AI in Beauty

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?




  1. Great post! As someone who doesn’t use any beauty products, I probably would not have learned this outside of this blog. I think this is another good example of an industry that has produced physical products and lacked innovation until very recently. I am curious to see how these new AI powered digital interactions effect the bottom line for companies like L’Oréal. I can’t see that these technologies will make people use more or less beauty products than before, but maybe they will push more expensive products towards consumers? As a general rule I don’t think companies would roll out new systems and technologies unless they help their profit, so I would imagine this will help drive positive results.

  2. olivia_levy8 · ·

    Love this post! I actually had thought about blogging on this topic a few weeks ago since I found it really interesting. I love skincare and anti-aging products and the first thing that came to my mind of why I always buy in store is to trial. I think that even tech savvy Gen-Z understands how expensive these products can be and is less likely to purchase without testing the products at their local Sephora. I think that AI can fill the gap if seeing if the concealer matches your skintone, but understanding the feel and weight of a product before purchasing may be hard. I think maybe the answer is a combo AI and brick and mortar experience, I would be curious to see if any of the L’Oreal AI is integrated into their stores and Macy’s kiosks or if Sephora and Ulta are implementing this experience anytime soon. If I had to put my money on anyone it would be Glossier though, as they are already ahead of the game and are an innovative customer focused brand, but of course I am bias as I love their products and brand!

  3. Great post! This is a topic I knew nothing about but am really impressed with how resillient the industry has been through Covid. I am very fascinated that there are so many skin consultation companies out there. Preso is very fascinating to me, another way I would not have thought to use AI but such a great use.

  4. Chuyong Liu · ·

    Love this! With my past experience being a founder of a beauty store, I would totally agree with the fact that no matter how good the technology is, people still feel the need to really test the product and feel it on their skin. Our company at the beginning was going to have both retail and online stores but end up finding that online store, although it is very convenient for return customers, is not a good way to attract new customers. I think current technologies are doing a great job helping people try on make-up products to see if the color is the right one. However, it will be less likely that skincare products would be demonstrated this way.

    Sometimes I feel the current technology innovation is just eye-catching but may not be really improving any customer experience. I would love to follow this topic and see the moving trend.

  5. alexcarey94 · ·

    Very interesting post as someone who is constantly shopping the Sephora sale online I couldn’t think of a better way to allow for people to broaden their horizons of products and order new things. I also thought YSL product in the video above is super cool. It shows you the evolution of the beauty industry and what consumer are going to expect once these types of tech become more common place.

  6. Nice post. On a slightly different topic, I’ve spend a good deal of time visiting with a company called Madison Reed – an online haircoloring company. I’ve become convinced that the beauty area is ripe for digital disruption. So interesting to see so many companies working in this area.

    1. lisahersh · ·

      I was so close to following through with a Madison Reed order, literally was at the enter credit card info stage before I abandoned the purchase. Now, not a day goes by where I don’t see their sponsored ads all over my social media.

  7. lisahersh · ·

    Excellent post, Divya! I’m not going to lie… I have regularly fallen prey to the targeted beauty product ads on Instagram and it has become much MUCH worse as a result of the pandemic. Now I get my hair color from Overtone (100% online retailer), most of my skin products from Origins (who has done a fabulous job with their online store to supplement their brick-and-mortar shops), the list goes on and on. I think one of the great things about adopting an online platform for beauty products is that companies can develop a subscription service model where things are automatically charged and shipped on a recurring basis. While I’ve done some of the more quiz like sales model things, hats of to Il Makiage for their ability to perfectly match foundation to your skin color based on a short quiz, I’d definitely want to try out Harley, Atollo, and Perso!

  8. shaneriley88 · ·

    Interesting and well assembled post, Divya. I’m surprised a lot of DX in this sector/segment hasn’t already taken hold. I can understand the experiential benefits of say going to Sephora or Neiman Marcus to talk with sales staff. It will be interesting to see how the post-COVID return to normal will affect the buying patterns. I’d bank that we’re going to see a bit more buy in store – for the stores that can exist!

  9. changliu0601 · ·

    Interesting Post! During the pandemic, I changed my spending on beauty products to skincare products because i had less need of beauty products because I barely went outside.Another reason is the camera apps which can put beauty to your photos.The power of technology!!!

  10. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    Love this post! I particularly enjoyed how you managed to have multiple blog post and your presentation complement each other. You can tell you are passionate and have so much knowledge on this topic.

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