Last Summer, I interned at a premium skincare startup that was poised to launch its products in the Fall of 2020. I’m not going to lie, at first I was skeptical of the timing of their launch. To begin with, beauty stores were still shut. Even when they reopened, no one could use testers during this pandemic so sampling would be difficult. Next, in a variety of markets, consumers reported they were spending less on beauty products in the near term since they were mostly indoors. More importantly, since skincare is so personal and unique to every individual’s needs, most users wanted to physically see its effect on their skin before committing to the purchase, especially for ‘expensive’ brands. Pre-COVID, in-store shopping accounted for over 85% of beauty purchases. Even tech-savvy Gen Zers made 60% beauty purchases in-store. Given it was the startup’s first product launch, I wondered if this was a good time to introduce a beauty product in the market.
We are well aware that artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, personalization, digitalization and virtual reality has entered the current beauty industry. Machine learning, 3D printing and genomics are some other key technologies that are being utilized for product development. These are no longer just buzzwords and the biggest beauty brands are increasingly adopting such technologies to evolve in today’s world. Let’s talk about examples.
Virtual skin consultations have seen rising popularity in recent times. By mid-2020, beauty brands like Glossier, Caudalie, Glow Recipe and Dr. Barbara Sturm had begun conducting 15-20 minute video consultations to give custom skincare solutions to users, leveraging their social media accounts.
British online retailer Harley, pairs consumers with medical practitioners to get personalized skincare prescriptions from cosmeceutical brands – delivered to their door. The platform offers online video consultations with a dermatologist, aesthetic doctor or cosmetic surgeon, who then recommends a regimen adapted to the patient’s unique skin, goals and values. Through the use of technology, Harley offers consumers detailed application instructions and re-purchase reminders to boost the regimen efficacy.
US based skincare company, Atolla, utilizes a combination of dermatology and data to decipher individual skin needs. Environmental factors, lifestyle, mood, stress, pH, oil measurements, hydration levels and the Fitzpatrick index (measuring how easily one’s skin burns) are closely examined to determine and create consumers’ most ideal facial serum. The Atolla app also has the ability to monitor skin as it changes and responds to the serum. That information is stored in their system and used to decipher changes in the formulation of the next serum purchased. The company uses a subscription model to run its business. It’s interesting to see how that kind of data is used to benefit you directly (customization) as well as aid in the company’s R&D.
Last year, at the CES 2020, L’Oréal unveiled Perso, an AI-powered at-home system that represents the ultimate in beauty personalization, with an awaited 2021 launch. It’s a 6.5 inch device that uses AI, IoT and robotics to deliver on-the-spot skincare and cosmetic formulae for every individual’s personal needs. The Perso mobile app uses AI to analyze your skin condition, a Breezometer to get your geo-location data and assess local environmental conditions that can influence the state of the user’s skin before it asks you to customize your custom shade of lipstick or foundation. To be able to create a custom lipstick shade – at home? That’s pretty cool and I wanted to try it!
A year down the line, I was curious if L’Oreal had delivered on its promise to be a pioneer of Beauty Tech. Surely enough – the Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Sur Mesure Powered by Perso is open for pre-sales in the US and will be launched worldwide by September 2021. This is an innovation that marks the start of a new era in which beauty is perfectly tailored to each individual’s expectations, complexion, or outfit. Moreover, through the app, at-home users can access this beauty whilst at the same time benefitting from the expertise and advice that are the hallmarks of the YSL Beauty brand. Since we’re all spending so much time at home, I see so much potential for brands to really make their presence felt in this manner.
While the success of these products or interactions remains to be seen, I can’t help but feel excited for the future. A few months ago, if you’d asked me if I’d ever get a skin consult online, I’d have laughed at that paradox. But the fact remains that in the age of individualism, personalized and custom products will remain a strong future trend in the beauty industry and emerging technologies are fostering that change. AI has a long way to go before it gets smart enough to replace human interaction completely and brands need to educate consumers more before it becomes the norm. However, with emerging technologies that support the beauty industry on the rise – a pandemic that causes consumer behavior to completely turn on its head, sounds like a good enough time to launch new beauty products! What do you say?