Tackling the effects of pollution is nothing new. Classically, this approach will very often involve what is called “anti-pollution”. The idea will preferably be to “fight” against the effects of pollution. Another approach is possible, which consists of canceling or reversing the effects of pollution. This is called depollution or better still bioremediation.
This issue was already documented in the early 20th century. For example, Pond’s claimed its Cold Cream was the perfect product for it. That is how in 1917, the company came to adopt this slogan: “cleanse your skin of all the dirt which lodges in the pores through the day, and which, more than anything else, injures the skin”. In parallel, they recommended using the night cream to enhance this action. “Its gentle oils will sink deep into the pores especially during sleep and cleanse the skin thoroughly (Pond’s advertisement, 1927)”. Starting from then, this theme was more or less recurring, although it was not a major claim. The decades that followed WWII were more focused on anti-ageing claims based on Biology and the main skin components, including collagen and elastin.
It was not until the 1990s that this claim gained importance again: the emergence of the free radical dogma made this approach more widely used. The idea that prevailed was that pollution triggers the formation of deleterious species called ROS. As the theory of free radicals had been stated, had become popular, and had been copiously associated with anti-ageing claims, prevention against the effects of pollution naturally followed with anti-free-radical ingredients. The main ones were common candidates for these applications. Clarins was one of the leading companies to use this claim: as soon as the mid-1990s, they put forward an antipollution protection in several products and made it a strong transversal claim. Guerlain had also introduced claims related to free radicals with Evolution™ range, but the company had not linked them so closely to pollution. Once again, the issue was sidelined, but after a period of relative discretion, research work on the effects of pollution with new techniques put it back in the spotlight, as these mechanisms were better understood. People started to increasingly focus on the notion of particles. Different types of particles were described as having deleterious effects, like PM2.5 and PM10, where the figures refer to the size of the particles in µ, and the prefix stands for “particulate matter”. Today, they are considered as the main sources of air pollution, so pollution is dealt with somewhat differently. As a matter of fact, a new range was placed on the market in 2021: the Plurally project is introduced as one of the very first product ranges focused on the fight against particle pollution – not any type of pollution, since these products are supposed to target the effects of the microscopic particles called PM2.5. Protection against particle pollution is obtained using an extract from which an active molecule was isolated. It is derived from research work done by a Swiss team which works on inflammatory phenomena related to Crohn’s disease. The plant was identified in the Alpine pharmacopoeia: it is known as Saxifraga Rotundifolia. The similarity between the cells in the intestinal wall and keratinocytes led to successfully test this extract on skin inflammation. The researchers worked hard to eventually identify glycosylated polyphenols in the plant’s leaves: they were naturally stabilized in the plant by a plant sugar, Rhamnose. The keratinocyte surface presents receptors to Rhamnose, which strengthens the idea of biomimicry. A new patented active was then developed: Rhamnophénol®. Closer than us, another company called Monteloeder discover properties of polyphenol in the same way.
Although the idea of bioremediation is not that trendy yet in the cosmetics industry, it does have precedence, which is why this issue is dealt with by La Cosmétothèque. Why is it so interesting? Well, first, because it is related to naturalness, and everything related to naturalness has become legitimate. Secondly, pollution and its effects on the skin have also become key matters. Basically, it consists in decontaminating polluted environments with techniques derived from chemical degradation or other phenomena, like living organisms. It was often suggested as part of biological treatments with microorganisms aimed to eradicate the effects of pollution. Soil microorganisms are left free to naturally decontaminate the environment. And with a little imagination, this concept can be easily transposed to other uses than soil and environment decontamination. The skin is constantly contaminated by environmental contaminants. Researchers are now trying to reduce their effects, but a more simple approach would consist in neutralizing them as well as their effects. This approach applied to cosmetics was mentioned in a post published a few years ago, already. The role of microorganisms was evoked and the progress made with the microbiota since then confirmed their benefits.
There are other ways to use bioremediation. For example, Moringa seeds have been known and used by African communities to purify water for a very long time. They prepare powder with the seeds of this common tree and mix it with water to make it drinkable. The Purisoft™ specialty developed based on this idea in the 1990s by Laboratoires Serobiologiques – purchased by BASF since then – enabled to complete the action of standard cleaning products by removing different particles derived from environmental pollution.
In addition, this tree offers multiple virtues very well-described in this post by Cosmetics and Toiletries. This approach actually copies part of another very old method consisting in purifying water with clay. It used the complexifying properties of clay to chelate the water calcium and avoid the formation of insoluble calcium salts, which enhanced the purifying properties of products containing them in sufficient quantities. A significant number of cleansers and clay masks have been developed for a while now.
In the same vein, a group of ingredients was also developed to neutralize the effects of substances known for their deleterious effects, based on the original work by Jean Morelle, who hypothesized that some plants used for cooking might counter oxidation and were likely not only to protect food from oxidation, but also to neutralize oxidation products. According to his theory, these foodstuffs act as a sort of antidote to oxidation – a real new paradigm in a field which was starting to go round in circles. An ingredient supplier got the idea to apply this to cosmetics and skincare. This laboratory developed extracts that both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries could use to develop relevant products: we are talking about singular plant extracts called Cosmétolégumes™ – they were dealt with in a previous Cosmétothèque post.
That’s all for our brief description of the different approaches to pollution. There are countless of them, so it would be tedious to take them one by one. There is a list of over 150 actives for these applications on the Coptis Ingredients website. In addition, the Cosmetikwatch database counts more than 350 finished products developed over the past ten years. Pdt Pollution. But all of them, or almost, are based on standard approaches like the ones described at the beginning of this post. They usually consist in using anti-free-radical ingredients. However, the Plurally approach shows it is still possible to set up original strategies.
Science creativity still has a lot to offer. We are looking forward to discovering projects focused on the microbiome and microorganisms, maybe via bioremediation? Besides, wouldn’t rebalancing the skin microbiota or fecal transplants in other areas ultimately be bioremediation?