The misconception of natural skincare is coming to an end. The future could be lab-grown.

There is nothing about so-called “natural” skincare products that automatically make them better for the planet. As the natural skincare trend continues to grow, it puts increasing pressure on natural resources, with ingredients being pulled from the earth on an industrial scale and leaving a significant carbon footprint behind. Furthermore, many nature-derived ingredients contain high concentrations of compounds that can irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions.

Our thirst for natural ingredients is putting pressure on the planet — and for all the wrong reasons.

Are all natural ingredients bad for the planet and the skin?

No, not at all. What Tiny Associates is saying is that natural ingredients (molecules derived from plants) are not inherently good. While the eco-friendly skincare movement is definitely important, it unfortunately portrays natural ingredients as being better for the skin and the planet than synthetic ones. This conception needs to change — scientists observe that synthetic ingredients (lab-made molecules obtained with biotechnology) are often more effective and more sustainable than their nature-derived equivalents.

How can synthetic ingredients be more sustainable?

There are only a finite amount of resources on the planet from which we can source skincare ingredients. This isn’t sustainable, especially on an industrial scale. Pulling ingredients from the earth requires land, water, energy, sunlight and labor, which often overtaxes those natural resources, not to mention the significant carbon footprint that stems from lengthy global supply chains.

On the other hand, nature-identical molecules made inside laboratories allows us to source raw materials without many of the negative impacts resulting from sourcing nature-derived ingredients.

These ingredients are the same as the ones found in nature?

Yes, they can be identical. And the molecules biotechnologically made inside laboratories are typically better for the skin. As the supply chain can be better controlled, impurities can be prevented and potency becomes more stable.

Lab-made ingredients are identical to those found in nature, but more sustainable and more effective?!

Yes, bio-scientists have discovered ways to do exactly this. Biotechnology is driving sustainable efforts in other industries too, such as in fashion and food.

Microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast are ideal for producing needed ingredients, as they are easy to grow quickly in large quantities.

Can you provide an example of this?

A good example of a sustainable biotehnologically made molecule is biosynthetic bisabolol. A natural calming ingredient used in skincare, bisabolol is traditionally extracted from the candeia tree. However, to collect 7 kg of bisabolol, one needs a whole tonne of plant material from candeia trees, which take around 10 years to grow.

In contrast, it is now possible to obtain bisabolol through biotechnology. The yeast is raised on sugarcane, which renews within around one year and requires 230 times less agricultural land to produce the same amount of bisabolol as the endangered candeia tree, making it a much more sustainable resource.

Why don't we see more lab-grown, nature-identical molecules?

It all boils down to public perception. “Synthetic” is still a dirty word in the eyes of many. We have been taught to consider synthetic ingredients as being acceptable for medicine, but most people still grow suspicious when it comes to other kinds of products.

How do we overcome this misconception for the sake of the planet and our health?

Synthetic molecules need a new publicist. That is Tiny Associates’s mission: to foster a transparent dialogue about these topics.