The L’Oréal Group’s plight to embed science with beauty as SA chosen as springboard for Africa

Beauty brand, LÓreal said it believes it’s entirely possible to help solve the challenges of the world when it comes to sustainability while continuing to provide women with the best performing actives, technologies and services, with a view to meeting the needs of the 360° beauty of the future. Supplied image.

Beauty brand, LÓreal said it believes it’s entirely possible to help solve the challenges of the world when it comes to sustainability while continuing to provide women with the best performing actives, technologies and services, with a view to meeting the needs of the 360° beauty of the future. Supplied image.

Published Sep 23, 2023


Johannesburg - Beauty is a scientific adventure and more and more brands are linked to a massive investment in science to develop strategic innovations.

From constructing something that mimics human skin to creating a cornea, to gauge skin and eye interaction with products, is how the L’Oréal Group has been able to support and anticipate new lifestyles related to beauty all around the world.

Science is an integral part of the company’s DNA and today, L’Oréal invests more than a billion euros each year in research by combining science and creativity to invent beauty that is increasingly effective, inclusive and sustainable.

To do so, it relies on about 4 000 researchers and 21 scientific research centres around the world, all intent on delivering products that are proven performers in their respective markets.

LOréal Sub Saharan Africa’s head of Research and Innovation, Philippe Rapold said the company is committed to ensuring that by 2030, 95% of their formula ingredients will be bio-based, derived from abundant minerals or from circular processes. Pictures: Supplied.

LOréal Sub Saharan Africa’s head of research and innovation, Philippe Rapold, said the company’s history was embedded in science.

“Not everyone knows that L’Oréal was created by a young chemist, Eugène Schueller, more than 100 years ago. He transformed the lives of women, who wanted to change their hair colour, by crafting a safer and innovative hair colour product,” he said.

With its Research and Innovation (RI) centre in sub-saharan Africa (SSA), it is the only multinational beauty company to establish an RI laboratory in South Africa with the focus on developing products for its diverse consumer base within the SSA market.

“South Africa was chosen for its strategic location as a springboard to the rest of Africa. From Johannesburg, brick by brick, over the past 10 years, we have built our expertise on the continent, with additional specialists located in Nairobi, Kenya,” Rapold said.

He added that when L’Oreal opened up in a new country, it didn’t just copy-paste technologies from other markets.

“Our commitment to always deliver consumer-centric, performing and high quality products goes way beyond that. We start by making sure we know exactly who our consumers are, what their needs and aspirations are, and what the exact characteristics of their hair, scalp and skin are. Only then we can find out if we have the right formulas, the right products and the right services for them,” he said.

Rapold said the research centre in SA was tasked with addressing the particularly diverse and complex market in the SSA.

“The SSA region presents a particularly diverse landscape of consumer profiles. There is a significant difference between the beauty routines of Kenyan, South African and Nigerian women, to mention just a few of the countries. Using hair as an example, we have noted that Kenyan women tend to embrace their naturally curly hair more, while in South Africa and Nigeria, there is a higher penetration of relaxer for a straighter hair look,” he said.

The research unit works with what it calls “champion consumers”, consumers who present particular challenges, to solve the needs of SSA women.

“If we can come up with innovations that address the ‘look and manageability’, hair needs of people with super curly hair here in SSA, it is likely that those innovations could also help people with curly hair elsewhere in the world, like women in Brazil or in the United States,” explained Rapold.

L’Oréal’s RI team in SSA comprises about 30 people with expertise in consumer science, advanced research, open innovation, and formulation on everything relating to the skin, hair and scalp. Rapold said about 95% of the team members were locally recruited from within the region and being closer to the consumer gave L’Oréal a competitive advantage.

“Our local RI capability means we are able to select the best formulas for our SSA-based consumers. In this way, we don’t make the mistake of assuming that something that works well elsewhere will work in a new market, an assumption that could have dire consequences for the business,” he said.

Rapold said the SSA region had a strong and competent talent pool.

“We did not need to look for talent from anywhere else. In fact, I have been fighting the preconception that some people might have that there is a dearth of science-based talent in this part of the world. The scientific ecosystem, including female students and scientists, is actually very strong and growing.”

Interestingly, Rapold said local scientific ecosystems were always a mirror of the reality of a given region.

“If you look at Brazil, the scientific ecosystem is highly focused on innovative materials that harness the rich local biodiversity. It is the same in SSA. Here, the scientific ecosystem is focused on the incredibly rich biodiversity, but also tackles issues such as access to electricity and water, to mention a few.

“The innovators in this part of the world are strong on that, which is something to be incredibly proud of,” he said.

A major trend that Rapold and his team had noticed in SSA was the connectedness of hair care and hair manageability.

“In SSA, these two categories of products cannot be split as they can be in other parts of the world. Our consumers here in SSA are teaching us that the two are intertwined, compelling us to blur the lines, innovate and come up with creative hybrid products that could change their lives,” he said.

On the skin front, Rapold says the melanin-rich skin of consumers in SSA has highly specific needs when it comes to signs of ageing such as dark marks.

“In this respect, ageing science becomes paramount and we’ve had to adapt and develop new technologies to address this.”

Rapold concluded that the quest for responsible innovation is also embedded in L’Oréal’s approach to product formulation.

“All of our new developments are aimed at complying with the company’s ambitious L’oreal For The Future programme. In addition, we constantly look at how to help people save water when they use our products, especially in parts of the world where access to water is a challenge,” he said.

The Saturday Star