The entrepreneur began his career in the cosmetics industry in Seoul, South Korea. Watching the ins and outs of one of the world’s most technically advance cosmetics markets first hand, he set his sight on advocating for what he describes as ”a seismic, wide-scale industry shift”. This week, he launches Tiny Associates, which he believes will make this shift a reality.
— We make a new generation of unisex skincare and wellness products, he states. The premiering range consists of two categories — skincare and supplements — and includes a night cream, a day fluid, a serum, a lip treatment, and a face cleanser as well as supplements with skin moisturising properties, skin antioxidizing properties, and body relaxation properties.
Two years ago, he joined forces with leading Swedish skincare manufacturer Svenska Krämfabriken, aiming to look at skincare differently.
— It was when we narrowed our focus to individual molecules that we really started to make sense of things. Molecules are unbiased and they unlock numerous radical propositions for the future of skincare. The brand is an answer to what skincare could be. The name, Tiny Associates, is a tribute to the unconventional molecules that work for the skin and the planet.
What makes it so unique?
— The uniqueness is connected to our campaign: The Post-Natural Campaign. What we want to achieve with this campaign is to shed light on the problematics of so-called ’natural’ and ’clean’ skincare, while at the same time offering an alternative — a progressive alternative that works for the skin and the planet. In essence, we believe that biotechnologically made molecules could be the future of sustainable skincare, Koo Hjalmarsson explains. He continues:
— Currently, ’clean’ and ’natural’ skincare composed of organic, plant-derived ingredients has been equated with environmentally friendly and sustainable, but this is not necessarily the case. As it turns out, skincare composed of organic, plant-derived ingredients has a huge environmental impact and carbon footprint. This negative impact has been greatly magnified by the demand for these products. At the same time, the marketing of natural skincare as being natural and clean, and therefore better for us, has created demand from consumers that cannot be met without damaging the environment, as it has incentivized skincare brands to source more and more natural, plant-derived ingredients.
— Moreover, ’natural’ plant extracts are marketed as ’clean’ and ’pure’ when the opposite can be said: plant extracts are composed of many different chemicals which often include potential irritants and/or allergens. Indeed, the higher the amount of plant extracts that are present in a skincare product, the more likely the product is to cause irritation or an allergic reaction. Plant extracts may actually contain active ingredients that are beneficial to skin health but often such ingredients are present in such vanishingly small amounts that they have little to no effect.
And how do you work differently?
— We’re relying on the very same technology that is driving innovative sustainability efforts in other industries such as the food industry and fashion — biotechnology. Bio-scientists have, almost unnoticed, discovered ways to recreate molecules naturally occurring in nature inside the quality-controlled and more sustainable confinement of a lab, says Koo Hjalmarsson. He continues:
— The tools of biotechnology can be used to create skincare ingredients that are chemically identical to those sourced from either plants or fossil fuels. Microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast are ideal for producing needed ingredients, as they are easy to grow quickly in large quantities. One example involves growing cultures of microorganisms or plant cells that have been modified to produce a specific ingredient. This allows scientists to make ingredients inside the lab that are identical to what is found in nature. Biotechnology allows us to source nature-identical ingredients without having to resort to unsustainable harvesting from nature. Oftentimes, skin-beneficial active ingredients are identified in plant extracts but are only present in tiny amounts. These ingredients can be produced using the techniques described above, to produce the desired ingredient in large enough quantities so that they may be used to prepare effective skincare formulations.
In essence, Koo Hjalmarsson explains, these microorganisms are ”biofactories” that can be harnessed to produce ingredients in large amounts.
— These may be readily purified, thus reducing the amounts of energy, water, and other resources it takes to obtain the pure ingredient. In particular, it means avoiding plant-derived ingredients that are not necessarily pure and have a high environmental impact in terms of land usage, fertilizers, pesticides, energy, and other resources.
— One such ingredient is bisabolol, created using the fermentation of certain plant sugars. Bisabolol is a highly useful skin conditioning ingredient, normally obtained by steam distillation of the essential oil extracted from Brazilian candeia trees. This process carries a significant environmental impact as it requires 1 tonne of wood from mature trees to produce 7 kg of essential oil, which must then be further processed to obtain pure bisabolol. The fermentation process allows us to avoid deforestation, the harvesting of mature trees, and the large amount of energy and resources used in the extraction and purification process. Using fermentation biotechnology allows the production of this valuable skincare ingredient in a sustainable manner that has a much lower impact on the environment. The yeast is raised on sugarcane, which renews within around one year and requires 230 times less agricultural land to produce the same amount of bisabolol as the endangered candeia tree, making it a much more sustainable resource.
Launching Tiny Associates, you’re also talking about ”A molecular meritocracy”. Can you explain what you mean?
— You sometimes hear brands claiming that they have made ’simple’ and ’non-complicated’ skincare products. I don’t understand that. To me, good skincare is tremendously complex. Good skincare is ethical, sustainable, and effective. Making formulas that are ethical, sustainable, and effective is no simple task. Fortunately, there is a whole ecosystem of visionary creators, scientists, and others that constantly make new discoveries and find solutions to these challenges. What we did was to try and identify molecular properties that answer these challenges, being ethical, sustainable, and effective. Looking at ingredients is not helpful for such a task; looking at molecules is. Molecules provide so much more inputs, which guided us in a completely different direction than ingredients. Again, that’s when we knew we were onto something. Another example of our identified molecular properties, apart from biotechnologically made, is ’microbiome-gentleness’. Recent scientific research has demonstrated that the billions of microorganisms — good and bad bacteria if you like — constituting the skin’s microbiome play a critical role in keeping the skin healthy. Our products contain only microbiome-gentle molecules. We made our formulas based on such strict molecular properties; the result is effective, sustainable, and ethical products. Molecules must jump through these hoops to be considered. It’s a molecular meritocracy. As a consequence, we use as few nature-derived ingredients as possible.
— To increase our chances of tearing down the misconceptions of ’natural skincare’, we have chosen to focus our communication on biotechnologically made molecules as a progressive alternative. The current communication regarding natural skincare is so persuasive; it’s almost automatically equated with sustainability and effective or good for the skin. We need a seismic widescale shift, Koo Hjalmarsson concludes.
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