Beauty science in review: Blue light protection, essential oils, active skin care and eco beauty key in 2021

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Protective beauty has stretched far beyond basic SPF, the opportunities in essential oils are expanding and circularity and zero-waste are increasingly important in beauty formulation development today [Getty Images]
Protective beauty has stretched far beyond basic SPF, the opportunities in essential oils are expanding and circularity and zero-waste are increasingly important in beauty formulation development today [Getty Images]

Related tags: active beauty, green beauty, circular beauty, Essential oils, protective beauty, Science, Sunscreen, Scalp care, Fragrance, bioavailability

A plethora of scientific reviews were published in 2021, spanning a range of important beauty topics from blue light protection and the history of sunscreen through to active ingredient delivery and circular ingredient promise. Here, CosmeticsDesign-Europe rounds up our coverage of 2021's review-worthy science.

Digging into scientific studies always provides insightful reading in the field of beauty. Within this, scientific or literature reviews are key to enriching and documenting our existing understanding on very specific topics as well as forecasting needs in terms of innovation and development.

In this round-up piece, CosmeticsDesign-Europe looks back at our coverage of scientific reviews published in 2021, highlighting some important areas the beauty world is looking closely at.

Protective beauty – far beyond traditional SPF

The future of protective beauty? It's far beyond traditional sunscreen protection [Getty Images]
The future of protective beauty? It's far beyond traditional sunscreen protection [Getty Images]

A history of sunscreen: Egyptian blends, ultraviolet filters and ‘rising’ research on visible light protection

In March, researchers from the UK’s Hull York Medical School and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust conducted a literature review on the history of sunscreen​ to provide an updated view of a global market set to soar to €20.3bn ($24.2bn) by 2029.

The review noted that the sunscreen category had advanced slowly over several decades, but the last ten years of research had highlighted a true need for formulas that provides photoprotection beyond ultraviolet rays. The researchers said that most notably visible light protection was now a fresh focus.

Moving forward, the researchers said it would be key to develop evidence-based visible light protection – a challenge given the need to develop relevant regulation and rating systems.

Scientific review supports Thanaka’s potential as a ‘natural sunscreen’

In August, researchers from Malaysia and the UK conducted a systematic review on the use of the Southeast Asian tree Thanaka in beauty​ – long used in skin care for anti-ageing, sun protection and acne treatments.

The review suggested that extracts from Thanaka could offer natural alternatives for sun protection specifically, but they also offered many wider potential health benefits including antioxidant, anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, anti-melanogenic and anti-microbial.

Moving forward, the researchers said that bringing existing science together for the review could hopefully serve as a reference for future developments of skin care products containing Thanaka, particularly sunscreen.

Blue light protection ingredients and claim substantiation to soar: Review

In January, researchers from the University of Toledo in the US explored the cosmetic ingredients available to protect from blue light​ and looked at existing testing methods used to substantiate protection claims.

The review said there were already multiple ingredient categories available to formulate products designed to protect against blue light-induced skin damage, including botanicals, algae-derived compounds, vitamins and UV filters. And the researchers suggested many more cosmetic ingredients would be launched in the future, as industry continued to learn more about the mechanism of damage occurring in the skin and testing methods to validate claims evolved.

Moving forward, the review said industry also had to turn its focus towards consumer education.

Essential oils – fragrance and scalp care promise

Essential oil potential? Think natural fragrances and scalp care [Getty Images]
Essential oil potential? Think natural fragrances and scalp care [Getty Images]

Essential oils have ‘enormous versatility’ as natural fragrance source in cosmetics: Review

In May, researchers from universities in Italy, Turkey, Vietnam and Mauritius conducted a review on the use of essential oils as natural sources of fragrance compounds​ for cosmetics and cosmeceuticals.

The review found that essential oils had seen a revival in cosmetics over the past few years and would continue to surge, appreciated for their ability to impact a wide range of natural, unique and pleasant fragrances but also pack a bioactive punch. The researchers said they were particularly valued for their complexity of active compounds and fitted in well with the ‘back to nature’ trend across industry.

Moving forward, however, the researchers said industry faced hurdles around allergenicity and developing cosmetic labelling for this.

Essential oils offer potential for active scalp care: Review

In June, researchers from Brazil analysed the use of essential oils in hair care products​, notably those products targeting the scalp.

The review found that use of essential oils in hair treatments targeting scalp dysfunctions offered promise, but said more research was necessary to be certain of their specific active properties. This research was particularly relevant, they said, given rising consumer interest in scientific research on natural, bioactive compounds.

Moving forward, it would be important to invest in detailed publications on the complex compounds within essential oils to truly understand the power they held in hair care formulations.

