How biotech and fermentation made shaga mushroom the perfect choice for Origins
Opening up the doors to transform things that may have not fit in one product — and make them fit.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
June 29, 2023
Rocky Graziose is Associate Director in the Biotech Labs at natural skincare brand Origins, focusing on innovation, R&D, and development of new ingredients and formulas.
— What drives us is the marriage of science and nature, with nature first, and bringing those two together in a meaningful way that drives efficacy, he says. As a chemist, I think Mother Nature is perhaps the best chemist that we know with four or five million years of tinkering with chemistry to find solutions for biology. But we’ve been pretty good ourselves as humans, with the ability to improve upon nature. We call it ’need-first science’; looking at the skin and what it potentially needs, finding a solution from nature to that and then making it better.
One of many examples where Origins has worked with the merging of natural skincare and biotech, Graziose continues, is with the shaga mushroom in the Mega Mushroom line.
— It’s known to have internal benefits in the body. It’s an anti-inflammatory and has been used traditionally for thousands of years as such. We found that it’s also good for the skin but there were some negative aspects when making an extract of it. So, instead, we used biotechnology to create a fermented version of it, which improved the activity by 67%. And it was also able to penetrate the skin better when broken down by the fermentation process. You can imagine that a mushroom stuck into a formula may not look all that great but when you ferment it, you create a much cleaner version which also improved the aesthetics of the formula. So, all around, more efficacy, better penetration, and better aesthetics through biotechnology.
We hear more and more about using mushrooms for various different purposes and there seem to be no limits in what you can use it for. How do you view it?
— You’re touching on a really exciting topic that we could probably talk for hours about, and there are so many different angles. If you talk about fermentation, there’s precision fermentation where you can use systems to create really complex and breakthrough single molecules. One of the things that we’re seeing is that collagen, which used to be only available from animal sources, can now be made through mushrooms, which I think is an amazing concept. There are also synergies that happen when you use fermentation and biotech. You’re taking these organisms, bringing them together with other ingredients and you’re creating something that you couldn’t have by a single one alone. And then the idea that you can take things that have potentially been either irritating or potentially unsafe and modify them to lower it. It’s just an open door for us in the future, the idea of biotech.
Working with mushrooms in skincare, Graziose explains, also comes with challenges, such as the solubility criteria, where some things dissolve better in oil versus water.
— What biotech and fermentation does is that it opens up the doors to transform things that may have not fit in one product and make them fit. And another challenging thing is also an opportunity for a brand like us; natural products are variable. Just like when you go to the supermarket and you see 100 apples, there’s gonna be a couple of bad ones in there. When you have natural products as your ingredients, it’s something you need to be aware of but not all brands have the capability and capacity to understand that this variability may cause problems for your product.
We hear a lot about how biotech is the future of beauty. Do you agree?
— I’d say it’s a part of the future. One of the things that I’m always excited about as a natural products chemist is that the old has always become new again. You can also see it in fashion. Things are cyclical. So for example, we’re using ginseng in some of our products, which has been used for 5,000+ years — and we’re still learning about it. We also have a line coming out, which we’re still developing, around apple. It’s an ingredient that fascinates me in that people consider it to be so mundane but it’s so powerful — ’one Apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Some of these ingredients can just be so commonplace that you forget how powerful they are, says Graziose. He adds:
— There’s always a place for naturals and naturals that really don’t need modification or any type of enhancement just because they’re there. So that’s a part of the future, the continual discovery down the naturals’ path. We now have science that can do things that maybe nature couldn’t, or we can do it together with nature in a better way. I think that’s the future — a marriage of the traditional with the new.
Origins aims to continue to push innovation forward. In Plantscription — ”our powerhouse anti-aging line” — both natural and biotech innovations are included, including the key ingredient Anogeissus, which was discovered by the brand.
— It’s a tree bark from Ghana and we have an extract of it. It’s fascinating and we’re doing a lot of science on that. It works at a molecular level and improves the elastic and structural components of the skin. We’ve also added a lot of peptides, with huge benefits, as well as new and futuristic versions of retinol that have improved efficacy and has reduced some of the negative effects of retinol.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
— As a scientist, it is to always think that you don’t know enough and that there’s more to learn, Graziose shares. So the challenge is, where do I spend my time most effectively to continue to find those answers? Because we all have to make trade-offs. Should we focus on this? It could be this franchise versus another one. The challenge is just knowing where to focus because there are so many different, fun options to follow.
— People from the outside may not know how much science goes into these products — and maybe that’s about the way we communicate to the customers. From my own perspective, I did my PhD and then I came into the skincare world and we do as much science as we did there. It’s just that now we have all these other roles about communicating it to the consumer and working with the marketing team and everything else. So I would say that the final insight is just that good science happens in skincare and it’s why these products are so good.
Sign up for our weekly intelligence newsletter Beauty Innovation, access yearly insights reports, and secure invites to exclusive live talks and events!