Last month, I saw microfluidic encapsulation technology in action at industrial scale at the newly opened Capsum facility in Austin, Texas. What Capsum (a Marseille, France-based company) is doing in Texas—what they’re doing in beauty altogether—is truly and delightfully unique!
Capsum Artisan Scientifique manufactures cosmetics and personal care product formulations unlike anything else available in the marketplace today. As I explained in a recent item for Luxe Packaging Insight, the company’s microfluidic approach to beauty product production “suspends oil-phase droplets or bubbles within the water-phase of a formulation.” And I must tell you that the results are perfectly enchanting, both visually and sensorially.
Capsum Scientists are Having Fun with Physics
What makes the cosmetics and personal care products that Capsum manufactures so distinctive is the company’s approach to fluid dynamics. Rather than combining the oil- and water-phase ingredients with the aid of an emulsifying surfactant, the company’s scientists leverage two-phase droplet microfluidics to combine beauty ingredients in an unconventional way.
Capsum got started in contract manufacturing with just one microfluidic encapsulation technique, what they call Neoshell Technology. And it was initially a one-drop-at-a-time process; the company’s maximum output was initially just 1kg of finished product per day. In 2011, 3 years after the company was founded, Capsum engineers borrowed a little knowhow from the 3D printing sector and developed equipment that enabled the company to scale up production significantly.
Today, the Capsum encapsulation technologies are increasingly sophisticated as well, allowing for further variations of product texture, visual appearance, sensorial experience, and formulation design. Now Capsum brand partners can create bubbles, pearls, and droplets of assorted sizes and strengths using NeoShell, DuoPearl, IsoBulle, SoftDrop, and ReoBulle microfluidic encapsulation methods.
While working to develop and refine both the technology and mechanisms of manufacturing, Capsum scientists have secured numerous patents for the encapsulation tech, production equipment, packaging design, and more. And at least 2 patents have been granted just this year, including one for a “method for producing capsules comprising at least one volatile compound [eg aromatics, esters, terpenes] and resulting capsules.”
The manipulation of oil and water continues at Capsum. And so does CEO Sébastien Bardon’s pursuit of an exceptional value proposition in the cosmetics and personal care product manufacturing space.
In Austin, Texas, Capsum is working with sustainable water—more on that later. And they’ve begun developing indoor agriculture as a means of ingredient production that would not only be more sustainable than conventional cultivation methods but would also make ingredient supply chain demand planning remarkably more efficient.
The Quintessential Top-Secret Beauty Facility Tour
The cosmetics and personal care world, like many industrial sectors today, is moving ever closer to full transparency. Still, there are countless instances where proprietary procedures, exclusive equipment, and similarly valuable intellectual property limit just how much of any given beauty business gets seen by the general public (or by competing companies).
Which is why there are no photos here of the many pallets—each acting as a sort of tray for a carefully prepped batch of oil- and water-phase formulation—waiting to be turned into product. It’s why there are no photos of the ingredient weighing rooms or the separate space for pigmented product preparation or of the distinctive production lines that make raw materials into skincare (or hair care or body care or color cosmetics) with the help of microfluidic encapsulation technology. It’s why there are no photos of the filling line or the Citus-Kalix cartoning machines or of the room where each barrel and bucket is rinsed and sanitized for reuse.
Beauty facility tours in general are fairly secretive and tend to be quite tidy as well. So I, along with all the other guests in attendance at last month’s Capsum facility inauguration event (brand partners, new prospects, and industry allies), got suited up in head-to-toe PPE for small-group tours personally led by Bardon.
I’ve always enjoyed the fact that there are special outfits for special jobs. As some of you already, my first university degree is in Automotive Technology. And I sometimes think that I went into Auto Tech just for the mechanics’ uniform—a special outfit for a special job! I still have a few work shirts and jackets tucked away somewhere with my name on one chest patch and the automaker’s name on the other.
In any case, I find it particularly fun to get dressed in the lab coats, and hair covers, and booties, and such. For this tour, there were no safety glasses or hard hats, but a facial covering was required. And all the workers we saw along the way were similarly outfitted.
