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New GMO Alert: The Seduction of Beauty and What’s Really in That Jar

We’re all aware that GMOs are ubiquitous in much of our food, sometimes as a single or primary component and […]

New GMO Alert: The Seduction of Beauty and What’s Really in That Jar

We’re all aware that GMOs are ubiquitous in much of our food, sometimes as a single or primary component and […]

We’re all aware that GMOs are ubiquitous in much of our food, sometimes as a single or primary component and other times as a stealthy input that is barely discernible on the ingredient panel. But we don’t often think about how GMOs are showing up in other products that we encounter daily, such as body lotions, face creams, shampoos, conditioners, serums, and cosmetics. 

These products entice us with seductive advertising, celebrity endorsements, sustainability claims, and promises of eternal youth. We will have softer skin, silkier hair, fewer wrinkles, and – most importantly – a more youthful appearance. Some body care GMOs are present as familiar ingredients: vitamin D, collagen, CBD, and fragrances. Other ingredients are less familiar: spider silk, squalane/hemisqualane, resveratrol, and carotenoids. 

Many of these ingredients are produced using synthetic biology (aka precision fermentation), which involves the genetic modification of microorganisms to exploit them for what they do naturally to produce novel substances. Often these products are described as being sugar-derived, inasmuch as sugarcane or corn glucose is used as the primary microorganism feedstock.

Today, we want to highlight some of these GMO ingredients and the brands that feature them.


Amyris is the most active synthetic biology (synbio) company in the body care/cosmetic space, with almost a dozen ingredients in its portfolio. Key among these are squalane and hemisqualane, trans-β-farnesene, bisabolol, CBG, and a number of fragrances. Brand names include NeossanceBiofene, and Hemi15. In 2018, Amyris announced that it and Aprinnova, a joint venture with Japan’s Nikkol Group, had launched a pharmaceutical-grade Neossance squalene to access FDA-regulated products. 

In addition to marketing these products to body care and cosmetic companies, Amyris has created or partnered with others to create a range of consumer brands that showcase these ingredients. These include Biossance, EcoFabulous, Rose Inc, Terasana, Costa Brazil, JVN, Olika, Pipette, and the new 4U by Tia. 

Amyris’s flavoring and fragrance (F&F) portfolio includes scents such as sclareol (ambergris),  santalols (sandalwood), manool (woodsy amber), and patchouli. In 2021, Amyris finalized an agreement with DSM Nutritional Products for the latter to have exclusive rights to supply Amyris’s F&F ingredients.  


Evolva, a Swiss biotechnology developer, was a forerunner in the development of synbio vanilla, or vanillin, which it created in partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF). The vanilla, branded Always Vanilla, was released in the summer of 2014. In 2020, Evolva announced an expanded agreement with IFF to further develop and expand the commercialization of the product.

Evolva then experimented with a variety of other F&F profiles, such as saffron and oud/agarwood, but ultimately focused on the development of nootkatone (which takes its name from the Nootka cypress) and valencene (citrus). These two products were launched as Nootkatone by Evolva and Valencene by Evolva in August and December of 2015, respectively. Evolva also markets its nootkatone as an insect repellent under the brand  NootkaShield.

Evolva has also developed synbio resveratrol (a polyphenol), which is branded as Veri-te. The brand is marketed not only as an ingredient to skin care and cosmetic products (Veri-te Cosmetic Resveratrol and pharmacy-grade Veri-te API Resveratrol) but also as a dietary supplement for humans (Veri-te Nutra Resveratrol) and animals (Veri-te Pets Resveratrol). In partnerships with others, Veri-te is also marketed as a dispersible powder (Veri-Sperse) and a soluble form for functional beverages (Veri-te Aqua).

Bolt Threads

Bolt Threads is best known for its development of a synbio spider silk textile, which is marketed under the trade name Microsilk. However, in 2019, the company expanded its focus to develop a spider silk protein ingredient, B-silk, for use in skin and hair care products with the launch of its proprietary brand, Eighteen B. The compound promises to improve the firmness and elasticity of skin and the texture of hair. Currently, B-silk is available in Vegamour hair care products. In 2021, Bolt announced a partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks to improve production efficiency and expand applications. 


The French biotechnology company Deinove uses synthetic biology to engineer bacteria and other microorganisms to produce antioxidant compounds for use in skin care and cosmetics. In April 2018, Deinove launched Phyt-n-Resist, a phytoene antioxidant and precursor of carotenoids, which was designed to reduce wrinkles. Later that month, the company announced a partnership with Greentech, another biotechnology company, to create Hebelys, an anti-aging compound. A third product, Luminity, an antioxidant and neurosporene carotenoid, was launched in 2020 as an active ingredient for cosmetics.

The Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family. 

Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.

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