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NEW YORK, United States — Every January, the tech world descends onto Las Vegas for CES, the splashy consumer electronics show where over 4,000 companies present their latest inventions.
Gadgets at CES range from the revolutionary to the useless to the asinine (this year’s gimmick was a Charmin robot that delivers toilet paper refills into bathrooms). Over the years, beauty products have become an increasingly common sight, with industry giants like L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson pushing their innovations.
This year, amongst the fitness trackers, smart televisions and gaming consoles, two new beauty gadgets received buzz.
L'Oréal debuted an on-demand custom skin-care gadget called Perso, which was developed in its technology incubator. The Bluetooth-enabled device stands 6.5 inches high and creates custom lipstick, foundation and skincare; ingredient cartridges are stored inside the gadget and made with an app. Users upload photos to an app, which uses augmented reality and artificial intelligence from ModiFace, the beauty start-up L'Oréal acquired in 2018, to identify skin type and colour, and determine treatments for dark spots and pores. The app also looks at data like location, weather, and pollen and UV rates. L’Oréal plans to start selling the Perso sometime in 2021.
Procter & Gamble's Opte makeup wand.
Procter & Gamble was debuting Opte, a handheld makeup-printing device. It too came out of an incubator arm — P&G Ventures — and reportedly took over a decade to develop. The gadget is sort of like a human inkjet printer and prints makeup as it rolls over users' faces. The company claims the makeup looks more natural because "foundation covers your skin, looking heavy and flat [while] Opte uses 95 percent less product." It goes on sale this summer, and costs $599 for the wand, with makeup cartridges costing $100 each.
It’s hard to say whether either product will enter the mainstream — the category has a long history of gimmicky gadgets that came and went without leaving much of a mark. Beauty devices are expensive; a consumer willing to take a chance on a $10 serum that may or may not work may not be all-in on a $400 electric face mask.
But companies big and small see technology-infused beauty products and devices as a promising category.
“A few years ago, we could have never predicted that people wanted to spend $400 on electric beauty masks, but there’s been a real appetite to invest and personalise skincare,” said Fiona Glen, head of projects at beauty brand consultant firm The Red Tree.
At-home beauty devices are key to that strategy, and they go beyond the requisite hair drying and facial brush electronic. They often have “smart” elements and come with apps that use AI; they are also modelled after devices used by aestheticians and dermatologists.
Beauty products that moonlight as high-tech items can be easy to sell because many in-office, dermatological procedures are done with complicated tools, which may lend credibility to at-home versions.
The market is not yet crowded: 35 percent of women don’t own a beauty device but are interested in trying one, according to Mintel, a research firm.
“Technology has been a key aspect to beauty, whether it’s LED lights, or laser treatments, and now brands are figuring out how to make it available for everyday customers,” Glen said.
The Cellreturn LED mask from celebrity aesthetician Angela Caglia sells for $1,900 and is a best-seller on Net-a-Porter. Celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski and Jessica Alba rave about the TriAngle Facial Beauty Tool ($160) from skincare expert “Nurse Jamie” Sherrill and Sephora shoppers are obsessed with Dr Dennis Gross’s SpectraLite mask ($435).
GloPro, a DIY micro needling gadget, consistently sells out on HSN and the Trinity Facial toning gadget from NuFace has helped put the California-based beauty company on the map. The Foreo Luna face cleanser has a rabid following with beauty YouTubers and a recent TikTok video featuring the HiMirror Smart Mirror ($149) has almost 2 million views.
Neutrogena will soon launch custom 3D-printed face masks through its MaskiD app and last year, La-Roche Posay launched My Skin Track pH, a wearable gadget that tracks users pH levels and offers skincare tips with its accompanying app.
"Technology has given us a better chance at solving some needs in beauty," said Guive Balooch, the global director of the Connected Beauty Incubator at L'Oréal said. "AI and data are so powerful and precise now that we're finally able to have the inclusivity that's required in beauty for precise skincare shades for foundation."
Devices can boost margins. The high purchase price also locks in customers, who will be less likely to hop to a rival’s $400 LED face mask than if they had bought a $10 disposable one.
