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3-D Printed Skin Tissue Comes Closer to Reality for L’Oréal

L’Oréal Technology Incubator's Guive Balooch discussed advances in in vitro product testing, augmented reality, customized makeup and skin sensors during a press tour that brought 30 European journalists to L'Oréal's California operations last week.

L’Oréal USA and Organovo Holdings Inc. are a year to 18 months away from commercializing the practice of creating skin tissue with a 3-D bioprinter.

The two companies struck a deal last year to be the first to bring 3-D bioprinting to the beauty industry. The technology would advance L’Oréal’s in vitro product testing capabilities, an area its subsidiary Episkin, which uses cells from mammary and abdominal samples to reconstruct the human epidermis, has been a leader in for more than a quarter century with cell culture processes developed in the Nineties for mass production.

“A long time ago we made this decision to not work on animal models and to work on more predictive models and tissue engineered skin,” said Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, an arm of L’Oréal that’s been working with Organovo. “This kind of innovation allows us to do that, allows us to test a lot of different molecules and to see the effect in terms of toxicity, safety and even efficacy of the molecules. So, it’s really an important adventure. Episkin has made a huge effort over the past 25 years and, now, as you’re able to do new things with printing technology, this will bring us I believe to the next level.”

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Speaking to an audience of around 30 European journalists visiting the Technology Incubator’s office in San Francisco last week, Balooch elaborated that L’Oréal USA and Organovo are focusing initially on keratinocyte models for its 3-D printed skin tissues, but models incorporating melanocytes to analyze formulas on different pigments are being produced. The 3-D printed skin tissue will be sold to companies across the beauty and pharmaceutical segments.

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“Today, it’s not that personalized that we could print everybody’s skin, but the idea is, in the future, if you could modulate the amount of pigment and things like that, you could have a whole array. We’re doing a lot of research around how we can do new models and work around customizing the models,” said Balooch. “There is a lot of customization that can be done with this type of technology.”

In addition to helping companies avoid animal testing, 3-D printed skin tissue could minimize the cost and duration of product evaluations. Balooch declined to disclose the price of purchasing L’Oréal USA and Organovo’s 3-D printed skin tissue, but did suggest the pace of product testing could ultimately quicken. “It will help us to increase reliability and repeatability, although we are very good today at Episkin in doing that. When we want to create new models, this could be a faster way to do that…As of today, I’m not sure that it will improve necessarily the speed, but the goal would be that it should over time,” he said.

Outside of bioprinting, Balooch expounded that 3-D printing opens up numerous possibilities for L’Oréal. “If I told you to choose which Starbucks color you wanted your eye shadow to be and then I used a 3-D printer to print that, for example. Using 3-D printing allows us to do things like that, to be able to build 3-D structures faster and more customized,” he said, emphasizing, “When it comes to mass customization, speed, innovation and supply chain, these technologies are really the future.”

L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator is also moving forward with projects involving augmented reality apps, custom makeup from Lancôme Le Teint Particulier and My UV Patch, a stretchable and adhesive skin sensor it has released under the brand La Roche-Posay. L’Oréal’s augmented reality app portfolio is growing in two to three months with the launches of Nail Genius and Essie Dressing that facilitate virtual try-ons of nail polish colors from L’Oréal Paris and Essie, and it’s expanding customized foundation products by rolling out Lancôme Le Teint Particulier to 50 doors globally next year. Currently, Lancôme Le Teint Particulier is only available at Nordstrom stores in Seattle and Torrance, Calif.

To date, Makeup Genius, the inaugural augmented reality app from L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, has registered 20 million-plus downloads in more than 60 countries. Balooch noted that a majority of consumers interacting with the app return to it on a regular basis and often rely on it for purchases, not simply product experimentation. “We see a lot of people who use the technology that convert to buy,” he said. Turning toward upcoming augmented reality apps, Balooch continued, “Hair color is obviously on the roadmap as well, but hair color is very complex because you have on average 100,000 fibers on your head that are all moving in different directions. So, today, that’s still not there.”