There is some amount of anomaly in reckoning with biotech industry as a sunrise industry, especially as some of the biotech firms have been around for more than 20 years now, and the word biotechnology itself was coined way back in 1919 by Karl Ereky a Hungarian engineer. This anomaly is even more explicit when we try to pinpoint the role of biotechnology in cosmetics. For instance, cosmetics have been widely used since ancient times notably by the Egyptians nearly 4000 years ago. Much of the cosmetics used by Egyptians in those days were biotech based, as they contained beeswax, fatty substances, oils, animal waste like fly dung and coloring material such as finely ground gems like lapis lazuli (that gave a deep blue color).

There is reason to believe that biotechnology and cosmetics have had a cyclical relationship. Starting from the Egyptians till about 60 years back most of the cosmetics and beauty aids were composed of natural or botanical extracts. It was only thereafter that chemical dominated cosmetics came on the scene, often with single active ingredient product, that replaced multiple natural ingredients in cosmetics. Once again the trend has now reversed, with more consumer awareness in having natural ingredients in cosmetic products. So today, one can find cosmetics having fish extracts, fruit acids, and even ingredients sourced from bacteria as for example ectoine (a moisturizer) sourced from Halomonas elongata.

Marine organisms

Microalgae sourced from the sea contain anti-oxidants, pigments and vitamins and this is being increasingly used in cosmetic products. For example, the red microalgae all natural eco-certified cosmetic ingredient Alguard manufactured by Frutarom provides quick beauty enhancement and long term protection to the skin.

Synthetic colors used in cosmetics are also a point of concern and biotechnology has to a certain extent helped resolve this problem. For example, various species of microalgae are a source of natural colors as like orange color sourced from green algae Chlorophyta and blue & red color from red microalgae Rhodophyta.

Another use of microalgae is in making cosmetic emulsions with soft gel behavior like those containing the exocellular polysaccharides of red microalgae Porphyridiumsp and P.aerugineum

Some algae like laminaria and agarum cribosum reportedly have hydrating and anti-aging properties and so they find use in anti-aging formulas. There are other innovative products sourced from the sea as well. For instance, Copalis a leading French cosmetic company makes a skin whitening preparation which is essentially a Sea Beet Peptide extract that when used has a de-pigmenting effect by blocking melanin synthesis. Sea Lavender Peptide is another product in their stable which is an anti-aging product that protects against UV rays and is sourced from sea lavender.


Micro-encapsulation using biotechnologically produced substances such as liposomes and cyclo-dextrines helps in stabilizing enzymes in creams or in releasing measured quantity of the ingredient according to the situation as for example in providing sun protection depending on the quantity of UV rays. A leading player in this field is Ronald T.Dodge Company which offers proprietary techniques and methods for biotech oriented micro- encapsulation for cosmetic industry, including liposome encapsulation and Alginate encapsulation.

Treatment of baldness

Fibrocell a company that specializes in autologous cell therapies for aesthetic use has come out with a cure for baldness that involves cloning normal skin cells called fibroblasts and injecting it into bald areas of the scalp. As fibroblasts control the level of collagen and elastin in the skin, they have been found effective in removing stretch marks as well.

Some types of baldness have been attributed to genetic mutation. For example, mutation of some genes in the hair follicle causes hair loss for which gene therapy is a possibility as it involves reprogramming the defective cells. But biotechnology has gone further than reprogramming the defective cells and is now attempting to make hair itself by cloning hair follicles from suitable stem cells.

Generally the chemical Minoxidil is used in anti-hair loss preparations which may be effective but causes unwanted side effects like vomiting, and rapid heart beat. Sometimes and quite ironically these chemical formula like Minoxidil may cause the opposite of what it was meant for, that is, it itself causes hair loss. That apart, there are several proven formulas for stopping hair loss (and augmenting hair growth) that contain natural ingredients of biotech origin like Nisim shampoo having Beta Glucan, PVP K30, Horsetail Extract, Saw Palmetto Extract and other natural substances of biotech origin.


In cosmetics, surfactants (a contraction for the words "surface active agents") have a major role to play and they may function as cleansers, solubilizers, foaming agents and emulsifiers. Consequently surfactants could be found in almost all kinds of cosmetics including powders, liquids, lotions, creams, gels and sprays. However in tune with current ecological concerns, chemical surfactants are giving way to biologically produced (by microbial fermentation) bio-surfactants such as phospholipids, lipopeptides and glycolipids.

The advantage of bio-surfactants over conventional surfactants is that the former are completely biodegradable and hence environment friendly in addition to having low critical micelle concentration values, and they are stable over a wide range of temperature and pH with overall less toxicity.

Here are some examples of bio-surfactants. Candida bom-bicola or AATC 22214 is the organism which can produce sophorolipids that have moisturizing, foaming and emulsifying properties and can be found in deodorants, body washes, and acne products. Rhamnolipids produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa have anti-microbial and emulsifying properties and can be found in anti-wrinkle and anti-aging cosmetics. Mannosylerythritol lipids produced by Candida Antartica are an emulsifier and dispersant that finds use in smoothing and anti-wrinkle products. In short, they are all amphiphilic surface active compounds.

Biotechnology has also enabled changes in the way we source active ingredients for cosmetic products. For instance, collagen made from cow hide was used as a moisturizer until the fear of mad cow disease forced cosmetic manufacturers to switch to fish collagen and hyaluronic acid! In fact biotechnology has immensely contributed to the advancement of cosmetic preparations.

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