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Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, News, Technology

How Tech is Transforming the Beauty Industry

Alice Cattley

Alice Cattley, Writer
@uxconnections

AI and AR are revolutionising an industry that once relied on experimentation

Not that long ago, the phrase ‘smart beauty’ would have referred to work-appropriate eyeliner. Today, it’s the name of a revolution: the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), and Facial Recognition Software within the beauty and wellness industry. From smart mirrors and hairbrushes to apps that can guess the age of your skin, technology is rapidly becoming our closest companion – and it’s transforming more than just our makeup looks. 

Much of its attraction stems from the fact that an algorithm, unlike marketers and shop assistants, won’t lie to you to make a sale. Just look at the HiMirror (literally). Invented by Simon Shen, the CEO of a Taiwanese technology company, the HiMirror is a smart surface that analyses the texture and condition of your skin. Wrinkles, redness, dark circles, pores – every aspect of your face is mapped out and given a rating for its severity. “It might as well be calling me Ol’ Wonken Chops,” said Rhik Samadder in the Guardian.

The HiMirror will not spare your feelings; brutal honesty is basically its USP. But its 3x magnification and in-depth analysis is far from its only purpose. AR allows you to superimpose different makeup looks onto your reflection, while a WiFi connection displays weather and news updates. It even lets you listen to Spotify or browse tutorials on YouTube.  

Once the sphere of the smartwatch or Amazon’s Alexa, the HiMirror is hurtling our dressing tables into the 21st century. Just another tool designed to profit off insecurities we never knew we had? Almost certainly. Yet marketing campaigns have been doing that for centuries – at least AI will only show us what’s really there. 

Perhaps innovations like the HiMirror were always destined to be the ‘next big thing’ for an industry that has technology to thank for its persistent year-on-year growth. The global beauty industry is currently valued at over $532 billion, and this number is increasing. Digital platforms such as Instagram and YouTube – as well as the development of new online business models including subscription boxes and personalised haircare – have skyrocketed revenue and given rise to a new kind of beauty guru. Influencers who once just tested products now advertise, collaborate on, and create them, meaning consumers have near constant access to new items and services.

The explosion of the online beauty industry has left stores with little choice but to level up their game. Sephora, the multinational beauty store, is one of the few brands to have seen an increase in sales during the retail crisis, thanks in part to its development of the ‘Sephora Virtual Artist’ app. This uses Facial Recognition Software to detect a customer’s features and allow them to ‘try on’ different products or makeup looks, from false eyelashes to brow sculpting. Meanwhile, its Color IQ scanner can analyse which products will best match your skin tone – the American cousin of the Colour Match Service developed by Boots No.7.  

Speaking to PYMNTS, Benjamin Lord – the executive director of global eCommerce at NARS – said that “digital technology, things like augmented reality and artificial intelligence, have become very crucial pieces in transforming the beauty industry.” In fact, NARS’ parent company, Shiseido, is rapidly adding AI start-ups to a portfolio which traditionally consisted of beauty brands. And not just NARS, but also bareMinerals and Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrances are following this trend. The idea is that by utilising new technologies, these companies can stay one step ahead of more traditional competition. 

Our desire to shift away from physical beauty counters towards an increasingly virtual experience doesn’t seem to be slowing down. But why have smart beauty tools and apps transfixed us? For an industry which often markets itself on its potential for play and experimentation, the idea of turning makeup artistry into an algorithm could seem counterintuitive.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that it’s made experimentation easier, with lower stakes. Gone are the days of leaving a store with lipstick swatches striped down your wrist – now we can experiment from behind a screen. Tailored recommendations, based on AI analysis as opposed to the pseudo-science sometimes trumpeted by skincare brands, allow us to cut through an over-crowded marketplace and find products which we’ll actually use. 

With beauty YouTube videos racking up more than 169 billion views a year, we now have access to expert advice on our smartphones or laptops 24/7. As technology continues to transform the beauty industry, we’re set to have a lot more services available at the touch of a button, from virtual makeovers to skin-reading apps.

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