Meet the Beauty Brands Putting the Environment First

These companies want our planet, and our skin, to be protected.

7 Minute ReadTrend Report by Jess Lacey


Alongside the rise of tech, science and new medical services in this new era of skincare, nature is also set to play a bigger role. More than eight in 10 people (82%) say they value nature more than before, according to Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.

Distrust of chemicals and damaging substances is driving demand for clean products and transparency. Searches for ‘clean beauty’ rose 40 percent since 2017. And increasingly, all things ‘clean’ and natural are intertwined with sustainability. The global clean beauty market is valued at US$5.439 billion in 2020 and revenues are expected to reach US$11.558 billion by 2027, according to Brandessence. According to WWD, 30 percent of Sephora’s sales growth — which is nearing US$3 billion in online sales for North America — is now coming from the 92 Clean at Sephora brands.

But the notion of clean in skincare is also evolving. Innovation in ‘clean’ used to be about stripping back, simplifying and only using unfettered nature. But new approaches are supercharging nature through bioengineering and biotech, unlocking new layers of efficacy and creating more sustainable solutions to chemical ingredients.

Here, a holistic approach is also emerging. New clean brands (and giants like L’Oreal) are zeroing in on soil, biodiversity, potent heritage varietals, and cultivation techniques, and exploring how they can create more potent products. The benefits are not just about better products – they are also more sustainable (read more in chapter 3.).

landscape nature and city

Topical Skincare – Climate Change, Diversity and Inclusion drive innovation

A 2021 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on climate panel offered a grim forecast of future conditions on Earth. It outlined the increasing likelihood that the climate will surpass a 1.5-degree Celsius level of warming in the next decades. Sea levels will rise. Glacier and ice sheets will melt. Hot temperature extremes that occurred once every 10 years between 1850 and 1900, now likely occur 2.8 times every decade.

Pollution is also on the rise. In the US, a recent analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data published by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that fine particulate pollution increased 5.5 percent on average across the country between 2016 and 2018, after decreasing nearly 25 percent over the previous seven years.

Climate change and the increasing toxicity of urban and home environments are creating new innovation directions. We have already seen a wave of recent experimentation in sun-care formats and formulas by segment-leading brands such as Supergoop and new need states being addressed, such as scalp and hair production from sun. Rumours continue to swirl about a clinically proven ingestible SPF. “But on the flip side, we’ll need more treatments such as Vitamin D if we shelter more indoors,” says Solowij. Indeed, in Australia there are rising cases of rickets due to lack of sun exposure and Vitamin D deficiency.

The recent wave of micro-biome balancing and skin barrier-focused brands are also linked to increased sensitivity to pollution and chemical skincare. Take Cultured, the new microbiome line launched by the founders of Ren Skincare – and more innovation is likely set to follow.

“From pollution to humidity to other crazy conditions, we’re going to need the next generation of performance skincare,” agrees Dr. Saedi.

Founder of Peach & Lily, Alicia Yoon, is also already seeing what she calls the "next generation" of microbiome-supporting ingredients in Korean skin-care labs. Plant-based probiotics that include vegan "biotic" blends, derived from radish ferment, lactobacillus ferment, and fructooligosaccharides, feature in the brand’s latest launch, Glass Skin Water-Gel Moisturizer.

Pour Moi describes its products as “climate smart skincare”– tailored to where a person lives, or where they’re visiting. Users can, for example, search by geography and season, and they’re offered ranges for temperate, polar, or arid conditions. The line is formulated with Strand Cosmetics in France and feature an ingredient called geo-hydradynamic complex, that is designed to help the skin stay hydrated in both humid and dry climates. It’s composed of three hyaluronic acids and a French white truffle extract.

Norway Mountain body pic

How the light gets in

Blue light protection skincare also continues to grow. Good Habit says its products are “built for the digitally native generation,” as they “defend your skin against artificial blue light and modern-day skin stressors.” It adds: “all of our products are formulated with our proprietary BLU5 technology, which hits the block and undo buttons on blue light and free radicals to reveal your healthiest, most radiant complexion yet.”

