The new frontiers of eco-design

The Saint-Ouen Research Centre near Paris, which opened in March 2012 and is dedicated to hair research, is the new spearhead for sustainable innovation at L’Oréal. Thanks to a 100 million euro investment and nearly 500 researchers, the centre is dedicated to designing the hair products of the future. Here is a guided tour.

Centre de l'innovation capillaire

Saint-Ouen has become the nerve centre of hair innovation where the products of the future are prepared

Centre de l'innovation capillaire

Saint-Ouen has become the nerve centre of hair innovation where the products of the future are prepared

With its green architecture, eco-design and sustainable innovation processes, the new Hair Research Centre is proof of an overall strategy that associates performance and responsibility. Architects, managers and researchers have made eco-design the foundation of their approach.

Green architecture serving research

The construction and running of the building were designed at every stage in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. Firstly, the location was carefully chosen, because the proximity of public transport and accessibility for employees were determining criteria. An action plan was drawn up to encourage staff and visitors to use alternative means of transport to their individual cars. Then every attempt was made in the design to ensure that the offices and laboratories benefit from as much natural light as possible. Frédéric Tomat, who was the architect of the centre, summarises the project as follows: ‘The twofold objective was to create a light, airy building and to minimise the impact of greenhouse gases’.

The use of solar panels to heat water, the rainwater collection to water the green areas and the choice of a service provider for the restaurant with a commitment to a number of criteria, such as the use of sustainable, local or organic farming products: those are a few examples of good practice that illustrate the overall commitment of all the managers involved in the project.

All these environmental performance results qualified the building for HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale – High Environmental Quality) and “Bâtiment durable exceptionnel – Outstanding Sustainable Building” certifications, which is a first for a Research Centre. L’Oréal is also currently working towards HQE Exploitation certification (see box).

  • The construction and operation of the new global research center fully dedicated to capillary search have been designed thinking each step according to the principles of sustainable development

    At Saint-Ouen, green architecture and sustainable exploitation have found their place in a comfortable, environment-friendly building. After being awarded HQE Construction certification in March 2012 the Research Centre began a similar approach to obtain HQE Exploitation certification. The certificate is awarded to buildings whose construction quality, follow-up, maintenance and use guarantee good environmental performance in the exploitation phase.

  • presence detectors and light sensors

    Frontage designed to maximise natural lighting while ensuring heat insulation, passageways to facilitate maintenance and to provide protection from the sun, presence detectors and light sensors to maximise lighting.


    Green roofs

    Green roofs (aesthetics and heat insulation), energy recuperated from the air extraction installations, district heating, ecological interior coverings, safe and high quality management of air in the laboratories, honeycomb ceiling to absorb noise in the open-space offices.


    Rainwater collection

    Rainwater collection


    Public transport and carpooling

    Set up to encourage the use of public transport and carpooling


    Solar energy

    Use of solar energy


    Sustainable building

    • Separation between the entrances and the laboratory, office and public zones (approximately 200 people come each day to test products)
    • Services : caretaking, gym, restaurant overlooking two gardens
    • Disabled access
    • Waste sorting

Eco-design ingredients and finished products

Saint-Ouen in France is at the head of six Research Centres in the United States, China, Japan, India and Brazil and has become the nerve centre of hair innovation where the products of the future are prepared.
Innovation in dyeing, hair care and shaping is facing the major challenges of sustainable development, namely the protection of water and biodiversity. These are the challenges which the teams are striving to meet. ‘Eco-design of cosmetics, both for skin and hair, consists in considering the entire lifecycle of a product by applying criteria of environmental excellence to each stage of creation,’ explains Michel Philippe, in charge of the development of Green Chemistry.
‘In other words, the choice of the ingredients; tests on tiny quantities in order to reduce waste; manufacturing processes using limited energy and toxic solvents, or even recyclable packaging. The strength of L’Oréal is the ability to pursue all these strategies in parallel, whereas many companies focus only on the processes’.

On the lab benches in Saint-Ouen the focus is on surfactants, which act as detergents and foaming agents in shampoo. ‘Some of our products already include surfactants that are of 100% plant origin’, says Claude Dubief, a Green Chemistry expert at the Hair Centre. Polymers, which are used as thickeners or untangling agents, ceramides, which are intended to protect hair, are selected with increasing care for their low or zero environmental impact. The laboratories also developed the major dye innovation ODS (Oil Delivery System), ammonia-free and with a high-concentration oil base. It used to be available exclusively to hair salons but can now be used at home with OLIA by Garnier. ‘It is not easy to continue with this approach, to create original products with visibly improved performance. Progress is slow’, explains Claude Dubief, ‘but we continue to work on new raw materials of plant origin while attempting to optimise existing raw materials by trying out new combinations that the formula offers’. The use of sugar derivatives and new amino acids are possible avenues worth exploring, bricks on which to build the products of the future.

