When were Phytomer’s laboratories founded?
We’ve had laboratories at our Brittany headquarters for more than 40 years, but have in the past decade invested heavily in their expansion – adding new facilities for research, the culture of algae and seaweed, the culture of skin cells, and formulation.
Our biotech building was opened in 2010, specifically for the cultivation of seaweed that’s hand-harvested from the Brittany coast. It’s like a giant aquarium factory, where you’ll find our unique photo-bioreactors – tall glass columns containing seawater, through which light and energy can filter.
In 2016, we built a new factory to comply with OTC (Over the Counter) regulations. These are pharmaceutical controls for skincare products – in particular suncare – that are for export to the US, Canada and Australia. Now Phytomer products undergo this rigorous testing, whether it’s required or not.
What’s your background and role?
I’m a scientist passionate about the sea, with a PhD in biochemistry and immunology. I joined Phytomer in 1997, so I’ve been with the company for 20 years.
I’m director of the R & D team. Phytomer is dedicated to leading in the field of scientific discovery in marine cosmetics, and we have around 20-30 scientists working here at any one time.
We also welcome PhD students from the universities of Brittany, and we’re collaborating with several science start-ups on some exciting projects on marine biotechnologies, green production processes and biomaterials, etc.
What have been Phytomer’s most notable innovations?
Our most famous ingredient is Oligomer®, which is a concentrate from seawater containing all the most precious trace elements of the sea. It’s a compound in its own right, but also a powerfully active ingredient that goes into all our products to revitalise the skin.
The exact production process - a way to freeze dry seawater – is protected by a manufacturing secret that has enabled us to keep worldwide exclusivity since its creation in 1972.
Instead of using hot temperatures for extraction or drying in the sun – which both destroy the beneficial properties – we reduce the temperature of the seawater to produce ice, and then under pressure we eliminate all the water to produce a gas. This way we’re able to preserve the structure, minerals and trace elements of the seawater, and therefore all its many benefits for the beauty and health of the skin.
As pioneer in marine biotechnologies, we’re also the only company in the world to currently be creating EPS (exopolysaccharides) from seawater. EPS are marine sugars produced by marine micro-organisms with inimitable properties that are highly beneficial to the skin.
Can you explain EPS in more detail?
We’ve been producing EPS since 2011. Working in partnership with the start-up Polymaris, we collect micro-organisms from the ‘Abers’ – Brittany’s coastal fjords.
We’re currently cultivating around 500 different species by fermentation, which is a process done in seawater in the lab without light. Each micro-organism has a specific structure, composition and activity, and each can potentially produce one specific marine sugar (EPS).
We now have five different EPS in Phytomer products - the first one being XMF (Extra Marine Filler), which is used in our highly effective anti-ageing cream Pionnière XMF, launched in 2012.
What are the benefits of culturing algae in the lab?
By cultivating in our photo-bioreactors we gain a much higher rate of reproducibility, and create more constant properties for our skincare products.
Algae are not the same in the summer or the winter – there’s a natural evolution during the seasons. In the lab we’re able to control the conditions, and so maintain the same temperature, salinity and light, for example. We also eliminate contaminants, heavy metals and other pollutants.
Thanks to this process we’ve also been able to cultivate algae that don’t exist elsewhere in the world – because they’re often too diluted to thrive in nature.
We only ever need to take very small amounts from nature, so the process is very sustainable. For example, with coralina (a kind of vegetable coral) we may only harvest 1cm, but will grow many more kilograms in the lab. In just three months we can produce a quantity that would take three years to grow in nature.
While some companies may use genetically modified bacteria in the cultivation process, Phytomer’s processes are 100 per cent natural and non-GMO.
What’s next for Phytomer?
There is so much more to discover. We currently only know about one per cent of the microorganisms living in seawater. And thanks largely to the Gulf Stream, Brittany has one of the most diverse eco-systems in the world, so we’re in the perfect location!
We’re also cultivating more and more algae in photo-bioreactors. For example, we’ve just started to grow the red algae Rhodella Violacea because of its incredible benefits against the effects of mental stress on the skin. We’ll incorporate this algae in our soon-to-launch CRÈME 30 – our first wrinkle cream for women in their 30s who lead a stressful life.
By observing the biology of sea plants and organisms, we can adapt to the biology of human skin. In science it’s called biomimitism, and with Phytomer’s richness of resources, we’ll continue to be a leader and innovator in this field for many decades to come.