Today’s interconnected and informed consumers are increasingly aware of the need for more sustainable manufacturing and sourcing practices – a trend reflected in the growing market for nature-based beauty products. Although still a niche market, the global demand for natural and organic personal care products is projected to almost double in size over the period between 2016 and 2024, from $11.06bn to $21.78bn (source: Statista 2019). Especially in the mature and largely saturated markets of Europe, tapping into this trend can be the key to increasing market share. Here, environmentally conscious consumers want independently verified sustainability with eco-labels certifying renewable natural feedstocks, transparent traceability and assurances that manufacturers comply with good standards of social and environmental responsibility.
At the same time, sustainability alone is never enough, as consumers expect excellent and reliable performance in personal care. The race is on to produce solutions that deliver the best of both worlds.
Innovation in plant extraction
In response to the increasing consumer demand for sustainably sourced, natural cosmetics and in line with BASF’s commitment to sustainability goals, BASF Care Creations started the rambutan program in 2015. The project, based in Vietnam, was preceded by research into the potential personal care benefits of extracts derived from different parts of the rambutan tree and its fruit. This was to a large extent made possible by BASF’s interdisciplinary innovation platforms for active ingredients, one of which focuses on the extraction of valuable substances from plant material. In addition, the program drew on positive experience gathered in the BASF Argan Program in southern Morocco, which has been a source of argan oil and by-products produced under fair trade conditions since 2005.
Lab-tested traditional health benefits
Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum L.), which is native to the humid tropics of Southeast Asia, is closely related to the lychee and mainly cultivated for its fruit. It has also been valued traditionally across Asia for multiple health benefits. For example, the fruit has long been used to treat dysentery and fever. In addition, a poultice made of the leaves has been used to treat headaches, while a decoction of the bark is applied for tongue disease and mashed roasted seeds are used to control blood sugar levels.
Lab analysis has reinforced traditional health claims, revealing that the fruit is rich in iron, vitamin C, fibers and antioxidants, making it a good source of energy that boosts immunity and contributes to elimination of free radicals. BASF has also confirmed that rambutan has qualities suitable for personal care products. By 2016, the company had developed methods to valorize the peels, leaves and seeds, byproducts of the rambutan tree’s Java variety. The resulting extracts now form the basis for three new active ingredients for both skin and hair care products.
100% natural moisturization
The skincare active Nephydrat is extracted from the spiny husk or pericarp of the rambutan fruit. Tested in vitro, it has been shown to noticeably reinforce the skin’s capacity to retain water. It achieves this effect by fueling keratinocytes with energy, while increasing phospholipids and long-chain ceramide synthesis. The result is better moisture retention and an optimized skin barrier function: in vivo testing using a test cream formulation revealed noticeably moisturized skin in 94% of volunteers after just 14 days and a 7% improvement in measured skin hydration after 28 days.
Anti-aging nature’s way
Nephoria, derived from rambutan leaves, has excellent anti-aging properties. Via biological pathways similar to those of retinol, it supports rejuvenation of mature skin. Acting on several major biological targets involved in collagen synthesis and elastic fiber assembly, the leaf extract has been shown in vitro to stimulate formation of both collagen and elastic fibers. The increased skin elasticity and reduced appearance of wrinkles can be observed in vivo, with volunteers who applied a test cream formulation experiencing visibly younger looking skin: immediate elasticity was enhanced by 19% and elasticity recovery was measured at 12% after 28 days.
The hair care active Rambuvital is extracted from rambutan. The name "rambutan" comes from the Malay word “rambut” meaning "hair", a reference to the numerous hairy protuberances of the fruit. Rambuvital protects both the scalp and hair follicles against pollution-related stress. It boosts the vitality of hair follicles and reduces sebum oxidation triggered by pollutants and the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The seed extract has also been shown to enhance the barrier function of the scalp, contributing to water retention by increasing transglutaminase-1 and loricrin synthesis in keratinocytes. After just one month of in vivo testing using two test formulations (shampoo and conditioner) as a routine, the scalp hydration was increased by 31% vs placebo and more than 80% of the volunteers experienced noticeably enhanced hair health and visibly healthier and shinier hair.
Verifiable sustainability credentials
All three new active ingredients are preservative-free, of 100% natural origin (ISO 16128) and COSMOS-approved. They are extracted using a standardized aqueous process. Through a combination with maltodextrin and spray drying, it was possible to achieve highly concentrated seed and leaf extracts, resulting in a recommended dose of only 0.1%. The recommended dosage of the liquid peel extract is 2%.
In partnership with our local supplier, BASF established in 2018 a team of nine women and five men to care for two organic plantations throughout the year and harvest the fruit between July and September. The team of local farmers is responsible for sorting stems, leaves and fruit, separating the pulp. BASF benefits from regional know-how in cultivating rambutan, and provides the workers with a reliable, above-average income, health insurance and meals. The 2018 pilot harvest was successful, and larger-scale harvesting is set to begin in 2019.
BASF plans to further encourage and reinforce sustainable farming practices and improve yields in the plantations over the coming years. The rambutan program helps personal care manufacturers answer the growing responsible beauty trend on multiple levels simultaneously: it turns waste material into valuable nature-based active ingredients, protects the environment and generates a positive impact for farmers in Vietnam – a win-win-win situation.