Cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos heard musings of upcycled ingredients, a movement in the beauty world aimed to reduce waste by utilizing leftovers from other natural cosmetic or food ingredients, back in 2018, but it was only this past summer that she really started to see them on shelves in the shape of skin-care products.
“These kinds of raw materials have been making news in trade publications, marketed to cosmetic chemists for a few years, but are only now starting to hit the consumer market—mainly due to product-development life cycles that include a minimum of four-to-five-month stability test on final formulas, plus many delays during COVID.”
While the pandemic may have slowed some things down, Dobos points out that there are some examples of historically used ingredients, like coffee-ground scrubs, that have fit the concept—and found a place in the beauty category—for years. (She’s also a fan of the more complicated-sounding, yet long-time used, Vetiveria Zizanoides root extract, derived from exhausted Haitian vetiver roots, a byproduct of the extraction procedure used to produce vetiver oil for fragrance, as well as barley seed ferment, a hydrating ingredient derived from the waste stream of the gin-making process.)
“When coffee beans are brewed, fewer than 1-percent of the beneficial compounds, including polyphenols, lipids and tocopherols, are extracted, leaving much to be disposed of,” Dobos explains. “Coffee oil is extracted from spent coffee grounds, and that’s an ingredient that comes with claims of anti-aging, anti-cellulite and moisturization.”
UpCircle Beauty co-founder Anna Brightman is also a proponent of the upcycling process, especially when it relates to coffee grounds, so much so that she, along with her brother, built an entire facial around it—to the tune of transforming 250 tons of coffee grounds into skin care that they now sell at retailers like Ulta, Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters.
“We intercept ingredients before they are thrown away and give them new life. For example, we upcycle by-products from another industry—like brewed coffee grounds and chai spices from the food and drink industry,” Brightman says, adding that it’s a very imaginative and collaborative process that doesn’t take away from any level of efficacy or freshness.
“It’s important that we demonstrate that the ingredients we repurpose are of no lesser quality than fresh ingredients. There’s no point for us to go to this effort to rescue ingredients if they have no benefit for your skin. The efficacy of the products comes first—this is always our main priority.”
For example, Brightman calls to research that has shown that the level of antioxidants in coffee actually increase as it’s brewed. “Of course, antioxidants fight free radicals, which contribute to the signs of aging, which is why this ingredient is popping up in the present. So, it can be argued that the coffee-brewing process makes the coffee even better for your skin. The performance of the ingredients within our skincare formulations is essential. No amount of pretty packaging or clever marketing can make up for a product that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.”
To that end, Brightman says her skin care can provide competitively priced, high-performing products from upcycled ingredients, all while demonstrating that the beauty industry can become a lot less wasteful, which is something consumers appreciate.
“The by-product beauty movement is still in its infancy, but growing fast. It is such an exciting space to be operating in. We feel so lucky to be working with and partnering with such inspiring and forward-thinking people who think: ‘It is only waste, once it is wasted.’ Once we stop seeing things as waste but rather as resources, the status quo will change quickly. Not so long ago, the gold standard for beauty brands was to deliver great products from natural ingredients. Now, consumers want brands to go much further, to stand for something beyond the ingredients they use. Beauty brands must prove that there is a reason for their existence, one that contributes in some way positively to the environment, to society, or to supporting individual expression. Just having natural or vegan ingredients has become an entry-level requirement. Consumers are looking for brave and innovative brands to take the next step.”
Nadia Khan, vice president of marketing and product development at Maesa Group, the company behind personal-care brand Hey Humans, launched by Jada Pinkett Smith, is also aligned that “upcycling helps create the sustainable ingredients of tomorrow.”
“We partner with our fragrance house, Givaudan, and leverage their Upcycling Program. Upcycling helps us create the sustainable ingredients of tomorrow. We utilize plant-based ingredient byproducts normally wasted and transform them into fresh, unique fragrance ingredients while protecting fragile natural resources,” Khan explains. “Upcycling is gaining steam as consumers look to salvage materials that are normally discarded and turn them into beautiful creations.”
Plus, she stresses, the overall movement is a great way to reuse ingredients and reduce our overall footprint—and that’s clearly a trend consumers want to see more of. “Interest in upcycled ingredients is expected to rise as there is a need for such raw materials driven by a growing consumer demand for naturally derived personal care.”
From facial oils to some food-grade fusions, these products pride themselves on containing upcycled ingredients.
Waterless beauty brand LOLI skin care only uses food grade–quality ingredients in their candy-colored formulas—with many of them coming from upcycled food waste. At the top of the hit list: The brand’s best-selling Plum Elixir ($68), which contains oil from upcycled, cold-press plum kernel, a powerful moisturizer that also has anti-inflammatory benefits.
It sounds a bit like a salad recipe, but the concentrated formula behind Klur’s Surrounding Surfaces Hand and Cuticle Oil ($44), full of upcycled avocado and tomato seed oils, is a surefire solution to fix even the driest of hands.
Taking the solid beauty trend and mixing it with upcycled ingredient one, superzero’s Frizz Fighter Hair Serum Bar ($22) and Heavenly Hydration and Defense Hand Balm Bar ($22), both contain upcycled blueberry oil.