I’m more tech-enthusiast than Sephora-junkie, so last year’s buzz about Mink’s 3D printed makeup definitely caught my attention, and got me thinking about how technology can improve the way we look, and more importantly, feel. But beyond the vanity and even skepticism (can a few layers of eyeshadow really be considered three-dimensional?), today’s advanced 3D printing and bioprinting applications, including 3D printed tissue, hair, and even packaging, are very attractive indeed.
While research into bioprinting tissue has been going on for years, the real hype took off in 2015, when no less than three major partnerships between consumer product companies and biotech organizations occurred. 2016 has been somewhat quieter, with breakthroughs happening in labs and behind the scenes. So what might 2017 have in store? We’ll start with what’s available and in-development today.
3D Printing Hair Therapy
One of the newest developments in 3D printed cosmetology is human hair. From a consumer point of view, 3D printed wigs, such as those made by Transitions, offer an innovative way to improve cancer patients’ lives. Going even further, cosmetic giant L’Oreal and French biotech company Poietis signed an exclusive research agreement last September to bioprint follicles capable of actually growing hair. Not only could this lead to more effective testing of hair products, it could also advance our understanding of how hair functions, leading to viable, biologic solutions for adult hair loss.
Poietis’ first-of-its-kind, laser-assisted bioprinter positions cells in 3D with extremely high cellular resolution and cellular viability. Successively layering micro-drops of bioink, Poietis can create living biological tissue. Since it uses laser pulses to structure the cells, Poietis claims that it puts less stress on the biological matter than standard extrusion.
Despite their exciting advances, L’Oreal and Poietis have admitted that hair follicles are extremely complex structures. It will likely take at least three years to adapt the bioprinting process, and actual bioprinted implants are still considered a ‘holy grail’.
3D Print the Skin You’re In
Research into 3D printed skin promises key advantages for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries – including faster, cheaper, more ethical, and more effective product and drug testing. Unsurprisingly, L’Oreal USA and Organovo are at the top of the game. Leaders in their respective industries, the two teamed up in 2015 to automate the production of living, breathing skin samples using 3D printing.
San Diego-based Organovo is one of the biggest names in 3D bioprinting, having developed the NovoGen Bioprinting Platform and its own line of human tissues (including 3D printed liver tissues) for medical research and drug testing.
While Organovo’s long-term vision is to build human tissues for surgical therapy and transplantation, its work with L’Oreal involves reducing the time and cost of producing skin samples for makeup and product testing. L’Oreal produces roughly 100,000 skin samples every year, yet the current process of growing donated tissues is very costly (reportedly up to €62/piece). For the beauty company, the advantage will be the ability to cheaply and ethically test products (i.e. not on animals) across varying skin types for more accurate results.
Through the partnership, L’Oreal will keep exclusive rights to the 3D printed skin developed with Organovo for non-prescription skincare product testing, while Organovo will move forward with rx drug and toxicity tests.
Procter & Gamble has similarly joined the race to develop 3D printed skin samples, investing some $44 million in 2015. For its part, Poietis has partnered with chemical company BASF, also to create 3D printed skin for cosmetic and drug testing.
Beyond Skin Deep: Bioprinting Tissue Grafts
As I’ve said before, bioprinting advances are about far more than vanity. Yes, 3D printed skin samples will allow cosmetic
companies to improve their anti-wrinkle formulations. But bioprinted tissue grafts and implants will allow doctors to treat severe burns, injuries, and deformations in patients.
The U.S. Army, for example, is invested in Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s (WFIRM) 3D printed skin cells for burn wounds. With bioprinting, a patch of skin just one-tenth the size of the burn is enough to grow skin cells for large burns.
3D Printed Cosmetic Packaging
To wrap this up, there’s one last application of 3D printing in the cosmetics industry that deserves mention: 3D printed cosmetic packaging. Additive manufacturing allows for unparalleled design freedom at the prototype level – and what are cosmetics about if not customization? Collcap Packaging, a provider of packaging for cosmetics and perfumes, uses a Objet 30 Pro 3D printing system from Stratasys to design precisionprototypes in-house, without costly tooling. It’s not just large-scale companies: using a desktop 3D printer, independent skincare business Anita’s Balm made headlines for 3D printing its own product jars. By lowering lead-time and costs while increasing customization, 3D printed packaging benefits both consumers and manufacturers. See how in the video below: