The company sells the first cosmetic product based on “synthetic” palm oil.

“Save the F#$%ing Rainforest” is the name of a nourishing skin oil made by New York-based C16 Biosciences. Its specificity? It is made from a palm oil substitute, Torula Oil, a yeast-based, bio-engineered oil synthesized through innovative fermentation processes. This oil could revolutionize the cosmetic and food industries.

Palm oil, extracted from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaies guineensis), is absolutely everywhere. In food and beverages, cosmetics, biofuels, etc. According to the Rainforest Action Network, it is present in 50% of consumer products. It comes mainly from the Asia-Pacific region (the main producers and exporters are Indonesia and Malaysia). According to Grand View Research, the global palm oil market was valued at $67.3 billion in 2022 and is expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1% between 2023 and 2030.

However, palm oil production poses serious environmental and social problems. In particular, it is responsible for the destruction of tropical forests and peatlands in major producing countries; this affects not only the populations living in these forests and endemic species (such as orangutans or Sumatran tigers and elephants) whose habitat is gradually declining, but also an increase in CO2 emissions (tropical forests are important carbon sinks). In addition, the drainage system installed for growing palms drains the surrounding peatlands, which are therefore more prone to fires.

Yeast that converts sugars into fats

The fact is that palm oil is endowed with properties that make it ideal for a large number of applications; cheap, it guarantees both good preservation of products and giving them the right texture. Thus, about 70 million tons of palm oil is used every year around the world. The only way to limit this destructive production is to offer an equally effective alternative. Therefore, the American startup C16 Biosciences decided to solve this problem by producing a sustainable alternative to palm oil: Torula oil.

This oil is made from carefully selected yeasts, then a mixture of sugars and other nutrients is added in bioreactors. The species used naturally convert sugars into lipids. At the end of the fermentation, C16 Biosciences produces an orange-red oil, liquid at room temperature, which contains as much fatty acids as palm oil. “Rich in carotenoids and sterols characteristic of its unique fungal origin, this is a new beauty super-ingredient,” the company’s PalmlessTM product website says.

This production process has recently been adapted to an industrial scale: with a 50,000 liter bioreactor producing several tons of oil with each fermentation, the company recently brought to market a Torula-based skin and hair care product for the first time. oil.

According to David Heller, co-founder of C16 Biosciences, even larger bioreactors would make this oil more competitive with palm oil. He adds that 3 to 4 million tons of this oil per year would be enough to prevent the spread of deforestation associated with oil palm cultivation.

Demonstrating that an alternative is possible

The care product is designed to nourish and regenerate skin and hair. It contains Torula oil, as well as other vegetable oils (jojoba, meadowfoam seeds, oats, raspberry seeds, apricot kernels) and various essential oils.

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Light yet highly hydrating, this nourishing oil is especially rich in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and torulene, antioxidants that help maintain skin’s radiance. It also contains sterols, including ergosterol, provitamin D, and a key mushroom nutrient that promotes skin barrier function.

On sale March 1 (at $45 per 120 ml), the product is already sold out. The company hopes this will serve as an example for cosmetic brands and the industry. “This demonstrates how Torula oil and other bioengineered ingredients can be formulated and used in attractive face, body and hair care products,” the company said in a statement.

With this product, C16 Biosciences hopes to pave the way for new innovations in the cosmetics industry that will address the challenges posed by palm oil production. “Our brand stands for change and this product is our industry protest,” said Shara Tiku, co-founder and CEO of the company. Although the company primarily targets the cosmetics industry, it is also actively exploring the possibility of replacing palm oil with Torula oil in various food products.

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