A wax made from marine algae may someday replace petroleum and animal products in cosmetics and healthcare products, thanks to a new licensing agreement between Western, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Upwell Cosmetics.
Upwell, a start-up founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, will work with manufacturers to produce the wax and market it to companies that make cosmetics and personal care products.
This natural wax, a family of widely studied compounds known as alkenones, is harvested from the microalga Isochrysis. It has the potential to replace petroleum ingredients as the waxy base in many cosmetics and personal care products, such as lipstick, shampoo, deodorants, lotions and reef-safe sunscreens.
Chemistry Professor Greg O’Neil has long collaborated with Woods Hole’s Chris Reddy to look for practical uses for these algae. After biodiesel, jet fuel and other uses proved uneconomical, they focused on cosmetics. The patents on the wax, jointly owned by WWU and Woods Hole, is Western’s second research-to-market patent.
Upwell was co-founded by CEO Daniella Zakon, whose background includes marine biology, environmental science, and entrepreneurship, and sustainable beauty industry executive Alexandra Dowling Lari.
“I don’t think there’s a single brand we’ve spoken with who has not been interested in the wax,” Dowling Lari said, adding that the first product launch by a company could be this summer.