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Innovation in Cosmetic Active Ingredients

1950 • 2012

The history of Gattefossé is studded with brilliant discoveries in the field of cosmetic active ingredients. In the 1950s, “biological” active ingredients were brought to market, followed by “plant-based” active ingredients in the 1970s, which saw a boom in the 2000s. These innovations were testament to the company’s high level of scientific expertise and also proof of its ability to interest and collaborate with academics in a way that has proved to be both sustainable and fruitful.


In 1945, Jean Cotte, a pharmacy intern at the Antiquaille hospital in Lyon (soon to be hospital Pharmacist-Biologist, then university professor), took part in research on placental extracts. His work stemmed from studies conducted by Vladimir Filatov, a Russian ophthalmologist. Filatov discovered that the placenta, when subject to aggressive external conditions, produced substances to defend itself. These “biogenic stimulins” proved to be very effective in eye repair and the process of skin regeneration.

Cotte’s friend, Henri-Marcel Gattefossé showed particular interest in the subject and a few years later Cotte approached Marcel about the possibility of using Filatov’s theory to produce a range of placental extracts for cosmetic use.

Gattefossé then took over from Cotte, using the Filatov method to produce and market two liquid extracts (aqueous and glycerol-glycolic) and a completely dry extract, which had been lyophilized and concentrated to lock in all placental cellular content.

Jean Cotte (on the left), Mario Paulet (at the center) who was a friend of René-Maurice and Henri-Marcel Gattefossé (on the right).

Raw materials would eventually be supplied by the Mérieux Institute in Lyon, which used a technique to extract gamma globulin from human placenta. With extraction residue of no use, the institute was interested in a proposition to increase its value. The extracts’ metabolic activity was meant to promote cell regeneration and was a research topic for Gattefossé and academics at the National Veterinary School in Lyon. Their studies would prove to be influential in product implementation. Now equipped with technical knowledge, Gattefossé successfully introduced the products at Vichy, then L’Oréal and Pier Augé, under the brand name Phylderm®.


In August 2012, Gattefossé Research Director, Frédéric Demarne became aware of key research findings in the peer-reviewed journal, Planta Medica. The findings in question were published in an article with the highly unusual title: “How do you make the best Caipirinha?” In it, Dutch researchers reported the existence of sugar-based solvents naturally present in plants. However, to manufacture plant ingredients in cosmetics, there were a number of constraints. The list of authorized solvents was particularly limited and – water and ethanol aside – included some rare “green solvents”. The arrival of new natural solvents would, therefore, have a significant impact. Without a second thought, Frédéric Demarne traveled to Leiden in the Netherlands to discuss the cosmetic application of what would soon be known as NaDES (Natural Deep Eutectic Solvents) technology.

In 2013, Gattefossé was able to prove that NaDES technology had been the right choice when it carried out development studies on calendula in the company’s laboratory and during a pilot production phase; the “deep eutectic” solvents made it possible to obtain new active extracts with limited solubility in water and conventional solvents.

Preliminary testing on plants intended for use in supplying Gattefossé with active ingredients in the future, offered excellent prospects. In 2014, Gattefossé acquired exclusive rights to use the technology. The company then returned to “classics” of the cosmetic world like calendula and rose, using NaDES to develop exclusive extracts for its clients.

NADES allow to extract new activity from plants.

This was a significant innovation for the business as it helped strengthen Gattefossé’s market position in relation to natural active ingredients.

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Innovation in Cosmetic Active Ingredients