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Identifying naturally-occurring active ingredients for use in skin-care products


The desire for healthy-looking skin has existed throughout the centuries and has often led humanity to flowers and other plants in search of assistance. COSMACTIVE treads the same path, but uses the latest in biotechnology to identify and extract the active ingredients from a wide range of plants.

Under the umbrella of the EUREKA project COSMACTIVE, the French research company Greentech has developed a new way of identifying and selecting active ingredients that gives it, and its Spanish partner Laboratorios Dr. Vinyals, a competitive edge over their rivals.

The COSMACTIVE project looked at a variety of botanical species from countries in Africa and South America and aimed to discover the active ingredients in those plants with a view to using the plant extracts in cosmetics. The objective was to find different applications for the active compounds, using them as anti-oxidants or anti-inflammatories for example. Maria Moya from Laboratorios Dr. Vinyals, the Spanish partner in the project, explains, “we began with over 200 plants and narrowed it down to six different botanical species with some characteristic activities in genetic testing in vitro, from which we could expect good activity in vivo.”

Having identified a potentially useful molecule from one of the six starting plants, the task was to find a complementary molecule from another plant that could be combined with the first molecule to make the active ingredient in a skincare product. In this way, the active ingredient in a self-tanning cream for example, could be accurately described as an extract of the two plants.

COSMACTIVE developed two databases of information. The first, a plant database of over 17,000 species, formed the basis for identifying potential complementary ingredients. It included technical information such as botany and pharmacology, as well as the traditional, indigenous use of the plant extracts. This database was then combined with a structural chemistry database of around 12,500 molecules and with mathematical modelling software capable of simulating the behaviour of active compounds on the skin.

Three main active ingredients have been identified and the project team now has patent rights for the use of these active ingredients in the whitening creams and self-tanning products it has developed as well as an anti-inflammatory ingredient.

EUREKA proved doubly advantageous for Greentech, the project leader. “Firstly the funding, that’s very important because it allowed us to do research which we perhaps wouldn’t have been able to at that time,” explains Dr Jean-Yves Berthon, president of Greentech.

Being able to draw on the Spanish partner’s experience in biochemistry was the other advantage. “That, after all, is EUREKA’s goal, to be able to gain ‘savoir-faire’ via an industrial experiment,” says Berthon.

His company’s turnover has increased by more than 30 per cent. “The project went very well with our partner and with the EUREKA project office. It was all great!” he enthuses.

Nicola Vatthauer | alfa
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