In the near-decade since the natural beauty boom took hold of the industry with its plant-powered products, consumers have wisened up to the fact that “botanically based” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” For starters, cosmetic ingredients don’t require approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they hit the market, which means any kitchen chemist can whip up a floral serum and slap a $300 price tag on it with very little oversight. (Unsafe products or misleading labels would be in violation of the law, however.) What’s more, the resources that go into these formulas (think: plants, minerals, and animal byproducts) are in limited supply; in the face of a growing climate crisis, consumers and brands alike are questioning whether pulling them from the earth for the sake of clearer/firmer/brighter skin is really worth it. But thanks to the increased use of biotechnology in the beauty industry, come 2023, we won’t have to choose between products that are safe and efficacious or environmentally friendly.
“Biotechnology” is an umbrella term for tech that uses biological (aka naturally occurring) processes and microorganisms to fuel the creation of different products. “Biotechnology is the melding of nature and the lab in a way that’s really sustainable,” says Rose Fernandez, CEO of Algenist, a skin-care brand that’s been using lab-developed algae in its formulas since its launch in 2011. “You look to different microorganisms to take aspects of them in order to create new ingredients or technologies.” In recent decades, biotechnology has been used in food (lab-grown meat), medicine (the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine), and fragrance (allergen-free synthetic scents).