Beauty Tech in 2020: Trends and Innovations
The global market for beauty products is expected to top $600 billion by the end of 2020, and much of its growth is fueled by the digital world. Now, the beauty industry is fully embracing a digital future, as businesses and brands court a growing customer base of digital natives, and the COVID-19 pandemic forces a shift to virtual tools and online services. This digital transformation is powered by artificial intelligence, augmented reality and “smart” devices that deliver a highly personalized experience that’s available anywhere, anytime. These trends are driving a revolution in the way beauty products and services are delivered and consumed in 2020 and beyond.
The Beauty Industry Has Many Faces
The beauty industry includes a wide range of brands and businesses dedicated to making people look better – and feel better as a result. The cosmetics industry tops the list of beauty purveyors, of course, but along with that, there are many other niches for skin and hair care products, grooming tools and services, and holistic and natural wellness products.
The industry also includes programs and resources for training beauty professionals such as cosmeticians, nail techs and hair stylists, as well as the labs and manufacturers that develop beauty products. The beauty industry splinters even further, with tightly focused sub-niches for different ethnicities, lifestyles and trends such as specific hair and makeup designs.
Until relatively recently, the beauty industry thrived from person to person interaction. People could stop by a department store cosmetics counter and get a mini makeover or on the spot consultation about products, or try out new fragrances with a spritz on the wrist. Hair and nail salons depended on one on one contact, and aspiring nail techs and stylists could practice on each other in beauty school classrooms. But those old models of working have been gradually giving way to more efficient and engaging ways of giving customers the products and services they want — with the help of advanced machine learning and user-friendly digital tools that anyone with a smartphone can use.
The Digital Revolution Comes to the World of Beauty
The so-called “digital revolution” has made headlines for its potential to transform industries of all kinds with instant access to information and technologies that can instantly turn any interaction into a multidimensional experience. This emerging digital transformation has made recent headlines primarily for its effects on the world of healthcare, but the impact of these innovative digital tools on the multibillion-dollar beauty trade has gone largely unremarked.
Now, though, some of the same technologies that have permanently changed the way healthcare is delivered are also making it possible for beauty companies across the industry to offer consumers a new and highly personalized way to get the products and services they need, whenever they need them. Just as digital tools like telemedicine portals and wearable fitness trackers give consumers more control over managing their health, innovative devices, smart apps and customizable products are allowing beauty consumers to take charge of their shopping experience.
Digital Tools Create a New Beauty Culture
In earlier days, leading beauty brands controlled the market. That also meant that they controlled the very definition of beauty itself. In the products they carried and the ones they skipped, they told customers who “deserved” to be beautiful and who didn’t. From the colors of foundation and lipstick to the tools for styling hair, beauty companies could create products for the audience they envisioned, not the one that actually existed. Before the advent of a digital culture that allowed anyone to become visible, these companies could – and did – direct the narrative around beauty.
But now, there’s a digital beauty culture that includes a long list of beauty vloggers and bloggers, Instagram influencers and celebrities who promote the message that beauty can take many forms, and everybody deserves to look good. From “body positive” advocates to cosmetic lines for different skin tones, this new online beauty culture is putting control of the beauty narrative in the hands of consumers, who want to see and buy products that reflect who they are and what they care about. And these consumers expect beauty businesses to deliver personalized shopping experiences via the digital tools they know and use every day.
Recognizing that shift, beauty businesses are using an array of innovative digital technologies and tools to target that audience of “digital natives” – young, constantly connected consumers who have lived their entire lives in a digital world and expect instant personal access to their favorite brands anytime, anywhere. These consumers are often avid followers of online beauty influencers. They love to snap selfies and post videos, too, and they’re motivated to use those tools to share tips, tricks and information about their favorite products and styles.
COVID-19 Accelerates Change
The current COVID-19 pandemic is also playing a major role in pushing the beauty industry toward an increasingly digital future. The days of cosmetic counter makeovers and beauty tryouts have given way to social distancing and masks in public, with many in-person beauty businesses like hair and nail salons forced to scale back or find new ways to keep serving customers.
But digital tools can help to keep customers and clients engaged with their favorite businesses and brands even while person-to-person contact is limited. Some companies and salons are offering virtual consultations for hairstyles and fashion. Others are producing videos and other kinds of content on things like how to use various products or cut hair at home.
Even though the pandemic forced some industries to scramble for fast solutions to new problems, the technologies they’ve adopted are creating a new digital ecosystem that will define the beauty industry even after businesses settle into the new normal of a post-COVID-19 world.
Digital Innovation Drives New Beauty Trends
In some ways, the tools and technologies of this digital transformation are simply building on an existing foundation that’s made possible by the Internet of Things, or IoT. That’s the name web developers have created for the digital world we’re now living in – a world in which an array of AI-driven “smart” devices of all kinds are in in constant communication with each other, sharing information worldwide even without human intervention. From the smartphone you use every day to the massive digital infrastructures that manage cities, the IoT uses on-device intelligence and cloud computing platforms to keep data flowing in a ceaseless stream.
