Circular Beauty in Botanical Supply Chains

Interview with Charlotte d’Erceville-Dumond
Sustainable Innovation Manager at BASF Beauty Care Solutions France S.A.S

How do you define Circular Beauty?

As the name suggests, Circular Beauty is based on the concept of circular economy. The principle is very simple: the use or lifetime of a product is to be extended to the maximum by recycling, reprocessing and reusing waste as often as possible, thus turning it into the starting point for new products and processes.

However, the implementation is not quite as easy as the definition, especially in the beauty industry. Shampoo, shower gel and the likes are washed off after use, for example. The sewage sludge or the landfill are thus the final destination for Personal Care products. Nevertheless, we can ensure that their manufacture is as circular as possible.

There are many different benefits to this approach: low carbon footprint, energy and resource efficiency, net-positive products, local resources, and waste reduction. For us, in our botanical supply chains, Circular Beauty is about valorizing waste and upcycling materials. “Upcycling” in this context means that we utilize by-products of plants that usually go into waste to create new, valuable cosmetic ingredients.

However, the benefits of Circular Beauty go far beyond environmental protection by extending the life cycle of a product. It also offers crucial benefits for the people involved in the supply chains. 

Why is BASF committed to this concept?

For us, Circular Beauty is not just another trend that is in fashion today and forgotten tomorrow. It is quite the opposite – we see it as an important and long-term opportunity.

If we look at the numbers, strictly speaking, we are living beyond our means – or rather, beyond the means of Mother Earth. Our resources are finite. Today we need about 1.8 planets to provide the resources for our consumption and absorb our waste. And by 2030, we will already need two planets [1]. Needless to say, that we only have one.

That is why we attach great importance to manufacturing our products in the most resource-conserving way possible. Using botanical by-products is a very effective method that can help to save water, land space, agricultural inputs, and waste. 

And more than that: In the end, circularity it not just about offsetting, but about creating positive impacts.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges in Circular Beauty?

One of the biggest challenges is also one of the most urgent requests from consumers: full traceability and transparency. Nowadays, it is no longer enough for people to know where a raw material comes from. They also want to know how it was planted, harvested and processed, and how the local population benefits from the trade.

To provide all this information, we rely on our great partners on site. It takes a fair amount of training of local farmers to achieve the expected quality and certification standards. Of course, this effort is only worthwhile for all parties if long-term contracts can be put in place.

A successful example is our rambutan program that was established in 2016. We utilize by-products of the rambutan fruit as feedstocks for active ingredients. Our partners in Vietnam organically cultivate the trees in the country’s first rambutan plantation to be independently certified by Ecocert.

For our rambutan-based bioactive ingredients, we use the peels, seeds and leaves of the fruit. These are then further processed into skin and hair care ingredients. And that presents yet another challenge, because the application areas have different business sizes and volume requirements. So, we need to carefully balance the demand of the different components within the circuit system.

And then, of course, the performance of the products plays the most important role. The use of waste and by-products is not an end in itself; it’s about turning them into high-performance ingredients. That’s where our R&D department does a great job.

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In the beginning, you said that the impact of Circular Beauty goes far beyond environmental protection. What did you mean by that?

Using by- and waste products generates a new source of income for local farmers. Let’s take the rambutan example again: Before we started producing cosmetic active ingredients from the seeds, peels and leaves, farmers depended only on the sale of the fruit, and the rambutan trees were at risk of being replaced due to market fluctuations. Using parts of the tree that would otherwise go to waste creates additional value for farmers, allowing them to invest in other agricultural value chains and incentivizing the preservation of rambutan plantations. Our program ensures income above average, gender equity, safer working conditions and health insurance. So, in addition to all the positive effects on the environment, Circular Beauty can also contribute to creating a positive impact on rural societies.

You have already briefly introduced the Rambutan program. What other ingredients has BASF developed based on upcycling or by-product valorization?

To date, we have about a dozen bioactives in our portfolio that were created through upcycling or by-product valorization of, for example, moringa oil cake, argan pulp, litchi peel and chestnut leaves. Their areas of application are as varied as their origins.

A new plant-based solution for hair care applications is the latest addition to our portfolio. This extract is the result of upcycling milk thistle seedcakes, a by-product of milk thistle oil production. The milk thistle we use is grown in France for oil production and is based on a traceable and sustainable supply chain. 

Milk thistle oil is traditionally used in nutraceuticals and cosmetics. It is obtained by cold pressing from the seeds of Sylibum Marianum. The leftover seed cake is rich in proteins, so we decided to use its potential for a new active ingredient. Our research team optimized the extraction process to generate low molecular weight peptides. The resulting amino acid composition of the product is close to that of keratin.

Keratin is a protein naturally present in the hair, which ensures its resistance and elasticity. Due to outer influences (environmental aggressions, lifestyle, styling, straightening, coloring), the proteins in our hair like keratin wear out and are depleted. The hair becomes dry, dull and brittle. To close this gap and rebuild the hair from the inside out, there are many products on the market that are enriched with keratin. The problem, however, is that the keratins that are usually contained in hair treatments are of animal origin.

Our new circular extract provides a sustainable alternative to animal keratin that makes hair stronger and helps keep its color longer. Comprehensive studies have shown that the active ingredient offers triple protection for the structural proteins of the hair against metal-catalyzed oxidation, glycation and carbonylation. The active ingredient also helps to prevent breakage especially of weakened hair through the stabilization and repair of hair keratin.

For me, it is always a marvel to see how we can develop such great products from materials that would have otherwise been disposed.

Does Circular Beauty also play a role for BASF beyond plant-based active ingredients?

It’s true that we currently have the largest selection of Circular Beauty related products among our botanicals, but that does not mean we are not exploring these possibilities with other ingredients as well. Just recently, for example, we launched our new biopolymer Verdessence® RiceTouch, an upcycled plant-based sensory modifier made from 100% mechanically obtained natural starch.  

I’m sure this is just the beginning. We will continue to research in this area to use our resources to the fullest in the most responsible way – and to help work toward a world of zero waste.

[1] (last accessed 17 January, 2023)


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