Special Edition: Biotechnology for Natural Formulation

Waste to wealth: How agri and fishery firms are finding value in cosmetics with biotech

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Players in the agricultural and fishing industries are turning to cosmetics to help raise the worth of undervalued resources in other industries. ©GettyImages
Players in the agricultural and fishing industries are turning to cosmetics to help raise the worth of undervalued resources in other industries. ©GettyImages

Related tags: biotech, New zealand

Players in the agricultural and fishing industries are turning to cosmetics to help raise the worth of undervalued resources in other industries.

New Zealand hoki is considered one of the best-managed trawl fisheries in the world. Yet it generates a significant amount of waste in the form of its skin.

“Hoki is quite a popular fish, the meat is used in fish fingers and Macdonald’s Fillet-O-Fish patties. But not a lot of value is being created from that,” ​said Iain Hosie, founder and CEO of Revolution Fibres.

Revolution Fibres is a Kiwi firm that produces nanofibres for various industries, from healthcare to aeronautics. The company latest foray is into beauty.

Since 2014, Revolution Fibres has been working with the local fishing industry to create value from the waste generated from the industry.

“Fish skins, in general, are a big waste. There’s a substantial amount of it that’s thrown out. There was a lot of potential to take tonnes of collagen from wasted fish skin and use it in cosmetic,” ​said Hosie.

While Hosie and his team recognised the potential of pure marine collagen in cosmetics, they also envisioned using collagen as a delivery method for active ingredients.

“We saw a lot of unnecessary ingredients in cosmetic products. Our big drive was to find a way to use collagen to replace those ingredients,”​ said Hosie.

Using electrospinning technology, the company created ActiVlayr, a collagen nanofibre which instantly dissolves in contact with moist skin. This eliminates the need for traditional delivery systems such as creams.

“Basically, you can electrospin any active with the collagen. So any active that you carry in a cream or serum can be carried by collagen,”​ explained Hosie.

From surf to turf

Similar instances of undervalued and wasted resources can also be found in agriculture, a powerhouse of the New Zealand economy.

Not valued as much as purebred wool such as Merino, crossbred wool is increasingly being displaced by synthetic materials.

In order to support sheep farmers, the New Zealand Wool Board worked partnered with Lincoln University to research ways to bring value to crossbred wool.

The study found a way to extract keratin that remains bioactive from the wool cortex, creating an active ingredient that has positive effects on skin.

This includes wound-healing, anti-inflammation, collagen stimulation and skin cell proliferation.

Kimberley Bray, founder and managing director of Sub & Tarctic, a brand that utilises this wool keratin, is optimistic of the effects this can have on the wool industry.

“The current impacts from the skin care industry are just in their beginning stages. There is great potential to make a real difference to the wool industry as recognition of both the ethical and sustainable nature of this material, as well as the real skin benefits backed by science, become more widely recognised.”

Sub & Tarctic also utilise the by-products of other local industries, including Kiwi fruit extracts and sauvignon blanc grapes.

“There is so much cross-pollination of ideas and crossover of value between industries that is possible if we look for the opportunities. I think that is probably easier in New Zealand because we are a relatively small community of producers,” ​said Bray.

The struggle of science

Both Hosie and Bray believe the potential of using biotechnology to more effectively utilise our current resources is immense.

“As an industry, we have the science, we have the understanding and we have the testing methodologies to combine a variety of ingredients in a safe and effective way,” ​said Bray.

Hosie added: “From an electrospinning perspective, we firmly believe this tech has huge amount of promise in life sciences. In cosmetics and medicine as well.”

Currently, the firm is developing a vegan version of ActiVlayr, which utilises botanical ingredients instead of marine collagen to create the fibre.

Hosie believes there are many interesting technologies available that are being hindered by financial barriers.

“Good science doesn’t always make its way into the industry. People want products to be at scale and at a very cheap price almost immediately. But that requires a lot of investment to get from laboratory to market.”

He added: “I see such fantastic materials out there, not just in New Zealand but all over the world. In the hands of the right people, they could transform cosmetics. But they seem to be trapped in the lab, struggling to find their way out.”

Bray added that cosmetic companies and brands must develop solutions that meet consumer needs while remaining sustainable. She stressed that it would be detrimental to do it for the sake of trends.

“There needs to be a balance between the boldness required to look towards alternative resources, a sustainable sourcing ethos and following consumer trends. If you are simply looking at building products to consumer trends in ingredients, it begins to affect the balance of supply. This in itself is inherently unsustainable and damaging to ecosystems.”

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