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Can Beauty Ingredients Be Brewed Like Beer?

Arcaea, a Chanel-backed business armed with $78 million in funding, aims to bring biotechnology to beauty.
Arcaea, a new company, aims to bring biotech to beauty at scale. Courtesy
Arcaea, a new company, aims to bring biotech to beauty at scale. Courtesy

A new beauty company wants to create scents that haven’t yet been smelled, skin care that can perform like makeup and hair care treatments that users can customise.

The company is Arcaea, which launches today after a two-year incubation period within biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks. Arcaea is now an independent company, headquartered in Boston, though Gingko retains a small stake. Led by chief executive Jasmina Aganovic, a veteran of beauty brands like Mother Dirt, Living Proof and Fresh who spent the past two years at Ginkgo as its entrepreneur-in-residence, Arcaea is built on the idea of applying the principles of biotech to beauty, particularly beauty’s supply chain. In practice, that means growing ingredients in a large tank, similar to the vessels used for brewing beer, rather than using petrochemicals or natural resources.

“The last 200 years [in beauty] have been based on chemistry, pulling things out of the ground and constructing formulas based on those molecules,” said Aganovic. “If we started to build around something biological, what would that look like? Could we create new things and new functionality?”

Arcaea’s mission has been to find out. Because the ingredients are essentially manmade, rather than plant-based, there is potential to create more complex ingredients beyond those that are farmed in a more typical process. The company ultimately wants to bring its biotech approach to the wider beauty community, which will have an impact on not just the industry’s product quality, but also its environmental impact, according to the executive. For example, certain ingredients, like keratin, often are created from animals’ hooves or hair, an energy-intensive process. Biotech offers an animal-free way to create the same ingredient, or a more effective version of that ingredient, she explained.

Arcaea is launching with a $78 million Series A funding round, which has attracted several high-profile investors, including beauty players like Chanel and fragrance company Givaudan, as well as Cascade Investment, the Gates family’s investment arm; hedge fund Viking Global, which owns Birchbox; and Canadian venture capital fund Wittington Ventures. In evaluating potential partners, Aganovic said she wanted to work with experts across the beauty industry. The funding, which will fuel Arcaea’s research and development as well as recruitment, was structured with the intention of being a “big push,” said Aganovic.

“This is an industry that’s worth $600 billion and has been around for over 200 years,” said Aganovic. “It’s going to take a substantial investment, and a big and aggressive push, frankly, to start to move it in this direction.”

Though Arcaea officially launches today, it is a ways off from debuting its first consumer-facing products. The brand will explore product development through two paths. One is by launching its own brands, with a view to eventually become a holding company with several brands that use its biotech-centric product and ingredient development methods. The other is to collaborate with brands outside the Arcaea umbrella and bring its ingredients approach to other businesses.

“The ingredients side of our business really exists to empower and help advance the industry,” said Aganovic. “We genuinely want to be seen as a partner that can help enable brands to move into a future that is much more regenerative.”

Both paths are equally important to Arcaea’s bottom line, she added, and the company will likely debut its first Arcaea-owned brand at the same time that it launches its first partnership with an outside brand.

Aganovic said she hopes Arcaea to bring the science — in particular, biotech — and beauty communities closer together, as well as educate the public on what the company is doing in a “very human-centric, storytelling fashion.”

Biotech has increasingly become a larger player in beauty, most notably with biotech company Amyris, which operates four consumer-facing brands, including skincare brand Biossance and Francisco Costa’s Costa Brazil label, which it acquired earlier this year.

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