Most of us could name at least one cosmetic or personal care product that’s essential to looking and feeling our best. Whether it’s a specific kind of soap, a brand of mascara, the right shade of lipstick or the shampoo that works best for our hair, these products have become a critical part of our daily routine.
At the same time, we all want to minimize the impact of personal care products on the long-term health of our planet. More and more consumers are looking for sustainable alternatives to existing products, policymakers and regulators are taking an eye to certain ingredients, and companies are embracing sustainability as a business priority.
The growing focus on sustainability has posed unique challenges for companies that produce cosmetics and personal care products. Creating a more sustainable product and supply chain is now a societal necessity, but changing the formulation of existing and well-known products comes with its own risks. Consumers have a relationship with the products they use. If a product is reformulated in the name of sustainability, it needs to work just as well—if not better—than the petrochemical-derived version it is replacing.
One of the companies tackling this challenge is L’Oreal. As the world’s largest cosmetics company, L’Oreal produces a wide range of makeup, perfume, skin care, and hair care products. Researchers who develop these products continuously study the efficacy of their sustainable ingredients. This is why L’Oreal has partnered with Schrödinger, leveraging our digital chemistry platform to better understand the chemical structure differences and frictional effects of traditional polymers and innovative alternatives in hair shampoo.
When people use shampoo, they expect their hair to feel healthier and smoother. One of the roles that polymers have in shampoo is reducing the friction experienced when two hair follicles rub against each other. If these traditional polymers were replaced with a less effective ingredient, it could result in more damaged and less healthy-feeling hair. Using molecular simulations, L’Oreal and Schrödinger have been able to measure—in a highly detailed virtual recreation—how effective various biopolymers would be if used in place of the current petroleum-based ingredients. The simulation is able to assess factors such as shearing forces to understand what surface-to-surface interaction would look like among hairs exposed to these various polymers.
By exploring possible alternatives in a virtual environment, L’Oreal is able to evaluate a wide array of ingredients, including those that may not yet be readily available. For example, if researchers discover a new polymer that shows strong potential to replace an existing ingredient, they can conduct additional simulations to explore similar types of polymers to determine if they yield similar or better results.
Experimenting with new formulations in silico allows scientists at L’Oreal to make confident decisions far more quickly than if they were testing numerous new potential formulations in a laboratory—a process that often takes years to generate usable data.
Personal care companies can also leverage digital simulation to assess how new formulations might impact a broad range of individuals. Using Schrödinger’s molecular simulation tools, researchers can test how different ingredients would interact with hair of various types, considering a variety of textures and other characteristics.
Experimenting with new formulations in silico allows scientists at L’Oreal to make confident decisions far more quickly than if they were testing numerous new potential formulations in a laboratory—a process that often takes years to generate usable data. As a science-driven company, digital approaches are at the forefront of L’Oreal’s research activity. L’Oreal scientists have published an extensive collection of research on the experimental properties, physical and cosmetic effects of polymers at the surface of hair. This expertise helps further optimize the simulation models.
The eco-design of new polymers is a major challenge for L’Oréal. These efforts are guided by the 12 principles of green chemistry, with a particular emphasis on the search for bio-sourced ingredients, the use of green processes, and respect for humans and their environment. With these principles in mind, L’Oréal’s Research and Innovation team develops new synthesis technologies using green chemistry—combining the best of chemistry, biotechnology and physico-chemistry—in search of new polymers for cosmetic products that are environmentally sustainable, while maintaining the effectiveness and performance of the product.
The sustainability challenges facing L’Oréal are not unique to the cosmetics and personal care industry. Unsustainable ingredients can be found across a wide range of consumer goods, from cleaning products to food and beverage packaging to children’s toys. And as public advocacy, government regulations and a sense of corporate responsibility spur companies to use more sustainable ingredients, the drive to find better and more environmentally conscious alternatives will only grow. With the pressure on to make that change, leveraging digital simulation tools can offer a faster, more efficient, and more fruitful way to investigate potential alternatives for more sustainable ingredients. A company like L’Oréal can test hundreds of potential options in the digital space and narrow those options down to the most promising candidates before moving onto laboratory tests and product development. Digital chemistry can enable companies to move forward with confidence, armed with meaningful insights into how new formulations will behave when they finally make their way into the hands (and hair) of customers.