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Making Petroleum-Based Wax a Thing of the Past with Ocean-Friendly Alternatives

Published May 7, 2023
Published May 7, 2023
Upwell Cosmetics

Beauty products containing petroleum-based wax have been used widely across the industry. So much so that 85 to 90% of global wax consumption comes from petroleum wax products. A byproduct of petroleum, paraffin wax is often included in beauty essentials because its melting point is similar to that of the natural human body temperature―meaning products containing the substance spread easily upon contact with the desired area. Praised for its moisturizing benefits and ability to create a wax "shield" on the skin, paraffin wax is often used in products, including lipsticks and SPFs.

However, like most things, the benefits of such an element are disputed along with the damaging effects it can have in the broader world. Posing risks to the environment, including contributing to marine life pollution, paraffin wax has been reported as a main polluter of beaches, accounting for an average of 63% of all litter found on beaches globally. Because of this, many have expressed interest in a more environmentally conscious alternative for some time. Ingredients and materials company Upwell Cosmetics has answered these calls, debuting a marine microalgae-derived wax in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Western Washington University (WWU).

The product was created through a license agreement by Upwell Cosmetics founders Daniella Zakon and Alexandra Dowling Lari with WHOI and WWU, allowing them to research the benefits of the substance's properties. The research was of particular interest to the Upwell Cosmetics founders because of their educational and professional backgrounds.  Zakon holds a bachelor's degree in marine science and a master's degree in environmental studies with a business management concentration and spent six years working as an environmental entrepreneur. Dowling Lari’s career in the luxury beauty industry has also taken a turn towards sustainability in recent years, including roles at LVMH and Captain Blankenship.

"We believe this groundbreaking, microalgal wax has great potential to replace petroleum and animal-based wax in personal care products. The commercialization opportunity is overwhelming as brands race to reformulate using sustainable ingredients to meet consumer demand. Upwell Cosmetics is creating new possibilities for brands to eliminate concerning ingredients," Zakon says.

The patented marine microalga-derived wax holds the ability to replace petroleum-based waxes in beauty and personal care products, allowing potential for the creation of new reef-safe sunscreens after research found the derivative boosts SPF and improves the quality of mineral sunscreen product formulations on the skin.

"My biggest goal is that ten years from now, everyone will know what this wax is and that petroleum wax won't be used for personal care products anymore."
By Alexandra Dowling Lari, co-founder, Upwell Cosmetics

The ingredient has also been tested in consumer studies by Gabriella Baki, director of the Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences (BSPS) Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program and Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics at the University of Toledo, Ohio. From these consumer studies, Baki formulated lipsticks and organic sunscreens using alkenone waxes supplied by Christopher Reddy, Senior Scientist at WHOI, and Gregory O'Neil, a Professor of Chemistry at WWU. These tests confirmed that the algae wax is a promising sustainable alternative for the cosmetics industry as a bio base for organic sunscreens and a structuring agent in lipsticks. Additionally, consumers involved in the study listed products using algae wax as preferable over products made with beeswax, plant wax, and petroleum wax, as stated in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science.

"My biggest goal is that ten years from now, everyone will know what this wax is and that petroleum wax won't be used for personal care products anymore. We see this ingredient being used in everything from reef-safe sunscreen, haircare, salves, balms, skincare, deodorants, and beyond," Dowling Lari states.

Upwell Cosmetics believes that "algae are the true lungs of the planet," and regardless of whether products are created using the ingredient or not, growing more algae can only have a positive environmental impact. According to Zakon, microalgae in the ocean generate 50% of the oxygen humans need and absorb 25% of CO2 emissions, capturing 90% of excess heat. In addition to these  benefits, growing algae terrestrially in bioreactors takes up only 10% of the land area comparable crops would use.

With 64% of consumers willing to pay more for sustainable ingredient-based products, it is clear that there is a market for more environmentally friendly alternatives such as microalgae wax. As Upwell Cosmetics pioneer this cosmetics ingredient, the beauty industry takes steps towards being the first sector to move away from fossil fuel use, which will hopefully encourage other brands to take a similar path. Ultimately, the future of wax-based products could be found in our oceans.


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