The Latest Cosmetic Innovation? 3-D Bioprinting Beauty

L'Oréal and other French cosmetic brands are delving into the creepy realm of printing the equivalent of human flesh.

A lab worker for French company Poietis holds an example of 3-D printed skin
A lab worker for French company Poietis holds an example of 3-D printed skin
Johanne Courbatère de Gaudric

PARIS — The days of rusty, old inkjet printers from the 1970s are long gone. At the inkjet's inception, the thought of printing "flesh and blood" would have been the stuff of science fiction. Today, however, 3-D bioprinting has become a reality, both in technological and economic terms. The proof is in the pudding: The market, which represented $1.4 billion worldwide in 2020, is expected to grow to $4.4 billion in 2028. For the cosmetics industry, which often relies on "artificial" skin to test products, this cutting-edge technology is of particular interest.

3-D printing skin has two primary objectives: the first is to gain a more precise understanding of human skin and its biological mechanisms, and the second, for the cosmetics world, is to accelerate the production of skin samples in order to test new products. Christophe Masson is the CEO of Cosmetic Valley, a high-technology cluster specializing in the production of consumer goods in the perfumes ands industry of perfumes and cosmetics.

"The rise of bioprinting is part of several phenomena," says Masson. "It may not be immediately obvious, but France is the leading exporter of cosmetics in the world. We hold this position because we continue to innovate skincare products that emphasize safety, performance and durability. On an industrial and more general level, the principle of 3-D printing is at the heart of what we call new "rapidly prototyping technology."

Because of the extensive process, some scientists even go so far as to refer to it as 4-D

In essence, 3-D printing allows brands to adapt their production processes in order to create products faster while allowing for greater flexibility and customization. Masson says, "This is great because we are entering an era where cosmetics needs to be adaptable to individual needs. 3-D printing is a remarkable technology because it allows us to keep up with this evolution."

Luckily for French cosmetology brands, the leaders in skin bioprinting are also French. Among them are two start-ups that began in 2014: Poietis, founded by Fabien Guillemot, a former researcher at Inserm, and LabSkin Creations, which is based in Lyon and was built by Amélie Thépot, a doctor in cell biology.

The way 3-D bioprinting works is similar to the way the printers we have at home or in our offices function, except that the ink used is made of bio-materials and living cells. Layer by layer, according to the principle of additive manufacturing, the printer assembles biological tissues, which can be bone, cartilage or skin.

For the latter, it takes about three weeks for the material to really take shape. Because of the extensive process, some scientists even go so far as to refer to it as 4-D. Fabien Guillemot, the founder of Poietis, says, "In 3-D printing skin, we have already introduced a fourth dimension, which is related to the time needed to create skin. After printing the successive layers, the artificial skin must to go through a stage of cell maturation, or "cell culture." During this process, the cells will interact with the bio-materials and their environment to begin multiplying."

Of the world's rising technologies and innovations, bioprinting artificial human skin holds a special place. Used for scientific research, knowledge development and testing, artificial skin is at the heart of many controversies related to ethics and product safety. In this regard, Europe has some of the strictest regulations in the world. But even before the bloc banned animal testing in March 2013, the cosmetics industry was already looking for alternative evaluation protocols for its products. By forming partnerships with the world of public research, new methods and technologies were developped, namely bioprinting.

An image of Labskin Creations' 3D bioprinted "functional human hypodermis" — Photo: Labskin Creations

The L'Oréal group is one corporation that has looked into these issues. Elisabeth Bouhadana, international scientific director of the L'Oréal Paris brand, says, "In cosmetics, there is no risk-benefit analysis like there is in the medical or pharmaceutical world. Recently, given the global situation, we have heard more about this this notion and the possibility of side effects that some drugs or vaccines can induce."

Bouhadana adds that in her industry, the products launched cannot present any risk, they must be 100% safe. To guarantee this safety, numerous tests are carried out, particularly those performed in vitro on human skin models reconstructed in the laboratory.

"You could say the media played a role, particularly during the 1970s at L'Oréal," says Bouhadana. "At that time, the entire cosmetics industry was experimenting on animals, which was problematic both for ethical and scientific reasons. Scientifically, the results lacked reliability, as human skin is very different from pig skin, for example."

In 1979, one of the group's researchers succeeded in creating the first epidermal cell culture in the laboratory. By 1989, the reconstructed skin model was used to test the effectiveness of products. Later on, the company would go on to sign a partnership with the American bioprinting start-up Organovo in 2015, sharing the same goal of continuing to advance scientific research in the field of 3-D printing human skin.

"[3-D printing technology] allows us to enter and study the infinitely small organ, skin"

Luc Aguilar, a biologist and the director of advanced research at L'Oréal, explains the many possibilities for bioprinting, such as the ability to "analyze and fight against the formation of pigmentation spots." Aguilars says the technology allows us to "enter the infinitely small organ (skin) and study its micro-anatomy."

Another possible advancement that could come about because of bioprinting is the study of atopic eczema, a condition that affects millions of people. "Thanks to bioprinting, we are able to reproduce eczematous lesions in a healthy environment, by printing healthy and damaged cells on the same epidermal area," says Aguilar, who recently published a scientific article on the subject in the journal Nature.

And finally, another advantage of bioprinting is that it allows us to obtain much more reliable predictive models for testing. Virginie Couturaud, Dior's director of scientific communications, says that previous iterations of reconstructed skins were basically made by hand.

"Now, since they are manufactured according to predefined computer parameters, we can benefit from more stable and more calibrated models," says Couturaud.

The luxury brand has been using this technology to develop its skincare products for over four years. "It allows us to better determine the way each ingredient behaves and interacts, which is an essential element in the early stages of product development," say Couturaud. "We are only at the beginning and it is clear that bioprinting offers great opportunities for cosmetics."

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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