The Unseen Beauty Partners with Living Ink to Roll Out Carbon-Positive Algae Black Collection

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UK material science company The Unseen has partnered with bio-based pigment manufacturer Living Ink to debut the latter’s Algae Black product in a new line of cosmetics called Absorption.

The Unseen is the first company to launch a cosmetics product made from Living Ink’s Algae Black innovation, which is a sustainable, climate-positive alternative to the petroleum-based black carbon pigment found in eyeliner, mascaras and shadows.

The material science startup’s cosmetics arm, The Unseen Beauty, is rolling out Absorption, a range of products made from Algae Black, starting with a lengthening mascara and long-wearing pencil eyeliner, which will launch later this month. It marks a breakthrough in an industry that faces regulatory obstacles for new colourants, and relies on products derived from finite, planet-harming sources.

“After five years of R&D, we filed Algae Black under the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients,” The Unseen founder Lauren Bowker told the Financial Times.

A highly sustainable black carbon alternative

algae black
Courtesy: The Unseen Beauty

Living Ink is a Colorado-based pigment manufacturer that is scaling carbon removal tech to tackle the climate crisis. Having secured $3.5M in funding co-led by the US Department of Energy last year, it is offering Algea Black as a “drop-in” replacement to black carbon pigments, and already supplies the likes of Nike, New Balance, Coach, American Eagle and Patagonia.

Black pigment solutions are often derived from petroleum-based sources like crude oil, natural gas or coal. Each year, 8.1 million tonnes of carbon black are produced globally, but its excessive use has been correlated with organ harm and cancer (it’s a Group 2B carcinogen, making it possibly carcinogenic to humans).

Another black colourant, iron oxide, is obtained through mining or chemical synthesis, which leads to soil erosion, habitat loss and biodiversity decline. Mining can also pollute water and air by releasing harmful pollutants, while consuming high amounts of energy that subsequently emit more greenhouse gases.

Algae Black makes use of waste algae biomass that is otherwise destined for landfill. Featuring a 100% renewable raw material, it is produced through a pyrolysis process, which burns it without using oxygen. That prevents the carbon stored by the algae from turning into carbon dioxide, instead forming a char that serves as a pigment. And to achieve substantial carbon cuts, large-scale production and utilisation of the pigment are vital.

While traditional production methods emit about 4kg of CO2 per kg of carbon black. Algae Black, however, has the opposite effect, decreasing carbon emissions by 200%. “For every litre of Algae Black, we remove four litres of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” Bowker explained. “It’s bonkers.”

That means using 45 lbs of algae ink can save 22.5 lbs of petroleum. But that’s not all – Algae Black also removes 59kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of planting four trees, given the seaweed absorbs and stores CO2 over a century. Additionally, the manufacturing process saves 98% of water and 400 tonnes of algae waste every year.

The Unseen Beauty advances its eco credentials

the unseen beauty black
Courtesy: The Unseen Beauty

The Unseen has an unparalleled pedigree in colour sustainability and innovation. It has worked with the likes of the UK’s National Health Service to make smart bandages that change colour when they need to be replaced, the UN on a T-shirt that changes colour based on the pH of the water it’s washed in, Virgin Galactic on thermal-tracking patches for spacesuits, and even Puma on speed-reactive sportswear.

So far, it has released Colour Alchemy Hair, a hyper-coloured hair dye that needs no bleaching, and Spectra, an eye colour that transforms into bright silver under a camera flash. Its collaboration with Living Ink – whose colourant has already won the IFSCC Sustainability Challenge award – marks The Unseen Beauty’s third product launch.

The Absorption collection comprises ophthalmologically and dermatologically approved, non-toxic colour cosmetics. Extending the sustainability credentials, the smudge-proof mascara and pencil liner also come in plastic-free packaging, instead housed in a cellulose barrel made from the carbon-negative algae pigment.

“Absorption Algae Black not only offers a climate-positive alternative to polluting carbon black, but also signifies a crucial step in reducing environmental impact and meeting the demand for sustainable options in the beauty sector,” the company states on its website. “The Absorption collection marks a significant shift in cosmetic colour production, aligning with The Unseen Beauty’s mission to pioneer innovative and conscious choices in colour cosmetics.”

Other brands making sustainable pigments include Graviky Labs (whose water-based black Air-Ink is made from air pollution), Octarine Bio (which makes microbially fermented colourants), Huee (which is producing microbial indigo), and Nature Coatings (whose BioBlack TX is a carbon-negative black pigment).


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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