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No, it’s not science fiction, for over 30 years now, L’Oréal researchers have been studying dermal health by literally growing synthetic skin in their research labs. Today, it’s precisely this experience that is giving the company a massive lead in the field of skin health. We discuss the skin treatments of the future with Véronique Delvigne, Director of Science at Lancôme.
Why did the L’Oréal group start growing skin?
From the beginning, the idea was to better understand the skin and its physiology, along with conditions such as skin dryness, aging, acute sensitivity and over pigmentation -- all so that we could improve our product efficiency. Over time, as the skin models we have cultivated within our labs have been improved and perfected, we’ve been able to test everything from individual active ingredients to complete treatment formulas.When did labs start growing skin?It all goes back to 1975 when James Rheinwald and Howard Green, professors at the Harvard Medical School managed to create a type of skin substitute made from layers of Keratinocytes. Then, in 1979, Michel Pruniéras and Marcelle Régnier of France’s medical research institute, INSERM, managed to create a real skin prototype. Since then, skin models have been perfected so that they feature a massive array of different skin cells. That means that some of our most sophisticated skin models can mimic a whole range of skin conditions and skin functions.
How do you ‘grow’ skin?
Thanks to an extremely intricate blend of sugars, proteins and vitamins, we can create the ideal substrate for enlarging cells. From here, we grow each individual type of skin cell separately within their own very specific environment, (fibroblasts for example need to be supported in order to grow) to then be able to put them all together. Then, skin cells instinctively start to grow into a structure, joining with each other to better fulfill their individual roles and eventually become a real piece of skin.
Does that mean that we can recreate human skin, right down to the very last skin cell?
Let’s just say that the three-dimensional skin models we use today are becoming more and more sophisticated and are able to mimic real biological dynamics. From keratinocytes, (the main cells of the epidermis), to melanocytes, (the cells responsible for skin pigmentation) and fibroblast cells, the grown skin we use entirely synthesizes the extracellular matrix. As a result, we are able to create older skin or younger skin, highly pigmented skin and even skin that reflects a variety of different ethnic characteristics. In all, that means we can study a huge array of factors that determine the look and growth of natural skin.
Which Lancôme products are benefiting from these advances in skin growth?
Advanced Génifique, which is rich in probiotics and Absolue L’Extrait, which features rose cells. Both of these products have benefitted from a range of extremely sophisticated research models. Today, we are even able to create skin from stem cells, which is something that is constantly informing our understanding of skin regeneration.
And how is this affecting the cosmetics industry as a whole?
Aside from the fact that we can test hundreds of cosmetics ingredients and thousands of different formulas each year, it has resulted in L’Oréal’s EPISkin SNC, a standardized public interest skin cell bank which distributes skin to companies and medical facilities across the European Union.
What about the medical impacts?
Lab-grown skin has become crucial in three areas 1) Product safety. 2) Genetics and the study of genes and 3)Skin tissue therapy, specifically for burn victims where grown skin can act as a natural bandage.
What type of improvements are we going to see with grown-skin of the future?
We still have work to do in the way we integrate nerve endings, how we form blood vessels and how we mimic immune systems in their full complexity. Progress in these areas would get us even closer to creating skin in its full physical form.