Industry News, Cosmetics & Persnoal Cares

Finding function and value in upcycled ingredients

Finding function and value in upcycled ingredients

CP Kelco explains why upcycled ingredients can help minimize resources while adding value to quality personal care products and give consumers positive feelings – a win for all involved – and sheds light on its own upcycled ingredients.

During a 1994 interview, the German engineer Reiner Pilz is credited with coining the word upcycling when he said, “Recycling? I call it down-cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.

What he meant was, with recycling, the properties of the material may be lost as it is broken down. There is reduced functionality so expectations end with recycling. Pilz believed in an opposite vision of not just reducing harm by discarding an object in the recycling bin instead of the trash but diverting waste entirely.

Upcycling also involves a new way of thinking as the personal care industry accelerates its transition from a linear economy to a circular economy. Currently, many manufacturers take material from the Earth and make products from it that are eventually thrown away (Figure 1). This model assumes an end to the process or even an end to the corporation’s responsibility when the product reaches the consumer and waste is disposed.

The market research firm Fact.MR predicts the global ‘circular beauty products market’ to expand from $2.4 billion to $4.2 billion by the end of 2032 with a compound annual growth rate of 5.8% between 2022 to 2032.1 In a circular economy, the goal is to stop waste from being produced. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,2 the circular economy is based on three principles:

  • Eliminate waste and pollution
  • Circulate products and materials at their highest value
  • Regenerate nature

The circular economy model (Figure 2) reimagines the lifespan of a product and shifts the way manufacturers could think about their goals. Rather than thinking how to be ‘less bad’ by producing less waste, this process focuses on ways to design out waste and keep generating value. By employing the three principles above, the linear economy model bends to ‘close the loop’ and keep materials in use at their highest level, contribute positively to or regenerate natural systems, and greatly minimize or eliminate waste.

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A resource efficiency hierarchy (Figure 3) ranks the strategies for putting materials to use at the end of their lives,3 from top to bottom. The most desirable would be to remove or reduce the need for a resource completely. However, in the case of the personal care industry, this would mean not bringing a new product to market.

The next method would be to ‘re-source’, or meet the need through upcycling or converting material into new material. Upcycling is really at the heart of creating a more sustainably sourced ingredient supply chain for personal care. Then, the strategies for handling waste are ranked. Reuse is better than recycling. Composting is a form of recycling that will return biological nutrients to the soil. Even burning waste will help recover some value by converting it to energy or heat. The worst or least desirable option is to dispose of waste in the environment.

Turning the waste problem into a viable solution

When product designers are focused on upcycling, they see possibilities everywhere: seeing trash and thinking treasure. Food waste is considered the leading source of raw material for upcycled ingredients used in the beauty and personal care industry. It makes sense to use food-grade ingredients, which may contain vitamins and nutrients that could benefit skin and deliver key traits to formulations.

In addition, there is an abundance of material to use. The numbers are staggering. The World Wildlife Fund estimated that 1.2 billion tons of food are wasted on farms each year.4 That comes out to one-third of the food produced for human consumption globally, according to the World Food Programme.

Cutting food waste in half by 2030 is one of the United Nations’ top priorities and among its Sustainable Development Goals. In industrialized countries, more than 40% of the loss occurs at retail and consumer levels.5 The Guardian even suggests that up to half of all produce in the US is thrown away based on appearance.6 This causes farmers to choose whether to discard (even plow under) blemished produce or face the possibility that it will be ignored by consumers at the store who will not select fruits and vegetables with spots or bruises. However, the irony that these cosmetic imperfections could lead to a new lease on life by the cosmetic industry should make one smile.

Some of the most common ingredients for upcycling come from fruit peels, kernels, seeds or pits. Olive or stone fruit pits and seeds can be effective exfoliating ingredients. Cold press technology might also be used to process oil from nuts and seeds. Coffee or chicory grounds can be used for exfoliation and there is even potential as an argan oil alternative.

Several companies press dried blueberry seeds and plum kernels discarded from jam makers to create oil. A single fruit can be the source of many active ingredients with different properties. Proteases present in pumpkin are a beloved peel and mask ingredient while pumpkin seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E.7 Some manufacturers are tapping into food waste for colour as well.

In addition to active ingredients, skin care and cosmetics often rely on polymers to improve bioactivity and provide consistent suspension, stabilization and texture. Polymers are important raw materials that can be classified as synthetic, such as silicone or the polyesters, and nature-based, such as polysaccharides and collagen. The use of nature-based polymers is of special interest to formulators because of its biodegradability, meaning the ingredient will decompose and be reabsorbed by the environment.

There is evidence that some food waste can be upcycled into polymers. Pectin and citrus fibre, for example, can be upcycled from fruit peels. Pectin is also well-known by consumers because of its traditional uses in food, such as jams and jellies, so it becomes a labelfriendly ingredient. Citrus fibre is also easy for consumers to understand. Both pectin and citrus fibre share some desirable properties, including the capacity to retain water and form hydrogels, making them effective thickeners for cosmetics and personal care products.