As a cosmetics and personal care industry thought leader, my best chance for a special outfit comes on facility tours such as this. And thankfully over the years, I’ve gotten to wear many versions of beauty industry PPE. I’ve toured ingredient production sites run by Ashland, DuPont Tate & Lyle, and Vantage; visited innovation centers at Shiseido, Clariant, and Cosmetica Laboratories; as well as the labs at Gingko Bioworks, and more.
If you’d like me to share coverage of your ingredient production, product manufacturing, or packaging facility, be in touch 🥽🥼 I’d be happy to visit! 📬email@example.com
(photo left, Deanna Utroske at the DuPont Tate & Lyle facility in Loudon, Tennessee)
Capsum’s US Facility Inauguration Event ~ April 13, 2022
Last month’s facility inauguration event was a celebration of the new US production site, operational since 2020.
And Austin, Texas, seems to be the perfect place for Capsum in the US. It’s a city known for its
“collaborative tech culture” and its “[acceptance] of people who are not from here,” according to Forbes.
However, the team at Capsum chose the property on the southeast corner of the city (at 3725 S FM973, that’s FM for Farm-to-Market-Road in the local vernacular) for its flat land, its nearly 230 sun-filled days each year, its proximity to an international airport, and most importantly for its “ready access to something called Sustainable Water or Solar Water,” as reported on Luxe Packaging Insight.
Capsum’s US manufacturing facility uses a rooftop full of solar panels to provide the sustainable energy that powers the site. That indoor farming initiative promises to deliver sustainable ingredients. And, perhaps most notably, the entire manufacturing site is run using water that is, if you will, UNcycled.
The water that goes into the skincare, body care, hair care, and color cosmetics manufactured at Capsum’s facility in Austin is drawn from a salt-water aquifer 1,200 feet underground. It’s water that isn’t readily accessible and isn’t being used for human consumption of any sort.
To invest intentionally in sustainable cosmetics and personal care manufacturing, Capsum drilled the well, draws the water, desalinates it (thanks to solar energy), and then uses it throughout the facility and in all the product formulations manufactured there.
This inauguration event was an opportunity for Capsum’s France-based team and US-based team to get better acquainted. It was also an opportunity for customers, prospects, and beauty industry allies to not only witness microfluidic manufacturing in action and learn about the sustainability initiatives in place at the new facility, but also to discover the company’s history and vision for the future.
Upon entering the building, guests were greeted with a display showcasing componentry from the various equipment used to manufacture Capsum’s distinctive formulations over the years. There was a detailed timeline on the wall, complete with products set on tiny shelfs highlighting company firsts: first encapsulated cosmetic ingredients, first use of 3D printing tech, first product launch using DuoPearl Technology, and so on.
At the start of the timeline, wall text explained the company’s origins, stating that, “In 2008, three scientists had a strong will to revolutionize the way of creating materials. David Weitz (Harvard), Jérôme Bibette (ESPCI), and Sébastien Bradon, our CEO, applied, for the first time, the science of microfluidics to cosmetics manufacturing….With pearls, bubbles, or unique emulsions, Capsum co-creates hero products while continuously intensifying its commitment towards a cleaner industry…”
The US manufacturing facility is, of course, important to Capsum’s growth in the US market, but especially so “because of C02 concerns.”, Bardon tells me that “we believe that more and more international brands are going to produce locally.”
And in fact, local or regional partners are in greater demand in manufacturing, raw materials sourcing, and packaging. And even some beauty consumers are more inclined to buy from local brands. It’s a shift that is at once linked to more environmentally sustainable business practices as well as to the reality of intermittent product availability during the pandemic.
Expert Perspectives on the Future of Beauty and the History of Microfluidics
A highlight of the recent Capsum facility inauguration day were the afternoon’s on-stage conversations. A panel discussion among Caroline Hadfield, of Amyris and Rose Inc., Iva Teixeira of The Good Face Project, Ami Rubinstein of Sulapac, and Janna Ronert of IMAGE Skincare covered the future of beauty.
