What is Biofermentation?

May 14, 2023

While lab-engineered ingredients for many are a red flag that has them turning away from certain products, and in many cases for valid reasons, lab-make ingredients are not always to be feared. In any case, lab-derived ingredients undergo stricter evaluations, as the quality of the products can be continuously checked compared to farm-grown ingredients. Additionally, lab-produced ingredients have the ability to take the resource burden off of planet earth, while maintaining quality 1. One process employed to produce clean ingredients in the lab is the natural process of fermentation.

Fermentation is used all around us

Fermentation is not a new process by any means. Humans have been taking advantage of this natural process for thousands of years to produce products that we all may know such as beer, wine, and bread. Now, this process, monikered, Biofermentation, is changing the chemical production industry to become more sustainable. It is argued that by using the natural process of fermentation, alternative chemicals, which are traditionally produced using fossil fuels like petroleum, can be created more sustainably by reducing the carbon footprint. 

Currently in the United States, according to the EPA,“[t]he footprint of the U.S. chemical industry’s GHG emissions is over 200 million m.t. of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) per year” 1. As many brands are making efforts to implement sustainability strategies, they are turning to biotechnological alternatives for their product ingredients on their missions to reduce greenhouse gasses, waste, and water consumption.  The process of fermentation utilizes microorganisms like bacteria,  yeast, and fungi to extract cleaner byproducts to be used in various industries such as food, beauty, and pharmaceuticals.  Since the byproducts extracted from the fermentation process are easily degradable and come from raw, abundant, renewable resources, they are seen as supporting not only the environment but also a circular economy 2.

It is not surprising that the biofermentation process has gained profound popularity in the beauty industry, specifically in the last couple of years, for many of the same reasons. Beauty products are only as good as their ingredients and beauty brands are recognizing this fact and are now reevaluating their products from the basics- the ingredients. 

Yeast for Beautiful Skin? Biofermentation in Beauty Industry 

The same fermentation process used to manufacture large-scale chemical products sustainably is being used in the beauty industry to improve their products’ quality and environmental impacts by enhancing nutrients and reducing waste and harmful byproducts during extraction 3. While biofermented beauty products have been popular in South Korea’s K-beauty industry for many years now, the trend of fermented skin care products, such as moisturizers, toners, and serums,  is now gaining traction in other countries and is being touted as the “holy grail” for its benefits not only to the consumers but also to the environment 4. But, fear not, the yeast, bacteria, or fungi used to ferment beauty products are removed after the fermentation process!

By fermenting whole-food and plant-based ingredients, the resulting products become more effective and absorbable. Fermentation yields products like probiotics, which help maintain a healthy microbiome, and lactic acid, which is a gentler AHA and great for sensitive skin. The process also turns normally unabsorbable chemicals like hyaluronic acid and collagen into absorbable ones by reducing their molecular sizes 5. The antioxidants, amino acids, and peptides produced are believed to help the skin's cellular renewal process. Many of the trending raw ingredients being used to derive these byproducts include but are not limited to mushrooms, green tea, wasabi, ginseng root and rice extract, claimed to be great for reducing wrinkles.

Photo: Unsplash

Keeping Our Skin Balanced 

Many of the benefits of fermenting these raw ingredients are primarily in relation to the increased absorbability of the products as mentioned above, but also the naturally sensitive-skin friendly properties of the products. Fermentation of skin care ingredients is also linked to anti-inflammatory properties and calming effects 6 as well as the creation of amino acids and antioxidants that are wonderful for the skin’s microbiome and provide a protective barrier.

Makes the Planet Radiant too

Similar to the fermented foods we are more familiar with like kimchi, pickles, and kombucha, fermentation extends the shelf life of the beauty products and in turn, reduces waste and overconsumption. Carbon emissions are also reduced by reframing from the use of fossil fuels as well as reducing harmful byproducts compared to traditional chemical manufacturing processes making a more sustainable alternative within not only the beauty industry but across industries. By absorbing the ingredients in beauty products more effectively, the consumer can get more out of their products, potentially meaning less is more.  Biofermentation is one path to cleaner beauty and a more sustainable beauty industry that is showing a lot of potential. However, this does not come without its own challenges such as some ingredients containing anti-fermentation properties resulting in good bacteria being killed and the fermentation process ceasing 7

Biofermentation in Use

Spiraglow™ by Haeckels

Instagram |@haeckels
Located in | United Kingdom
Shipping | Worldwide
Price Range | $50-85
Certifications | B Corp, 1% for the Planet

Haeckels is an innovative skincare brand with a mission to solve the waste problem in the beauty industry. Seaweed grown in Margate, UK is the base of all of their products because of its hydrating, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and skin-building properties from its richness in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. The brand's Spiraglow™ skincare series offers an EGF Serum, Cleansing Milk, and Hydrating Toner incorporated with fermented sugar that boost the efficacy and absorbability of the products while maintaining the skin's natural microbiome.  


Photo by: Haeckles Lab

Biofermentation is changing the traditionally environmentally negative production practices of the chemical industry by using raw and renewable materials rather than traditional fossil fuels such as petroleum, which reduces carbon emissions. This switch to a more sustainable process is being implemented across industries like food, beauty, and pharmaceuticals as companies are beginning to adopt sustainability strategies for their business models to combat the urgent concern of climate change. The beauty industry is one such industry that is utilizing this innovative natural process to not only produce their ingredients more sustainably for the sake of the environment but also to improve them for their customers. By fermenting ingredients such as green tea, ginseng, collagen, etc, beauty brands are able to offer more nutritionally dense products that are more absorbent with longer shelf lives. 

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