An ongoing exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Society's Hampton Court Flower Show on the microscopic natural world is drawing focus on the potential of copying nature (or bio-imitation) in the development of a wide range of consumer goods, including cosmetics.
The show features the South American morpho butterfly, whose iridescent wings have inspired “high-tech textiles, self-cleaning surfaces, cosmetics, and security tags”, according to the BBC.
The link of synthetic cosmetics ingredients to natural sources will be of increasing interest for the industry, as the lucrative potential of a ‘natural’ product continues to rise: researcher Organic Monitor predicts that revenues of organic cosmetics will climb to $14 billion by 2015 in the US alone.
Natural meets synthetic
L'Oreal, in particular, has led the way in applying bio-imitation in the cosmetics industry, according to Dr Pete Vukusic, who conducts biomimetics research with the University of Exeter.
By synthetically mimicking the way in which light and colour are manipulated in the morpho butterfly, L'Oreal has “brought about a revolutionary and successful advance in the aesthetic of this brand of their cosmetic products after development of a naturally inspired design”, the researcher has said.
L'Oreal has used inspiration from biology to design their series of photonic-based cosmetics that are marketed in Lancôme's LUCI range of products, Vukusic has noted.
Market researchers Mintel also called up the Nourish skin care range, developed in the UK, as another key example of biomimetics in action.
The brand is described as a natural, anti-ageing skin care range, and its products are said to be formulated with organic, plant derived and scientifically tested ingredients to enhance and nourish the skin.
The recent commitment by British cosmetics brand Lush to replace the mica in its products with a synthetic alternative has thrown a spotlight onto the sourcing of the popular iridescent ingredient.
The absence of child labour in the sourcing of mica in Indian mines cannot be confirmed, according to the brand, and as such the company has committed to getting iridescence for its products from other sources; a key example where the potential for alternatives from biomimetics is evident.
Other brands, including L’Oreal, have made similar commitments, highlighting the importance of further research into synthetic alternatives to cosmetic ingredients.