In cosmetic labs, rabbits donning mascara and lipstick are on the way out, while patches of lab-grown skin are in. L’Oréal has developed an uncanny human skin substitute called Episkin that is animal friendly and can determine whether an ingredient will turn toxic in the sun or corrode, penetrate, or irritate human skin.
To make Episkin, a layer of fish collagen is seeded with human skin cells discarded from plastic surgeries. “One hundred cells are able to multiply, and you can get 20 million cells within a week,” says Patricia Pineau, research communications director at L’Oréal. After seven days, voilà! You have a patch of skin that can tan and age under UV light. Last year, Episkin was used to test some 3,000 products.
Episkin is in part a response to the European Union Cosmetics Directive, which calls for a ban on all animal testing by 2013. The skin substitute is also being used to make customized grafts for burn victims and for children who can’t handle exposure to UV light without risking cancer.