Around a month ago I got to go on a trip to fabulous Paris that had my inner geek doing cartwheels. I was invited to visit and go inside the L’Oreal Skin Labs to hear about what goes into their research, how they develop and test products and get them ready for market. It was pretty intense, and not since my A Level Chemistry have I spent that long wearing a lab coat (please don’t ever mention the word titrations to me… eugh).
The day spent at the L’Oreal Labs covered everything from using aviation technology to measure and assess how effective skincare is on anti-ageing. To using artificially grown cells to test products. Yes, the sessions even included a very frank and open conversation with some senior L’Oreal bods about the topic of animal testing – something that very understandably gets a lot of people very fired up.
On the animal testing front, the existing bottom line in Europe is that testing products and ingredients has been banned since 2013. But, with the beauty market being so global now there’s a lot of confusion over how this all works and where the line are drawn. A brand may not be able to sell animal tested products in the EU but they can test them and sell in other markets like China where they still demand products are tested on animals in order to be sold.
It was really fascinating to listen to a brand as huge as L’Oreal talk openly about these challenges. We had a small Q&A session with Patricia Pineau – Comms Director for Research & Innovation and Ivan Rodriguez – Director of International Raw Material Dept. Both heavy hitters in the L’Oreal family for how they progress the methods used by the company and how the communicate what is a complex and controversial topic.
Patricia was very firm on point that no products are tested on animals at L’Oreal. They actually as long ago as 45 years pledged to end animal testing. BUT, because of the requirements for sale in some they have to work with the markets that require this.
One of the biggest ways that L’Oreal are investing and pushing towards a total ban on animal testing is by using ‘reconstructed’ skin. This was pretty fascinating to hear about – the idea of using ‘lab grown’ skin cells sounds like something futuristic, but L’Oreal have been doing this since decades ago. Now, they are working with the Chinese market by training Chinese scientists to use the reconstructed skin as an alternative for testing in order to show it fills that need.
Of course in an ideal world L’Oreal might use their financial welly to pressure markets to move faster and enforce a worldwide ban sooner. But fact of the matter is that L’Oreal is a business and money is always going to be a big swing for them as to which markets they operate in. There is potentially an argument that goes towards the positive changes that may be slower but in the longer term they create a safe and accurate alternative by training and educating the markets towards the technology that they have developed and actively used since the late 80’s.
I know the whole topic of animal testing really will evoke emotion so would love to hear what you think and if you have any thoughts to add here.
But beyond this, one of the other interesting elements of the day. I loved seeing how they use a whole host of technology to really test how the skin care products they’re developing impact the skin. Tech that’s used to assess the wings of airplanes for any sort of flaw or irregularity is used in a similar way. By projecting stripes of light on to the skin they can look at closer sections and where the light stripes are disrupted you can see the level of which the ‘relief’ (read wrinkles) are present – then simply looking before and after and can measure how effective a product has been at reducing these.
This is just a snap shot of some of the techniques used to measure how effective the L’Oreal skincare offerings are. So those claims they show in the ads? A lot of this is undertaken in the labs. It really was a fascinating day and definitely gave me a spark of wanting to go through this testing process as a measurement to see how a product effects my skin. Maybe just having a photo studio in my office isn’t quite enough, maybe I need a skin lab too?! Going too far?! Maybe… but it really was amazing to get such access to a mega-brand like L’Oreal – especially on such an intimate level of being able to ask questions in an unfiltered environment and see first hand the level of technology that goes into these little pots of cream that promise to make your skin look amazing.
For more on the L’Oreal stance on animal testing: L’Oreal Animal Testing