Magazine Allure notes that UVA/UVB/HEV-blocking SPF formulas are also part of this trend, such as Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen, and Volition’s Screen Time Hydrating Mist, which uses ingredients including sunflower extract and marigold flower extract to help minimise the appearance of photo-aging and reduce the appearance of stressed and sun-damaged skin.

“As we enter 2021, expect to see more of these products (StriVectin is launching a barrier cream in January) coming to the rescue in response to various skin-stressors, like the physical abrasion from wearing masks,” the publication noted. The products both provide a physical barrier to “contaminants” that could enter the skin, while sealing in moisture to prevent dehydration. One example is Strivectin’s Wrinkle Recode Moisture Rich Barrier Cream, composed of “NIA-114, a patented form of niacin, which helps to repair the skin barrier – an ingredient the brand calls 1:1:1 Biomimetic Lipid Ratio, which consists of ceramides, plant-derived cholesterol, and free fatty acids and is ultra-hydrating; and Chinese lu gen and poria mushroom extract, which soothes dry skin and calms redness.”

Norway Snow Body Pic

'Green Sciences' – the next wave of Innovation

Biotech and 'Green Sciences' are being used by companies big and small to recreate ingredients that are environmentally harmful, or unlock more potent properties from natural ingredients. L’Oreal is doubling down on this space as a key focus of innovation. By 2030, it says 95 percent of its ingredients will come from renewable plant sources, minerals or circular processes in a major departure from petroleum-based ingredients. All of its formulas will also support aquatic environments by 2030.

Barbara Lavernos, L’Oréal chief research, innovation and technology officer, described a “new chapter in research with green sciences, relying on the tremendous progress and innovation brought about by the natural sciences, agronomy, biotechnology, eco-extraction, green chemistry or physical chemistry.” She added: “This is how we will revisit and reinvent our portfolio of raw materials and formulation, and integrating the principle of circularity will enable us to penetrate new areas of innovation.”

L'Oreal is one of a number of companies exploring biotech’s application for new sustainable or eco-friendly ingredients. Skincare line Biossance, for example, has created a renewable, sugarcane-derived version of squalene—an oil found in shark livers – called squalane that the brand says will save 2 million sharks every year.

California-based BoltThreads, which is known for creating innovative sustainable silk and mushroom-grown leather alternatives for Stella McCartney, LuluLemon and Adidas, has also been moving in to the beauty space. It recently launched what it dubs its “Beeb Lab”, a Beta- testing Endeavors initiative, “working to identify clean, effective, sustainable solutions for the beauty and personal care industries.”

It recently created Eighteen B, a skincare brand using a new proprietary ingredient ‘B-silk™’ protein, which is made by fermenting yeast, water, sugar, and salt to produce a natural silk substance. “B-silk™ protein has a unique molecular structure that acts as a weightless defense system against environmental aggressors (like pollution and blue light). B-silk™ protein is clinically proven to physically defend skin and hair and mitigate these negative effects in a variety of applications. It is stable and easy to integrate into personal care formulas including shampoos, cleansers, lotions, masks, and more,” says the brand.

How 'Green Sciences' give back

Jasmina Aganovic, entrepreneur in residence at Ginkgo Bioworks, an East Coast biotech company also innovating in the biotech beauty space, believes “Green Science” has the potential to provide more avenues for beauty innovation in the future. “If you think about clean beauty, it was innovation by absence. So, what can additive innovation do? Innovation that is aligned with modern consumer values – what does that look like? There’s a space for that.”

Innovators are also taking this approach all the way back to the supply chain. Italian beauty company the Davines Group has teamed with Rodale Institute, a nonprofit specialising in regenerative organic agriculture to create a new regenerative organic farm and research centre. The 10 hectare site/campus will research growing specialty crops for food, nutrition and beauty, and the relationship between personal care ingredients and farming.

Italian skincare brand Furtuna Skin, founded by Agatha Relota Luczo and Kim Walls uses ingredients grown on Luczo’s Sicilian farm and focuses intensively on biodiversity, soil and preservation, and preserving heritage varietals to create effective beauty products. The 700-acre private estate had previously not been cultivated for several hundred years, but now is overseen by a botanist and features 80 medicinal plants and herbs, in addition to a rare heritage variety of olive tree. Furtuna is also made using these "wild botanicals" and foraged ingredients, which the founders say leads to maximum potency.

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