I know you've seen the ads for French cosmetics firm L'Oreal ("Because I'm worth it!"), or you might even use its products. While some of you might be tempted to think, "It's just a cosmetics company, so what?" there's actually a lot of science that goes into each product.
As part of all that science comes a lot of testing. After all, before you apply cosmetics to your skin or around your eyes, you probably want some assurance that it isn't going to hurt you. By testing a product before it goes to market, safety hazards can be identified and fixed before anyone gets hurt. But testing isn't just for safety.
Cosmetics is a huge business! L'Oreal earned over $30 billion in 2013. With that much money up for grabs, competition is fierce to find the next wrinkle-smoothing, spot-covering, skin-tightening breakthrough. That's why L'Oreal is constantly testing new products.
Now here's a big surprise. The company doesn't just recruit volunteers to try out proposed products. L'Oreal actually grows human skin samples to use in testing. Using skin donated by plastic surgery patients, the company says it grows 100,000 samples per year covering nine ages and ethnicities.
As if growing human skin in a lab isn't creepy enough, now L'Oreal is trying something that seems right out of a Frankenstein movie.
Now L'Oreal is taking its science to the next level with something truly wild. It's getting into 3-D printing, but probably not what you'd expect. L'Oreal is working with a company called Organovo to 3-D print actual human skin. Organovo on its own is already working on printed human livers.
British bioengineering research scientist, Alan Faulkner-Jones, told the BBC, "Skin is quite easy to print because it is a layered structure. The advantages for the cosmetics industry would be that it doesn't have to test products on animals and will get a better response from human skin."
In a statement the company gave us a little insight into its intentions with 3-D printed human skin.
Our partnership [with Organovo] will not only bring about new advanced 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.
So, testing new product safety on human skin instead of animals would be a nice step up. Also, if you want to see how a new cosmetic looks on a variety of skin types or under various lighting conditions, you can test it out in the lab instead of bringing in test subjects.
Moving forward, L'Oreal could be working on at-home skin grafts that let you apply new skin to cover up aging skin (as creepy as that sounds). Or it might even come up with replacement skin for people with burns or scars. Who knows what it might come up with?