Innovative Approaches to an Eco-Friendly Cosmetic Industry: A Review of Sustainable Ingredients

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Innovative Approaches to an Eco-Friendly Cosmetic Industry: A Review of Sustainable Ingredients


1. Introduction

Currently, concern about environmental issues related to cosmetic ingredients is driving a growing demand for the use of sustainable alternatives [1]. Some of these ingredients may negatively impact the environment, particularly the aquatic fauna and flora, which has generated a global consumer demand for eco-friendly products [2].
This trend has generated a preference for the use of renewable products, and if possible, with all ingredients derived from natural sources—biocosmetics [3]. New labels are used to better suit consumers’ expectations of cosmetics regarding sustainable practices (Figure 1). In general, people with higher education are more worried about environmental problems related to the use of cosmetics; however, most consumers are not willing to pay more for a product that has sustainable ingredients [4]. Additionally, after the COVID-19 pandemic, a healthier life perspective has arisen, opening novel opportunities for the cosmetic industry, especially focusing on the circular economy [3,5]. Interestingly, the main drives for the beauty and personal care industries post-COVID-19 are reinforcing the skin barrier, immunity and anti-inflammatory boost features, good sustainability practices during manufacturing, local supply chain priority, upcycling cosmetics-food industries, sustainable and biodiversity-friendly ingredients, social and multicultural inclusivity, digital retailing, and healthy-related products [3].
Environmental problems related to inappropriate cosmetic disposal have been reported. The accumulation of cosmetic residues, such as triclosan, zinc oxide, and silver nanoparticles, squalene, and micro/nanoplastics, in aquatic habitats may damage algae [6]. Toxicity caused by cosmetic residues in the aquatic environment may imbalance the presence of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the water and the biomass composition of algae, which can damage organisms of various trophic levels [6]. Further studies need to be carried out to determine the real extent of this contamination since the environment and the complex mixing of materials can promote significant changes in the results [6].
Sunscreens prevent diseases such as skin cancer and discomfort such as sunburn, but UV filters may damage the aquatic ecosystem of lakes, rivers, groundwater, and the sea [7]. Moreover, such molecules tend to accumulate in organisms [2]. A study conducted with organic UV filters showed that these may be pollutants in the aquatic environment. Tests using Balanus amphitrite demonstrated the possibility of acute toxicity of benzophenone-8 (1) and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (2) (Figure 2). The concentration of these compounds is higher in industrial and urbanized areas, being diluted in the underlying regions. However, with the phenomenon of bioaccumulation, long-term problems are still a possibility, even in the most distant regions [8].
One strategy to minimize the problem of pollution derived from cosmetic ingredients is the use of products recovered from the manufacture of other industrial items. Valuing and using waste have become an economic and sustainable practice in the cosmetic industry and are known as “upcycling” or “circular beauty”. For example, the food industry produces organic waste, a known source of phenolic compounds such as flavonoids and phenolic acids, among other various derivatives that might normally be discarded [9].
Other authors have brilliantly reviewed the sustainability issues regarding the entire life cycle of the cosmetic chain: manufacturing, packaging, distribution, consumer use, and post-use [10,11,12]. In this research, we aimed to review sustainable alternatives to produce ingredients for the manufacturing of cosmetic/dermocosmetic products, mainly those based on the valuation of waste products. The focus is on current attempts to reduce the ecological impact of cosmetic products by exploring alternative, environmentally friendly methods for producing these ingredients. We compiled data regarding traditional/classic, and new ingredients, aligned with the recent trends and needs of cosmetic consumers after the COVID-19 pandemic. We structured this review according to the types of sources of renewable and/or recycled compounds/materials, like those derived from plants, microorganisms, animals, in vitro cultures, and algae.