They can also be used to sell add-on products. The Neutrogena Skin360 skin scanner app recommends products customers can use to treat their skin.
The idea of buying an expensive, internet-connected mirror or makeup printer seemed outlandish not too long ago. But similar devices have found their way into homes in other categories, from streamed cycling classes with Peloton to personal training sessions with Mirror.
"Any time I post a gadget to Instagram stories, I get an insane amount of replies," said beauty influencer and entrepreneur Tina Craig. "A sonic blackhead cleanser from Amazon got 5,000 swipe ups which is really a lot for me."
Craig noted that the rise of self-care can also be correlated with the desire of consumers to try beauty products at home.
“People are really carving time out of their Sundays to take care of themselves and if they can try a facial gadget at home instead of going to a facility, they will buy it,” she said. “It might cost $300 but that’s like one and a half facials.”
If they can try a facial gadget at home instead of going to a facility, they will buy it.
Consumers are also delving deeper into the nitty gritty details of their beauty regimens, whether it’s policing skin-care products for harmful ingredients or adopting multi-step K-beauty programmes. Brands like The Ordinary have made personalised routines affordable, and beauty brands are hoping their at-home gadgets will replace facials and trips to the dermatologist.
The risks with beauty tech
Not all beauty gadgets are going to be a hit.
“At the end of the day, consumers care about efficacy, which will be even more important for beauty tech, which may not have the same selling points like Instagrammable packaging,” said Kenya Watson, a beauty analyst at CB Insights.
Beauty gadgets are also likely to remain niche — and could never become must-have products like electric toothbrushes — because they are still inaccessible to the mainstream beauty consumer.
“Currently the price of most at-home devices is out of reach for the everyday consumer,” said Watson. “Consumers will likely not purchase if they can achieve similar results with the tools and products they already have on hand.”
Consumers will likely not purchase if they can achieve similar results with the tools and products they already have on hand.
Companies that hit it big with beauty gadgets can run the risk of getting stale, and coming up with a second hit device is difficult. Foreo, known for its Luna cleansing massager, has had less success with follow-up face masks and oral care.
There are also plenty of risks that come with developing beauty tech. Adding electricity to any product adds elements of danger to consumers (Neutrogena had to recall its Light Therapy Acne Mask over the summer out of concern its blue light could cause eye injuries.)
Plenty of beauty gadgets are also marketed with false claims.
And as is the case for all tech, beauty gadgets must iterate in order to stay relevant. Even Apple keeps releasing new versions of its iPhone to stay top of mind and keep sales steady.
“We do feel the pressure to ensure that what we are making has to provide something new,” said Balooch of L’Oréal. “That’s the key with this type of research and development: you need to find the tension and then determine if technology is really what will help it.”
THIS WEEK IN BEAUTY
Kat Von D left her brand. The tattoo artist, who said she is focusing on her vegan shoe line and an album, sold the shares of her brand back to Kendo, who will rebrand it as KVD Vegan Beauty.
NikkeTutorials came out as transgender. The uber-popular beauty influencer, who has 13 million YouTube subscribers, decided to come out publicly because she says she was being blackmailed.
Hermés finally launches colour cosmetics. The luxury brand entered the makeup market with a line of $67 lipsticks cased in refillable tubes designed by Pierre Hardy and made of the same metal as its handbag hardware.
Makeup will come back and sustainability will rule. Or so says the NPD, which has released its beauty market predictions for the next decade.
Net-a-Porter adds 27 beauty brands to its "sustainable" category, including Aesop, Tata Harper and Dr. Barbara Sturm.
Instagram will hide doctored images from users. The social media platform wants to decrease the spread of misinformation, but critics think it can be a form of censorship.
Emilia Clarke is the first global ambassador for Clinique. All hail… Clineesi?
Dr. Brandt gets the podcast treatment. The famed "Baron of Botox," whose tragic suicide shocked the industry, is the subject of a new podcast of the same name.
A virtual influencer just launched a skincare line. "Abby," a virtual influencer dreamed up by Chinese beauty brand Perfect Diary, has her own skincare line and e-commerce site.