L’Oréal USA has formed a new partnership that could change how the cosmetics giant tests products.
Early in May, L’Oréal USA announced it would partner with 3-D bioprinting company Organovo Holdings, Inc. to develop 3-D printed skin tissue. This technology presents L’Oréal, which was already working with reconstructed skin models, a new way to test products for safety.
Ensuring product safety has always been a challenge for the cosmetic industry. The last thing manufacturers want is for any ingredient or formula to trigger an adverse reaction. But determining what is safe hasn’t always been pretty. For decades after the passage of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, companies used animals to test its products. The efforts of such animal rights organizations as PETA and the ASPCA have helped draw attention to the issue, but results are scattered. Britain outlawed all cosmetic animal testing in 1998. It took until 2013 for the European Union to adopt a ban. Until last year, China made it mandatory to test its cosmetics on animals. Animal testing is not against the law in the United States.
L’Oréal states on its website that it ended most animal testing in 1989, unless testing is required by regulatory authorities. Instead, most of its testing is done on skin samples grown from tissue donated from plastic surgery patients. These are cut into thin slices and broken down into cells. The cells are placed in trays, fed a proprietary diet and exposed to biological signals that mimic those of actual skin. In about a week, the samples begin to form.
In L’Oréal’s lab facility in Lyon, France, approximately 60 scientists grow and nurture about 100,000 skin samples annually. L’Oréal uses roughly half of that, selling the remainder to pharmaceutical companies and cosmetic rivals. Considered an industry leader in technology, L’Oréal spends an estimated $1 billion a year on research and development, according to Bloomberg News. The partnership with Organovo marks a leap forward in that research.
“Organovo has broken new ground with 3-D bioprinting, an area that complements L’Oréal’s work in the research and application of reconstructed skin,” explained Guive Balooch, Global Vice President of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, via email. “Our partnership will not only bring about new advances with in vitro methods for evaluating product safety and performance, but the potential for where this new field of technology and research can take us is boundless.”
The deal calls for L’Oréal to provide initial funding and its extensive database of skin research. Organovo’s key contribution will be its revolutionary NovoGen Bioprinter.
The bioprinting process works by identifying key genetic components of a targeted tissue which are then used to generate a design. Following the design, the Bioprinter dispenses Bio-ink building blocks that form 3-D layered samples of that tissue in a lab.
The two companies will split rights to the 3-D printed skin; L’Oreal will use it to test skincare products, while Organovo will use it for various tests, including the efficiency and toxicity of prescription drugs.
Still in the preliminary research stages, Balooch isn’t sure when this new technology may be put into use. But he’s convinced it will be a game changer. “Some of the biggest potential advantages of 3-D bioprinting include the speed of production as well as the level of precision that 3-D printing can achieve,” he says.