Beauty and personal care goes high-tech

18 Feb 2016

Peer into a mirror that provides expert skincare tips or try on makeup using an augmented-reality app. While these may sound like scenes from a sci-fi movie, the technology enabling such products is actually closer to reality than you may imagine.


The former is a “Magic Mirror” concept under development by Panasonic, expected to be available sometime in 2016, while the latter, called Makeup Genius, has already been launched by L’Oréal Paris.


In Singapore, high-tech beauty solutions include the IOMA Booster, a moisturiser with a hydration sensor embedded in its cap to help the user determine how much product to use daily for optimal hydration. There’s also the newly launched Dior Skin Analyzer, expected to be available in Singapore early this year, which tests the individual’s skin condition, shade and texture, and provides appropriate makeup recommendations.


A global trend


Industry watchers, including Euromonitor International and Mintel, expect technology to be a key growth driver of beauty products beyond lotions and creams in the coming years. Mintel research points to the rapidly growing global consumer demand for high-tech and wearable beauty solutions. Industry leaders are bullish on Asia leading this growth in the coming years. Persistence Market Research, expects the global beauty devices market to grow from US$19.4 billion in 2014 to US$54.2 billion by 2020, and Asia is expected to be the fastest growing regional segment of this market. Another report has found that in Asia Pacific, sales of electric beauty devices have grown by nearly 11,000% in volume between 2010 and 2015.


Singapore-based Skin Inc is one company that anticipated this, and has launched various innovations such as Skin Identity, an online questionnaire allowing the individual to diagnose his or her skin concerns, and a handheld face-sculpting device called the Optimizer Voyage.


“There has been a fundamental shift in the industry with the consumer in the driving seat,” says Sabrina Tan, founder and CEO of Skin Inc. “People want experiences that are designed for their unique needs.”


Tan is already experiencing success – she says the launch sales of the Optimizer Voyage in the region “far exceeded expectations”. Southeast Asia is home to skincare and technology hubs such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and the market remains very receptive to beauty technology innovations. “They are early adopters of technology and are willing to try new things,” she says.


Works in progress


Novel high tech beauty devices currently available include LED face masks and MAPO masks that scan the face for dry spots and deliver gentle heat to these spots for better absorption of skincare. Google has also filed a patent for deodorant chip technology, although there is no news yet on the launch date.


While most of these innovations are typically offered by high-end companies such as Home Skinovations, TRIA Beauty and Koninklijke Philips, some cosmetic companies are already investing in practical applications for the masses. For example, L’Oréal has teamed up with the University of Illinois on a research project to develop a flexible electronic film that can be worn on the skin to diagnose the wearer’s specific skin condition. This information can be scanned from the film via a smartphone to allow a computer programme or app to churn out beauty product recommendations.


While these are still in development, the earliest self-diagnostic tools have arrived, albeit on a smaller scale. South Korean tech startup WAY has created a portable skin analyser that gives an immediate skin diagnosis and offers suitable product recommendations. The first shipment was sent out in December 2015 after a fundraising drive on Indiegogo.


“These newfangled innovations aim to make it more convenient and efficient for consumers to get their beauty fix,” says Jean-Michel Karam, CEO of IOMA. “Our company is constantly researching tech-savvy beauty solutions that will enhance the consumer's beauty experience. Consumers will encourage and support any technological innovation that is easy for them to understand and use, specifically when it delivers a true benefit.”


Tan of Skin Inc echoes this sentiment. “To win consumers’ share of wallet, the innovation must truly deliver a breakthrough. With the Skin Inc Optimizer Voyage, our adoption rate from awareness to conversion has been as short as a single, in-person demonstration. Even though the technology is new, consumers are quick to adopt it once they see the results.”


Potential challenges


In preparation for a shift to the digital age, there are some challenges that beauty companies must watch out for. A potential barrier to entry is the amount of investment required for technology research and development, which limits this sector to companies with deep pockets. Karam says the company has spent more than $23 million in R&D and the deployment of more than 2100 skin-diagnosis devices around the world. Despite this, there may still be ways for start-ups to fund their developments - for example the popular crowdfunding site Indiegogo has proven effective at allowing innovators to reach out directly to their customer base.


While prices of existing beauty tech devices tend to be higher, due to the amount of research that has gone into their development, analysts suggest that brands can consider launching entry level products with basic functions to appeal to the mass market. This will help to bring scalable profit to the company, while balancing affordability of such high-tech devices. For example, Olay has an entry level battery operated facial cleanser that costs about a quarter of the price of a high-end Clarisonic brush.


Nevertheless, the potential payoffs could justify this investment. According to the Mintel report, as consumers become more familiar using technology to track their health and wellbeing, they also become more receptive towards beauty brands that boast similar functionality. Today, 30 percent of women in the US say they are interested in trying a facial skincare product that has integrated diagnostic tools, such as an inbuilt skincare sensor chip. Given the level of digital penetration in Asia, it can be inferred that consumers here will be just as interested.


The take-up rate in Singapore is likely to be even higher. “Consumers are clued in to the latest innovations even before they come to the local market, so when they are launched they are fast to adopt them,” Tan says.


Consumer privacy and data protection is another challenge that must be carefully considered. For instance, skin analyser devices that connect wirelessly to smartphones and apps and have the ability to collect unprecedented amounts of data also have security implications if not appropriately monitored. For now, the onus is on the consumer to find out how their personal data will be captured and used before making a purchase.


With growing consumer interest in and appreciation for high-tech beauty, the future appears bright for the rapid rise of beauty technology, and affords ample opportunities for companies to introduce solutions that will indeed make users look younger and feel better about themselves.