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AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal

L’Oreal is partnering with a biotech company to 3D-print skin

By Zach Wener-Fligner

Cosmetics companies like L’Oreal worry a lot about skin. Products need to be tested to make sure they work safely, and ensuring that a new chemical blend won’t be irritating or harmful is a tough challenge.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that L’Oreal USA, the largest subsidiary of the French cosmetics company, has announced a new partnership with Organovo, a company that specializes in 3D-printing human organs and tissue. A May 5 press release said that “the collaboration will leverage Organovo’s proprietary NovoGen Bioprinting Platform and L’Oreal’s expertise in skin engineering to develop 3-D printed skin tissue for product evaluation and other areas of advanced research.”

Organovo is a leader in the relatively nascent field of 3D bio-printing, which essentially involves using 3D printing techniques to build a “scaffold” of cells which can then grow organically into working tissue. The company made headlines last year when it began selling its 3D-printed livers to pharmaceutical companies as a cheap way to test new drugs (3D bio-printing technology can’t yet print organs that work well enough to actually be implanted into the human body, though that is an eventual goal).

Similarly, L’Oreal has an obvious need for cheap, fast, and harmless ways to test its products. In fact, the corporation has a subsidiary called Episkin which sells human skin tissue and has acquired skin engineering companies in the past. BBC reported that L’Oreal currently produces about 100,000 small skin samples per year, grown from tissues donated by plastic surgery patients.

As skin-printing technology progresses, it could be used for more impactful purposes than testing anti-wrinkle cream. Wake Forest Medical School, for example, is researching printing skin onto burn wounds to speed up the healing process.