InnCoCells: an EU-funded Horizon 2020 project developing safe and sustainable plant‑derived cosmetic ingredients with scientifically proven effects


Cosmetics have been used for thousands of years and many early cosmetics were naturally occurring minerals or extracts from plants, such as castor oil and rose water. More recently, synthetic cosmetic ingredients have become more popular, but these are derived from petrochemical sources and come at a huge environmental cost. Another problem in the cosmetic industry is the unsubstantiated claims of efficacy attached to many of these ingredients.

The InnCoCells project has received €7.9 million in funding under the Horizon 2020 programme and is coordinated by the VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd). Launched in May 2021, the project aims to revolutionize the way cosmetic ingredients are sourced, produced and tested. Over 48 months, the consortium of 17 partners representing 11 European countries will explore a diverse panel of plants, and will use a wide range of traditional and modern extraction technologies to find the best ways to extract cosmetic ingredients. Importantly, given the growing base of environmentally-conscious consumers, the consortium is focusing on sustainable production processes to avoid overharvesting wild populations of plants, and is carefully adhering to the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit and sharing. The project will use a host of different technologies, such as plant cell suspension cultures, organ cultures (hairy roots), aeroponic cultivation to milk root exudates, and the domestication of plants for cultivation in the greenhouse and field. The consortium is also exploring agro-industrial side streams (which would otherwise be composted or incinerated) in a cascade biorefinery approach to extract additional valuable metabolites. While many of the project partners will focus on upstream production, process development and the optimization of extraction methods, others have the important role of testing the extracted ingredients for efficacy using a panel of validated scientific tests ranging from simple chemical assays to the use of cell lines and even 3D skin models to confirm desirable activities. The most promising ingredients will be tested on human volunteers. None of the ingredients will be tested on animals. The consortium includes multiple industry partners and is guided by a Stakeholder Group to ensure that the innovative production technologies and new ingredients are commercialized at the earliest opportunity.

Visit the InnCoCells website and follow the project on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Contact: Kirsi-Marja Oksman (Coordinator, VTT, FI)