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The Future of Beauty Tech

I’m no make-up aficionado. I can’t tell powder from primer. But I can appreciate the tech trends that are transforming the beauty industry. Not only are they promoting inclusivity through advanced personalisation, they’re fantastically futuristic too.

Take the Nudemeter,  a computer vision tool designed by Harvard Business School graduate Atima Lui. Users upload a selfie, complete a short quiz et voilà! An algorithm suggests the product that best matches their skin tone.

A cartoon image of a computer screen, on which is a grayscale collage of real human hands (with long fingernails) and human lips, with cartoon eyes and long eyelashes.

According to Wired:

"Lui first conceived of the idea in 2016 as a tool to empower dark-skinned shoppers to make purchases that helped boost their confidence… But developing Nudemeter was no easy undertaking. The world of facial recognition technology is as guilty of light-skin bias as the beauty industry. A 2018 MIT study, led by Algorithmic Justice League founder Joy Buolamwini, found that commercial artificial intelligence systems had error rates as high as 35 per cent when identifying the features of darker-skinned women, compared to less than one per cent for lighter-skinned men.

"To avoid this problem, Lui had to train her algorithm with images that more accurately represented the skin-colour spectrum, from the palest whites to the darkest browns… Once she had a dataset in place, she reached out to Michael Brown and Mahmoud Afifi at York University in Toronto, who specialise in colour analysis and digital image processing, to make sure the algorithm could deduce the user’s true skin tone, regardless of their device or the conditions in which their photo was taken."

The article continues:

"The potential for this technology hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2018, beauty behemoth Coty, whose brands include Rimmel, Max Factor and Kylie Cosmetics, awarded Nudemeter the grand prize for their Digital Accelerator Start-Up Program, and helped Lui refine and stress test her algorithm. Last year, Spktrm Beauty, an independent brand targeting shoppers with darker skin, became the first to utilise Nudemeter on its website, and in May, hosiery company Nude Barre introduced the app to help shoppers pick out the right tights for them."

I love to see such ingenuity rewarded. To take a common problem and develop a viable - and scalable - technological solution is no mean feat. It is these types of projects - the ones invested in improving everyday life - that can be game-changing, regardless of sector.

Unsurprisingly, the big brands want in on transformative tech too.

At CES 2020 in Las Vegas, L’Oréal announced their latest gadgetry — Perso — an AI-powered at-home system:

“Developed by the L’Oréal Technology Incubator, Perso's sleek device, which stands 6.5 inches high and weighs just over one pound, features a streamlined four-step process to deliver on-the-spot skincare and cosmetic formulas that optimize for increasing levels of personalization over time.”

A four-step process sounds a tad excessive to me. But the $142 billon worldwide skin care market says otherwise…

So how exactly does it work?

1. Personal skin analysis: 

The user opens the Perso mobile app and takes a photo with their smartphone camera. Utilizing L'Oréal-owned ModiFace technology, the app uses AI to analyse the user’s overall skin condition—including deep wrinkles, fine lines, the appearance of dark spots, and pore visibility.

2. Environmental assessment: 

Using Breezometer geo-location data, Perso assesses local environmental conditions that can influence the state of the user’s skin, including weather, temperature, pollen, UV index, and humidity.

3. Product preference: 

The user then enters their personal skincare concerns into the Perso app, including fine lines, dark spots, pigmentation, pore size, radiance, and dullness. The user can also input preferred texture and hydration-level to further customize their unique formula of moisturizer, serum, and under-eye cream.

4. Custom formulation and dispensing: 

This collective data informs the creation of a personalized blend of high-performance skincare, dispensed in a perfectly portioned, single dose at the top of the device for easy, clean application. The technology adjusts for morning and evening application, and the device features a detachable mirrored top so consumers have the option of taking a single or larger dose with them on-the-go.

Whether it works or not remains to be seen (Perso will reportedly launch in partnership with a leading L'Oréal skincare brand sometime this year), but it sounds incredibly impressive. Even more so when you consider the plans for ongoing enhancement and expansion:

“With regular use, Perso’s AI platform will be able to assess skin conditions over time, letting the user know what is working and will automatically adapt future formulas based on personal results. Perso's future makeup offerings will have the capability to incorporate real-time trend information as well as colour-matching technology into its personalized product offerings. Consumers would be able to design a lipstick shade to match their outfit or to opt for a colour that is trending on social media at that moment.”

Like I said: fantastically futuristic! And sure to be at the top of my wife’s Christmas list if it’s any cop.

A cartoon depiction of three pop-up windows. One reads 'AI IS HERE!', one reads TRY AI NOW!' and the third reads 'AI APPS'.

Arguably even more impressive is Procter & Gamble’s “Opte” — a Precision Skincare System. An Honoree at the 2020 CES Innovation Awards, Opte is a handheld inkjet printer designed to scan, detect and correct hyperpigmentation:

“Bringing smart technology to beauty, Opte is creating a new category of at-home precise skincare solutions. The Opte Wand scans the skin with an enhanced digital camera that captures 200 frames per second and instantly analyses each image using a proprietary algorithm to detect tonal imperfections not visible to the human eye.

“Using input from the algorithm, Opte precisely prints via a new-to-the-world, custom thermal inkjet printer and cartridge picolitre droplets of Spot Optimizing Serum on target areas until there is a perfect colour match with the surrounding skin tone, correcting in real time, sun damage and hyperpigmentation and fading the appearance of spots over time.”

It’ll set you back a pretty penny, mind, with prices starting from $599, and $129 for serum refill kits.

Can you put a price on confidence though? Not according to the scores of positive reviews from the likes of Good Housekeeping, USA Today and Harper’s Bazaar.

With COVID-19 and the subsequent concerns over human contact, it’s likely that at-home beauty devices will become ever more popular. But the crossover between technology and beauty doesn’t stop there, as Daniel Rodgers May 2020 article for Vogue demonstrates:

“As we adopt a cautious mindset around touch, AR technology that allows us to virtually try on make-up and at-home devices that provide personalised cosmetics are being fast tracked right now. But how will these cutting-edge tools change beauty in the long term?

“Estimated to reach $805 billion (£651 billion) by 2023, the global cosmetics market has been injected with the vigour of Silicon Valley… At the apex of these industries are innovations in artificial intelligence, augmented reality and smart tools that are set to revolutionise our relationship with beauty and appearance.”

Rodgers continues:

“Fuelled by the wellness industry’s tech boom, such as fitness trackers and AI-therapy bots, beauty is leaning further into digital first… big data means that technology can create a personalised feedback loop between products and their effectiveness.

“As future COVID-19 outbreaks might be a possibility, brands are locked into a race to innovate… stay-at-home orders mean that we’ve been encouraged to prioritise touch-free shopping and virtually try on products.”

Only time will tell how deeply the pandemic will affect consumer attitudes towards beauty. Will department store make-up counters be a thing of the past? Will any department stores still be trading? Has remote working changed how we ready ourselves for the day ahead? Do we care more about how we look through a lens than in real life?

One thing is for sure: technological advancements signal a new dawn for the industry — and a beautiful one at that.


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