While researching tens of thousands of strains of algae to create renewable biofuel, San Francisco-based biotechnology company Solazyme stumbled upon an unexpected find — a new antiaging ingredient, called alguronic acid.
“At the very beginning, the company was about creating renewable energy,” said Frederic Stoeckel, general manager of Solazyme Health Sciences. “Alguronic acid was in fact an accidental discovery.”
That ingredient became the key component in the formulation of the company’s first skin care line, called Algenist. Alguronic acid contains cell-protecting polysaccharides and is designed to address loss of firmness and elasticity, lighten age spots and increase cellular regeneration.
The acid is derived from microalgae grown in fermentation vessels at the company’s laboratories. It is the compound that preserves and restores the microalgae and took seven years to discover.
“Algae is subject to the same kinds of environmental insults as [humans] are,” says Stoeckel. “It’s one of the most ancient life forms on the planet and has evolved to produce many different things.”
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Designed for women age 40 and older, the four-stockkeeping-unit skin care line is priced from $65 for an eye balm to $135 for a serum. Algenist launched exclusively to QVC and to 800 international Sephora stores in late March.
“We knew we had to have the very best products possible to see through the company’s greater vision [of renewable energy],” said Tony Day, vice president of research and development. “We hope to [eventually] replace petroleum with more sustainable products.”
Seventy-five percent of Solazyme, which was founded in 2003, comprises scientists studying various types of microalgae and their potential for renewable energy.
Solazyme’s proprietary microalgae biotechnology process has been utilized to create everything from chemicals to edible oils to the world’s first cellulose-derived diesel fuel. The company was awarded a $21.7 million donation from the U.S. Department of Energy and $8.5 million from the Department of Defense. Additionally, in September 2010, Unilever made a multimillion-dollar investment in the company to develop its algal oils for personal care products.
“The company is completely sustainable in that we are not taking anything from the wild,” says Stoeckel. “We are growing and producing our algae in very controlled conditions.”