For L’Oréal, the future of cosmetics is rooted in potent botanicals, renewable resources, and a whole lot of green science.
Nearly all of the ingredients in French cosmetic giant L’Oréal’s products will come from renewable resources by 2030, the company says. The L’Oréal Group, which has already invested more than €1 billion into sustainability targets, says it is prioritizing “green science” as the way forward. The L’Oréal Group encompasses 35 brands across the globe and generated more than €28 billion in sales last year.
L’Oréal says that while 80 percent of its raw materials in 2020 were biodegradable and 59 percent were renewable, less than 35 percent were natural. Only 29 percent were developed with “green chemistry” — a process created by Yale scientist Paul Anastas.
But the company says its goal moving forward emphasizes the power of plants; 95 percent of all ingredients will be plant-based by 2030.
“Sustainability is an imperative now more than ever, and it is our role to allow consumers to make educated choices,” incoming deputy CEO Nicolas Hieronimus told Vogue Business.
According to the company, some ingredients prove difficult to replace with sustainable alternatives including UV filters, hair dyes, long-wear products, and silicone-like sensorial textures. They’re predominantly byproducts of petrochemicals.
But a focus on Anastas’ “green science” approach invites innovation with biomaterials and lower-impact processes. The company, which does not test on animals, is also looking at biotechnology such as gene-editing complex ingredients. The green tech also helps to reduce waste products in the production cycle.
L’Oréal is putting the spotlight on consumer education with the website, Inside Our Products, where the brand provides information on nearly 1,000 of its products.
The company has also created a ranking system that scores the brand’s products on sustainability criteria. The ratings, which will appear on all rinse-off products beginning this year, rank from “A” to “E” grades including greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, ocean acidification, and impact on biodiversity.
Some natural ingredients are among the most potent like vitamin C extract, common in peels and serums, or coconut oil’s hair smoothing and moisture-locking benefits. Niacinamide, which is just vitamin B3, is skin-clearing and may help reduce wrinkles. All manner of fruit extracts have been used and valued for glowing skin for ages.
But natural, or sustainable, doesn’t equate to safety. Misconceptions about this are pervasive—that clean ingredients don’t come with side effects or risks. And that’s simply not the case, according to Chase Polan, the founder of sustainably-minded skincare label Kypris.
“I think that most consumers assume that because something is natural or nature-derived that means it is both safe and/or sustainable,” Polan told Byrdie in 2019.
“Both assumptions are incorrect. For example, essential oils from plants, when misused, can cause horrible burns or reactions. Another concern is that these natural ingredients can require tremendous amounts of plant material in order to create the ingredients. When something is grown, arable land, water, and a workforce must be dedicated to their care and procurement. This can have a myriad of implications for the resources, environment, and geopolitics of a region.”
L’Oréal’s sustainability initiatives also extend to its Paris-based brand Lancôme, which launched its first sustainability effort, called “Caring Together for a Happier Tomorrow,” last year.
The three-pronged initiative includes commitments to protect biodiversity, helping people make sustainable choices, and empowering women.
“Lancôme is a brand that has long had a ‘caring’ facet,” Françoise Lehmann, Lancôme global president, told WWD. “It has always been very close to women and their concerns.”
Lancôme’s “Bring the World to Bloom” is focused on protecting biodiversity, working with innovative agricultural efforts, eco-conscious formulations and packaging, as well as greener tech and biotechnology in product development. This mirrors efforts by L’Oréal to phase out petrochemical products historically difficult to replace.
“We are researching new extraction methods with green chemistry to create high-performing ingredients,” said Lehmann. “Thanks to biotechnology, we create nature-derived ingredients, which contribute to limiting the use of raw vegetal materials.”
Ninety-nine percent of the roses used in Lancôme’s makeup and skincare products are organic; the company says that number will be 100 percent by 2025. By 2030, all of its raw materials will be recycled or sustainable and at least 70 percent of ingredients will come from renewable sources by 2025. By 2030, 100 percent of major raw materials will be sourced both sustainably and socially responsibly.
“What inspired us a lot for this worldwide operation was the acquisition of the domain in Grasse,” Lehmann said. The Grasse location grows Centifolia roses and other plants in the South of France for Lancôme products. It purchased the estate last year.
“The more we dig into this domain, the more we find great things and inspiration for other initiatives,” she said. “It has all what we have in mind in terms of best practices.”
Much of Lancôme’s success, according to the brand, lies in generations of women sharing product with their children, their grandchildren, their friends.
It’s now taking that same approach in empowering its customers through the “Write Her Future” program. While it launched in 2017, it remains a core focus in its sustainability initiatives to empower women through philanthropic efforts focused on literacy, mentoring, and entrepreneurship. It expects to more than double its beneficiaries by next year to 50,000.
“It is to give women self-confidence,” Lehmann told WWD.
“There is this idea of approaching the future [with the desire] to leave something better to the next generation, which is also this idea of Happier Tomorrow and doing better with less,” said Lehmann.
Now, as L’Oréal and Lancôme are scrutinizing their products from conception to distribution, every facet of the company is changing. Lehmann makes it clear: “care and happiness are in the DNA of the brand.”