Edinburgh toxicologists play key role in creation of biodegradable beauty packs

TOXICOLOGISTS from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have been involved in a project to develop biodegradable packaging designed to help cosmetics firms meet demand for environmentally-friendly solutions.

The packaging is said to solve a ‘conundrum’ for cosmetics firms that sell organic products in plastic containers made from fossil fuel products that cannot degrade.

The team from Heriot-Watt worked with partners across Europe on the BioBeauty project to develop the biopackaging.

Dr Helinor Johnston, associate professor of toxicology at Heriot-Watt said, “The organic beauty market is huge. In the UK, it was valued at £85.8 million in 2018, and it is expected to have a global value of 54.5 billion (USD) within the next 10 years. 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.

“Polylactic acid (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.”

The BioBeauty consortium comprised eight partners from five different countries: Spain, Scotland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and France. The partners are ITENE, Heriot-Watt University, Miniland, Alissi Brontë, Alan Coar, Vitiva, Martin Snijder Holding BV and ETS Bugnon.