The French cosmetics giant says that research into photonics in nature headed by Pete Vukusic at Exeter University, UK, will lead to cosmetics incorporating colour effects that are dependent on light - such as the typical iridescent sheen that colours butterfly wings and peacock plumes.
This is a goal the company has aimed at for a number of years now, but a new generation of powerful microscopes that is helping to unveil the secrets behind this natural phenomenon, combined with major breakthroughs in nano science that are helping to make the technology a reality.
"What is amazing about this technology is that we are able to create colour through light and not through pigment," said Patricia Pineau, L'Oreal research director. "Put basically we are able to use nano science to control the colour effect by layering the compound's structure. Different gaps in the layers and varying numbers of layers can all influence the colour outcome when it is exposed to light."
"This is amazing when you consider that the basic colour of the product is just white. It brings great advantages for cosmetic applications, being particularly beneficial in lipsticks, as it means that any transfer of the product on to another surface only leaves a white powder trace, not the colour.
"Likewise, it also means that the lipsticks can be formulated without having to use the oils that are often used to obtain desirable shimmering effects. Instead this technology can be developed to achieve a similar effect to give the colour added texture and vibrance."
Prototypes featuring a range of the new cosmetics were unveiled in the Physician's College in London at the end of June. The gathering proved to be a platform for the a range of new products, including eye shadow, lipsticks and nail varnish that all feature the new colouring technology.
More applications are expected as reasearch into the technology continues, including hair colourants. Vukusic's team is conducting its research using powerful microscopes - both SEM and TEM - to reveal the organising matter of animals, plants and minerals and how controlling the flow of photons in such matter can give rise to shimmering colour and unique visual effects.
The Exeter University team was awarded L'Oreal's foundation prize 'The Art of Science of Colour' in 2004, which carried a £20,000 prize.
With the technology now reaching the latter stages of its development Pineau is hoping that the first products should launch at the beginning of next year. As the company does not have the production capabilities to produce the materials, it is expected that it will be sub-contracted to a company in Japan, where the industry is in a more advanced stage of its evolution.
"One problem that we are facing is the packaging of the product," said Pinea. "In its manufactured form the product will appear as white, giving little opportunity to display the colour as it will appear when it is applied on the body. This means that we have to find packaging inks that will give the customer a good idea of what the product will look like when applied.
"We are actually looking at inks that incorporate this same technology, but at the moment this is some way off is not likely to appear for the launch of the first generation of products."
As the technology is still expensive to produce, it is expected that it will primarily be appearing in premium cosmetics products, but as production of the technology becomes more efficient, it should reach mass market products in the longer term.
Pineau also added that its newly developed colour cosmetics have tended to look best on darker skin types, suggesting that it could become particularly popular in the growing market for ethnic cosmetics.