The experts shared their views on a spectrum of forward-looking topics. Ronert noting, for instance, that consumer expectation for industry transparency is only increasing. Teixeira shared a similar sentiment, saying that much of the change we’re seeing in beauty is being “driven by the consumer who is in search of knowledge.”
The need for more sustainable packaging got a fair amount of attention, with Hadfield commenting that, “refills require partnership with retailers.” She explained further saying that when it comes to shelf space, retailers “don’t want to have refills out and using space.” It is however necessary to somehow get refills in front of beauty shoppers. And Hadfield believes that what’s needed is a “shift in how we sell and how we educate.”
Teixeira agreed saying that, “the retail model needs to shift to meet new consumer needs.” And she pointed to “supply chain demand planning” calling it “one of hardest challenges to solve.”
The panel discussed the growing importance of both natural bioactive ingredients and biotech ingredient production. They talked about the metaverse, beauty tech, and value of product personalization as well as the distinction between personalization and customization (with customized recommendations being drawn from among readily available products to meet the preferences and expectations of a single consumer, and in contrast, personalized products being created uniquely for an individual consumer).
All in all, the future of beauty looks bright. But it looks differently than it does today.
After the panel, Capsum’s founding team took the stage to present on the science of microfluidics. Building on questions and commentary from Founder and CEO Sébastien Bardon and Capsum’s Chief of New Technologies Mathieu Goutayer, Professor David Weitz and Proffessor Jérôme Bibette talked through the beginnings, the basics, and the best of what’s possible with microfluidic technology.
Weitz emphasized that it all began against “the backdrop of people saying that it couldn’t be done.” And Bibette crediting Bardon with the “intuition” needed to develop microfluidic encapsulation tech into a viable means of material production.
The ideas and experiments behind microfluidic science are fascinating. And this enchanting technology has progressed quite a lot and now has critical (and lucrative) applications in everything from food science to agriculture, from toxicity testing to drug discovery, from genomics to antibody detection and beyond. The company HiFiBiO Therapeutics is a good illustration of how microfluidics is being used in the medical sector.
Inspiring Beauty Product Formulators and Brand Founders with Microfluidics
The Capsum facility inauguration event was the company’s first event in two years. But the ideas and innovations never stopped. Like many ingredient suppliers and product manufacturers, Capsum opted for beauty boxes during the pandemic.
Over the past couple of years, more than 10 different direct-mail discovery kits featuring the beauty maker’s prototype capsule collections went out to brand leaders, formulators, and R&D pros. One box showcased six different skincare masks; another, a collection of hand care product prototypes; another showed hair care; some included body care products; and most contained collections of starter formulations for skincare products—skincare, serums to be precise, is where Capsum started in beauty. And skincare continues to be the bulk of the Capsum business. The company expects to see hair care and body care pick up. While color cosmetics already accounts for 15% of revenue at Capsum, as Bardon shared with me during our interview for Luxe Packaging Insight. At the inauguration event, many products from past collections were on display and available for sampling.
The newest master collection, created for the inauguration event, aligns with the current trend for skincare-inspired body care. Body Tech includes 4 prototype products: a ReoBulle cooling gel formulated with bitter orange flower extract and caffeine to “reshape the body contours” and “provide…needed hydration,” an anti-stress body balm with a “cooling texture” and a “hint” of shimmer, a neck and décolleté treatment also made with ReoBulle technology, and a SoftDrop-tech body splash “loaded with vitamin F and an anti-pollution agent.” You can discover many of Capsum’s master collections here on the company site.
My sincere thanks goes out to the whole Capsum team for welcoming me to Texas and including me in this wonderful event ~ with special thanks to Sébastien Bardon for the tour and the time for a one-on-one interview & to Laurie Dewanndel, Capsum’s Communications Manager, for always being so willing to share great information, photos, and answer all my questions (scientific, sophisticated, silly, and otherwise). THANK YOU
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