InnCoCells – Innovative cosmetic ingredients from plants and plant cells

The InnCoCells project aims to revolutionize the way cosmetic ingredients are sourced, produced and tested by developing sustainable production processes based on plant cell and tissue cultures, aeroponics, greenhouse/field-grown plants and agricultural waste streams. These will be used for the extraction of valuable cosmetic ingredients for testing in a range of cell and tissue assays. The most promising ingredients will be tested on human volunteers before commercial exploitation. The project is guided by Stakeholder Group that includes the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research.

InnCoCells is a 4-year research project that has received €7.9 million in funding under the Horizon 2020 programme to explore new sustainable pathways for the production of natural and scientifically validated cosmetic ingredients. Many of today’s cosmetic ingredients are ultimately derived from fossil resources and are associated with unverified claims of efficacy. But there is a growing base of environmentally-conscious consumers demanding high-quality cosmetic products that contain natural, sustainable ingredients with verified activity.

Plants naturally produce many specialized molecules known as secondary metabolites with useful bioactive properties. The aim of the InnCoCells project is to screen a broad panel of plants to identify cosmetic ingredients and then develop sustainable production processes to avoid the overharvesting of wild plants while carefully adhering to the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit and sharing. The project will assess multiple technological approaches for the production of cosmetic ingredients, including plant cell suspension cultures, organ cultures (hairy roots), aeroponic cultivation to milk root exudates, and the domestication of plants for cultivation in the greenhouse and field. Plants are composed of millions of cells carrying the genetic potential of the whole plant, which means that plant cells can be cultivated in bioreactors to produce extracts or pure ingredients. However, the undifferentiated plant cells in bioreactors are sometimes unable to produce the same molecules as specialized cells in the whole plant, and it may be necessary to add extra components to the medium to persuade them. The InnCoCells project will test different strategies to stimulate or even engineer plant cells to activate the target metabolic pathways. We will also test different cultivation conditons for whole plants to optimize the production of specific ingredients. The consortium is also exploring agro-industrial side streams that would normally be composted or incinerated to extract additional valuable metabolites.

While many of the project partners will focus on the production of ingredients, process development and the optimization of extraction methods, others have the important role of testing the extracted ingredients for efficacy using a panel of validated scientific tests ranging from simple chemical assays to the use of cell lines and even 3D skin models to confirm desirable activities. The most promising ingredients will be tested on human volunteers, but none will be tested on animals. Accordingly, the ingredients developed by the project will be sustainably sourced, animal component free, not tested on animals, but scientifically validated for efficacy.

The consortium will work with a broad range of stakeholders spanning the value chain, including the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research, to ensure that consumer needs are embedded in the project’s scientific strategy. This will help to move innovative production technologies and new ingredients towards commercialization at the earliest opportunity.

Further Information

For further information, visit the project website:

General Information

The InnCoCells project has received finding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no 101000373. The project was launched in May 2021 and has 17 partners from 11 European countries. The project is coordinated by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. The project partners include six research organizations/universities, eight small or medium enterprises, one large industry partner, one non-profit and one association representing the cosmetic industry.


Project coordinator:


Update (25.10.2022): First InnCoCells Stakeholder Group meeting a success .