AI beauty: how tech is taking over

Beauty technology trends – from skincare apps to smart mirrors
Photography: Stocksy

If you’ve ever filled out an online survey, ‘chatted’ to a virtual advisor or tapped on touch-screen technology in a store, you may well have already entered the world of AI beauty. Expected to exceed $100 billion by 2025, AI – or artificial intelligence – is booming and it’s making its mark on the beauty industry. ‘As we enter “the fourth industrial revolution”, artificial intelligence is altering the way we work, live, interact and, of course, consume products,’ explains Clare Varga, head of beauty at trends agency WGSN. ‘For the beauty industry, in particular, this has created new challenges, but also huge new opportunities, as it offers brands the ability to service some of the big consumer shifts shaping the industry. These include the demand for personalised beauty, science-backed product and a more “joined up” shopping experience between home and store. With big players, such as L’Oréal and Coty, already on board, AI is changing the face of beauty.’

So what is AI beauty?

While it might sound sci-fi, in simple terms, AI is a computer system mimicking intellectual human behaviours. So it might mean that you give it information and it then offers recommendations based on your data. Currently, quizzes, Q&As and chatbots are paving the way. Popping up in the corner of your screen, they might ask if you need any help or get you to complete a short survey detailing everything from your age and location to skin type and any concerns. Once they have your vitals, the algorithms scan their databases using ‘semantic’ (aka keyword) searches from words you’ve typed in – things such as blemishes, wrinkles and hydration. These whizz-kid systems will then prescribe everything from specific products to a bespoke routine. Plus, they ‘know’ the ingredients that won’t be suitable for certain skin types, so you can swerve them.

"As we enter the 'fourth industrial revolution', AI is altering the way we work, live, interact and, of course, consume products."

Captured on camera

Our camera phones are getting in on the act, too, making it even easier to communicate your needs. For example, Olay’s Skin Advisor tool analyses your complexion via a short survey, plus a selfie. From here, the AI technology identifies skin age and the areas that need help. It also uses an algorithm that combines the experience of Olay scientists, skincare experts and consumers to pinpoint a personalised regime.

Similarly, La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Spotscan, which can be accessed through on your phone, combines AI and dermatological data to recommend a skincare regime. Its database includes over 6,000 photos of dermatology patients of all ethnicities that have been graded by experts. So all you need to do is upload three snaps of yourself and in return you’ll receive a graded analysis of your skin (based on imperfections such as brown marks). It’s the kind of information we never thought we’d have access to, let alone be able to get hold of sitting on the sofa in our slippers.

Go gadget, go!

It isn’t just skincare that’s getting the techie treatment: everything from make-up counters to home hair straighteners are undergoing an AI upgrade. ‘Magic mirrors’ are being used by make-up brands to allow consumers to try before they buy, giving you the chance to virtually apply products. ‘The idea that you can experiment online with different make-up looks and hairstyles, or look into a “magic mirror” and see a superimposed smoky eye, blows my mind,’ says celebrity make-up artist Hannah Martin. Some US brands are already experimenting with how facial recognition technology that takes into account face shape, skin tone and individual features can create tailored tutorials, too.

Perfume houses are also catching on fast to how AI can be used in scent. Some are using touch-screen technology and ‘odour maps’ (that help categorise, classify and group together certain smells depending on gender, location and emotion) to assist their in-house ‘noses’ to create new fragrances at lightning speed.

Meanwhile, others, such as beauty company Coty (which owns Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein and Chloé fragrances, to name a few), are putting it back into the consumers’ hands. Trialling the innovations in Argentina this year, shoppers were given virtual reality headsets and asked afterwards to choose one of seven scented stones. They were then propelled into an immersive universe that brought to life their scented ‘territory’ via visuals and sound, all powered by AI technology. Worlds away from the spray-and-sniff testing strips!

Meanwhile, AI-infused gadgets are arriving in our bathrooms and bedrooms. From cleansing devices and toothbrushes to hair straighteners and brushes, they now have the power to analyse everything from our hydration levels to the condition of our hair. They can also dial down the heat of your straighteners if the plates sense your locks are dehydrated, and monitor pollution levels in case you need a deeper cleanse.

"AI-infused beauty gadgets are arriving in our bathrooms."

So why AI?

It seems to be a win-win situation. Brands already have vast databases full of ingredients and products ready to be tapped into; and, for us, these new AI add-ons are convenient and affordable. If you’re too embarrassed to ask someone about pigmentation marks or you don’t have the time or money to see a facialist, beautician or dermatologist, this technology could be the answer.

‘People are continually looking for solutions that provide convenience, without having to compromise on results, and AI technology provides tailored solutions at the touch of a button,’ explains Nora Zukauskaite at Swedish brand Foreo, which has started to use AI technology in its cleansing devices. ‘This allows the consumer to purchase products that are right for them.’ The personalised aspect of AI-enhanced services is especially appealing, too.

Earlier this year, Estée Lauder introduced ‘Liv’ to its customers. Powered by Google Home hub, it uses the search engine’s AI technology to pose tailored questions to women who are looking for a bespoke night-time skin regime that incorporates their time allowance, texture preferences and skincare goals.

But while there’s a certain level of responsibility computers can deal with, there are still limitations, which will always need the human touch (for now, at least). ‘There’s a benefit to seeing digitally how a style looks on your face, but it can’t teach you how to apply the product like someone in person. It’s the coaching of the in-store artists that’s of real benefit,’ adds make-up artist Hannah. Plus, if the human connection that comes from a beauty advisor’s advice is all part of the experience for you, your smartphone banter will, no doubt, leave you cold.

The future forecast

The more sophisticated this technology gets, the more prescribed our day-to-day habits could become, especially as we’re now a nation of sharers. You just have to scroll through someone’s social media feed to see their favourite perfume and the spot cream they swear by. And now it’s not just your friends and family tapping into our must-haves, these bots are, too. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it saves money, time and the environment (investing in the right products means less waste), maybe it’s less artificial intelligence and more beauty intelligence… and who wouldn’t want that?

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