The cocosilk road to beauty

| Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

Who doesn’t dream of having clear, beautiful, young-looking skin? And who better to crack the beauty code than the country’s premier national research and development institution?

At the UP Los Baños National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (UPLB-BIOTECH), where traditional and modern biotechnologies combine to make innovative products and processes, the secret to beauty comes down to three letters: VCO or 100% pure virgin coconut oil.

Beauty in oil

Virgin coconut oil, which is one of UPLB-BIOTECH’s top products, is the key ingredient in Cocosilk, a line of handmade, specialty herbal soaps and body scrubs developed at the UPLB-BIOTECH’s Enzyme Research Laboratory by Fides Z. Tambalo, a University researcher and project leader. In an article for the Philippine Star, Tambalo described the Cocosilk line as “made from 100% premium virgin coconut oil certified free from heat and chemical treatments.”

We were doing the extraction of virgin coconut oil, and we were thinking of what other high value product we could make from the VCO that we made,” Tambalo said in an interview. “Through our studies, we got an idea—why don’t we do a 100% VCO soap?”

Many VCO-based beauty soaps and scrubs are currently hot on the market because of virgin coconut oil’s properties. According to the website Organic Facts, coconut oil is predominantly composed of saturated fatty acids. Among its chief chemical constituents are vitamin E, an anti-oxidant that promotes silky-soft hair and healthy, glowing, younger looking skin. It is well known to have medicinal properties and antimicrobial and antifungal agents, as well as antioxidant and anti-aging properties. It also has moisture-retaining capacity, which makes it ideal to use for dry, cracking skin.

The problem however with some of these commercial soaps is that they may not contain as much pure virgin coconut oil as they claim on their labels. Moreover, the extraction and processing methods used may reduce the moisturizing ability of those soaps. “If you use some of these commercial soaps, you’ll notice that they leave your skin dry, because sometimes the glycerin is taken out, which is then converted into moisturizer or shampoo or conditioner,” said Fides.

The UPLB-BIOTECH, however, uses traditional methods of extraction and processing. This leaves the beauty-enhancing qualities of their VCO completely intact, and are even further enriched with vitamins A, C and E and additives. But the superior quality of the VCO used in the Cocosilk soaps and scrubs is not their only draw.

Heavens salad bar

There are at present 20 Cocosilk soap variants, each one containing a unique herb or ingredient—acapulco, carrot, guava, tomato, malunggay, citrus, tamarind, gotu-kola, oatmeal, coffee, chocolate, albumin, fresh milk, jasmine, lavender, malic, rose, mango and citronella. There are also variants of body scrubs designed to exfoliate, whiten and nourish the skin, including cinnamon, lemon, sunflower, strawberry, and cucumber-melon.

Photos from UPLB National Institute of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology (BIOTECH) website,
https://biotech.uplb.edu.ph/en/products/specialty-soaps-body-scrubs-aromatherapy-oils-and-malunggay-tea-leaves

It is no accident that the variants sound like heaven’s salad bar. “We looked at what’s trending now all over the world, and it’s bringing your food into your personal care,” said Tambalo. “Whatever it is we eat, for instance tomatoes—that will be the active ingredient in our personal care.”

Aside from the properties of VCO, each herb or ingredient adds special properties to the soaps and scrubs. Acapulco leaves, for instance, contain the antifungal chrysophanic acid, and so the Cocosilk soap variant with acapulco is excellent for fungal skin infections and insect bites. The Cocosilk guava variant contains guava leaf extract, which is known for its antiseptic and astringent properties, and is ideal as intimate wash. Aside from being a top source of vitamins A and C, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant ten times more effective than Vitamin E.

Daily use of the malunggay soap, also rich in Vitamins A and C, will promote younger, whiter skin. Soap with citrus rinds and calamansi extract is effective for bleaching freckles and for treating acne. Coffee soap, now popular among beauty lines, is an effective exfoliant and deodorizer. And albumin, or egg white, contains proteins that smoothen and tighten skin, making wrinkles and lines less visible. (More information on each variant is available on the UPLB-BIOTECH’s website, https://biotech.uplb.edu.ph/en/products/specialty-soaps-body-scrubs-aromatherapy-oils-and-malunggay-tea-leaves).

The properties of the ingredients in Cocosilk soaps have been known to us since time immemorial. Indeed, knowledge of them stems from Filipino folk wisdom. “When I was young, I was very amazed with all these things,” Fides revealed. “You know how it is with us Filipinos—our albularyos, our lolos and lolas, our mothers and fathers. They used whatever they could find in their surroundings.”

She decided to bring science into play, conducting research to test the accuracy of these folk remedies as well as the potency of these herbs and ingredients in doing what they were purported to do. She had the herbs tested by high school and elementary school students, and evaluated the efficacy of their anti-microbial or antioxidant properties. She also read up on Philippine folklore, then experimented by putting these herbs into soaps.

The conclusion? Our elders were definitely on to something. In fact, in some cases, our own indigenous products outperform the expensive concoctions from abroad. Tambalo has seen this during the testing and verification services they do at the lab. “Some companies would ask me to test the efficacy of other natural products that come from other countries, and I would see what their actual properties are versus what they claim to do.”

With that, she poses a question to Filipino formulators: “I strongly believe that our biodiversity in the Philippines is incredibly rich. Why look for ingredients outside the country when we have so much here?”

Photo from BIOTECH Enzyme Laboratory Team

Beauty in the eye of the entrepreneur

Fides Tambalo continues to experiment with nature’s bounty and formulate new soaps, scrubs, and even teas and aromatherapy oils. The result is a lineup of Cocosilk variants that can rival any other in the beauty product industry. “That’s something I’m proud of. We could find acapulco or guava soap being produced or sold in the market, but if you do some comparisons. . . . Of course, we’ve been doing this for research, so we can really tell if the soap is well made or not.”

However, she does not really wish to see the Cocosilk specialty soaps become part of a huge, established commercial line. Instead, her dream for UPLB-BIOTECH’s uniquely processed beauty soaps is, in a way, even bigger than that.

“I would like the University to explore the commercial value of these soaps,” she said. “So it would be very interesting to have somebody take a serious look at this and make a go of it, to convert this into a business.”

So far, the Cocosilk specialty soaps can only be ordered online from the UPLB-BIOTECH. But the Institute welcomes any potential entrepreneurs wishing to go into business with a line of products that are scientifically proven, completely natural, and uniquely Filipino. “There are so many young entrepreneurs I wish would look into things like this, because I think this is one of the easiest things to sell, and you don’t need to invest a large amount of money.”

In fact, UP student-entrepreneurs would make the ideal partner for Fides. “It’s something I have been wishing for, and it’s something that’s stopping me from engaging big companies, because I can see that this is something affordable that can be adopted by a very simple startup. Or it could even be run by two or three serious students who want to be entrepreneurs, especially since young people now are very good at selling online. I’ll be happy if I can just see some UP students succeed with this as a business.”

As Tambalo and UPLB-BIOTECH have proven, science plus tradition equals beauty. But science plus tradition plus a committed entrepreneurial spirit makes beautiful dreams come true.