New technology provides endless possibilities to solve issues from health care to environmental sustainability to education and whatnot that have been around us for years and even decades.
In recent years, it seems to be changing the billions of dollars worth beauty industry — where progress regarding diversity and inclusion has been slow until now — by helping it tackle the challenges from inclusivity to accessibility to diversity, which its consumers have faced forever.
“Technology will, in a way, augment beauty because today there are some basic needs of consumers that have been around for a long time. For example, there’s a need to be able to find the right product for us individually; the right product for skin tone or hair texture and things like that,” argued Guive Balooch, the global president for augmented beauty and open innovation at L’Oréal, during a zoom interview.
“As many as 50 per cent of consumers can’t find the right shade of foundation without assistance. This is where beauty and technology intersect. Beauty tech will allow a better way for people to solve these tensions,” he noted.
L’Oréal has introduced a device that allows people with limited motor skills to apply makeup more precisely but at a high price point
These challenges have been around for a long time but aren’t related to technology. Technology only lets us address them. “For this reason, we believe that there is an opportunity where technology can bring more inclusivity, more accessibility, more diversity regardless of who you are, where you are from and where you live.
“It can deliver results that you can never get with your hands alone. It gives you a chance to get the right product. These are the reasons why technology will be important for the beauty industry in future.”
Mr Balooch says, “inclusivity is at the heart of our innovation and beauty tech strategy. It’s about beauty for all and accessibility tech. We’re passionate about bringing new technologies powering beauty services that augment and reach every individual’s ultimate desires, expectations, and unmet needs, crossing all barriers or limitations to self-expression.
Our goal is to create inclusive beauty, and technology can play a huge role in inclusivity. I’ll give you two examples of how we are doing this.“
First, some 50pc women can’t find the right shade of foundation for the skin tone of their face. “That means these women have very light to very dark skin. It means we lack inclusivity since these women can’t get the right shade.
“What we’ve done is build a diagnostic that enables you to take pictures of your skin through your smartphone to create unique, exact match foundation blends with the help of our digital shade finder tech and accompanying algorithm,” he said.
Initially, the solution was developed as an in-store device. But its capabilities weren’t far-reaching enough to be considered truly inclusive.
Hence, the company launched a digital version to put it in the reach of everyone who wants to use it. “It’s about enabling everyone to experience beauty to any level they want to.”
Secondly, one out of every 10 people in the world has motor skill limitations. “It can be from arthritis, from stroke, from Parkinson’s or any other reason. That is almost a billion people in the world. These people can’t use their hands fully to apply beauty techniques because they have tremors or issues with angular movement of their arms,” Mr Balooch underlines.
“So we worked with a start-up in California to build HAPTA, the world’s first handheld computer-controlled makeup applicator for disabled people. It uses smart-motion controls so people with limited motor skills can apply makeup more precisely.
“The device levels the playing field for all people interested in applying makeup because by using an applicator that understands movements and adjusts, people who couldn’t experience beauty can now experience it. This is a core example of inclusivity. You can’t be inclusive if these people cannot participate in your world or environment.”
Recently, his team has also introduced another handheld electronic brow makeup applicator to give consumers the most precise brow shape in seconds.
Developed in collaboration with a Korean start-up, the device’s app scans a user’s face to recommend a brow shape. Once they pick their brow shape, they hold the device over one brow, and it will start printing where it detects the first pigmented brow hair. It prints as they swipe slowly across their brows.
However, at the current price point of $149-199 a piece, neither HAPTA nor Brow Magic devices can be considered ‘inclusive’ for everyone, especially in low-income countries like Pakistan, with per capita income as low as $1,500 a year.
Many would say the price defeats the very idea of using tech to make beauty more inclusive and accessible. Berkeley alumni and a 17-year veteran in the beauty industry, Mr Balooch agrees with this concern to some extent.
“If you want to achieve inclusivity, you have to do two things: the first is to put that experience on the market; it has to deliver the right product. Then there’s this cascading strategy to get it to everyone around the world; it’s more logistics.
“Some tech solutions are free, and some are luxury; it depends on technology. We aren’t trying to make money out of our tech beauty solutions, digital or physical. Over time, we will cascade the luxury products.
“We’re looking at ways to make these applicators as accessible as possible to almost every consumer from different socioeconomic backgrounds. We’re also looking for collaboration with not-for-profit organisations to provide luxury tech products free of cost to those who couldn’t afford these experiences. The foundation shade finder technology is free and accessible to everyone.”
Speaking about his future plans, he says his international team of 80-100 people is interested in understanding the biology of skin and hair to help people have more precise products tailor-made to the requirements of their biology.
“We are interested in more and more smart applications for, for example, treating individual wrinkles. We are also thinking about how technology will allow us to have greener solutions and bring more and more transparency in ingredients used in our products.”
Mr Balooch believes that technology offers the potential to reshape the beauty industry. But, he adds, “In the end, the most important thing is not technology and what it would do for beauty. But the important thing is what technology can do to solve people’s problems in the beauty industry for many years.”
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 31th, 2023