With support from FAPESP via its program to fund innovative research, the startup has developed a rejuvenating serum based on bioactives obtained from sweet wormwood, a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine (photo: S Cosméticos do Bem)

São Paulo-based startup creates sustainable method of producing cosmetics

06 de abril de 2021

By Eduardo Geraque | FAPESP Innovative R&D – Ever since she had the idea of founding S Cosméticos do Bem, pharmacist Soraya El Khatib wanted to develop products based on the concept of the circular economy, in which the production chain involves as little exploitation of the environment as possible. After years of research, she is starting to achieve her objective.

In recent months, the startup, which was incubated by the University of Campinas in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, and supported by FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE), has reported widespread acceptance of one of its commercially available innovative products, a rejuvenating serum.

The serum is based on bioactive ingredients extracted from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), a plant originally from Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat malaria.

“The plant has about 3,000 bioactives, according to a lot of research,” El Khatib told FAPESP Innovative R&D. “The product we’ve developed from it has a formulation that’s more viscous than a liquid, but isn’t exactly a cream. It’s proving successful in terms of skin regeneration, and significantly reduces the signs of aging.”

Research into the properties of A. annua shows that compounds extracted from the plant are powerful and effective against cerebral malaria and falciparum malaria. Forms of malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, usually transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, are the most severe. Chinese researcher Tu You You was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work on artemisinin, one of the world’s most effective antimalarials, which she isolated from the plant.

The main goal of researchers in the startup’s laboratories, however, was to develop cosmetics and insect repellents from the plant. They created innovative techniques to extract active ingredients that do not pollute the environment.

“Conventional methodologies proved to be a total disaster as far as our objectives are concerned. Waste and residues from these processes are often toxic and severely polluting, quite apart from the fact that they aren’t scalable. We would never be able to assemble the entire supply chain on a circular economy basis if we followed that path,” El Khatib explained.

The Chinese plant is highly fragrant, with green leaves and erect brownish or violet-brown stems. It can be as tall as a meter. In Brazil, it has adapted to the climate, and this has facilitated local use. The non-volatile components used in traditional Chinese medicine, especially artemisinin, proved perfectly suited to the goals of the startup’s researchers.

They use sustainable techniques to obtain components and formulas, taking advantage of the plant’s qualities without resorting to toxic organic solvents. “This approach guarantees the absence of allergenic ingredients, transgenics, and any residues of animal origin,” El Khatib said.

The firm recently patented the innovation, which was refined using the concepts and methodologies of chemistry and pharmacology. Its targets for the years ahead are more ambitious. In addition to pursuing partnerships to scale up production of the items that are already on the market, it will continue to focus on insect repellents. In this regard, it has patented a line of sprays based on wormwood volatile oils and designed to repel mosquitoes, including Aedes aegypti, which transmits dengue, chikungunya, zika and yellow fever.

“Also, we’re currently developing a highly promising product against SARS-CoV-2,” El Khatib said.