Our skin is crawling with bacteria and viruses?! What a horror, one would think. Guive Balooch, vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, wants us to think differently about these seemingly unsavory organisms, which are hugely beneficial to the health and beauty of our skin. Microbiome is at the core of L’Oréal Research and Innovation, with more than 50 dedicated searchers all over the word and more than 20 scientific collaborations during the past 15 years. Through this new partnership with uBiome, the leading microbial genomics company, Balooch and his team are expanding on L’Oréal’s research into the skin microbiome: the trillions of microbes that live on our epidermis.
Much as a greater understanding of the gut microbiome sent us all scurrying to the yogurt aisle, understanding the skin biome will help individuals understand how to care for their skin properly. Balooch envisions a day when L’Oréal’s pioneering research on the skin microbiome—which began more than a decade ago—leads to personalized skincare that can uniquely address individual skin issues. “At the L’Oréal Technology Incubator, we are always looking for ways to make beauty experiences more personalized,” Balooch says. “Understanding this exciting area of research means more customization for products, regimens, and habits, so people can have a smarter understanding of their own skin.”
Here, Balooch discusses how the world’s largest cosmetics company is innovating to make advances that are much more than skin deep.
Many people have never heard of the skin microbiome. Is it hard telling consumers that a fungus on their skin is actually a good thing?
Guive Balooch: Timing is key. There has been so much education in the gut microbiome—in healthy living, in probiotics, and vitamins—which has led, I think, to more overall understanding of good and bad bacteria. Maybe not everyone is familiar with the idea, but it is much less foreign as a concept than it was 10 to 15 years ago. As a company rooted in science, this is a nice moment for us to be able to share new insights that our consumers are expressing a growing appetite for, which we believe can help shape the future of beauty.
How has a greater understanding of the skin biome changed the way we think about caring for the skin?
GB: The microbiome is basically your skin’s first line of defense. At L’Oréal, we’ve done a lot of work to understand the links between microbiome and skin-barrier function, and we believe there is still more to learn. By understanding its composition, we can empower people to take better care of their skin, determine the right product regimens, and develop new products.
Can you talk a little bit about L’Oréal’s partnership with uBiome and what you have been developing to help with this personalization?
GB: Well, uBiome is the leader in microbiome research today when it comes to measurement sciences; they have the largest microbiome database in the world. But really what appealed to us is that they have access to so many people—it’s really a community of “citizen scientists,” as they say—around the globe. In addition to having all the patents and the expertise, they also have a consumer-centric approach. We are both doing unique work in this space, so our hope is that together we can further our research and create some valuable insights and actions for the consumer.
From a consumer perspective, have there been any breakthroughs or promising areas of study that you’ve seen?
GB: At L’Oréal, we have done a lot of research into the relationship between the skin microbiome and atopic dermatitis, sensitive skin, dandruff, and aging— as well as how microbiome changes over time or according to various conditions. We’ve started working with [uBiome] on understanding potential links between gut microbiome and skin microbiome; we believe this is relevant not only to products, but also to supporting habits that support skin health and beauty.
Why is L’Oréal so committed to the scientific and technology side of this industry? And do you worry at all about putting yourselves out of business by giving people perfect skin?
GB: We see scientific innovation as our core commitment to the consumer, a pledge to always bring the most effective, the safest, the highest quality, and most relevant products to the market. This has been true from the very beginning. L’Oréal was founded over 100 years ago by Eugène Schueller, who was a chemist. And L’Oréal really believes that the future of beauty will be found in the use of technology to create products and services that help solve evolving consumer needs and aspirations. One recent example of this is our recent launch of My Skin Track UV—the first battery-free wearable UV sensor—in the Apple Store in November. We’ve been working in sun-safety innovation for over 50 years; it’s exciting to deepen that work through technology.
Do you think this kind of personalization will increase the diversity of people who feel that there is something that they can do for their skin, and that there is something that’s being tailored toward them?
GB: At L’Oréal, our guiding mission is what we call Beauty for All, which is the idea that there is no single and unique model of beauty, but rather, infinite forms of it. What we hope to do through personalization is expand on this idea, so that we are creating beauty tailored for you, the individual consumer. We want to be the company that gives people the tools they need to be informed about their unique needs, and create entirely custom routines to address the skin.