Bring on the bugs: Kemptville couple start insect-based skincare line

black soldier fly
Black soldier flies upcycle nutrients to create fats and proteins. That's why this Kemptville engineer wanted to start a black soldier fly farm to make unique skincare.

Some might suggest that, as our population increases, we’ll have to turn to insects for sustainable products and sustenance. However, for most of us in the Western world, there’s a huge ‘ick’ factor to overcome.  

Thomas Clark, a mechanical engineer living in Kemptville, believes he can change that with a line of skincare products made from insect fats and oils.

“Honestly, I was intrigued and kind of grossed out, because putting insects on your face doesn’t sound great,” says Jackie Passarelli, one of the first testers of the products.

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Insect fat, it turns out, has all the ingredients that make mainstream skincare products effective. It is rich in lauric acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, myristic acid, stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid and capric acid. All of these ingredients have proven to be anti-bacterial, skin-strengthening, moisture-locking and therefore ideal for softening and cleansing human skin.

“I was intrigued as to how it would compare to other products I use and, honestly, it’s fantastic. It’s super-light on your face, not greasy at all, and it sinks right into your skin. After I tried it, I thought, they’re really onto something here,” says Passarelli.

She’s not alone. A cosmetics manufacturer outside Toronto has agreed to produce the new Insekt line of skincare for a November launch.

“What intrigued us about the Insekt brand is its ethos, ‘Where beauty meets sustainability.’ The decision to manufacture the cleanser and facial moisturizer for Insekt is because Thomas Clark truly understands his brand, has a very clear vision and is taking a stand on the issue of sustainability,” says the cosmetics manufacturer that declined to be named for confidentiality reasons.

For Clark, it’s been a long journey. While in high school he worked for a grocery chain and was shocked to learn how much produce ended up in a landfill. The discovery bothered him for many years and then one day he read an article about a company in British Columbia that farms black soldier flies for animal feed.

“When produce decomposes it releases carbon and a lot of methane and methane is four or five times worse than carbon as an emitter. Black soldier flies capture these emissions before they’re released and upcycle the nutrients to create fats and proteins,” explains Clark. 

Initially, Clark wanted to start a black soldier fly farm in Kemptville. In 2021, he started farming the insects, feeding them fruit and vegetable trimmings and coffee grounds he obtained from a local coffee shop.

“We were using that food waste as a feed for the black soldier fly and then we would harvest them, process them and package them up and feed them to chickens we had in our backyard, so our proof of concept was that it worked,” says Clark.

While the concept worked, scaling the farm up to make chicken feed affordable enough for the farming community proved to be a challenge. 

Insekt

“Because the insect market is so new and the whole concept of insect farming is so new in Canada, nobody was really familiar with it and they didn’t feel comfortable investing,” admits Clark.

More convinced than ever that insect farming was the answer to sustainability, he turned his attention to its by-products.

“Oil is a by-product of the processing of the black soldier fly and it’s essentially just removing all the fat and fatty oils out of the insect and that’s where we thought there is another unique opportunity,” explains Clark.

He ordered some of the fat from Enterra Feed in British Columbia and, with his wife Michelle, started experimenting with it in their kitchen. 

“We bought some other plant-based and natural ingredients and came up with a hand cream and then we kind of transitioned to doing stuff for the face,” recounts Clark.

The couple soon developed formulations for a moisturizer, a cleanser and facial oil they believed in.

“They did a great job with the development of the cleanser and facial moisturizer. The formulas that were provided were complete and detailed so the formulation doesn’t need to be altered to scale it up,” the manufacturer told EOBJ. 

Clark

That’s when the couple started their company Altrene and started marketing the Insekt skincare line of products online. The first batch of products is expected in mid-November.

Clearly invested in the concept, the manufacturer is going so far as to develop a process that stays true to Altrene’s branding.

“In keeping with zero waste and using-less concepts, it was important for us to stay true to the Insekt brand by developing manufacturing procedures that are efficient and optimal. It is important that we be responsible, meaning contribute to less material consumption, less over-production and less waste,” says the manufacturer.

The Insekt line of products uses 100 per cent recyclable glass packaging without the over-sized boxes that characterize so much of the skincare industry. The products themselves are fragrance-free and use only natural products at concentrations that ensure safe daily use.

For now, Clark says Altrene will remain an online store but he’s in talks with 25 shops in the Ottawa area that have expressed an interest in carrying the product on a trial basis.

“At its core, we believe the Insekt brand will inspire systemic change by promoting the concepts of less consumption and better consumption. We believe that the brand is positioning itself for a huge reward,” adds the manufacturer. 
 

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