Final Project Proposal - Biotechnology in Cosmetics

Throughout the course of this class, we have explored the intersection of science and art in everything from bread to fungi to the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Week after week, I fell in love with the idea of looking for connections, quietly making observations, listening to my peers' interpretations of the world around them, and getting opportunities to just away from my computer in favor of just walking around outside and just absorbing the world around me in all its glory.

Admittedly, we had explored so many topics and ideas throughout this course that I was kind of at a loss for what final proposal I should make. In fact, just looking at the details for the final just intimidated me because I have never written a paper longer than 6 pages before (shocking I know). I wanted a topic that was broad enough so that I would have enough to talk about, but also not so broad that my project would have poor transitions from subject to subject. Ultimately, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about something that I am deeply invested in, and so for this reason, I wanted to investigate the intersection of biotechnology with the world of makeup, cosmetics, and skincare.

I believe in a previous post I had mentioned that I had an interest in becoming a cosmetics chemist, and that I would ideally like to focus my career toward the personal care industry, so I figured that it might be fitting to discuss makeup and cosmetics while also thinking about the biotechnological applications involved in this specific field. I feel like there are many things to discuss here. Though some may not agree, I think that makeup and the idea of perfecting one's face is an art form to me, be it through makeup, perfecting the skin, or perhaps even as extreme as cosmetics procedures such as botox or other modifications to the body.

Considering I have 3000 to 5000 words to work with, I was thinking of perhaps first discussing different makeup trends and products used throughout history, including Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, China and Japan, as well as in Medieval Europe and possibly the Victorian era as well. Something particularly catches my interest is makeup in the Medieval ages and the obsession with pale pure white skin, to the point where the compounds they were using to get this effect were literally killing the people from the inside out. An example would be Venetian Ceruse, which was a lead-based foundation of sorts used to give a ghostly white and extremely pale complexion that hid wrinkles, spots and other imperfections, and gave a plaster feel to the person wearing it. Noblemen and women alike were so obsessed with being as pale as possible that they would even go so far as to use blue pigments to paint veins or beauty marks on their face and decolletage areas. Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous for popularizing this look in 14th Century England.

 

The Darnley Portrait of Elizabeth I, credit: The National Portrait Gallery

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw02075/Queen-Elizabeth-I#:~:text=The%20'Darnley%20Portrait'%20of%20Elizabeth,key%20images%20of%20the%20Queen.&text=The%20pigments%20used%20in%20this,have%20been%20crimson%20and%20white.

However, because the pigment was infused with lead, it was extremely toxic to the wearers because the lead would be absorbed through the skin. This led to all sorts of problems, including skin discoloration, hair loss, and rotting teeth (National Geographic). I think because I'm so interested in this portion, it would be a good idea to examine not only what the cosmetics products were made of throughout history, but also examine long term effects of these products.

From a more modern perspective, I think it would be interesting to contrast was was used in ancient history with the practices that we use in modern times. For example, something that is completely different from ancient times is the use of botox to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (allure.com). This is a well-known example of biotechnology used towards perfecting appearance.

Botox therapy; credit: Allure.com

As we probably all know, Botox is derived from the toxic Clostridium botulinum toxin, and this injectable neurotoxin is used to paralyze the facial muscles such that no wrinkles or fine lines can even be made because the muscles can no longer move properly.

Moreover, in the modern age, cosmetics corporations have been attempting to make a move away from animal testing, as the ethicality of testing products on animals is extremely morally dividing, and many consumers are understandably angered upon finding out that a company uses and abuses animals for testing purposes. So because of this, companies such as L'Oreal are researching artificially produced skin to eliminate animal testing in cosmetics (cnbc.com). Their lab-created skin dubbed EpiSkin is used to test the effects of the cosmetics products on artificial human skin, and is grown from skin cell cultures in a petri dish (cnbc.com). They are also working to create tissue models of human eyes, mouth, airways and intestinal tracts to look into testing the effects of possible sources of irritation and/or ingestion effects. I believe topics like these are also very interesting to discuss, and certainly cover the biotechnology aspect of this course as well.

I know this blog post is probably severely disorganized since I have so many ideas in my head, but these are overall just my ideas for my final proposal, and I think the crosslinkage between biotech and cosmetics would certainly be very interesting to discuss in this course.

References:

Kron, J., & Dancer, R. (2019, October 21). Botox Injections: Side Effects, Risks, & Cost, According to Experts. Allure. https://www.allure.com/gallery/botox-faq

Little, B. (2021, May 3). Arsenic Pills and Lead Foundation: The History of Toxic Makeup. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/ingredients-lipstick-makeup-cosmetics-science-history?loggedin=true

Woods, B. (2017, May 29). Companies are making human skin in labs to curb animal testing of products. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/25/loreal-is-making-lab-produced-human-skin-to-curb-animal-testing.html