Making make-up: Scientists and entrepreneurs on the Cape using algae from the ocean

CAPE COD, Mass — Scientists and entrepreneurs on Cape Cod are making sustainable products a beautiful thing.

A quick scan of the ingredients panel of many beauty products reveals they are made with some kind of wax.

“Wax is really the backbone of most beauty products,” explained Alexandra Dowling Lari of Upwell Cosmetics in Woods Hole. “Anything that is solid at room temperature has some sort of wax or butter in it.”

Traditionally, much of that wax is sourced from petroleum products.

Now more of it will be coming from the ocean as a result of research by Chris Reddy, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

At first, he was trying to make jet fuel out of algae, but it turned out to be cost-prohibitive.

“It was about $10,000 a gallon so we said maybe we can make something else. We started to think about it and thought maybe it was for cosmetics.”

Reddy liked this idea because the wax has a relatively low melting point and it’s very stable.

Upon hearing of this new substance, two women with roots in Woods Hole joined forces to create Upwell Cosmetics, an ocean-based ingredients company based on Cape Cod.

Daniella Zakon has a background in environmental science and brought Alexandra Dowling Lari into the fold due to her experience in the cosmetics industry.

“We had a licensing agreement that gave us the exclusive rights to commercialize the first-ever algae wax,” Zakon said.

“Hopefully, you’re going to see it across the entire beauty space,” added Lari. We’re looking at face cream, body cream, lipstick, lip balm, hair care brands.”

Zakon says products with their wax are getting favorable feedback from consumers.

“Our wax is outperforming petroleum wax, beeswax, and plant-based waxes. We’ve given products to consumers to try, and to blind panels, and they’re coming back saying they like the products made with algae wax best.”

This type of algae is not harvested directly from the ocean.

It’s grown in bioreactors in large facilities and then processed into a waxy substance.

Zakon says it’s a sustainable resource and fits into the mission statements of many companies.

“In general, brands want to reduce their carbon footprint and they want to use sustainable ingredients.”

Reddy thinks sustainable make-up is a good development, and more importantly, thinks this concept sends the right message to society.

“I think it’s more mindful to the idea that the ocean can provide sustainable solutions on a trajectory of using petroleum less and less. So, is it going to save the world? Just lipstick, no. But it’s a great model.”

Zakon believes the products using this wax will be luxury brands to start, but hopes that with time, it will become less costly for other manufacturers to use.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW

Comments on this article