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SXSW The Wear House: K18’s CEO Suveen Sahib Speaks Beauty Biotech Breakthroughs

What biotech secrets power K18 and why these solutions are "future-proofing" beauty.

A hair care revolution is underway, thanks to biotechnology.

“It’s all about repairing hair and giving you a healthy canvas so you can get the most out of your styling and your expression,” Suveen Sahib, chief executive officer and cofounder of K18 Biomimetic Hairscience, told WWD’s technology reporter Adriana Lee at Fairchild Media Group’s inaugural Wear House event at SXSW.

Sahib discussed how biotech breakthroughs are shaking up the beauty industry. “Nature is the best designer, and the best engineer and probably the most efficient recycler in the world,” he said.

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Biotech allows companies to mimic naturally occurring molecules, but in a lab.

Microorganisms like yeast and bacteria are “micro-factories,” in Sahib’s words, of efficacious and sustainable ingredients in nature, used everywhere from breweries to beauty laboratories. “Cosmetic chemistry does not understand biology.…You need to understand your biology to work with the biology of your hair and skin.”

Biotech products may be able to sidestep the need for extensive chemicals, as Sahib explained. “It’s always been about [products] sitting on top of the hair — or sitting on top of the skin….You have to get deep into the hair to solve the problems of hair,” he reiterated.

His brand, K18, centers around hair repair.

“These keratin chains inside the hair, nature did not design them for such extreme situations [like heat, bleach or chemical relaxers]. They hydrolyze, and once they hydrolyze — hair becomes limp and lifeless. We ended up mapping the entire keratin genome, the goal was to study the way the body codes keratin in the first place and that’s how we created K18.”

As for the sustainability equation, Sahib summarized the problem. “Every ingredient we source either comes from plants, animals or fossil fuels. We can’t grow enough plants to satisfy the needs of clean beauty.” Take rose oil as an example. “Every 5 milliliters of rose oil needs a quarter-million petals. That’s 9,000 plants. Look at the amount of acreage, variability and your sources that go into 9,000 plants and then 90 percent of that is discarded. For 0.1 percent, you are actually utilizing 9,000 plants. That’s not sustainability.

“This is where biotech is about future-proofing beauty,” he said. Though conservationists have their stance to preserve nature, Sahib is in the camp for microbiotic tweaks “leveraging the capabilities of nature,” by adding new performance benefits, though they are not mutually exclusive.

Biotech has found a home for super-power ingredients like hyaluronic acid or sugarcane-derived squalane as well as needs like teeth whitening or odor-masking.

“Adding more products never really works. K18 works because it’s basically like hair itself.”