Although still an unfortunate necessity for the development of pharmaceuticals, animal testing within the cosmetics industry has thankfully witnessed a decline over the years. Following pressure from the public and animal rights groups, as well as an outright ban in the European Union and several other countries, various beauty product giants have announced they’ve stamped out the practice.
While these moves were certainly welcomed, safety assessments on products and their ingredients still need to be carried out, so how are they doing it? French company L’Oreal actually started a human skin factory back in the ‘80s where they would grow and analyze hundreds of thousands of samples each year from plastic surgery leftovers, including different ages and ethnicities, which they would also sell on to competitors. But it seems they want to up their game and hasten the process, so they’ve now teamed up with a bioengineering company, Organovo, so they can start 3D printing skin samples en masse and use these instead.
“Some of the biggest potential advantages are the speed of production as well as the level of precision that 3D printing can achieve,” Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oreal’s technology incubator told The Washington Post. “L’Oreal’s focus right now is not to increase the quantity of skin we produce but instead to continue to build on the accuracy and consistent replication of the skin engineering process.”
3D printed skin isn't actually the brainchild of L’Oreal, or Organovo; it was already being investigated as a possible treatment avenue for those with serious injuries or burns who need grafts. An abundance of other organs and tissues can be created using this technique, such as bladders, muscles and blood vessels, although solid organs like the heart are much more challenging due to its complex architecture. The process involves adding layers of human cells to molds made out of a substance called hydrogel, which allows them to be seeded and grown in a precise manner. But Organovo has opted for a slightly different method and assembles the tissues directly, without using scaffolds, according to BBC News.
Although a joint statement from the companies didn’t give an indication as to when we can expect these skin samples to be rolled out and put to use in cosmetic safety tests, Bloomberg reports that L’Oreal aims to automate 3D printed skin production by 2020. L’Oreal will cough up for the initial phase and donate their scientists’ knowledge and expertise on dermatology, whereas Organovo will offer use of their technology.