Interview with Hervé Toutain, L'Oréal Research

Animal testing, endocrine disruptors, nanotechnologies… all topics worked on as part of our Research. Hervé Toutain, Senior Director Worldwide Safety Evaluation and Regulatory Affairs, details L’Oréal’s positions and commitments.

Hervé Toutain
Hervé Toutain

Animal testing is highly controversial. Does the Group carry out any tests on animals?

Hervé Toutain : In order to ensure that consumers can use our products with total confidence, we always evaluate the safety of our ingredients and finished products. Traditionally, this safety evaluation used to involve studies conducted on small laboratory animals, but thanks to our research and the development of alternative and predictive methods, L’Oréal was able to end all testing of its products on laboratory animals as early as 1989,without compromising on consumer safety. In other words, none of the finished products which we place on the market each year have been tested on laboratory animals. However, when it comes to evaluating the safety of certain new ingredients and responding to certain specific questions from the international health authorities, these alternative and predictive approaches do not yet fully provide a satisfactory safety evaluation. This is the case, for instance, with skin allergies caused by certain ingredients. This is why L’Oréal still has to base less than 1% of its ingredient safety evaluations on a few tests conducted on laboratory rats or mice. It is L’Oréal’s aim to completely replace this small amount of animal testing with other evaluation methods and the Group has played a central role in the discovery of most of the alternative solutions currently approved within the cosmetics sector and is continuing to develop new ones.

We hear a lot of talk these days about nanotechnologies. Does L’Oréal use them and are they dangerous?

H. T. : We use materials developed on the nanometric scale only when they provide a proven benefit for the consumer, such as improved protection against or prevention of damage caused by the sun, better formula stability, or a genuine gain in performance. Titanium dioxide, for instance, which is renowned for its capacity to absorb UV rays and thus helps prevent skin cancers caused by overexposure to the sun, is used in sunscreen products. In nanometric form, titanium dioxide offers improved protection against UV rays. Currently, there is no single international definition or standardised and harmonised analytical methods for nanomaterials. We are therefore contributing to the development of these evaluation methods. While these technologies and their use in consumer products are constantly being re-examined by the global regulatory bodies, the global public health agencies recognise that their use in cosmetics products presents no risk to human health.

Another subject which is currently causing concern is that of endocrine disruptors. Do any of the Group’s products contain them and are they a risk to human health?

H. T. : Our aim is for all products which we place on the market to have been proven to be harmless. After over twenty years of research, no scientific link has been established between human exposure to natural or synthetic substances with a low level of biological activity on the hormonal receptors and harmful effects on health. We are, nonetheless, aware of society’s current concerns about certain substances with the capacity to interfere with hormonal mechanisms and we have therefore opted for the in-depth examination of our new ingredients by a battery of in vitro and in silico tests developed in advanced research. Our strategy permits the early identification of biological alerts, which are then factored into the overall safety evaluation. With regard to the ingredients already present in our products, we possess a wealth of existing information which enables them to be used in total safety, but we are still monitoring the new scientific data meticulously. Where persistent concerns exist about a specific ingredient for which the risk to human health has not yet been established, we may well decide to stop using this ingredient in our products, as has occurred in the cases of diethylphtalate and triclosan. Our research teams are actively working to enhance their understanding of the endocrine mechanisms and their potential effects on human health and the environment, and also to develop predictive evaluation methods for these biological interactions. Our safety evaluation protocols do not neglect any aspect and ensure that our consumers can use our products with total confidencee.