‘As fast as possible’: Carbonwave targets Asia’s clean beauty market with upcycled seaweed emulsifier

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Carbonwave uses sargassum seaweed to develop different materials for different sectors, one of which is a broad-spectrum natural emulsifier. [Getty Images]
Carbonwave uses sargassum seaweed to develop different materials for different sectors, one of which is a broad-spectrum natural emulsifier. [Getty Images]

Related tags: Seaweed, upcycled beauty, clean beauty, Korea, K-Beauty, Cosmetics, Sustainability

Upcycled seaweed could soon be available as an emulsifier in the Asian beauty and personal care market, with one firm keen to tap into clean beauty interest ‘as fast as possible’.

Founded just a couple of years ago, Carbonwave is a public benefit corporation that works to turn sargassum seaweed into high-value biomaterials.

The company has used the seaweed to develop different materials for different sectors, one of which is SeaBalance 2000, a broad-spectrum natural emulsifier.

“This is a very interesting emulsifier because it has such a wide use case. It's capable of emulsifying between 10% to 40% oil of a variety of polarities – we’re talking high polarity, all the way to non-polar oils –pH from 3.5, all the way up to nine, so you get a very wide spectrum there as well. The natural tendency of the emulsifier is to lower viscosities but it's capable of working between 100 centipoises, all the way up to 25,000,” ​said product manager August Schelin.

The start-up, which has sites in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Boston, attended in-cosmetics Korea in July where the emulsifier was recognised as the co-winner in the functional ingredient category.

Schelin expressed excitement at the interest it garnered from the Asian trade event.

“Our goal in Asia is to basically commercialise as fast as possible,” ​he told CosmeticsDesign-Asia.

One of the most attractive things about the Asian beauty and personal care market is the speed at which it moves, said Schelin.

“There's a very fast development cycle compared to some other markets like Europe, for example, where the timelines can be very long. For start-ups such as ours, I mean, we're fully respecting of any sort of stability testing and safety trials – we want those to be performed – but the faster we can move, the happier we are.”

He added that Korea especially has development cycles that move much faster than other markets.

Furthermore, he highlighted that being seaweed-based, the ingredient would fit in very well in the Asian markets.

“One of the things that we find attractive about this market is, first of all, there's a high acceptance of seaweed as a raw material, not just in Korea but also other Asian countries. Seaweed has been used in food for decades and is popular in many, many aspects. And so, the acceptance receiving it as a base material is very high compared to some other regions where it might be considered something dirty and a nuisance to society.”

The company also hopes to tap into the high interest in clean beauty trends, including the demand for simple and natural cosmetic formulations. “We certainly conform with all these objectives,”​ said Schelin.

Upcycling a sea nuisance

Sargassum is the genus of seaweed that is used to create Seabalance 2000. It floats in island-like masses and never attaches to the seafloor.

“Sargassum is the only free-floating type of seaweed in the world, which right now, because of excess nutrient runoff from the Amazon from the use of fertiliser, and so on. And with the heating oceans, it has just exploded in proportion. So right now, you have a belt of Sargassum that stretches from West Africa, all the way to the Caribbean. It's covering the entire Atlantic Ocean,” ​explained Schelin.

This is causing problems for the tourism industry in the Caribbean Islands, where the seaweed lands on the beaches.

“Even before the pandemic, they saw a 35% decline in tourism, because tourists didn’t want to walk through five metres of seaweed just to get to the ocean. For the hotels, this became a huge problem. So, they ended up putting the Sargassum into landfills, where it rots and releases methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas almost 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide,”​ said Schelin.

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