Alixander, originally from Sweden, has worked as a Material Scientist at Cellugy for the past two years. He holds a PhD in Plant Biotechnology from Copenhagen University with a research focus on cellulose-based materials. Alix finds Cellugy to be a very fascinating place where they are learning new things every day. While attending workshops and trade shows on the road, he has noticed a lot of interest from big brands to start-ups, scientists to business people, in developing an alternative to the existing system, which is refreshing. Lately, Alix’s primary area of focus has been on delivering a product that would be a robust alternative to the harmful ingredients in sunscreens.
Alix: Sunscreens are classified into two types: chemical and physical. The latter are film forming and build a layer on top of your skin, essentially blocking or reflecting UV light from the sun. Chemicals, on the other hand, penetrate the skin and absorb UV light. Both types of ingredients are important to obtain a sunscreen with high SPF. This is where the difficulty arises. According to existing literature, ingredients in sunscreens should be scrutinized and studied to discover if they pose a health and environmental risk. Especially the chemical type ingredients, which are synthetic compounds. We at Cellugy are developing an alternative that draws inspiration from nature around us. With our alternative, the ‘chemical’ composition of sunscreen would be drastically minimized.
The US Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that six active ingredients widely found in sunscreens penetrate through the skin and absorb into blood plasma (Erickson). The agency’s findings, published on Jan. 21, put pressure on manufacturers to determine whether such exposure to sunscreen ingredients is safe. Dr. Henry Lim, a dermatologist at Michigan's Henry Ford Health System, says there is no clear-cut proof that sunscreen is harmful. But there have been enough rumblings about potential issues associated with sunscreen. There has so far been no evidence that they've caused population-level health issues.
In Denmark, one can see a surge in sales of products endorsing sun protection. According to the Danish Kosmetik & Hygiejne Branchen's website,
This influx of sales has also brought several brands and products into the market, which could be chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens, or a combination of both. “We also see a clear trend for UV filters, which protect the skin against UV radiation, to become more and more widespread in other product types, such as facial cream and make-up” says the CEO of the cosmetics and hygiene industry, Helle Fabiansen, about the new study.
What is Cellugy doing differently to address the problem at hand?
Alix: We picked the personal care business as the space where we can provide immediate benefit as a team by continuously learning, questioning, and testing our beliefs about the role new biomaterials can play. We looked to nature for a solution to the dilemma at hand. Fish, bacteria, and the plants around us are examples of species that have interesting mechanisms for defending themselves from the sun's UV rays. Cellugy is taking inspiration from such natural defense systems to develop the new sunscreen ingredient.
What we want to develop is a natural sun protection product capable of protecting the skin from UV rays and maintaining its properties even when subjected to severe and unpredictable conditions. Due to the fact that the behavior and response of each and every component in a complex formula determine the success or failure of a product, this is of utmost importance. Formulators can dare to test our product for a wide range of applications under diverse conditions.
Alix: It is one thing to develop this system in-house, which is what we are currently doing, and we are trying to work as fast as possible. It is another thing to work with the formulators and the other stakeholders in the industry with real-life implications.
We have collaborated with others in the industry with similar ambitions, but access to the industry is still the largest hurdle. At the moment, I feel excited and happy to find myself in the process of building a company. Even the facility where we are based at the moment gives us the ability to be very dynamic.
Alix: When representatives from well-known companies approach us at events like trade shows and workshops, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I felt that they were willing to change things while I was speaking to some of these executives. I also felt that they were all very knowledgeable and well-informed on the issues. We expressed our interest in collaborating, and we are looking forward to engaging and exchanging value soon.
Cellugy was awarded a little over €460k in early 2022 as a result of a recent collaboration with the Eurostars program to investigate the capabilities of this ground-breaking hydrogel to be the world's first biobased and biodegradable ingredient with UV-blocking qualities.
You can find out more about our collaboration here Cellugy x Innovayt // Eurostars
Alix: We are looking for co-development partners for UV filters and SPF boosters with our different grades of EcoFLEXY. They can be the catalyst for taking the work we have done so far to the next level. The alternative we propose to the traditional composition of sunscreen is to stamp out any harmful effects it poses to the environment as well as to the consumer.
If you want to be part of the shift away from fossil-based materials and want to co-develop the first fully biodegradable and biobased sunscreen with us, reach out by contacting us on our website.
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