3. Recycled Materials

Food waste is increasingly being recovered and used to produce high-value compounds. This process generates economic and environmental benefits as it reduces the number of pollutants eliminated by the food industry. Many secondary products can be reevaluated and processed to generate interesting compounds, including cosmetic ingredients [9]. Based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the priority for the environment is to avoid waste production; therefore, the recovery of food excess is a potential solution [83]. Naturally, the logistics of this action have some points of attention: (1) food waste is highly perishable, and special conditions of storage and transport may be required; (2) the seasonality of food supply must be incorporated into the ingredient schedule; (3) food and cosmetic grade ingredients may have very different specifications; and (4) extraction methods sometimes require multi-step and/or solvent processes. Nevertheless, the relationship between different industries and commodity production may involve government policies such as tax exemptions on production and specific taxation of final products. Therefore, a detailed analysis of the reuse of food waste for cosmetics is needed to evaluate its cost-effectiveness. The circular economy regarding the food and cosmetic industries is shown in Figure 9 and several examples of potential reuses are listed.
The wine industry is an example of a high generation of effluents estimated at approximately 14.5 million tons annually in Europe alone, which contain numerous compounds of interest (such as polyphenols) that can be recovered and used in cosmetic formulations [84,85]. The liquid-solid extraction method is suitable for industrial-scale applications but utilizes substances that can be harmful to the environment. Recent studies suggest the extraction and purification of polar compounds from organic matrices with natural deep eutectic solvents (NaDESs), but there is still a lack of information regarding the effect of bioactive formulations. Preliminary findings indicate that extracts prepared using NaDESs can enhance the bioavailability of molecules in topical products [86].
Therefore, the extraction methods employed for the recovery of wine compounds are a crucial determinant of the extract’s composition. The dry pomace of white grapes (Vitis sp.) yields higher amounts of antioxidants and tyrosinase inhibitors. In contrast, wet pomace enables the extraction of anti-inflammatory agents, which cannot be extracted when the pomace is dried due to the degradation of such substances during the drying process [87]. Furthermore, the phenolic compounds found in grapes have the potential to inhibit enzymes involved in skin aging, making this approach a potential method for developing new products [84,88,89]. In light of this, several interesting formulations and/or nanoformulations passed through development by beauty brands, such as Pelegrims, which uses by-products from British vineyards, and Le Domaine Skincare from the Rhône Valley vineyard.
More than 3 million bottles of myrtle (Myrtus communis) liquor are produced every year in Sardinia (Italy), and approximately 200,000 tons of waste are discarded annually. However, its pericarps and seeds have high concentrations of linoleic acid, a fatty acid with protective antioxidant activities on the skin that can potentially be used as ingredients in cosmetics. Its characteristics are maintained when its residues are used after hydroalcoholic infusions, thus their viable reuse [9].
From 8 to 20 million tons of melon (Cucumis melo L.) shells and seeds are discarded annually. Such residues have interesting compounds for the cosmetic industry, such as polyphenols, flavonoids, orthodiphenols, and carotenoids, among others. All derivatives with potential antioxidant properties can be used in cosmetic preparations [90].
Coffee is consumed daily globally; however, only 10% of the fruit is used to prepare the drink, with 90% being discarded and generating up to approximately 823,740 kg/year of waste. From this material, a relevant amount of pigment can be extracted and revalued [83]. Additionally, the most abundant by-products of coffee are chlorogenic acid and caffeine, which have the potential to act as antioxidant compounds and adjuvants to improve the efficacy of sunscreens [25,91,92].
Walnut and hazelnut shells can be used as a source of lignin, an ingredient capable of absorbing UVA/UVB radiation. Currently, sunscreens are based on synthetic compounds, and their consumption is high. On the other hand, today there is a concern regarding its accumulation in aquatic organisms, and further investigation can clarify the effects in humans [2], since zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can generate free radicals in water, and zinc nanoparticles were found to be toxic in an experiment with zebrafish embryos. However, the concentration used in this study was higher than that found in the environment [7]. Therefore, further investigation can determine the relationship between sunscreen residues and coral damage [93]. Although experiments using UV filters based on lignin polymers from nut shells and hazelnuts indicated low sun protection factor (SPF), when isolated, the substitution of part of the formulation by these sustainable compounds can benefit the environment with the reduction of the synthetic UV filter concentration, a strategy investigated by our research group through studying bioactive multifunctional sunscreens [2,94,95,96,97,98,99].
