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The Blossoming of Naturals

By: Rachel Chapman
Posted: June 11, 2008, from the November 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Within the beauty and skin care industries, the term “natural” is controversial because products touted as such tend to fall on a scale of how natural they are. For example, if an ingredient is taken from its original source but altered physically—such as by crushing it into a fine powder—some individuals would argue that the ingredient no longer is natural. In addition, extracts derived from natural sources that also contain synthetic solvents or carriers may no longer be considered to be natural at all. On the other hand, some people view synthetic equivalents to naturally unchanged materials as being natural.

A recent report about research conducted at the New Zealand-based life sciences company HortResearch puts a different twist on natural products by introducing the concept of combining biofermentation techniques with genetic engineering to match the flavor and fragrance genes of natural ingredients. Biofermentation techniques—essentially the same fermentation processes that cause bread to rise or make wine from grape juice—could make it possible for the natural tastes and aromas of fruits and flowers to be re-created on a massive scale and with less environmental impact, the company reports. And because biofermentation uses the actual genes of plants, the resulting flavor or fragrance compounds are said to have the same molecular makeup. It is, as the report asserts, “nature-identical.” Would these ingredients be considered natural?

For the sake of this article, all levels of natural products will be considered—and this year has seen record-breaking launches of new naturals: from flower, fruit and vegetable extracts to herb and stone extracts, and more.

Delivering nature

Raw material suppliers of natural ingredients have been faced with the challenge of designing natural products that meet the demand of a growing green consciousness, yet are equivalent in performance to the strongest synthetic actives. One raw material supplier has gone so far as to mimic the natural chemicals in snake venom in order to induce the same paralyzing effects for use in anti-aging applications.

Another way to accomplish efficacy of naturals is through specialized delivery. For example, in the prestige market, Lancôme has introduced its Platinéum Hydroxy(a)-Calcium complex with a delivery system that includes cyclodextrins containing a bioassimilable—or easily absorbed—form of calcium, ginseng and yeast extract to reach targeted areas of the skin. Another form involves inducing microchannels into the skin for enhanced delivery of naturals.

Emotional investment