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Beauty Reimagined: Pioneering Biodegradable Alternatives in Cosmetics

Written in collaboration with Tamás Pilinyi

Natural skincare, soaps, tooth brush and a face oil
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

With growing concerns about the environmental impact of cosmetic products, the industry is placing greater emphasis on developing biodegradable alternatives. While the discussion around biodegradable plastics and packaging has been ongoing, brands are now redirecting their efforts towards formulating products with ingredients that break down safely in the environment within a limited period. In this article, we delve into the definition of biodegradable formulas, highlight the significance of their environmental impact, and examine the challenges faced by the cosmetics industry in achieving this goal.


  • The Importance of Biodegradability and Transparency in Personal Care

  • Identifying and Eliminating Dangerous Ingredients

  • Embracing Upcycled Products and Kaffe Bueno’s Perspective

The Importance of Biodegradability and Transparency in Personal Care

As the focus on biodegradable packaging grows, the personal care industry is increasingly realising the importance of ensuring the biodegradability of ingredients as well. Ethical businesses in this sector highly value transparency and strive to offer consumers products that have a minimal impact on both the environment and human health. By incorporating ingredients that naturally break down over time, without the need for chemical treatments, these businesses have a significant opportunity to contribute to a cleaner, safer, and more environmentally friendly beauty landscape.

Moreover, sustainability has become a defining characteristic of ethical businesses in the personal care industry. They actively adopt practices that minimise their environmental footprint, recognising that 64% of consumers now consider sustainability crucial when choosing beauty products. By opting for biodegradable personal care products, conscientious buyers can align their choices with their values and support brands that prioritise sustainability, and safe and ethical principles.

Reckless environmental practices not only contribute to the alarming rise in climate change, leading to more frequent natural disasters and extreme weather events but also pose a significant threat to our well-being, through air and water contamination for example. The increasing emissions resulting from waste production are triggering a host of long-term health issues. Conditions such as asthma, birth defects, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disorders, and even cancer are among the dire consequences we face.

Identifying and Eliminating Dangerous Ingredients

Beauty product tested by a lab worker.
Photo by Nati Melnychuk

Certain ingredients commonly found in personal care products have been identified as major pollutants in nature. It is crucial to raise awareness about these harmful substances and explore alternative options for environmentally conscious consumers. Let's look into some of the most concerning ingredients and their impact on nature and our health:

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate:

Two widely used chemicals found in sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have garnered attention due to their negative effects on coral reefs. These substances increase the vulnerability of coral reefs, hindering their growth and contributing to bleaching. With that said, there are numerous mineral-based and non-toxic sunscreens available as safe alternatives to protect our skin without harming marine ecosystems. Additionally, individuals who regularly use sunscreen also tend to exhibit higher levels of oxybenzone. This compound has been implicated in triggering allergic reactions in the skin, while also exhibiting disruptive effects on users’ hormonal balance, which is especially dangerous to children.


Triclosan, an antibacterial agent commonly present in toothpaste, shampoo, soap, face wash, and hand sanitisers, poses a significant threat to aquatic life. This chemical is toxic to aquatic bacteria and has adverse effects on algae. Triclosan has also been associated with various health issues in humans. The primary routes of exposure are through skin absorption and ingestion via the mouth. These exposures have been found to cause contact dermatitis, resulting in skin irritation, and an elevated risk of allergic reactions, particularly among young people. To safeguard both our health and the environment, it is advisable to seek alternative hand hygiene products that do not contain triclosan.


Parabens, a group of preservatives commonly found in skincare products, have become a focal point in the clean beauty movement due to growing concerns. These substances are believed to interfere with hormone function and have been detected in marine mammals as a result of their widespread use in cosmetics. In humans, parabens not only disrupt hormones but also have the potential to impact fertility, reproductive organs, and birth outcomes, and may increase the risk of cancer. Additionally, parabens have been associated with skin irritation. To mitigate potential risks, it is advisable to select products labelled as "paraben-free" and consider alternatives to these preservatives.

Synthetic Fragrance:

Synthetic fragrances permeate a multitude of everyday products, ranging from cleaning supplies to skincare items and perfumes. Unfortunately, these chemicals accumulate in the marine environment and persist despite cleansing efforts. Not only do they pose environmental hazards, but synthetic fragrances also have the potential to irritate the skin and can lead to various symptoms such as headaches, eye and nose irritation, nausea, memory issues, coordination problems, and other respiratory and neurological effects. According to Greentumble, modern products like perfumes, deodorants, and cleaning supplies often contain undisclosed synthetic fragrance compounds. The majority of contemporary fragrances are composed of synthetic chemicals, artfully blending anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 compounds in various combinations to create specific scents.


Microplastics are often used to provide exfoliating or cleansing properties to rinse-off skincare products. These tiny particles of plastic measuring less than 5 mm, present a significant threat to the environment. Often found in cosmetics, the particles possess several worrisome properties. They are easily ingested by animals, including humans, and persist in the environment for extended periods. Furthermore, microplastics are challenging to remove from the environment, leading to their accumulation in water sources and causing harm to both ecosystems and human health.

Embracing Upcycled Products

Coffee beans in the background, coffee fibres in the foreground.
Photo by Adam Lukac and Kaffe Bueno

One promising approach in the quest for biodegradable personal care products is the use of upcycled ingredients. Upcycling involves repurposing waste materials and transforming them into valuable resources. By incorporating upcycled materials into formulations, businesses contribute to a circular economy and offer a sustainable alternative to conventional cosmetic ingredients. Upcycled products have the potential to biodegrade, further supporting the transition towards a more sustainable future.

One great example of this movement is Cellugy, a company utilising biological processes to develop sustainable ingredients for everyday products, replacing fossil fuels with renewable resources. Their platform technology mimics natural cellulose production and assembly through energy-efficient and eco-friendly methods. This innovative approach delivers nature-inspired products of superior quality, cost-effectiveness, and significantly reduced carbon footprint.

What about upcycling coffee waste?

The circular economy of coffee upcycling.
Illustration by Kaffe Bueno

Thanks to Kaffe Bueno’s products, coffee remnants are no longer wasted; they're transformed into eco-friendly treasures. With natural and upcycled ingredients, we optimise their health properties, benefiting both you and the environment.

Coffee by-products are packed with antioxidants and nourishing fatty acids, perfect for enhancing skin health and well-being. Our products incorporate these powerful substances, backed by scientific studies [1].

But it doesn't end there. By upcycling every tonne of coffee grounds, we prevent the release of 340m3 of methane, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, our natural ingredients are biodegradable, leaving no harmful trace. Choose Kaffe Bueno. Embrace nature's goodness and make a positive impact—for yourself and the planet.

Learn more about our innovative products such as KAFFIBRE®, KAFFOIL®, KAFFAGE®, KAFFAIR®, KLEANSTANT® here.


[1] (Bessada et al., 2018; Kourmentza et al., 2017; Scully et al., 2016; Martinez-Saez et al., 2016).

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