Scientists develop biodegradable packaging for the cosmetic industry

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh alongside partners across Europe have developed novel biodegradable packaging suited for use by the cosmetic industry. The tubs will help cosmetic firms transition to more sustainable and eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Edinburgh toxicologists at the university partnered with partners across Scotland, Spain, France, Slovenia, and the Netherlands to work on this project. The product was developed as part of the EU funded Spanish-lead project BioBeauty which aims to develop eco-friendly and organic packaging for cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

The packaging is made using nano clays and rosemary extract – in place of non-degradable plastics – and polylactic acid, a polyester derived from renewable resources like sugar cane.

Heriot-Watt associate professor of toxicology Dr Helinor Johnston said: “The new packaging is made from polylactic acid (PLA), which can be obtained from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane and is compostable and biodegradable.

“PLA was selected as the plastic for the new packaging, but in order to improve the performance of this plastic and to increase the shelf life of the cosmetic product, we had to incorporate two different materials. We added nano clays, which improve the barrier properties of the product, and a rosemary extract which acts as an antioxidant to protect the cosmetic product from degradation.

“As toxicologists, we know that even natural ingredients like rosemary can be toxic in the right dose. At Heriot-Watt we tested the toxicity of the rosemary extracts and different types of nano clays to select the least toxic candidates for the final product, to ensure it is safe for consumers. We focused on assessing potential harmful impacts on the skin, but also looked at the response of target sites like the liver and immune system.

“We had to establish the toxicological profile of the individual components, as well as the potential risk to the consumer from any migration of the packaging components of the final product. We’re creating better ways to test products ethically. As part of this project, we used artificial skin to provide a more comprehensive assessment of how the packaging might react with skin.”

Johnston added that this could be a big opportunity for brands to meet consumers’ environmental expectations and that the cosmetics industry could use this innovation to gain a competitive advantage.
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