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By Christine Esposito , Associate Editor | February 1, 2017

Through virtual reality, apps and connected devices, beauty and personal care brands can strengthen their customer relations

“By no means do we represent ourselves to be a tech company. We are a 107-year old product development company that creates very innovative and luxurious products for women and men around the world,” Esohe Omoruyi, senior vice president of global open innovation and digital services at L’Oréal, told an audience assembled at CES 2017 last month in Las Vegas. 


Omoruyi was part of a panel discussion on the bustling show floor of the Sands Expo Center, just one venue that houses the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show. Each year, CES attracts an estimated 165,000-plus attendees and as many as 4,000 vendors like Sony, Samsung, Philips, Fitbit and Toyota that each year can be found alongside startups with aspirations of becoming the next big thing in consumer electronics.


As a purveyor of makeup and shampoo, L’Oréal wasn’t exactly a fish out of water in Las Vegas. One of its brands, Kérastase, used CES 2017 to unveil the world’s first ever smart hairbrush, the Kérastase Hair Coach powered by Withings. This was the second year in a row that L’Oréal made a splash at CES; a year ago it announced My UV Patch, a UV exposure wearable that’s now available via La Roche-Posay.


For this latest project, L’Oréal followed a similar pathway as that of My UV Patch; Kérastase collaborated with L’Oréal’s Research and Innovation Technology Incubator to create the connected tool, which is scheduled to roll out sometime in the third quarter of the year.


Think of the $200 device as an R&D lab shrunk down to fit into a hairbrush. It features advanced sensors along with patent-pending signal analysis algorithms to score the quality of hair and monitor the effects of different hair care routines. An accompanying mobile app provides additional insights and customized product recommendations to help people better care for their hair. Inside, the brush has a microphone that listens to the sound of hair brushing to identify patterns, providing insights into manageability, frizziness, dryness, split ends and breakage; 3-axis load cells that measure the force applied to the hair and the scalp when brushing; an accelerometer and a gyroscope which help further analyze brushing patterns and count brush strokes, with haptic feedback signaling if brushing is too vigorous; and conductivity sensors to determine if the brush is being used on dry or wet hair in order to provide an accurate hair measurement.


Hair Coach captured media attention as well as an International CES Innovation Award, which celebrates outstanding product design and engineering in new consumer technology products. But after speaking to Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Research and Innovation Technology Incubator, and Vincent Nida, general manager of Kérastase, inside Kérastase’s suite at CES, it was apparent they wanted to do more than simply wow the tech crowd. Their goal was to create a luxury item that consumers would want to use every day that would also deepen the connection between the brand and its customers.


“It is the greatest brush in the market. It is a great daily use item,” said Nida. “It’s not about pushing product.”


Withings, which is now part of Nokia, developed the hardware and spearheaded the mobile app UX. Kérastase’s expertise in professional hair care led to the design of the brush and digital and personalized content and recommendations in the app.


“Technology is transforming consumers’ daily beauty routines, and smart devices have huge potential to impact how we care for our hair and skin,” noted Balooch. “By using connected technologies to upgrade the hairbrush, something the average consumer uses every day, Withings and Kérastase have reinvented what a person’s relationship with their hair can look like and are showing how connected devices can revolutionize the beauty industry.”


By tracking data on hair’s condition, the executives contend the brush will deliver a more bespoke experience that will drive users back to the salon—which is imperative for a truly selective brand like Kérastase, as its products are available in just 1% of the world’s salons.


Motivating Factors


Today’s consumers want personalized attention and feedback, and many of them have that in the palm of their hand—and on their wrists, as evidenced by the growth of fitness-focused tracking devices sold by companies like Fitbit, Misfit and Garmin. According to International Data Corporation, the overall wearables market grew 3.1% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2016, with total wearables shipments reaching 23 million in the quarter. Basic wearables, primarily comprised of fitness bands, accounted for 85% of the market and experienced double-digit growth.


For consumers, these devices provide motivation to keep them on track—a concept being channeled by Elancyl Laboratoire. The skin care brand owned by Pierre Fabre was at CES showcasing its Slim Massage Coach, a smart massage device designed to help combat cellulite. Users squeeze an Elancyl topical gel into the device and then massage their body. The connected tool analyzes and corrects in real time the quality of the massage action and tracks overall usage, which helps increase compliance.


Elancyl was one of a handful of companies exhibiting at CES 2017’s Beauty Tech Marketplace. Other companies that participated included O’2Nails, a company that touts the Mobile Nail Printer V11 where designs of all kinds can be printed onto nails in just minutes, and Orig3n, which displayed the Aura genetic skin assessment, a home-use kit that offers a personalized genetic profile and report that highlights key areas of skin’s health (see these firms in our CES coverage video on Happi.com).


