Making face creams from coffee beans as cosmetics get greener

Researchers are investigating the commercial production of innovative cosmetic ingredients from plants. Credit:, Shutterstock

Unsustainable ingredients are often used in cosmetics, but new research is answering the growing demand for eco-friendly products.

“Plant ingredients have always been used in cosmetics,” said Heiko Rischer, head of plant biotechnology at VTT, a Finnish research centre. “But in recent years there has been a renewed interest in plant-based compounds. Consumers are interested in greener and more sustainable ingredients.”

Today, most of the key ingredients used in the €80 billion European cosmetics industry are synthetic or of animal origin or are derived from wild plants. The manufacture of these components sometimes involves solvents or processes that are unsustainable and become less popular with consumers. Harvesting wild plants also puts pressure on natural ecosystems.

Rischer and other European scientists are investigating how to bring more natural and sustainable plant-based ingredients into cosmetics.

ecosystem pressure

The InnCoCells project coordinated by VTT creates alternative ingredient options by growing plants or plant cells for sustainable use in cosmetics.

“We grow plant cells and organs in bioreactors,” said Rischer. “But other partners are growing all plants aeroponics and in greenhouses or in the field.”

InnCoCells is exploring the commercial production of innovative cosmetic ingredients derived from herbs such as basil or aromatic ginger.

“Our work is currently in the biological search phase,” said Rischer. “We’re evaluating different plant species for compounds. We start from a wide variety of potential plants and reduce them over time.”

Although it’s still early for a project that started in May 2021, the team aims to develop up to 10 materials for market launch over the next three years.

“It’s hard to find our way through this jungle of plant choices,” Rischer said.

The focus is on bioactive compounds in cosmetics, i.e. ingredients that produce a desired effect, such as anti-aging skin, rather than ingredients such as stabilizers or fragrances. An important part of the work at InnCoCells is ensuring that cosmetics deliver what they promise in a transparent way.

“The cosmetics need to open up the evidence so that the products really do what they claim,” Rischer said. “This really helps the consumer make choices. When we buy food, there is a lot of helpful information on the package. We need to do the same for cosmetics.”

coffee creams

The Prolific project has turned plant residues into ingredients for beauty products, in a recent separate attempt to green the cosmetics industry. The team extracted polyphenols from coffee silver, a type of compound useful in cosmetics for its anti-aging effects on the skin. The polyphenol extract was standardized and used in a prototype face cream.

Normally, polyphenols are already derived from plants. However, the compound is removed by a chemical procedure that results in waste that must be carefully disposed of. The project implemented an environmentally friendly method called subcritical water extraction, which uses only water under very high pressure to extract polyphenols from coffee silver husks.

As a result, a number of new processes were used in the Prolific research to extract beneficial compounds from agricultural wastes of different plant sources such as coffee beans, mushrooms and legumes.

“We use a stepped approach,” said Annalisa Tassoni, scientific coordinator of the project and associate professor at the University of Bologna in Italy. “We do the initial extraction, then look at what’s left and try to extract another compound.”

As a result, residual fibers were used at different stages of production. Three prototype cosmetics were made by Greek partner company COSMETIC, including a face cream, toothpaste and even a container jar made from plant fibers.

“We are evaluating all parts of the remains,” said Georgios Tsatsos, general manager of COSMETIC. “This goes down to the fibers that are left after the extraction process.”

plant-based compounds

There are several steps that must be taken for these green compounds to reach the cosmetic market. The techniques used by Prolific to process coffee are close to entering cosmetic production, but the methods need to be scaled up before plant-based compounds can compete with synthetic ones.

“There’s a lot that supports this process for coffee,” Tassoni said. “We’ve opened perspectives and verified that certain techniques actually work.”

While it’s hard to outcompete all synthetic techniques used in the cosmetics industry, Rischer is optimistic about more environmentally sound approaches.

“The cosmetics market is huge and diverse,” he said. “Consumers are demanding more sustainable and green cosmetics and we can have an impact in our own niche.”

Provided by Horizon: EU Journal of Research and Innovation

Quotation: Cosmetics get greener to make face creams from coffee beans (2022, November 30), retrieved on November 30, 2022 from .

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