Natural beauty from old NZ farm fence posts
17 Aug 2010
Discarded New Zealand farm fence posts are the raw material behind an international beauty industry innovation.
Totarol, an all-natural plant extract derived from a native New Zealand tree, has become a sought-after ingredient for beauty and skincare products since receiving the seal of approval from global cosmetics giant L’Oreal.
Made from recycled wood of the totara tree, totarol was added to L’Oreal’s approved ingredients list in 2007, after rigorous testing at the beauty company’s scientific institute in Paris.
Since then, New Zealand manufacturer Mende Biotech has supplied 10 - 20kg of raw totarol to L’Oreal every month - making the international beauty conglomerate its biggest customer.
The plant extract sells for NZ$2000 per kilo, and Mende Biotech currently exports totarol to 18 other countries.
Totarol is extracted from the heartwood of recycled mature totara, which is mostly sourced from discarded farm fence posts.
A unique antibacterial property found in totara timber helps preserve the raw material in perfect condition - even after years of fencing service on the farm.
The totara tree - a giant in the New Zealand forest - lives to a very great age, and was once a prolific species in the podocarp forests that covered New Zealand. It was prized by Māori and European settlers as a durable timber.
Wairarapa conservationist and Mende Biotech founder Doug Mende spent 10 years developing and selling his totarol extract, which is patented to the company.
Mende told a New Zealand newspaper that the company and its marketing arm, Essentially NZ, are well on their way towards becoming a multimillion-dollar business.
"L’Oreal gets applications from 1500 new ingredients every year. About 150 get picked to evaluate more closely but only around four or five make it into final testing and trials," said Mende.
The company waited four years for L’Oreal to make its decision.
Mende plans to release a range of treatments for pets next, including medicine for horses and wound treatments. They are also working on making natural cosmetics based around totarol.
Totarol has been hailed as a new wonder product for the beauty industry due to its unique antibacterial properties.
The totara tree produces a powerful antibacterial and antioxidant agent at about 150 to 200 years old - considered the ‘infant’ stage for this species - and it is this natural component that is used to manufacture totarol.
It is now prohibited to cut native New Zealand trees for timber or other uses, but Mende Biotech have found good supplies of recycled totara to use as a sustainable source of totarol. The company says that current supplies will last decades.
As well as antioxidant properties, totarol also works against acne, tooth decay and can even help prevent some Staphylococcal infections, making it effective for wound healing.
In its raw form, totarol looks like golden sawdust, and can be easily mixed in with other ingredients to form skin lotions, gels, toothpaste and soaps.
Background: New Zealand totara
‘Pouakani’ - the world’s biggest living totara tree - grows in Pouakani Forest Totara Reserve, in New Zealand’s central North Island. The tree is over 35m tall and 4m in diameter, and is estimated to be about 1800 years old.
Totara is one of the tallest and biggest trees in New Zealand’s native forests, and was greatly valued by Māori - who used the wood for carving and to build large war canoes. They also harvested the red fruit for food.
Māori custom dictated that when a totara tree was felled, a young seedling had to be planted in its place to appease Tane, the god of the forest.
Iconic New Zealand native flora
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