The Rise of Bioactive Compounds in Natural Skincare

There’s been a recent acceleration in the pace of change in skincare, driven primarily by the desires of modern-day consumers.

This is evident with the focus on natural and clean skincare. Companies offering natural alternatives popped up as early as the 1980s and gained momentum in the 2000s with celebrity brands such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company.

More recently, however, there’s been a push to extend from natural and clean to transparent and effective by educated and savvy consumers. It’s no longer enough to add “natural” to a product label; companies must conduct rigorous research and show results to back up the claims listed on their labels.

To meet this demand, brands are turning to bioactive compounds.

As you look through the hottest skincare ingredient lists for 2022, you’ll see bioactive compounds are already dominant. Ingredients such as Bakuchiol, reishi, and snow mushroom are found on almost every list. While these compounds are natural, they also have scientific data that back up their biological effects and show how they improve skin health.

What is a Bioactive Compound?

There are subtle differences in the definition of “bioactive” depending on the source. Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries define bioactive as, “having an effect on a living organism”.

However, sources focused on human health and wellness use the term “bioactive compound” and define it as, “chemicals found in small amounts in plants and certain foods that have actions in the body that may promote good health.”

This small difference is important. And, clearly, context is critical. For the skincare industry, we use a distinct definition that considers the wants and needs of manufacturers and consumers alike: A bioactive compound has a desired biological effect and is also natural and rare.

Are Bioactive Compounds “Good” for Humans and the Environment?

Many bioactive compounds that occur naturally in plants and food can be effective and safe for use in humans and do no harm to the environment. However, this is not always the case. Even natural compounds can cause safety complications or environmental issues. It’s important to note that natural does not always equal safe.

Ingredients from plants should be tested for safety and efficacy before entering the skincare market.

And culturing plants to produce these ingredients may be detrimental to the environment.  Anytime you are working with small amounts of bioactive compounds that occur naturally, there is a concern about sustainability. How many plants need to be grown for commercial scale-up of a bioactive compound? How much land and water does each plant need to produce a given yield? And how much CO2 is emitted as a result? These are all questions that should be considered when evaluating the environmental impact of any bioactive.

While consumers want natural products that deliver science-backed results, they are also concerned with environmental impact and transparency. Products and ingredients must be produced with limited impact on the environment and companies must be transparent about their supply chain and practices.

Growing hundreds of acres of crop, diverting water from animal habitats, and generating large amounts of plant biomass to deliver one ingredient is not sustainable, nor is it what consumers want.

While this may appear to put companies in an impossible position, there are solutions thanks to biotechnology.

The Solution: Cannabinoids Made Through Biotechnology

The Cannabis sativa plant is known to have over one hundred bioactive compounds. They occur in small amounts in the plant and provide health and wellness benefits. Using science, manufacturers have found a way to make them outside of the plant.

These rare ingredients can be produced through biotechnology, providing a compound identical to what is found in the plant, in a sustainable, transparent way.

Less water, less land, and less biomass provide a more sustainable process. And the resulting product is a high-purity, clean, natural, bioactive compound, identical to what the plant produces.

These compounds can be tested for safety and efficacy. We are only now beginning to see the scope of what’s to come.  

As more research is published, a larger picture of health and wellness benefits from cannabinoids has emerged. While we are still just tapping the surface, we have learned a lot and know there is more to uncover.

Thus far, cannabinoids have been shown to provide benefits to the skin. Some reduce inflammation, while others protect skin barrier function.

Companies and researchers are racing to study these bioactive compounds. We expect papers highlighting well-conducted scientific research on cannabinoids in 2022 and beyond.

With over one hundred compounds, science has just begun to scratch the surface of these rare ingredients.  

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