In addition, a recent study from Korea examined the anti-oxidative activity of pectin and its stabilizing effect on retinyl palmitate.8 There was also an in vitro study performed by University Paris Descartes that suggests polysaccharides from apple pectin may provide anti-aging effects by helping to promote epidermal growth.9

CP Kelco upcycles citrus fibre from the peel of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis). Because it retains much of its pectin content, it can deliver similar skin-friendly benefits but perhaps with a lighter skin feel. Citrus fibre can stabilize emulsions to take the place of synthetic carbomers. It does not require ions to gel and may be combined with other hydrocolloids to form a variety of interesting textures. Preliminary results show that, at higher use levels (1.7-2%), there is a cushiony, slightly powdery after feel. Citrus fibre is also stable in low pH formulations, very much in alignment with skin’s own pH levels.

Nurturing the microbiome

As more companies and consumers learn about the skin microbiome, its importance becomes apparent. The microbiome is reliant on diverse bacteria and a balanced pH, with the skin’s acid mantle as the body’s first line of defense to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and encourage the growth of skinhealthy microflora. The acid mantle is also easily disrupted by daily activities, such as washing, shaving and exposure to abrasion. Surfactants in soaps and other personal care or home care products can also disturb the acid mantle by raising the pH on the skin surface, which may result in a dry, uncomfortable feeling

Pectin can be utilized to help control pH levels in skincare products and preserve skin’s acid mantle. To prove the effect of pectin, CP Kelco conducted in vivo clinical studies of its upcycled ingredient, GENU® pHresh Pectin. This pectin is upcycled from the pith, the stringy white part between the citrus peel and the fruit. Discarded citrus peels are an abundant byproduct of the juice industry so the raw material source is reliable

What is remarkable about this pectin is its ability to buffer the skin’s natural pH and the speed at which it can adjust skin pH. Unlike a citric acid, which could penetrate the skin and cause irritation, this pectin is a long-chain polysaccharide, making it exceptionally mild.

To measure the effect of adjusting skin pH, measurements were conducted on the forearms of 21 subjects for seven hours after soap cleansing, using a control lotion with no pectin and a lotion containing its pectin product. The reference data set is a skin condition with no lotion applied. A comfortable, natural pH is in the range of 5.7. After washing, skin pH increases to roughly 7.2.

If left to adjust on its own, the skin slowly begins to return to its normal pH. As shown in Figure 4, using a lotion with pectin can shorten the time it takes to bring skin into balance and sustain this level for an extended period of time. A statistically significant decrease of evolution of the cutaneous pH after the pectin lotion was observed, thus showing a favourable effect on the skin.

CP Kelco also conducted a trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) test to determine the ability of pectin to moisturize the skin. The results showed a statistically significant decrease in TEWL through an improvement of moisture retention as compared to a placebo (Figure 5).

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Beyond food waste: getting creative with ingredients

When it comes to discarded materials, there is still much to discover. Manufacturers are also thinking of creative options outside of the food and beverage industry. Upcycled charcoal could be milled into a skin-friendly exfoliant, detoxifying mask or shampoo ingredient. Several companies upcycle cedar shavings left over from the furniture industry or offcuts from logging to extract oil for fragrance that could be used in deodorants, for example.

Tree bark extract, a byproduct of maple, spruce and pine lumber, is high in polyphenols and could be used in day creams. However, along with the creativity, comes much-needed safety guardrails. Some of the wood and bark byproducts are considered highly restricted according to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).

The 49th amendment of IFRA Standards uses quantitative risk assessment to determine the safe use of fragrance ingredients to assess possible systemic toxicity based on aggregate exposure models.10 Cedrene content, the possibility of intermixed treated lumber and the destructive distillation of wood or bark are concerns.

Why use upcycled ingredients?

A large amount of land, water and energy is required to produce food that is wasted. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it takes 760km3 of water to grow the 1.2 billion tons of food wasted each year.3 The US Environmental Protection Agency echoes the concern: ‘Each year, US food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (million MTCO2e) GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants.’11 The estimate does not include methane emissions that come from food waste rotting in landfills.

Upcycled ingredients can help. In 2022, through Upcycled Certified products and ingredients, 496,103 tons of food have been prevented from becoming food waste, representing a savings of over 1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents. “We expect this figure to increase to at least 2.5 million tons annually in 10 years,” says Upcycled Food Association (UFA) CEO Angie Crone. “The number of products and ingredients certified is expected to grow at an annual rate of 15% over the next ten years.”

UFA championed and launched the Upcycled Certified programme in 2021 to provide brands an opportunity to innovate and collaborate with suppliers, reduce supply chain risk, and connect with their consumers. Upcycled Certified product sales grew by 21% over the course of a year ending on October 30, 2022, which was faster than non-GMO, certified organic, and plant-based positioned products, according to the data provider SPINS.

The marketing benefits may also be substantial. A recent Provenance report suggests that although 90% of consumers consider sustainability when buying beauty products, more than 70% admit they are not quite sure what that means and have difficulty trusting such claims.12 Upcycled ingredients can help brands tell a clearer story.


According to a 2019 study, upcycling can deliver positive functional, aesthetic, social and emotional value to consumers. It suggested that they might even gain a sense of status and self-esteem from the purchase of upcycled ingredients.13 In addition, upcycled ingredients can help minimize resources while adding value to quality personal care products and give consumers positive feelings – a win for all involved.


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