Beauty gets biological as the industry embraces biotech brands and engineered ingredients.

Consumers are increasingly looking to tech for more personalized offerings in everything from diet to beauty. Now, beauty brands are taking this personalization one step further by turning their attention to genetic measurement and modification, pushing the category to new heights.

L’Oréal is leaning into the science of skincare in a big way. “At L’Oréal, our goal is to advance scientific research and leverage new technologies to change this relationship [between consumers and their skincare], by allowing deeper levels of personalization,” said Guive Balooch, global vice president of the L’Oréal Technology Incubator. In March 2019, the renowned beauty mainstay announced an innovative partnership with biotech startup Ubiome. Ubiome, a leader in microbial genomics, will leverage their expertise in the skin microbiome to provide consumers with a deeper and more precise view into skin health. “Skincare has become one of the most serious areas [in beauty] because of the link between wellness, lifestyle, health, and beauty. Biology could bring skincare to a new level,” Balooch tells JWT Intelligence.

Eighteen B

California-based BoltThreads is also looking to biology to elevate skincare. They launched their new bioengineered skincare line Eighteen B in March 2019, debuting two skincare products created with their trademark ‘B-silk’ protein, which is made by fermenting yeast, water, sugar, and salt to produce a natural silk substance. While most silk proteins used in skincare are hydrolyzed – which decreases the effectiveness – Eighteen B has engineered a whole, unprocessed protein “without compromising its molecular structure, delivering more benefits, for better results,” the brand explains. As a result, the protein “complements the vital functions of your skin and reinforces its extracellular matrix (aka collagen and elastin).” The nontoxic beauty brand sits at the luxury end of the market, with its Revitalizing Hydrogel Moisturizer priced at $75 and its Hydrate + Restore Rich cream at $95.


Ginkgo BioWorks in Boston is another company genetically engineering yeast for beauty purposes. Since 2017 the brand has been working with French flavor and fragrance manufacturer Robertet, to develop a ‘cultured rose’ which Ginkgo describes as “a rosy mixture of floral, sweet, and spicy scents – made from yeast” through fermentation. By engineering the yeast with enzymes from various flowers and fruits, Ginkgo have found that the cultured strains can produce larger unique varieties of flavors and fragrances, unlocking a whole new realm of scents for perfumers and flavorists to explore, allowing fragrance companies like Robertet can now have their own specially designed ‘varietal’ of flower.

Kana sleeping mask

Scientists at Berkley are currently developing engineered yeast to create THC and CBD, two products generating a lot of buzz in the wellness industry. Holland & Barrett’s CBD cream range contains a combination of CBD and hemp seed oil which together helps regulate and balance the skin’s oil production. And Milk offers Kush, their CBD mascara whilst Kana Skincare offers a Lavender CBD Sleeping Mask. As scientists find more efficient ways of creating the two components and the demand for CBD-infused beauty continues to rise, brands will have more opportunity to utilize these new engineered variants.

As the launch of genetically modified food garners the attention of scientists and start-ups and technologies like CRISPR-CAS9 pilot a new journey for bioengineered meat and dairy brands, the movement is now influencing brands beyond the food industry. With consumers becoming increasingly conscious of their product’s ingredients and seeking more personalized offerings, beauty brands are turning their attention to forms of gene editing to uncover new product possibilities. It’s clear that as advances in genetic modification are becoming more accessible in the consumer space, bioengineering is stacking up to be the next luxury in the beauty industry.