Green Chemistry: The Future Of Beauty

Constantly advancing to better align nature and beauty is one of our objectives at L’Oréal. And it’s a quest that makes sense for you, as well. As a world leader in beauty, we are aware of our responsibility towards the planet, and towards you. We are committed, every day, to reducing our environmental footprint and offering you products that are as effective as they are safe for your health. It is with this logic in mind that we have chosen to bet on Green Chemistry for 20 years now and to invest in science to invent the cosmetics of tomorrow. We are convinced that, as a company, we must act with ethics and exemplarity.

The twelve principles of Green Chemistry

Proposed in the late 1990s by American chemists Paul Anastas and John C. Warner, and then popularized, the twelve principles of Green Chemistry, more respectful of the environment, aim to promote the use of substances obtained in a responsible way.

  • The limiting of pollution at the source so as to not have to dispose of waste later.
  • Atom efficiency in order to implement methods that incorporate all the materials involved in synthesis into the final product.
  • The design of synthesis methods that are not dangerous for humans and the planet.
  • The design of safer, effective but less toxic chemical products.
  • The abandonment of solvents and synthetic auxiliaries or the choice of harmless options when they are necessary.
  • The maximum reduction of energy expenditures.
  • The use of renewable natural resources rather than fossil fuels.
  • The reduction of the number of derivatives in order to limit the production of waste.
  • The use of catalysis (a reaction in the presence of a catalyst which saves time and energy).
  • The design of substances by integrating their final degradation mode.
  • The development of real-time analysis methods to prevent pollution.
  • The development of safe chemistry to prevent the risk of accidents.

Green Chemistry at work in cosmetics: the example of Pro-Xylane

L'Oréal researchers chose to start with a natural sugar extracted from beech wood: xylose, a renewable raw material. It was ground, dissolved in water (a particularly harmless solvent), reacted in the presence of hydrogen and, after a few hours of agitation, heated slightly with a catalyst. Pro-Xylane was thus obtained. Its synthesis is composed of only two stages and makes it a very sustainable molecule.

This synthesis was inspired by a very innovative chemical reaction published in 2000 by Prof. André Lubineau, Paris-Sud University. Indeed, it makes it possible to reduce by four the number of chemical steps necessary to obtain C-glycosides, the chemical family to which Pro-Xylane belongs. In addition, this reaction also allows for the use of water as the sole reaction solvent in place of the usual organic solvents.

The industrialization processes for the synthesis of this molecule were also optimized to further respect the environment: we were particularly interested in the amount of waste generated during large-scale synthesis. The Environmental Factor (or E factor) translates the relationship between the tonnage of waste and the tonnage of the desired molecule: the lower this ratio, the less polluting the molecule. For Pro-Xylane in solution, the E factor was 13, which — on a scale from 5 to 50 — is a very good coefficient. It was then further improved.

Once the efficacy of the molecule was demonstrated, its impact on the environment was also verified through ecotoxicity tests, conducted both internally and externally. They consist in verifying whether a substance is likely to cause harmful effects on species and on ecosystems. In practice, these tests relate to three types of living microorganisms in the food chain.

Furthermore, Pro-Xylane is a molecule that is poorly soluble in fats: it is therefore not thought to bioaccumulate in food chains.

In addition to these tests, other studies verify that the molecule is not toxic to humans.

Once these verifications have been carried out, the molecule is synthesized, then formulated with other ingredients to give birth to a finished product. Here too, its sustainable substance qualities reveal precious advantages in the formulation. On the one hand, its storage over time is easy, because, once dissolved, it does not require preservatives. On the other hand, its association with other ingredients is facilitated by the fact that once in solution in water, it is easily incorporated at the end of the formulation without having to use energy.

Energy, material and time savings: an initiative for the future

At L'Oréal, several indicators of sustainable processes have been introduced into the work of laboratories to — beginning at the design stage —preferably select the processes that make it possible to limit the quantities of waste. Significant efforts have also been made to upcycle plant biomass and identify, in close collaboration with suppliers of raw materials, those based on environmentally friendly processes. In 2019, our portfolio includes 28% of raw materials faithful to the principles of Green Chemistry. Each year we include new ones.



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