By now we’ve all heard of “clean” and “green” beauty, the movement that pushes for greater transparency and a drive toward more earth-friendly practices in the beauty industry, but the newest buzzword is… Blue.
Where green beauty places an impetus on using natural, sustainably sourced ingredients and materials in products, blue beauty takes its responsibility even more seriously by incorporating practices that prevent—and at times undo—further damage being inflicted upon our planet.
“The ocean is the source and sustainer of all life. You need only a cursory browse on the internet to see what we have done to them; from litter pollution to floating plastic islands right the way to Coral bleaching,” shares Charlie Vickery, Managing Director of UK-based brand Haeckels. “The impact we have had on our oceans in a very short space of time is almost hard to quantify. Everything we consume impacts the earth, but what society is now aware of is how we can mitigate this impact through science and considered design.”
Founded in 2012 in the British coastal town of Margate by Dom Bridges, Haeckels merges Bridges’ passion for the local environment with expertise in the capabilities of natural ingredients and the allure of high-quality design. Inspired by the local coast and the founder’s love of the ocean, Haeckels has been producing skincare products powered by seaweed for a decade and counting.
Why seaweed? Well not only is it antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, but the green stuff is also naturally plentiful upon the Margate shore, where it’s hand-harvested by the Haeckels team. This natural plant formed the basis of Haeckels’ early products and helped the small, independent brand develop its cult following, eventually landing its wares in over 100 retailers including beauty meccas like Liberty and Selfridges.
“The impact we have had on our oceans in a very short space of time is almost hard to quantify. Everything we consume impacts the earth.” – Charlie Vickery, Managing Director of Haeckels
After 10 years of steady growth, and following a minority-stake investment from cosmetics industry behemoth Estée Lauder, Haeckels decided to rethink how it formulates its products and double down on its commitment to the earth at the same time. Enter Haeckels Lab – a new era of products formulated and grown by the brand at its in-house lab located in the Haeckels HQ (a sizeable disused casino, which is also home to a candle pouring room and a skincare and massage training facility dubbed ‘Haeckels Academy’). “It was a realignment – something I think every brand should do every few years,” says Vickery, quick to note that Haeckels 2.0 was not a rebranding exercise. “It was a realignment and an acknowledgment that we grew too quickly and that we needed to recommit to our own sustainability principles.”
The purpose of Haeckels Lab is simple, to utilize lab-grown ingredients and in-house biotech expertise to produce high-quality skincare products at scale, with minimal environmental impact. The global beauty industry is expected to be worth over $600 billion USD by 2025, with the global natural cosmetics market slated to hit $48 billion USD within the same period. With such incredible growth, simply developing sustainable packaging and using more natural ingredients isn’t enough to prevent lasting damage to the earth—especially when you consider the need for increasing land space and water consumption to farm those ingredients. And then there’s the additional carbon emissions from transportation, too.
This is where biotechnology comes in. Haeckels had already been experimenting in this space by growing algae, a key ingredient in many of its products, in bioreactors in its retail locations, but more recently, the brand’s started developing lab-grown and nature-identical ingredients in its lab.
The first of its unique offerings under Haeckels Lab is Spiraglow, a biofabricated algae which hydrates, calms, and moisturises skin and comes in the form of three products: a Hydrating Toner, Cleansing Milk, and EGF Serum. “We engineered this to require less resources and designed it to grow in areas normally inhospitable to natural ingredients,” Vickery explains. “Fashioning bioreactors ourselves allowed us to create a high-impact high-yield algae that has potent and proven effects on the skin.”
Haeckels isn’t the only skincare brand that’s gravitating towards lab-grown solutions. Biossance has developed its own bioengineered Squalane from sustainable fermented sugarcane as an alternative to the popular hydrating ingredient Squalene (popularly harvested from shark livers). L:A Bruket combines lab-grown ingredients with those sourced locally from Swedish coasts and forests. Meanwhile, cult multi-brand skincare company DECIEM (which Estée Lauder also holds a significant investment in) is lauded for its total vertical integration, which allows it to formulate, produce, and package its products all within its owned factories.
The benefits of lab-grown ingredients go beyond having a lower carbon footprint and less negative impact on the environment in general. Since lab-grown ingredients are produced in a controlled environment, there’s a greater guarantee they’ll be high-quality and won’t be impacted by changes to the climate or environment. It also means that products can easily be produced at a larger scale if required, as growing and harvesting them won’t require the same level of natural resources—in fact, since the volume can be altered dependent on demand, it should also result in less waste overall.
“The resource intensity of farming natural ingredients is staggering—the land and water required to grow the crop, the carbon emissions created in transportation, and the waste generated from the crop byproduct,” Vickery notes. And as an added bonus, those lab-made ingredients are really just as effective as the natural thing they emulate.
For Haeckels however, the Lab—which Vickery describes as “a synergy between sustainability and effectiveness that has treated truly game-changing products”—is just part of the brand’s ongoing commitment to innovation within the realm of sustainable practices. “We introduced new home compostable packaging components onto the market – the first for a skincare company. We championed new ingredients, new products, and new effects,” he adds, referencing the brand’s usage of Vivomer within its packaging.
Developed by Shellworks, Vivomer is a pretty revolutionary material, composed of marine and soil microorganisms, it’s able to fully compost at home within just 48 weeks. Additionally, Haeckels has recently unveiled its Gut-Health programme, because you “can’t address skin concerns without first looking at your gut health and addressing the microbiome.”
The holistic 21-day programme takes you through a journey to repair and rebuild your gut, with seaweed broths and teas provided for the fasting period (naturally), and Haeckels nutritionists on hand to build programs tailored to the individual. “We believe in the power of beauty in a holistic sense. Everything is connected. We have the luxury of connecting those dots behind the scenes and across multiple categories.” Vickery explains, nodding to what we may see next from the brand. “The future of wellness is a 360-connected approach rooted in innovation and disruption.”
“Blue beauty,” it transpires, is more than just a trend; it’s a movement that’s shaping the future of the skincare industry, and brands like Haeckels are both setting the standard and putting in the groundwork to ensure the term doesn’t fall into the same territory that greenwashing has. “We have championed materials that nobody knew existed but that now proliferate the mainstream,” Vickery says, reflecting on the impact the relatively small brand has had on quite a colossal industry over the past ten years.
“I always say you’re not changing the world if you’re not getting your hands dirty –which invariably comes back to making things yourself. What we do is akin to the most skilled artisan craftspeople, and by owning every step of our operation, we can challenge the status quo.”
Text: Nav Gill