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‘Science is in the hair’: how L’Oréal researchers are leading the way

Have you ever wondered why your hair behaves the way it does — why some people go bald, while some turn grey early? You might not know it, but the actions you take in your daily life can affect the quality of your hair. Here at L’Oréal, scientists, researchers and engineers are working in 21 research centres across the world to come up with innovative new hair care products. What can science teach us about hair? What are the teams in advanced research working on every day? To find out more, we sat down with Jean-François, Manager of Advanced Research for Research & Innovation at L’Oréal.

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Jean-François, Manager of Advanced Research for R&I

What is so special about hair?

Your hair has a lot going on. Like all living cells, the hair is continuously renewing and maintaining itself. Right now, about 90% of the 150,000 follicles on your head are growing hair at a rate of 15cm every year. But hair isn’t just influenced by the body’s internal system. If intrinsic effectors such as hormones, inflammatory mediators modulate the hair growth, external stressors such as UV exposure, pollution and even vigorous brushing has an effect too, both often causing premature greying and hair loss. So how are L’Oréal’s exciting discoveries combating this?

“Understanding hair allows us to work on solutions to prevent follicles from exhaustion and ageing,” says Jean-François. “Thanks to our decades of research, we’ve been able to create hair enhancing cosmetics that prevent thinning and hair loss and so much more. We developed and we still want to improve our portfolio of innovative anti-hair loss technologies, modulators of hair colour as well as technologies for hair repair and hairstyling.”

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Advanced research on hair at L’Oréal

Why joining L’Oréal as a researcher?

Jean-François has been working with the research team for over 30 years, but still remembers his first day when he was impressed by the high level of expertise of our researchers and scientists.

“I’ve been passionate about biology since I was a child. I remember that like most of the children, I wanted to become a veterinary. I went to study biochemistry and started my scientific career by working in the food industry, selecting bacteria for C1 — Internal use cheese fermentation. Of course, this was very different from my current role,” says Jean-François smiling. “L’Oréal already had strong and renowned research at that time and they wrote me back for a scientific position in hair category growth. So the 10th of September 1988, I come to L’Oréal”.

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C. Zviak in his lab in 1946.

Here at L’Oréal, we’ve been leading the way in cosmetic research for almost a century, conducting pioneering research on hair at a time when most cosmetics companies viewed hair loss as a natural part of ageing. Now, with so many discoveries behind the teams he worked with on this topic, Jean-François remains as passionate as ever about finding the next breakthrough.

“What is important for me as a researcher is to find solutions for people. Men and women both can suffer psychologically from hair loss. Some people even fall into deep depression because of that. The goal of my team is to give its best to find solutions to help people that are psychologically suffering because they are losing hair. There are some solutions now, but they aren’t sufficient. So every day we are working to find new ones, and I have great hope it will happen soon.”

How do you envision the future of research?

“My job has changed through the years but I still publish patents and publications. However, this is not my main objective. Although publishing is important as it helps extend your network with other researchers, it’s not the core of my activity. Efficacy always comes first. When the product is efficient, scientific excellence is apparent to all,” says Jean-François. “The respect of nature and more sustainability has become also very important in our job and will be even more in the future, the people are connected, it is still about the level of quality and efficacy but also about the future of the planet”.

In fact, according to Jean-François, we’re even pioneering the way research is conducted. Recently, we created two new domains in R&I: microbiome and regenerative beauty. With new ways of working within L’Oréal, advanced research is coming faster than ever to people.

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Jean-François and his team

What’s important for a researcher at L’Oréal?

Needless to say, our research is having a positive effect on the confidence of our consumers. As Jean-François says, however, beauty is not just about our appearance, it is also a mindset, a gaze we have on the world, the connection with nature, with diversity also.

As for myself, I have the conviction that beauty is powered by science and research in order to make people feel good. I do believe I can change people’s life. L’Oréal is not just a cosmetic company; it is a group that seeks to solve beauty issues and desires, in its whole complexity and diversity. This is very motivating.

L’Oréal is a large company, but everyone here makes a difference. What is important here is open-mindedness and passion for learning. Combining these traits with our century-old demand for sustainability, quality and efficacy, our science-minded engineers are always learning new things and sharing ideas that could be the start of the next scientific revolution.

“I love the interaction and how much you can learn from others, and vice versa. I’m always happy to see I’ve contributed and helped someone just by giving my opinion or my help. We interact with lots of great people here,” Jean-François says.

“Then, the key to success here is generosity”.

Apart from generosity, it’s essential to learn the basics as an engineer, just like a musician would play his scales. Discovery does not come from chaos by chance but by the chance, you give to a clear strategy to deliver when you have the scores in mind and the right tools in hands. In addition to the skills, you must be open-minded.

If you’d like to join our R&I effort and help people like Jean-François’s make a real difference to people’s lives, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

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