Every year, some 499 billion dollars (or 410 billion euros) worth of cosmetics are used worldwide. This is shown by figures from the French Cosmetic Valley, the largest umbrella organisation of cosmetics manufacturers. However, the data also show that consumers are increasingly looking for sustainable products. InTiCosm, an Interreg project in which Flanders, Wallonia and France collaborate, searches for biological substitutes for petroleum-based ingredients. Raw materials that are not only much more sustainable, but that are also available in Europe.

Mol - Europeans take good care of their bodies. Every year, 68 billion euros' worth of body care products are sold. Skin care and toiletries are in first place, followed by perfumery, hair care and strict cosmetics. "But we notice that the European customer is going to choose very consciously for sustainability," says Amandine Goubert, R&D director of the French company Cosmetic Valley at the introduction of the InTiCosm project. This translates directly into the products that are coming onto the market. Animal testing has been banned for some time, but plastic-free packaging and plant-based products in particular are rapidly conquering the market.

"We notice that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this process," explains Amandine Goubert. "The customer wants to have access to all the ingredients of a product, looks at the packaging and has an eye for sustainability. That choice has an impact on the way care products are formulated, produced and sold."

Biological molecules are widely available

The InTiCosm project started even before the pandemic and wants to develop components of biological origin and apply them in cosmetics. This is not just about finding alternatives that consumers will accept, but it is also about making sure that this innovation is cost-effective. The raw materials researched in this project come from biorefineries in the French-Belgian region.

The current production of beauty products uses petroleum-based ingredients. These are not only becoming increasingly scarce, but also need to be imported. Biological molecules are widely available, also in our regions. The Flemish research centre VITO, together with UGent and UReims, will investigate how biological 'carriers' can be made so that they only release certain cosmetic substances when certain conditions are met: a certain body temperature, for example. The universities of Lille and Liège will then work together to determine which biological substances meet all the requirements and are safe to use in cosmetic products. Finally, VITO and CerTech will scale up the results of all these processes and ensure that they can be carried out in larger volumes.

The most important thing for the industry is that there is a market for these innovative products and that they are as effective as cosmetics containing petroleum derivatives. "But there is also the reality of growing markets," says Amandine Goubert. "We see how the interest, especially from China, Japan and Brazil, in these bio-based products is going up steeply year by year. Western cosmetics companies are asking for organic products, but how China will welcome these products will ultimately determine whether those producers jump into that organic market en masse."

About InTiCosm

The fact that the Interreg project spans Flanders, Wallonia and France is no coincidence. After all, this region has a flourishing bio-industry, characterised by a well-developed and well-established cosmetics sector. These molecules come mainly from biorefineries in the French-Belgian region. These include the biorefineries of Pomacle-Bazancourt near Reims (the largest in Europe) and the Walloon BioWanze, the largest producer of bioethanol in Belgium. During the synthesis of these carriers, the principles of green chemistry are respected to the maximum. The partners of InTiCosm do this by stimulating the use of enzymes and green solvents and by limiting the number of synthesis steps in the production process.

More information about the project can be found here and on the European project page www.inticosm.eu.

The partners of the Interreg project InTiCosm

Ten partners from Flanders, Wallonia and France are supporting this project, led by the University of Reims (Fr). For Flanders, VITO, UGent and Catalisti are involved. For Wallonia, CerTech, ULiège and GreenWin are involved. France participates with the universities of Reims and Lille, Accustica and the pôle IAR.

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