The Beauty Tech Marketplace was also home base for Perfect Corp. and ModiFace, companies that have already impacted the way consumers interact with beauty sector through virtual and augmented reality.


Perfect Corp. had a major presence at CES; at its booth, the company offered attendees a sneak peak into its new 3D facial recognition engine that will be released in early spring; CEO Alice H. Chang participated in CES presentations about AR; and models in the CES Fashion Tech Runway Show interacted with the company’s YouCam Makeup app at the end of the catwalk.


ModiFace also used CES to preview its own updated software platform for smart mirrors, which it contends will work with most smart mirror manufacturers and provide a universal capability for beauty assessment and simulation. The new platform includes ModiFace’s Skin AI skin analysis technology; a new lens distortion feature that compensates for lens misalignment and distortions that it contends are common in most smart mirror cameras; and dynamic lighting technology to provide ideal lighting conditions for every simulation.


“The biggest benefit is that we have taken ModiFace’s industry-leading software for makeup, skin, and hair AR and made them available on effectively every smart mirror in the market.  This way, anyone can choose a smart mirror of the size, specification, and manufacturer of their choice and know that ModiFace will be compatible,” CEO Parahm Aarabi told Happi in a post-CES interview.


AR/VR and smart mirrors are gaining momentum as these technologies allow consumers to play with color cosmetics in a way that simply isn’t practical. With AR/VR, a woman can try on myriad lipstick shades in minutes. Imagine that happening at an actual beauty counter? It simply can’t be done.


These tools help brands lengthen their interaction with customers. Based on general usage, ModiFace officials say time spent with consumers increases 117%, sharing increases 247%, and conversions (i.e. sales) for online implementations increases 84%.


“These are game-changing numbers and provide the reason that AR is sweeping through the beauty industry,” said Aarabi.


Proponents contend AR will play a greater role in areas beyond color.


“We currently work with about 75% of the top color brands, providing them our AR technology. But we also work with a large number of skin care brands. The ability to see the promise of a skin care product visualized on your own video/photo is quite beneficial, and ultimately leads to a more educated consumer choice (and a better relationship with the brand),” Aarabi said.


Mirror, Mirror


More companies are tapping into consumers’ vanity with new devices designed to be used at home, on, well, where else—their vanities!


Face Cake Marketing, the company behind Swivel 3D virtual dressing room, and Winnsboro, SC-based Element Electronics used CES to unveil their collaborative “next gen” vanity mirror and augmented reality experience, which is expected to hit store shelves this spring. 


Also at CES was HiMirror, a subsidiary of New Kinpo Group, which was showcasing its new HiMirror Plus ($259), with its intuitive, touch-free design to assess and analyze a user’s skin condition including wrinkles, fine lines, complexion, dark circles, spots and pores, and even recommends customized skin care routines. The mirror features LED makeup lighting with five different environment settings (sunset or a brightly lit office, for example) and increased memory that allows users to record and save skin analysis results over a longer time period. In addition, the My Beauty Box also allows user to scan the barcode of skin care products so users can manage the products they currently use or plan to use.


HiMirror has rolled out a new accessory called HiSkin ($49.99), which is designed to work with the HiMirror Plus. Through daily measurements of five key areas of the face (forehead, eyes, upper cheek, lower cheek and chin), the hand-held tool can track skin color and evaluate increases in hyperpigmentation and measure hydration changes. 


While not at CES this year, a Redmond, WA-based start-up is currently taking pre-orders for its Solomomo Home Skin Wand device, which company officials contend will be ready next month. Their device tracks skin health by delivering data about hydration levels, exfoliation, pore size, pore cleanliness, fine lines and wrinkles, empowering users to adjust their regimens and their products accordingly.


The co-CEO of Solomomo is Eric Engstrom, co-inventor of Microsoft DirectX, the pre-cursor to Xbox. His wife Cindy, Solomomo’s co-CEO, wanted to know if all the lotions, creams and serums she used were actually doing something for her skin. An avid fitness tracker herself, Engstrom believes monitoring skin health is a logical extension.


She told Happi, “I have a wearable that tracks my steps and my sleep—why not the largest organ on the human body?” 


Brave New World


Exactly how tech will take hold in the beauty and personal care space remains to be seen. But stakeholders are bullish about the role of select technologies, especially AR. The Gartner Group, for example, contends one in five global brands will use AR for shopping by the end of 2017, and by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality.


It’s a brave new world for sure—but is an area that  “old school” personal care manufacturers can’t dismiss.


Tech, as L’Oréal’s Omoruyi contends, “is a conduit for us to have meaningful conversations with our customers.” 

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