The beauty sector is being transformed by technology.
From hyper-personalisation in skincare and foundation to 3D-printed make-up (yes, really), tech is increasingly enabling brands to innovate in an oversaturated market and meet shifting consumer demands.
While large beauty companies are making technology acquisitions to provide an edge in a competitive market, tech giants like Google and Amazon are attracted to the high margins through partnerships, consumer insights, and eCommerce.
We explore how tech is changing the industry, through a lens of 2020’s beauty buzzwords: inclusivity, sustainability and scientific innovation. Is technology fuelling customer’s demands, or are customers driving the need for more advanced technology?
Are social media image filters creating unrealistic expectations of what beauty products can actually achieve? How can brands use technology to enhance the user experience at all touchpoints?
Fifty Shades Darker: Personalisation & Inclusivity
The explosive success of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty in 2017 signalled a new era in the beauty industry, as brands who had historically been digging their heels in rushed to emulate the success of a truly inclusive brand.
Launching with 40 shades of foundation, Fenty Beauty announced a new concealer range in 2019 with no less than 50 shades, covering a whole spectrum of skin tones from light to deep.
Guive Balooch, Global Vice President of L’Oreal’s Technology Incubator, sees this trend as an opportunity for tech to shape the way we shop for our perfect match.
“50% of women complain that they can’t find the right shade of foundation for their face, and women with darker skin tones have been crying out for more choice. But putting thousands of shades on shop shelves would be impractical.”
The solution? L’Oreal subsidiary Lancome dreamed up Le Teint Particulier, which creates a bespoke foundation using an AI machine that scans your face to determine your precise shade. A custom formula is created instore to your specifications, with over 8,000 possibilities of coverage, finish and hydration.
But, at £85 a bottle, this idea could be seen as more focused on proving tech prowess than inclusivity, pricing many out of the market and making it inaccessible to most.
Meanwhile, leaps and bounds are being made in the skincare industry in terms of inclusivity and scientific innovation.
When Dr Barbara Sturm launched her Darker Skin Tones range in 2016 in collaboration with actress Angela Bassett, she was the first luxury skincare brand to cater to women of colour. She was met with resistance from some stores when she approached them to carry the line.
“Men have separate skincare ranges because their skin needs are different. The eastern Asian market has its own skincare lines, too. There’s makeup and hair care aimed at people of colour, so why isn’t there skincare too?” she asked.
“Black women spend over £4.8 billion on skincare products and services each year, worldwide – twice as much as consumers of other races.”
It took two years of research to create the products that address specific concerns including inflammation, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, and the line includes ingredients based on Nobel Prize-winning research.
A number of inclusion-focused beauty brands – Mented Cosmetics, Uoma Beauty (which are both black-owned), Urban Skin Rx, Live Tinted and others are making inclusivity a core pillar of their brand value proposition.
For Sharon Chuter, Founder of Uoma Beauty, this goes beyond merely creating a wide range of shades, or using technology to tick boxes. It must run deeper.
“For me, the true meaning of diversity and inclusivity is not 50 shades of foundation. It’s not, let’s get a picture of a black girl, a white girl, an Asian girl and call it inclusivity.”
For Chuter, it’s important to champion not just beauty brands that cater to people of colour, but beauty brands run by people of colour.
And, it’s a good time for privately-owned beauty brands like Uoma. They are experiencing growth faster than the total US beauty industry, despite obvious disparities in budget to spend on tech innovation.
This growth hasn’t escaped the notice of beauty corporates, who recognise that incubation and M&A strategies are essential to compete with smaller brands and maintain market share long-term. 2019 saw Shiseido purchase cult skincare brand Drunk Elephant, Unilever acquire J-beauty brand Tatcha and L’Occitane buy skincare brand Elemis.
Augmented Reality Makes it Easy to Try Before You Buy
L’Oreal’s acquisition of augmented reality company Modiface was a significant milestone for the beauty industry, aligning with L’Oreal’s ambition to become the biggest ‘beauty tech’ company. Since then, companies like Ulta Beauty and Henkel have made some of their first tech acquisitions.
‘Virtual try-on’ represents one of the most logical and practical use cases for augmented reality, a technology that hasn’t yet been adopted by the mainstream in other sectors.
Beauty virtual try-on is increasingly popular in China’s hyper-digital market, integrating with WeChat to offer a seamless service in the palm of your (perfectly manicured) hand. 76% of virtual try-on audiences are millennials or Gen Z consumers.
ModiFace’s integration with L’Oreal allows customers to virtually try on eye colours, lip colours and hair colours, either live or with uploaded photos, making it easier to purchase make-up products online.
Since the acquisition, the conglomerate has launched a variety of AR-powered beauty experiences for L’Oréal’s beauty brands, on Facebook, Amazon, and their brands’ own websites, which seamlessly direct users to purchase the products after the virtual try-on.
The technology also collects valuable data around facial characteristics and shopping behaviour, helping L’Oreal determine what kind of products specific people will buy with greater accuracy.
AR-powered shopper tracking technologies can also increase conversion rates and help brands enhance their websites to match consumer behaviour.
Smashbox partnered with Modiface on a virtual makeup try-on mobile app with an eye-tracking component. It analysed the areas of a screen that received the most attention, creating a heat-map which helped the brand improve the beauty shopping experience for its customers and increase conversions by 27%.
Beauty brands have been using artificial intelligence to create personalised skincare recommendations for a few years now. A focus for 2020 and beyond is on developing mechanisms to track skin changes over time, in order to provide evidence-based analysis that their products are working.
Amazon Alexa voice-controlled smart mirrors, machine-learning apps and scientific skin tests are among the ways that brands are gathering evidence and we can expect to see brands establish a greater focus on tracking skin health changes over time through technologies, clinical trials and more.
Beauty brands that are not seen to be actively combating the problem of single-use plastics are at risk of damaging their reputation and losing valued customers, especially among Millennials and Gen-Z groups. A hot topic in most industries currently, sustainability has become a particularly important conversation within CPG industries, which traditionally use a lot of single-use packaging.
Earlier this year, L’Oreal invested in biotech startup Carbios, which is developing plastic recycling technologies, and also committed to using paper-based cosmetic tubes this year.
Mink is a product that has a novel solution to the problem: 3-D printing your own make-up. A mini 3D printer combines with an app to allow users to import any image, choose colours from it, and have it print out as a sheet of powder make-up, ready to apply – minus the plastic packaging and shipping costs of a brand new eyeshadow.
Technology is certainly providing a strong foundation for a more personalised service for beauty consumers, with AI, AR and even 3D Printing providing ways for brands to have an edge in a competitive market.