Through the use of natural and organic extracts from plants, flowers and seeds, companies producing natural and organic cosmetics have traditionally contributed to bringing more naturality and sustainability in the market. The increasing consumer demand for more sustainable products and the renewable qualities of natural raw materials are a perfect match to bring even more circular beauty on our shelves.
In the last years, many cosmetic companies have started to look into upcycling discarded raw materials that can be reused for the production of cosmetics: coffee grounds, olive oil waste or fruit peels are perfect ingredients for upcycled natural scrubs, soaps and lip balms. By reusing as much as possible the precious natural resources from our soils, cosmetic companies can help reducing our impact on the environment by supporting a more circular beauty that is good for our skin and for the planet.
What is “upcycling”?
Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials or discarded objects into new materials or products. Food and beverage waste represent the main source of materials that can be upcycled into beauty products, particularly into natural and organic cosmetics since these often contain food-grade ingredients that have rich properties for the skin.
Upcycled ingredients: too good to go to waste
According to a 2011 report for FAO by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption globally is lost or wasted, which translates into 1.3 billion tonnes of wasted food per year. The main causes for retail food waste are limited shelf life and aesthetic standards for food (i.e. food products that are edible but that don’t pass “the beauty test”), while consumer food waste is mainly caused by poor meal planning, excess of buying and confusion over “best before” and “use by” claims.
As proved by many cosmetic companies, food waste often represents a valuable source of materials for the creation of natural and organic upcycled cosmetics. Partnerships between food producers and cosmetic companies are more and more common as a joint effort to reincorporate materials with precious active ingredients for the skin in the production loop. Some raw material companies have also specialized in the last few years in the development of portfolios of plant-based ingredients obtained from food waste material apt for their use in cosmetic formulation.
What materials can be upcycled into cosmetics?
There is a wide range of food waste that can potentially be used to develop upcycled natural and organic cosmetics: olive oil waste, citrus extracts (particularly orange and lemon peals), coffee and cacao beans waste, tea waste, etc. Dried fruit seeds discarded from the juice and jam industries can also be cold pressed and transformed into precious essential oils, which are a key ingredient in many natural and organic cosmetics. Even extracts of grapes waste from wine production can be used for pigmentation in natural hair dye and colour products.
“Basically all food waste materials that have a positive effect for the skin can be upcycled”, says Maximilian Munz, co-founder of C!RCLY, a German brand of upcycled cosmetics. According to Maximilian, the main challenge that remains for the production of upcycled cosmetics is the adaptation of the raw material stream: the materials need to be in fresh condition to further process them into cosmetic products. Moreover, these materials need to be free of germs and any possible contamination.
The possibilities of using upcycled ingredients in cosmetics keep growing as technical innovation develops, facilitating the reinsertion of both discarded and wasted food materials in the production of natural and organic cosmetics. Nowadays, the upcycled cosmetics offer is mainly represented by scrubs, peelings, oils and soaps, but some companies are researching how to develop upcycled perfumes and other cosmetics. As the use of materials derived from food waste in cosmetics grows, so will the sustainable profile of the cosmetic industry at large.
More collaboration between industries and consumer’s growing appetite for circular beauty products “good for people and the planet” will define the development of the upcycled cosmetic’s segment in the coming years.
 FAO: The State of Food and Agriculture: Moving Forward on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, 2019, page 12. Online resource: http://www.fao.org/3/ca6030en/ca6030en.pdf
Article written by Ana Ledesma, Communications Officer at NATRUE