Mango leaves (Mangifera indica L.) are traditionally used in Chinese medicine and show a variety of isolable bioactive compounds but are discarded by the food industry. The main compound of interest is tyrosinase, which catalyzes melanin synthesis, increasing the skin’s protection from UV rays and darkening the skin. Flavonoids are also present and can act as antioxidants [23].
Similarly to the case of mango leaves, approximately 60% of the mass of each pineapple (Ananas comosus L.) is discarded. In 2016, more than 435,000 tons of pineapple waste were generated. Its barks and stems, however, can be used to produce extracts with bioactive compounds, whose polysaccharides can be separated by precipitation. An enzyme of interest is bromelain, which shows anti-inflammatory action. In addition, several other by-products can be used as intermediates to produce citric and lactic acids, among others. The fibers of the juice contain polyphenols, which are useful in cosmetic production [100].
Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a source of several polyphenolic antioxidants. Still, generally, industries use only their juice, discarding the other parts of the fruit, even those containing compounds such as anthocyanins, hydrolyzable tannins, and ellagic acid, for example [101]. The ellagic and punicic acids are inhibitors of tyrosinase, making it interesting to decrease spots on the skin. Also, they have great interest as antifungals [20].
The olive tree (Olea europaea L.) is a determinant of olive oil production. More than 8 million hectares are occupied by this species [102], and since the market for its derivatives is growing, consequently, waste production is also increasing [103]. Its residues (especially leaves) have potential compounds for the cosmetic industry, such as hydroxytyrosol (23), with antioxidant and inhibitory action of melanin production, avoiding the formation of spots on the skin; tyrosol (24), showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities; palmitic acid (25), a fatty acid acting as a moisturizer; beta-carotene (16), an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and regenerating agent of the epidermis; and verbascoside (26), a glycoside with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. These compounds can be obtained by nanofiltration or reverse osmosis, and some of the chemical structures can be seen in Figure 10 [104].
Approximately 20% of fruit and vegetable production goes to waste. In the case of kiwi (several species of the Actinidiaceae family), the waste comes from leaves, barks, flowers, roots, seeds, and fruits that do not follow market patterns, leading to close to 106 tons of residuesbeing discarded annually. These residues have bioactive components, such as proanthocyanidine, which can be used as an ecological pigment. It also has components with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities [20,105].
Camellia sinensis and C. assamica are responsible for the green, black, and oolong teas, which are some of the most consumed teas, being the waste produced considerably. Its polyphenols (epigallocatechin gallate, catechin, epicatechin, glycoside-3-O-quercetin, and kaempferol, among others) have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These also have very attractive pigments for cosmetic formulations [106].
Almonds (Prunus dulcis Mill.) are the most consumed walnuts in the world nowadays. These are treated industrially to serve as highly nutritious food; however, their peel, bark, leaves, and branches are not used, generating abundant residues (just the shells of almonds generate 0.8 to 1.7 tons of discard/year). These residues preserve part of the plant’s bioactive compounds, including polyphenols (such as catechins and kaempferol) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that can act as antioxidants and as a source of lipids [107].
Approximately 4.84 million tons of American cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) are produced annually, representing a market of more than 24 billion dollars (2019 data). However, only 20% of cocoa is used, and the other 80% is discarded or applied as biodiesel. In these residues, there are several polyphenols with antioxidant action (procyanidins (27) and catechins (4), anti-inflammatory epicatechin (28), protective against tooth degradation theobromine (29), sunscreen epicatechin and catechins, and promoter of collagen synthesis catechins) (Figure 11) [108].
Lignocellulose is a compound widely found in plant biomass that belongs to the cell walls. Its complex structure consists of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. One of the most common hemicelluloses is known as xylan. Its potential uses in cosmetic products include antioxidants, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and moisturizers, besides acting as prebiotics. The compound’s hydrolysis can form a series of arabino-oligosaccharides with high potential as an antioxidant agent [109].