Active skin care – delivery innovation and novel ingredients

Innovative and active beauty - there are plenty of delivery systems and horizon blends [Getty Images]
Innovative and active beauty - there are plenty of delivery systems and horizon blends [Getty Images]

Skin deep: Active cosmetic delivery needs ‘unified laws and regulations’ worldwide – review

In May, researchers from Beijing’s Technology and Business University investigated worldwide knowledge on cosmetic skin delivery and evaluation methods​ – analysing the literature over the past few decades, between 1985 and 2020.

The review concluded that the cosmetics industry had significantly advanced in active ingredients and skin delivery systems over recent decades, but said international standards and regulations were now required as novel technologies continued to evolve. It would be important, they said, that countries had the same regulations in place on cosmetic ingredient delivery.

Moving forward, the researchers said the best option would be multidimensional regulations that catered to the array of beauty equipment and technologies set to advance in coming years.

Active beauty peptides: The ‘most relevant’ problems are bioavailability and stability, finds review

In February, researchers from Italy’s University of Florence and Poland’s University of Science and Technology in Wroclaw reviewed the cosmeceutical peptides market​, identifying methods and technologies from scientific literature and patents used to overcome bioavailability and stability challenges.

The review noted that peptides were increasingly being used as active beauty ingredients, bringing the bioavailability and stability of these amino acid chains under increased scrutiny. As a result, the researchers said many novel chemical and physical methods were now being tested to improve these aspects.

Moving forward, they said microneedles offered an interesting method for molecule delivery, with 3D-printed microneedle eye patches showing good results in rat and human skin studies.

Bacterial cellulose: The next big natural polymer in active beauty?

In February, researchers from Brazil’s University of South Santa Catarina looked into the applicability of bacterial cellulose in cosmetics​ and the extent to which this material was being researched specifically for cosmetic applications.

The researchers said interest around bacterial cellulose in cosmetic applications was mushrooming, spurred by skin hydration and active compound delivery promise but beauty research remained nascent. Scientific publications and research in the space was still maturing, they said, with a need for more theoretical studies relevant to cosmetics to be published.

Moving forward, the review said there was great scope for the category to develop because of the sustainability qualities the material offered.

Plant-based retinoid alternatives offer ‘fruitful’ promise in dual dermal-hair rejuvenation: Review

In November, researchers from the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens investigated current understanding around plant-based retinoid alternatives​ and identified areas worth researching further for the development of ingestible cosmetics.

The review found that plant peptides, plant hormones and cannabinoids ought to be more closely looked at for developing dual-action dermal and hair rejuvenation edibles. This was particularly interesting, they said, for replacing retinoids that were associated with several negative side effects, including skin dryness, tightness, peeling and redness.

Moving forward, the researchers said it would be important to look towards the plant kingdom when developing new active formulations.

Eco beauty – plant cell tech and circularity

Eco beauty innovation? Think zero-waste, circular and plant cell tech [Getty Images]
Eco beauty innovation? Think zero-waste, circular and plant cell tech [Getty Images]

Plant cell culture technologies rising fast to plug ‘eco-friendly’ needs in modern cosmetics: Review

In January, researchers from the Academy of Sciences in Bulgaria analysed the latest trends and developments in plant cell culture technologies​ used to produce plant-derived substances for cosmetic formulations and food applications.

Findings showed there were an exponentially growing number of commercialised active cosmetic ingredients made from plant cell culture technologies that addressed rising sustainability concerns around energy, carbon and water footprints. The researchers said there was also rising interest in plant cell technologies, with mass commercialisation speeding up.

Moving forward, the review suggested collaboration would be key in the successful upscale of ingredients made using these technologies.

Olive oil waste offers active circular beauty promise: Review

In November, researchers from Portugal and Spain investigated the potential use of waste generated during olive oil production​, looking at use in food, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. In particular, the review spotlighted the potential of olive pomace – the main residue of the olive oil extraction process.

The review noted that bioactive compounds extracted from olive oil production waste offered great promise for active cosmetic development, though further research and investment must be made to ensure processing was conducted sustainably. If achieved, the researchers said it could add value to olive waste – particularly important for the EU olive oil industry and countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia where olive oil production was one of the most important industries for the economy.

Moving forward, the researchers said there would be key bioactive compounds relevant for the cosmetics industry worth focusing development efforts on.

Zero-waste nanoparticle innovation offers green beauty promise: Review

In September, researchers from universities in Italy, Saudi Arabia and China reviewed the beauty and wellness market in the context of green economy needs​ – increasingly relevant and important given today’s focus on planetary health and human wellbeing in the context of COVID-19 and environmental crises.

The review found that nanoparticles made using natural polymers and ingredients from waste materials offered the cosmetics industry great promise in developing active beauty products for skin health that aligned with green economy goals. The researchers said there was a clear need to realise a new industrial renaissance that reduced use of natural material by using waste by-products and sustainable technologies.

Moving forward, the researchers said it would be important to focus on efficacy but also communicate the naturalness and human health and environment impact of such nanoparticles.

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