Nature knows best according to a blossoming research collaboration between UNSW Chemical Engineering and ASX-listed Abundant Produce.
What do tomatoes have to offer the maintenance of smooth well-hydrated skin?
“Lycopene,” says Associate Professor Frank Lucien at UNSW Chemical Engineering, who has just helped his industry partnerAbundant Produce create a completely natural, one-of-a-kind tomato infusion face cream.
“Lycopene is the red pigment in tomato skin; it’s an active material with powerful antioxidant properties that can absorb the damage the sun’s rays would ordinarily inflict upon your skin and reduce the visible signs of ageing,” says Lucien.
Abundant CEO, Tony Crimmins says consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the power of natural botanical extracts in everything from dietary supplements to cosmetics - an awareness supported by a large and growing body of scientific evidence.
“We’ve been breeding new sub-species and varieties of vegetable plants for years for the food industry,” he says, “but at our core we’re not so much a seed producer as a plant technologist and over the years we’ve built up an I.P. portfolio of close to 5,000 plant varieties. This means we can breed new plants, completely GM free, with a precise mix of traits. So, it seemed obvious to us to offer consumers a range of scientifically validated, plant based, nutraceutical skin care products.”
Although lycopene is well-known as having antioxidant properties and can be artificially produced in a lab, Lucien agrees there is a strong argument for keeping it within its “natural matrix” because of the other beneficial natural materials coming out of the extract. “To that end, we have developed a unique process using CO₂ to remove the lycopene at a low heat. This enables us to produce a completely natural extract which we can then use to make the cream,” he says.
The collaboration is the result of a serendipitous meeting between Crimmins and Lucien on the UNSW campus, when Crimmins was visiting chemical engineer Professor Tam Tran as part of another project. The pair of them got chatting, discovered some key synergies and from there the tomato lycopene extraction project moved with lightning speed.
“We met in December 2016 and by January had a research contract in place to start doing the initial investigations,” says Lucien. “By July 2017 we had a product on the shelves! I worked as a product engineer with Procter & Gamble before coming to UNSW so I know that for every 10 product ideas they are lucky to get one successful release, and that will usually take the better part of two years to be commercialised. We did it in six months – that’s quite amazing!”
Lucien continues: “Abundant has its sights set on the Chinese market, because Australian products have such a strong reputation there, but we’re proud to also offer the face cream on campus at the pharmacy in the Quad.”
Crimmins couldn’t be more complimentary about the experience of collaborating with UNSW on the project. “It was so fast and efficient. It’s not just the pure chemical extract that is valuable to us, but the statistics and analysis too. The quality of Frank and his team’s work is outstanding.”
With cosmetic collaborations investigating the bioactive compounds in other vegetables already underway, as well as discussions about pharmaceutical products down the line, the relationship is set to blossom into the future and Crimmins is emphatic about the opportunities afforded by the partnership.
“As a sufferer of psoriasis I am passionate about the idea of creating natural extracts to heal skin problems and I feel strongly that we’ve just started to tap into something big. We are beginning to discover that the oxidants in eggplant, for example, could be used in things like antidepressants and for migraines. The possibilities are truly endless.”
Read the full post from UNSW here.