Mushrooms (Agaricus blazei Murill) are high-waste generator ingredients in the food industry. However, ethanolic extracts of these residues are safe for cosmetic use [110]. A. blazei Murill, in turn, is used medicinally since it contains polysaccharides. For the cosmetic industry, the presence of ergosterol and phenolic acids may have antioxidant and anti-aging functions; assist in normalizing collagen synthesis; suppress inflammatory responses; and normalize the amount of lipids in the skin. Another interesting factor of this fungus is the high concentration of mannitol, a compound useful as a preservative and wetting agent [110]. Cordyceps militaris has applications in the cosmetic industry for its moisturizing properties for skin and hair. These typically undergo solid-state fermentation, and their culture media are discarded after use. However, studies suggest that there is the possibility of reusing components present in the media, such as polyphenols, rutin, and quercetin with antioxidant action, as well as tyrosinase inhibitors and photoprotectors [15]. Tremella fuciformis is rich in bioactive compounds. This mushroom can be grown in sustainable biomass (decomposition of wood or sawdust) and has a polysaccharide called glucuronoxylomanan, showing anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. Another characteristic of this compound is its ability to act as a thickener and moisturizer [29].
The canned fish industry generates a significant amount of liquid waste. Usually, before disposal, treatment is made to decrease the amount of organic matter. Solvent extraction processes (recovered) or mechanical or enzymatic extraction can transform aqueous residues into PUFAs [111]. PUFAs are important for skin homeostasis, and their deficiency in the body tends to damage the skin’s barrier function. In formulations, PUFAs may act against photoaging by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds, in addition to disabling mechanisms to produce prostaglandins. Furthermore, studies have suggested that fish oils may improve the symptoms of various dermatitis (inflammatory conditions) by moisturizing the skin [112].
Mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) are a source of proteins with low environmental impact. Damaged mussels are rejected by consumers, generating waste (approximately 27% of the mussels are discarded by such criteria). Thus, the use of its proteins and peptides as a source of antioxidants can be ecologically feasible for the cosmetic industry, for example, aiming at the production of anti-aging creams [113].
Calcium phosphates are biodegradable and biocompatible compounds. These can be obtained from natural sources such as eggshells, fish scales, shells, and milk, among others. They can also be synthesized. In the cosmetic area, calcium phosphates can be used in toothpastes as well as in sunscreens as an inorganic UV filter. They are also useful for formulations to decrease skin shine, absorb sweat and sebum, and create an opaque effect with mild sensory As for deodorants, they can absorb smelly, volatile compounds [114].
Iberian ham is a traditional food in Spain. Its fat is usually discarded. Recent studies have suggested a potential use in the cosmetic industry focused on the composition rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, such as ellagic, gallic, and oleic acids. Those have antioxidant potential and can act as protectors against UV radiation damage. Interestingly, the extraction method is independent of organic solvents [115].
Corn residues (Zea mays L.) from biorefineries also have interesting compounds, especially after fermentation. Squalenes, carotenoids, omega-3, and other steroids with antioxidant potential have already been obtained [116].
Pine wood (Pine sp.) has crude sulfate turpentine, a terpene with a pleasant odor with potential use as a fragrance. The pulp formed in the paper industry presents such a compound, which is considered a residue. Recent studies have shown that this material can be used to isolate alpha and beta-pinene, which have pleasant scents [117].
Moreover, packaging materials have a great impact on the sustainability of cosmetic products. Most marketed cosmetics are available in plastic derived from petrochemicals since they are cost-effective and resistant. However, the substitution for recyclable or biodegradable plastics and reusable packages is a trend to meet consumers’ expectations regarding sustainable practices. Some companies are also combining environmental and social policies with packaging recycling programs, aligned with post-COVID-19 trends [12]. Plastic materials such as poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) retain volatile compounds impacting the aroma of products, while other sources of plastic materials such as ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymers retain water-impacting mechanical properties. Those incompatibilities with plastics must be addressed by packaging design substituting for aluminum or glass containers (which are more recyclable than plastics) [118]. Besides environmental issues, the toxicological effects of plastic packaging on human health are gaining consumer attention, especially for endocrine disruptors’ release from packaging [119]. Industries should have responsibility over the post-use phase of cosmetic products and invest time to design sustainable strategies for the packaging life cycle, alongside concerns about toxicity issues regarding these materials.

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