visit to the Packaging Lab in Clichy where a new generation of cosmetic packaging is born

At the heart of environmental issues, packaging is an integral part of the DNA of a brand or product. It is to respond to this complex equation, the alliance of performance, eco-design and desirability that the global beauty giant L’Oréal has created five Packaging Labs. Located in India, Brazil, the United States, China, and near Paris, it is in these locations, where a total of 500 people work, that the packaging for 36 L’Oréal brands is developed.

Some of the packaging of L’Oréal group products with their 3D prototypes – Eric Mercier/L’Oréal

Thursday May 23, L’Oréal therefore took advantage of the influx generated by VivaTech, the Parisian innovation fair which was held from May 22 to 25, to invite the national and international press to discover its Packaging Lab in Clichy in Hauts-de-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris. Created four years ago, this floor where 250 people work is located in the heart of L’Oréal’s operations headquarters.

“Packaging is used to transport and protect the formula, but it must be desirable and environmentally friendly at the same time; it is the balance between these criteria that we need to find to create the packaging of the future,” explains in the preamble Jacques Playe, director of packaging development within the L’Oréal group, emphasizing that a few years ago, only engineers looked at the issue of packaging. Now, with the creation of the Packaging Lab, the teams are multidisciplinary: engineers, materials science specialists and even industrial designers.

Materials science

Reducing the size of packaging and using responsible materials are particularly at the heart of the issues. Especially since as part of its L’Oréal for the Future program, the beauty group aims to use exclusively recycled or biosourced plastic for packaging and to make them refillable, reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030 ; by which time their weight should be reduced by 20%.

David Guérin showing the molded cellulose packaging of the perfume La vie est belle by Lancôme – Eric Mercier/L’Oréal

In the laboratory dedicated to materials sciences, David Guérin is a paper expert. A material which, according to him, brings innovation and helps minimize environmental impact. “Its use is very developed in the food industry, but less so in beauty, particularly due to design issues,” he explains. The scientific expert notes, however, that things are changing; a limited edition of Lancôme’s Plus belle la vie perfume has featured a cellulose shell molded like a second skin.

Olivier de Lataulade is an expert in glass, widely used for perfume and skin care. The challenge, he explains, is to lighten and refine it without making it lose its desirability. An equation that would be easier for the moment to solve with product refills for which consumers’ aesthetic expectations are much lower. “In sectors like tableware and mobile telephony we use very light premium glass, so we are moving in this direction with a specific program,” explains Olivier de Lataulade.

Artificial intelligence at the service of designers

Change of scenery in UX, for User Experience Design, in this laboratory 17 designers focus on the shape and ergonomics of products. “Design goes further than aesthetics, it must integrate technical notions and functionality but also eco-design,” says Jordan Molinié, who directs UX, giving as an example the latest liquid foundation from the American brand of Urban Decay makeup.

This small PET bottle allows you to dose your foundation drop by drop using pressure, promising almost 100% product restitution. “Four patents have been filed on this product,” emphasizes Jordan Molinié.

The bottle of Urban Decay liquid foundation dose by dose – Eric Mercier/L’Oréal

And to create mood boards (mood boards) illustrating new trends, designers are using artificial intelligence. “It’s a bit of a work of semiology, we write elastomer, GenZ, bottle, soft… and the artificial intelligence presents images. But it’s the designer’s eye that identifies what is industrially possible. AI certainly offers solutions, but it is our interpretation that will make the difference. It is a tool that is of no interest if there are no people behind it, in the same way as printing. 3D”, explains one of the studio’s designers. To date, L’Oréal has never launched packaging designed using artificial intelligence.

In the L’Oréal UX Design Studio – Eric Mercier/L’Oréal

The teams not only create packaging, they also renovate it so that it meets new standards and uses. This is notably the work of the 25 technical packaging design people led by Luc Maelstaf, who manage the technical design of the new packaging and also improve the old ones. The bottle of Garnier’s ultra-gentle shampoo, for example, has seen its weight reduced, notably thanks to the 30% reduction in its plastic cap, which makes it easier to refill the product.

Specialists in 3D printing, color, and even packaging quality, the list of professions and expertise that work together within the L’Oréal Packaging Lab is long. In 2023, 55 new packaging patents have been filed by the L’Oréal group which, in the same year, launched 8,000 new products.

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