Now I’m not a cosmetic dermatologist. I deal with inflammatory skin conditions of the skin, hair and nails and skin lesions and that is my day-to-day. But inevitably, we have to have some awareness of products that are put on the skin because we invariably recommend certain products in conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema because they can support the treatments that we do prescribe.
The array of what is available to apply to your skin is vast, with new products being made available all the time and advertising of these products is big business. However, it is extremely sad to observe that the majority of cosmetics are sold in small, single use, plastic vessels. We all know how damaging plastics are to the environment and take great umbrage at the single use, disposable water bottle but do we actually think of the environmental cost of the cosmetics that we use?
It was therefore interesting to listen to the Youtube video by the Economist released only recently which talks about the environmental costs of cosmetics and how the use of gene editing could salvage the situation.
In this video they say that 20 billion units of single use plastics are created every year by the cosmetics industry 😔.
This video goes on to explain that up to 8 out of 10 of the ingredients listed in any cosmetics bottle are also obtained from unsustainable methods 😟.
They talk about squalene, an oil found in shark’s livers that is used widely throughout the cosmetics industry for decades. We still don’t know how many sharks are killed each year for this oil but it is estimated to be in the millions 😢. I have touched on squalene in an old blog post as it is also used in vaccine manufacture.
They also talk about rose oil 🌹 which is used in perfumes. Apparently, it takes 200,00 petals to make 5 millilitres of rose oil and inevitably, you have to think about the amount of land and the water usage that is required to grow that amount of roses. Trees are also being cut down for their perfumed wood and wild flowers are being harvested. Many products also contain palm 🌴 oil which is a major cause of deforestation.
So what is gene editing?
This is where the gene from, for example, the shark that is responsible for making squalene is inserted into a replicating microbe 🦠 such as yeast which can then synthesise squalene without having to kill any shark in order to do so. The process requires sugar and according to the head of R&D at Amyris Inc, a company developing and using this technique, all the squalene harvested from 3 million sharks can be generated by using the sugar harvested from sugarcane that is grown on 1 square kilometre of land!!!
Currently however, only 10% of cosmetics are made from gene edited microbes and the process of growing the microbes is lengthy, it can take up to 3 years to develop so we are some way off replacing all unsustainably sourced ingredients from day-to-day cosmetics.
Is this genetically modified cosmetics with another name?
Yes, technically. But it is only the microbe that is genetically modified. The product that is eventually produced would be identical to the original molecule 🧬.
It could be a way of making cosmetics cheaper and safer for us as the consumer and also reduce the planetary cost of producing cosmetics. Win win, no?