Bio-sourced Materials

This page covers the below sections:

  1. Sustainable ingredient sourcing
  2. The bio-based ingredients market
  3. Cosmetic ingredients from fermentations processes

See the Contents for all available Sustainability Hub pages.

Sustainable ingredient sourcing

The personal care industry has always aimed to use chemicals in a sustainable way. The industry moved away from the use of animal-based ingredients during the latter part of the 20th Century, the aim now is to move away from those chemicals manufactured from non-sustainable sources.

Fossil resources are scarce, and their use harms the environment and climate. Bio-based products can be substituted for fossil-based materials as well as bringing new functionalities to the market(1).

In 2016 only 10% of Europe’s organic chemical industry’s feedstocks were bio-based(2). RoadToBio, a project which has received funding from Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Funding for Research and Innovation programme, aims to increase this to 25% by 2030(2). This project hopes to deliver a roadmap and action plan illustrating the “sweet spots” for Europe’s chemicals industry towards the bioeconomy towards 2030(2).

The carbon in fossil resources was captured millions of years ago and is released when the fossil-based product reaches the end of its life. It is released as carbon dioxide (CO2) which contributes to an increase in greenhouse gases, one of the main drivers of climate change. The CO2 released by renewable resources was only captured recently and will be captured again when biomass is regrown to produce new products. When biomass is used instead of fossil resources, fossil carbon remains trapped in the ground. This means that renewable biomass resources contribute to more limiting climate change and global warming(2).

The bio-based ingredients market

In the policy report “Insights into the European market for bio-based chemicals” the Joint Research Centre (JRC) estimated that about 44% of the total EU production of cosmetic and personal care products was bio-based production. Of this, fewer than 10% of the bio-based chemicals used were made in the EU(1).

The JRC report also looked at the production of bio-based products and their share of total production within the EU. Some of the chemicals used commonly within cosmetic and personal care products had very low levels, for example only 3% of the propylene glycol produced in the EU was bio-based(1). For the chemicals that the report specifically considered for cosmetic and personal care products the proportions were significantly higher; for example, 60% of the stearyl alcohol used is bio-based(1).  This shows that there is considerable room for improvement.

A wide range of traditionally fossil-derived cosmetic and personal care raw materials are now widely available from plant sources. These can include ingredients used as emollients, emulsifiers, structuring agents, film formers, hair conditioners, surfactants, and ingredients to improve the feel of our products. The feedstock for many of these will be palm or palm kernel oil. The use of palm or palm kernel oil or other exotic vegetable oils can bring their own environmental and social issues, therefore other methods of production for these raw materials also need to be considered.

Cosmetic ingredients from fermentation processes

In the past the cosmetics industry has used fermentation processes to produce speciality chemicals that were originally only available from animal sources, such as hyaluronic acid.

Now this method of manufacture is being increasingly used to produce ingredients that have traditionally been derived from petrochemical sources. In some cases, this can lead to purer chemicals. For example, chemicals produced from petrochemical sources can be a mixture of isomers. With fermentation it is possible to produce a pure form of the preferred isomer.

The longer the carbon chain, the more difficult it is to manufacture using fermentation processes. Technologies coming from the bio-diesel industry mean that it will be increasingly possible for long-chain chemicals to be produced using renewable feedstocks. These chemicals range from C8 to C18 and may, in the future, also contain multiple functional groups, resulting in long-chain alcohols, esters, acids, ketones, aldehydes, alkanes, amides and branched products. This oleochemistry is usually derived from palm oil, other vegetable oils or animal fats, or synthetically from fossil feedstock such as petroleum(3).

The European oleochemical industry relies on imported palm kernel oils and fatty acids, and castor oil as sources of medium-chain fatty acids (C10-C14) and medium-chain polymer building blocks, needed for the production of plastics, surfactants, detergents, lubricants, plasticisers and other products(4).

The COSMOS research project, launched in 2015 and supported with funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, aims to reduce this dependence by turning currently underutilised domestic crops into profitable, sustainable, multipurpose, non-transgenic European oil crops, to produce oleochemicals(4).


  1. Spekreijse, J., Lammens, T., Parisi, C., Ronzon, T., Vis, M., Insights into the European market of bio-based chemicals. Analysis based on ten key product categories, EUR 29581 EN,Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-79-98420-4, doi:10.2760/549564, JRC112989
  2. Road to Bio
  3. Globe Newswire
  4. The COSMOS Project