Expert's Opinion

Personalization of Cosmetic Products

By Peter Luebcke, Sagentia | September 2, 2013

DIY assessment is creeping into personal care and wellness.

We do it all the time, and have done so for as long as one can remember.  Personalization is effectively tailored choices of just about anything you can think of; what color car do I like, how much milk do I have in my tea or coffee and the list goes on.  For personal care products it is in the preferences we have for certain products and the way we choose to use them.  For a given degree of efficacy, the preferences we have may be in the scent or the texture, the cost or the brand image, or all of these things matching our lifestyle aspirations.  However, what if the choice is made for us based on some level of measurement or diagnosis?  This ‘professional’ opinion is no longer the sole jurisdiction of medics or beauty professionals in a clinic or salon.  Individual tailoring of personal care products and their use regimes can now be accessed at the point of sale and at home.

Increasingly we are seeing various techniques employed at the point of sale to help determine which product is best and even how it should be used.  An example close to home is the ‘Dove Advanced Diagnostic Instrument’ developed by Sagentia for Unilever to enable stylists and in-store staff to determine the level of hair damage and recommend particular combinations of Dove brand shampoos, conditioners and hair serums for the consumer.  Based on the measurement result, not only can the exact combination of these products be recommended but also their frequency of use. 

Another example of tailored product recommendation is Boots’ No.7 foundation matching service based on X-Rite’s color sensing technology, the drive behind which has been due to the fact that the vast majority of women would change their foundation if a better match could be found.

Both of these examples require an in-store expert to do the assessment but do-it-yourself assessment is also creeping onto the radar more and more in personal care and wellness.  In terms of health we already measure our own blood pressure, temperature, weight and even stage of reproductive cycles with home diagnostic devices and kits in the comfort and privacy of our own homes.  However, for beauty related aspects, until recently we have all had to rely on looking in the mirror or the opinion of friends and family for any kind of assessment of skin or hair health and appearance.  But times are changing, as with many personal care products, and new innovations are often imported from parallel industries. 

Currently, methods of testing the efficacy of a cosmetic skin care product, for example, include testing the hydration of the skin before and after application by measuring the skin’s electrical conductivity or capacitance.  A moisturizer’s ability to maintain the necessary barrier function of the skin is tested by measuring the transepidermal water loss which is usually determined by measuring the humidity inside a closed volume adjacent to a known area of skin.  These and other tests could be performed on different areas of skin or hair to map out the variation in treatment required.  This approach supports the idea that not only is a one-size-fits-all approach not appropriate, but also that approaches differ from one point on our bodies to another, therefore requiring ‘targeted’ treatments.  These common ‘laboratory’ techniques for assessing the efficacy of a skin care product are likely to eventually make their way into our bathrooms and bedrooms to give us the greater control and product personalization we all crave as we move steadily closer towards a ‘quantified self’ society.

An example of DIY assessment underlining this trend is the Ioma Youth Booster that incorporates a skin-contacting MEMS-like technology in the lid to allow the user to measure skin hydration.  The user knows whether to apply the moisturiser once or more per day based on the number of LEDs that illuminate.  This kind of bespoke treatment gives the user that feeling of individual tailoring of a treatment and uniqueness which an average off-the-shelf skincare product could not.  Other devices that provide such a tailoring of treatment include intense pulsed light hair removal kits, which require a skin tone measurement to be taken with an associated sensor to determine the Fitzpatrick (pigment) type and therefore tailor the intensity of the flash accordingly so maximizing hair removal efficacy and minimizing dermal injury. 

Also, in this internet and smart-phone era it is not surprising that web-based services are appearing which undertake the assessment remotely.  An example of this is the Olay Pro-X Skin Analyzer (calibration headband) which requires the consumer to take a digital photograph of herself wearing the headband and upload it to the Olay website where the software accounts for the variable light levels, etc. to give an assessment of skin-age and problem areas such as uneven pigmentation and wrinkles. 

The user is then given recommendations of Olay products to use and track her skin’s progress over time with each use.  Personalization doesn’t of course have to result from a measurement taken from a diagnostic device; many internet sites such as and ask the shopper a series of questions to narrow down the condition of the hair or skin and then give a hair or skin ‘age’ and recommend a particular product. 

Those who watch out for new innovations in the ‘electronic beauty’ space will invariably see most of the new gadgets coming out of the Asia-Pacific region, which is already at the forefront of this ‘device’ trend with products that measure and diagnose as an integral part of the grooming and preening process.  Historically, the region spends nearly 5 times more per capita than the U.S. on personal care products and has been an area that not only demands novelty but loves the latest gadgets which is no less true in the personal care space.  Products are in demand that can be used anywhere and at any time, including portable misters that keep the surroundings and the skin hydrated, portable hair straighteners and vibrating mascara applicators. 

Although Asia Pacific is leading this trend at the moment, we believe personalization of cosmetic products is going to evolve rapidly and become increasingly accepted and demanded globally.  And we can see there are going to be significant opportunities for cosmetic product companies to understand how consumers interact with products and with this understanding build personalization into both durable and consumable components.

Watch this space, personalization is coming to a bathroom near you!

About the Author
Dr. Peter Luebcke is a specialist senior technology consultant at Sagentia in the field of consumer products with particular focus in the personal care sector. He has first-hand experience leading a personal care products startup and was intimately involved in both the design and development of products that fall into the blurred interface of consumer products and medical devices. He also has extensive biomaterials, engineering R&D project management and technology commercialization experience. Sagentia is a global innovation, technology and product development company that provides outsourced R&D consulting to start-ups through to global market leaders in the medical, industrial and consumer sectors.

For more info visit www.sagentia.comor email

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