredients that specifically address these functions,” says Sarah Teichmüller, Rovi’s marketing manager. To that end, Rovi’s latest weapon in antiaging is Vivendin, an active ingredient that boasts the same biochemical reaction as calorie restriction. Rovi says independent in vitro studies, conducted by a firm it declined to name, show Vivendin works by activating the cells’ Sirt-1 enzymes by up to 40 percent, setting off biochemical reactions to deprogram genetic information, causing less cell death and allowing cells to live longer and maintain original functions, such as synthesizing collagen or elastin. Rovi paired Vivendin with another of its technologies, Ineocell, a molecular delivery system, which consists of positively charged vesicles that carry Vivendin through the negatively charged skin, deep in the epidermal cells, where it releases the active ingredient. Teichmüller said it could be up to a year before Vivendin is in the market.


Next: Breakthroughs in hair care and color cosmetics >>


Hair: Looking to nature to solve some age-old hair concerns.


Algae-derived ingredients are making waves in the hair category. Natural hair dyes haven’t evolved much beyond henna, but the University of Leeds in the U.K. is putting the final touches on semipermanent and permanent hair dyes using pure plant and algae pigments. When tested for performance, the dyes were as good as leading products in the same category, says Dr. Richard Blackburn, head of the green chemistry group at the University of Leeds. The semipermanent dyes cannot lift color, but the permanent dyes can, as they are formulated with some hydrogen peroxide. Previously, it was impossible to replicate the chemical reaction in permanent hair dyes with natural compounds, but Blackburn and his research team have locked down the formulation and are being courted by a big multinational beauty brand to bring the science to market, he says.


“This revelation is going to change the hair dye category because before, the chemicals in hair dyes were derived from petrochemicals,” says Blackburn, who wouldn’t disclose which company he’s in discussions with. “We genuinely believe these hair dyes will be preferable, as they are more important to sustainability and other safety factors.”


Rub a balding head with a common garden plant to prevent hair loss? Queensland University’s Dr. Nickolas Lavidis chanced on the yet-to-be-publicly named plant’s benefits while studying natural extracts that relax muscles by increasing blood flow to the blood vessels and is six months away from perfecting the formula, he says. “This plant’s chemical increases blood flow and delivers oxygen, loosening the tightened blood vessels on the scalp responsible for killing the hair follicle in balding. It revives hair follicles that are close to dying, so effectively balding is halted and some regrowth occurs,” Lavidis says. The senior lecturer tried out the formula on his scalp, without telling his Ph.D. students. “After five weeks, there was a remarkable difference—word got out and several colleagues approached me to formulate some more,” he says.


Meanwhile, the French botanical ingredient manufacturer Naturex is touting maca root extract, a plant that grows in harsh climatic conditions in the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru and is said to work to stimulate hair growth. Seveov, named to define the concept of the main ingredient—sève in French, meaning sap—fuses two growth mechanisms, says Antoine Darby, Naturex’s marketing manager. Independent studies conducted by French laboratory Labo Bio-Ec show Seveov increases cell proliferation and helps develop a protective sleeve around the new hair by 36 percent. It also increases cell proliferation in the hair bulb by 169 percent, which enhances natural growth, and protects it from outside stress. Darby says the active ingredient can be used to promote hair growth, and expects it to come to market in products that prevent alopecia and detoxify the hair from external aggressors like smog.


Color cosmetics: makeup with the ability to transform itself—or the user’s mood.


Like the animated robots that turn into different forms, transformer color cosmetics are capable of changing textures and appearance. The world of makeup has already seen transformers infiltrate into some much-used products, but turning a cream into powder looks like a children’s science project in the shadow of the latest technology of instantly changeable and reversible color pigments. Researchers at the University of California have produced microspheres embedded with multiplesized iron oxide particles lined up in a particular direction. Using a magnetic field, they can change the direction of the iron oxide particles to subsequently change their color. Leading the research team, Yadong Yin says with more engineering, it would be possible to create pigments that can be turned on and off after production with the application of magnetic fields. “We can imagine a nail varnish whose color could be turned on or off when exposed to different magnetic forces,” Yin says. “The good thing about this technique is that we can make the iron oxide itself into different colors just using magnetic fields, avoiding the use of additional materials that in dye production are sometimes toxic.”


Back in beauty labs, cosmetics manufacturers are honing color products that cross over into skin care. Biokolor, a cosmetics manufacturer based north of Milan, has recently perfected a multiple emulsion, which can contain both water- and oil-soluble ingredients. “The sensorial effect is totally different from other products and it feels very light on the skin,” says Mario Deluigi, Biokolor’s founder. The firm is using the technology for foundations that target ultraspecific problems and skin care.


Intercos is also focused on transforming textures in its new formulation technologies that include a pure color lip fluid that applies with a cream sensation and transforms into a thin, flexible film that offers long-wearing high shine. Other novel textures are a fluid eye shadow that glides onto the lids in a thin, highly pigmented, long-wearing veil of color and a jellylike lip gloss that has the texture of a balm.


According to trend research firm Mintel, color and skin care products are being imbued with psychological benefits with ingredients that act on neurotransmitters. Nica Lewis, director of Mintel Beauty Innovation, says products are being formulated with peptides, color therapy, aromas and gemstone crystals for mood-balancing benefits. Dubbed “neurocosmetics,” they contain active principles that work on neurotransmitters to induce a positive mood, or help the user de-stress or get a good night’s sleep. Deborah, an Italian beauty line, recently launched Euphoric Shine Gloss, laced with a combination of botanical active ingredients that release dopamine, the happiness molecule.