Strategy

100% plant-based hair dye, a flagship innovation for L’Oréal’s naturalness project

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Éric Bône

Over a century after Eugène Schueller devised the first safe hair dye, L’Oréal is launching its inaugural 100% plant-based hair colour collections in the shape of Botanéa by L’Oréal Professionnel and Color Herbalia by Garnier. These innovative products open up a new chapter in the history of the world’s leading cosmetics firm, says Éric Bône, L’Oréal’s International Director for Sustainable Innovation in Hair Products.

L’Oréal takes the naturalness route

These developments form part of a fundamental shift to a more natural approach that L’Oréal has been working on for a decade. “In the space of ten years, we have really turned a corner. Back in 2005-2006, only 36% of our ingredients were naturally sourced. We had upped this to 54% by 2016”, says Eric. In 1995, L’Oréal set up one of the very first biodegradability-focused research centres to measure the impact of the raw materials and products used, and was an early adopter of organic and natural research programmes. After tackling shampoo, L’Oréal has turned its focus to plant-based hair dye. “This latest launch lies at the meeting point of several paths: the culmination of research begun decade ago, the creation of our sustainability structures over the last five years, and the development of two ranges using a design thinking process in close collaboration with consumers and stylists. What’s more, the pace of this project has really picked up in the last year and a half.”

Eric Bône leads this cross-cutting project while also running L’Oréal’s global programmes on sustainable innovation in hair products. “It has been an amazing adventure to be able to turn the principles of Sharing Beauty With All into reality with Botanéa by L’Oréal Professionnel and Color Herbalia by Garnier”, he enthuses. Amazing, but not easy, for combining effectiveness and naturalness raised numerous challenges. Éric picks out four in particular. First, to be able to offer a wide spectrum of shades using 100% natural ingredients, which have tended to yield a narrower colour range in the past. Second, to obtain a reproducible professional quality standard. “Our teams put so much work into this issue.” Another big challenge was to establish a new responsible, sustainable and secure supply chain, covering ingredient quality and quantity. Last, he mentions breaking with tradition to make the new products easier for consumers and stylists to use.

L’Oréal’s research teams try at every turn to find answers to their questions in nature, while simultaneously meeting consumers’ beauty aspirations. Known as biomimetics, this approach seeks to figure out how nature works by combining technology and cutting-edge expertise in an attempt to replicate the mechanism. In other words, L’Oréal is using nature both as an ingredient and as a source of inspiration.

100% natural and plant-based colour collections: L’Oréal’s latest achievement

The naturalness trend is not a new development. Éric says that a groundswell has been unleashed by the combined research efforts of suppliers and major groups such as L’Oréal, coupled with the expectations of consumers, who are not interested in compromise solutions. Social listening is instructive, revealing that 42 million people have done internet searches on the terms “vegan” and “organic”. “As the world’s leading cosmetics firm, we have to be at the forefront of these new needs and offer products that are 100% natural and effective.”

To address these expectations, L’Oréal’s new plant-based hair dye solutions will shortly be offered by two different brands: L’Oréal Professionnel’s Botanéa collection will target salon stylists while Color Herbalia by Garnier will be for home use. “These dyes are unique and stand out from the competition because they are 100% plant-based and offer an incredible level of quality and purity, unlike most of the products currently available on the market.”

Each range will target a specific customer group. Botanéa will provide professional stylists with a broad range of shade-driven colours designed to work wonders for everyone, even white-haired seniors. “Botanéa works with standard oxidation colouring solutions and other technical services, such as perms, offered in salons.” Color Herbalia is for a younger crowd, serving customers with “up to 30% grey hair”. “This line is primarily intended to provide natural colour and highlights with a ready-to-use product. Perfect for women who are getting their first grey hairs, it is easy to apply by yourself and a real confidence-builder.”

Color Herbalia and Botanéa owe their development to the technical prowess of the research team. “They had to test all possible combinations to identify the ideal routines and optimise every ratio, right up to the temperature of water needed for the mix.” Technical challenges still ahead include hair lightening questions and ways to achieve a broader colour spectrum for home solutions.

Sustainable, ecodesigned innovation through a collaborative approach

The new collections do not merely address consumer needs. They also mesh perfectly with L’Oréal’s DNA and the Sharing Beauty With All sustainable development programme, whose global hair research component is led by none other than Eric. “These products will spearhead our sustainability commitments and beautifully illustrate our new responsible design approaches.” How so? Because they comply with the four pillars that make up Sharing Beauty With All, namely sustainable innovation, sustainable consumption, sustainable production, and responsible and sustainable sourcing.

It’s obvious enough how the new collections allay sustainable innovation concerns: with a formula that is wholly based on natural ingredients, these products are inherently environmentally friendly and meet the Nagoya commitments on preserving biodiversity. Much work was also done on sustainable consumption and production aspects, with refill bags made from 50% recycled materials to optimise transport and storage. “We save about 74% of materials compared with standard products”, Éric explains. On responsible and sustainable sourcing, L’Oréal is working closely with local communities and ASK, an NGO based in India, which is where the ingredients come from. The aim is to foster economic development, promote better access to regional services, bring people together around a common project, provide training and share best practices.

Éric stresses that this was a unique project on multiple fronts. The fruit of collaborative efforts that broke down traditional silos, it brought taskforces together in project mode and combined marketing departments, upstream research teams, packaging personnel, purchasing and operations management and, at the heart of it all, consumers and stylists. The project also entailed cooperation with evaluators, numerous outside partners, authorities and legal teams. “Our cross-disciplinary team spanned three countries: France, India and Japan. It was really exciting!” In all, over 100 people took part in developing the Group’s first plant-based hair dye. “Using only powder and water, we managed to create natural, effective, environmentally friendly products. It’s like magic!”

Made in L’Oréal for the 21st century

“We have made the shift together to meet the need among consumers for reassurance, simplicity and transparency.” L’Oréal plans to continue and support this deep-seated social trend towards more naturalness “by innovating sustainably through our expertise and our talented people”. L’Oréal Research is set to write a new page on universal beauty in the 21st century, guided by three goals: take inspiration from nature by harnessing the latest scientific advances to understand natural mechanisms and innovate; be efficient by doing more with less; and ensure that raw materials comply with the principles of traceability, sustainability and green chemistry to create effective products with a smaller environmental footprint. “This is now a reality for all our teams and brands thanks to unique ecodesign systems, including SPOT, a new tool that allows the Group to gauge the impact of each and every product”, Eric tells us in conclusion.