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A Nobel Prize-winning technology could soon spell the end of synthetic cosmetic ingredients. In a new twist on tapping biomass as a sustainable raw material, scientists from the University of Ottawa in Canada and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil have uncovered a way to transform plant “essential oils”—substances with the characteristic fragrance of the plant—into high-value components for sunscreens, perfumes, and other personal-care products. Described in the Nov. 5, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the technique could even open up new economic opportunities for tropical countries where such plants grow.

Deryn Fogg, Eduardo dos Santos, eco-friendly beauty, eco-beauty, green beauty, natural beauty, eco-friendly cosmetics, sustainable cosmetics, eco-friendly skincare, sustainable skincare, American Chemical Society, essential oils

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Broken down from plant material, the substances offer a sustainable alternative to petroleum-derived raw materials, according to Deryn Fogg and Eduardo dos Santos, who headed the research. In addition to sparing dwindling supplies of fossil fuel, these botanically derived ingredients would also reduce our chemical body burden, which can lead to long-term negative health effects.

Broken down from plants, the substances offer a sustainable alternative to petroleum-derived raw materials.

Because current methods of synthesizing these ingredients from plants are time-consuming, the duo looked to “metathesis,” the topic of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, to develop their approach.

Another benefit of using natural compounds? They could create a source of income for small producers in the developing world. “These methodologies offer the potential for economic expansion via the sustainable cultivation and elaboration of high-return source species in the tropical countries that represent the major producers of essential oils,” the researchers say.

+ Press Release

+ American Chemistry Society