Innovations in Skin Testing

Technologies including 3-D bioprinting and regenerative medicine have lent a helping hand by providing alternatives to using animals and even human subjects for developmental testing of products. Frost & Sullivan has identified some interesting technologies that may offer an alternative to animal testing.

In 2013, the European Union issued a ban on beauty products that used animal subjects for testing. Although it was hailed as a landmark move toward more sustainable and humane product development and aimed at the heart of the global cosmetics industry, other countries have been slow to emulate it. In October, Canadian lawmakers introduced a bill that would put an end to testing cosmetic products on animals; earlier this year, Australia initiated efforts to join India, Israel, Turkey and South Korea in the ban. Animal advocates, including the Humane Society International, are lobbying hard to end such practices in the United States.

A ban on animal testing is morally appealing, and is increasingly recognized as a powerful marketing tool as well. However, beyond ethics lies the question of product development. If animal subjects (and human volunteers, for that matter) were to be removed from the development process, how would one assess the efficacy and safety of the product? And the beauty industry is hardly the only villain here: animal subjects are routinely used by the pharmaceutical and medical device industries for pre-clinical research.

Frost & Sullivan has identified some interesting technologies that may offer an alternative to animal testing.

Labskin by Innovenn (Dublin, Ireland)

Labskin is a living-skin substitute that is intended as a platform for non-animal skin testing and for research. Labskin, as the name indicates, is a lab-developed, fully differentiated epidermis layer that contains fibroblasts in a fibrin matrix—an important component of mammalian connective tissues. To further mimic natural skin tissue, Labskin supports the growth of microorganisms, illustrative of the microflora that reside in animal tissues.

SkinEthic RHE by L’Oreal (Lyon, France)

As perhaps the biggest and most-recognizable name in the beauty industry, L’Oreal has several skin testing products on offer—not necessarily for research use alone.

Episkin was a tissue engineering company that developed a reconstructed human epidermis (RHE) from human keratinocytes, the predominant cell in the human skin. These cells have been cultured on top of an inert polymeric scaffold; the model is available at various stages of tissue maturity, indicating different skin sensitivities. Its SkinEthic RHE is used to test skin irritation, the effect of ultraviolet radiation on the skin, DNA damage, permeability to dermal products, and skin corrosion. Anticipating the demand for in vitro skin testing, and foreseeing a potential revenue stream, L’Oreal acquired Episkin in 1997. Today, the subsidiary supplies a range of dermal and other tissue analogues to other pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies.

The La Roche-Posay brand owned by L’Oreal markets the only skin-worn sensor that can monitor and quantify the extent of skin exposure to ultraviolet radiation.  Its My UV Patch stretchable sensor helps minimize skin damage due to sunburns, and encourages users to apply sunscreen when needed.

ExVive™ Human Tissue Model by Organovo (San Diego, Calif.)

Organovo is a leading 3-D printing company that specializes in manufacturing 3-D tissue scaffolds for use in research and testing. Organovo’s 3-D bioprinting process ensures the production of precise, tailored and reproducible tissue constructs that are functional. Organovo has also partnered with academic labs to study fatty liver disease and kidney failure, and manufactures complex tissues of these internal organs.

epiCS by CellSystems Biotechnologie Vertrieb GmbH (Troisdorf, Germany)

CellSystems has been in the space of tissue engineering for more than 20 years, offering both products and services for groups in academia and industry. The architecture of the epiCS platform (reconstructed human epidermis) closely resembles that of a human epidermis, including proliferating keratinocytes and a stratum corneum with intact barrier function. The platform is routinely used for phototoxicity, genotoxicity, skin irritation and skin corrosion testing.

The Road Ahead

The ban on animal testing has evolved from an activist movement designed to oppose cosmetics companies to a marketing movement adopted by the companies themselves. Leading beauty brands have even petitioned the United Nations General Assembly to enact a global ban on animal testing.

Technologies including 3-D bioprinting and regenerative medicine have lent a helping hand by providing alternatives to using animals and even human subjects for developmental testing of products. In the future, augmented reality and computer simulations effected through artificial intelligence could join the fray. Companies already have started exploring these platforms for their testing and marketing tools. In fact, Frost & Sullivan has personally helped global cosmetics companies scout for emerging sensor, robotics, machine learning and regenerative medicine technologies that they could acquire and adapt to their needs.

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