Sprucing it up: Start-up claims forestry side-stream can create 'natural and eco-friendly' surfactant for personal care products

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Sprucing it up: Start-up claims forestry side-stream can create 'natural and eco-friendly' surfactant for personal care products

Related tags Surfactant

Finnish biotechnology start-up Montinutra has partnered with personal care company Ole Hyvä Luonnontuote to use an ingredient from the by-products of spruce sawmilling, which it claims is a natural and eco-friendly surfactant.

Marketed as Boreal Bioproducts SpruceSugar, the ingredient is a 100%-natural hemicellulose extract made from the by-products of sustainable spruce sawmilling and this is the first time it has been used in this way.

Montinutra, a portfolio company of Metsä Spring, the venture capital arm of major forest industry company Metsä Group, converts forestry side streams into sustainable ingredients that offer a variety of uses, including substituting polysaccharides and analogue chemicals in cosmetics formulations.

Potential to increase antioxidant capacity

“In this context, SpruceSugar complements the composition of surfactants. It contributes to washing and foaming properties as well as the touch and feel​,” says Jaakko Pajunen, Managing Director of Montinutra.”

But the company says SpruceSugar also has the potential to increase the antioxidant capacity of the product it is used in. As it contains phenolic compounds, it could be used in haircare formulations such as shampoo to help hair cope with oxidative stress from hair dye, for example.

Montinutra says it may potentially inhibit inflammation when used in personal care formulations, too. “Many natural polysaccharides have anti-inflammatory properties, some are even claimed to have health benefits​,” says Pajunen. “There is early in-vitro evidence of the inflammation reduction capability, but due to it being early-stage evidence, we do not make claims for the cosmetic product. In other applications, SpruceSugar has been proven to reduce inflammation through oral intake​.”

Pressurised Hot Water Extraction technology

Montinutra’s technology to create the ingredient is based on Pressurised Hot Water Extraction (PHWE), an efficient and chemical-free process to extract natural substances from biomass. “Our process has been optimised for extracting wood hemicelluloses, which consist of polysaccharides​,” explains Pajunen. “Our processing conditions allow polysaccharides to be extracted at high yield and quality.”

The company’s wood-based polysaccharides have been studied in scientific research for a long time, which meant the ingredient could be developed from the testing phase into a consumer product in just 14 months. “The development of applying these in personal care products had already started earlier,”​ Pajunen explains. “With Ole Hyvä, we were able to use this accumulated knowledge and provide samples quickly.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing and the company had to put a lot of time and effort fine-tuning the formulations. “Compatibility with existing formulation processes requires a bit of extra effort, especially with multifunctional bio-ingredients. Often, many new bio-ingredients are not a direct drop-in solution​,” Pajunen says.

After its debut into the skincare category with Ole Hyvä Luonnontuote, parent company Metsä Spring says it’s on a mission to support sustainable innovations that find new purposes for Nordic Wood. Montinutra is now ready to sell the product to other natural cosmetic players in Europe, to meet the ever-growing demand for natural cosmetics ingredients. “By bringing these new biobased ingredients to the market, we also contribute to reducing the carbon emissions of fossil chemicals,”​ concludes Pajunen.

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