Reduced models for sustainable processes

‘If a laboratory develops a product with every conceivable quality but finds that industrial manufacture takes too many hours’ heating, it will be set aside to be redesigned’, explains Sylvain Kravtchenko, Innovation through Processes Manager. Once again, the demands of sustainable development and reducing costs go together. By using miniature industrial equipment researchers are attempting to reduce manufacturing time, particularly heating and cooling times, lower consumption and optimise the use of ingredients. ‘Any innovation that saves natural resources or energy during the production phase becomes an integral part of the eco-design process,’ emphasises Sylvain Kravtchenko. Similarly, to increase output the intermediate production phases are limited.

The final aspect of eco-design during which the end-of-life of products is analysed includes research into biodegradability.
While the biodegradability of shampoo is a technology that is now better controlled - some shampoos today may exceed 95% biodegradability – the challenge is now to extend this performance to other product ranges.

The Saint-Ouen Research Centre for hair

  • 500 researchers work at the Saint-Ouen centre
  • 10,000 formulae are prepared each year by the dye robot
  • 100 000 000 euros have been invested in the Saint-Ouen centre

Working towards virtual formulae

‘Researchers are aware that they must not only innovate better and quicker, but also more sustainably’, says Jean-Christophe Bichon, Automatic Formulae Manager. The techniques and resources available to them have changed. ‘Today solutions for formulae are proposed that are not created physically but virtually’, explains Johan Aubert, Director of Innovation Methods and Techniques. A mathematical model based on data obtained from a few dozen formulae may be used to test tens of thousands of formulae. The advantages are that this extends the bounds of possibility, increases the relevance of results, accelerates the process, reduces the quantities of raw materials used and waste. Digital formulae have already been used to develop shades of dye.

Production is also becoming increasingly automated. The Centre in Saint-Ouen is home to the first dye robot designed for L’Oréal and which weighs dyes to within a tenth of a milligram and prepares up to 10,000 formulae each year. The arrival of new automatic formulae tools will soon enable the quantities of products used to be reduced to one tenth as well as to increase accuracy. The new generation of robots will then focus on formulae for beauty and hair products.

Researchers are aware that they must not only innovate better and quicker, but also more sustainably.
Jean-Christophe Bichon, Manager Formulation Automatique

Robotisation and miniaturisation

  • Common belief : In order for a test to be effective it must be conducted on a considerable quantity of hair.

    Wrong: researchers have changed from wigs weighing a hundred or so grammes to locks weighing about ten grammes and now perform certain tests on only a few milligrammes of hair, with greater accuracy and far less material and waste.

The same approach to robotisation and miniaturisation applies to product evaluation tools. In Saint-Ouen, a shampooing robot tests the resistance of a lock of hair to repeated shampooing; a xenon lamp assesses the resistance of dye to light while a blow-dry machine tests hair strength. The quantity of hair used for these tests – and therefore products and waste – is constantly being reduced, sometimes to as little as a few grammes of hair.

Today, the experts still have the final say in judging the success of a dye or hold of a hairstyle. The hair salons on the ground floor of the Research Centre, which are equipped with observation tools and systems for gathering data, constitute the final battery of innovation tests. The ultimate test of truth takes place in the adjacent bathrooms where consumers test the products. ‘Because even though we may have created a shampoo that is virtually perfect in terms of effectiveness and carbon footprint, if it doesn’t lather up consumers will not buy it’, says Claude Dubief.

  • Palm oil is an important raw material for cosmetics and holds a leading position in L’Oréal’s approach to responsible sourcing. By late 2012 all L’Oréal’s palm oil was purchased in accordance with sustainable procedures, the aim of which is to ensure the preservation of biodiversity. Since 2010, direct purchases of palm oil, amounting to approximately 850 tonnes in 2012, are based on RSPO SG (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Segregated Model) certified total traceability. Since 2012 another category of ingredients, palm oil derivatives the sourcing chains of which are very complex, have also been certified as sustainable by the RSPO. They are, for example, certain surfactants that perform the detergent and lathering functions of shampoos. They are offset by GreenPalm certificates, the purchase of which makes it possible to market an equivalent volume of palm oil that is certified as sustainable. The objective in the long term is that all palm raw materials should come directly from plantations that the RSPO certifies as sustainable.