Like other industries, the beauty world uses existing tools of the Internet of Things to serve its customers and clients. But some beauty-related technologies are entirely new, developed or adapted from other industries to meet the demands of an audience that’s interested not just in appearance, but also in the space where beauty meets health and self-care. Going forward, an array of innovative AI-driven technologies will continue to shift the balance of power from brands and businesses to the customers they serve, making beauty products and services more accessible than ever and giving consumers the customized experiences they crave.
Augmented reality technologies and AI algorithms combine to create new tools for trying on everything from eyeglasses to lipsticks in an entirely virtual environment. These tools allow users to upload photographs to an app that overlays different products onto the image, or to see how products like foundation and eyeliner appear in real time using technologies similar to facial recognition apps.
Modiface is a virtual try-on tool used by 75 of the top 100 beauty brands, including cosmetic giants L’Oreal and Lancome. This app allows users to see themselves in various lighting conditions, or with any of the brand’s available makeup palettes or hair colors. L’Oreal also partners with YouCam, an app that not only provides a way to see different makeup options in various lighting settings, but also includes hundreds of virtual makeovers and a variety of beauty filters to try out different looks.
These virtual try-on apps make the purchasing process entirely personalized. Users can see how products will look in natural daylight, a dimly lit club and other settings, and choose from palettes recommended for their skin tone and type. Virtual try-on apps can also store a user’s profile and data for reference in future purchases, and users can buy the products they want directly from the app.
Custom Palettes and Personalized Product Design
As more and more consumers reject the old “one size fits all” paradigm of selling beauty products, a growing number of beauty brands are offering AI-driven technologies for designing and mixing custom cosmetic palettes for all kinds of face types. With Modiface and similar apps, cosmetic companies can offer consumers a set of personalized cosmetic recommendations based on skin tone and type, and show them how these color palettes will look in real time.
Sephora is a leading brand in both the online and brick and mortar worlds. It uses virtual try-on apps to show customers instantly how various products will look under a variety of circumstances, and makes recommendations for personalized product groups and color palettes based on user input. Products from Sephora’s multitude of categories can be purchased directly from the app.
Consumer research reveals that today’s beauty consumer isn’t just interested in appearance. Cosmetics, hair color and other personal care products should also be natural, toxin free and environmentally friendly. Numerous skin care lines have embraced technologies for personalizing products like creams and lotions based on a user’s personal profile and skin analysis by YouCam and similar apps. Ingredients can target specific problems such as skin dryness or allergies with personalized recommendations, and some companies can also create a unique custom blend based on a user’s data collected by the app.
Along with powering virtual try-on apps, augmented reality technologies offer consumers new ways to see – or reimagine – themselves in order to make decisions about how they look and feel.
Augmented reality technologies use a combination of artificial intelligence, imaging and audio to superimpose various kinds of information on the “real” world around us. That’s why this kind of technology is so useful for trying on cosmetics – different product images and colors can be displayed directly on an image of the user’s face or body, as in the ManiMatch app, which displays different manicure options on an uploaded image of the user’s hand.
This kind of technology can also be used in other ways to help consumers make decisions about their appearance and health. Not long ago, a popular app promised to “age” users by showing how they’d look at 10, 20 or 30 years older. While many people used the technology just for fun, this kind of augmented reality can also show users where wrinkles might appear or where skin could sag, so they can choose products or make lifestyle changes to ward off the aging effects predicted by the app.
Smart Mirrors and Body Scanners
In the digital age, mirrors can do more than simply show your reflection. Now, a new generation of AI-powered smart mirrors can analyze the skin and track changes over time, monitoring the appearance of wrinkles, blemishes and alterations in skin tone and color. Some can even generate 3D scans of the entire body for tracking weight and other changes in appearance.
Devices like the HiMirror line of smart mirrors can sit on a bathroom counter or shelf. Equipped with many of the tools of any tablet computer, these mirrors can also analyze a user’s skin and give it a score. Changes in skin scores over time can guide users to make changes in skin care routines, diet and other factors that affect the health and appearance of the skin.
HiMirror devices can simulate different lighting environments for the best makeup, and they also work with Mayo Clinic’s SkinSafe app, which helps users vet skin care products for harmful ingredients and find safer alternatives. Other smart mirror devices can double as fully functional smart TVs, with features for capturing images of a user’s face or showing a range of different lighting effects.
For a complete picture of the body, not just the face, NakedLabs has created the Naked Body Scanner, a full-length mirror that comes with a smart scale. This device uses 3D cameras to map the entire body and collect biometric data. This data is sent to the company’s servers and returned to a user’s smartphone. Scanner data can be stored under a user’s profile and used to track things like weight loss, muscle mass and changes in areas of the skin.
Although smart mirrors don’t directly offer virtual try-on or other kinds of customization for cosmetic and beauty products, these devices provide insights about areas that need attention and offer information about skin care options.
Makeup “Printers” and Cosmetic Calibrators
Like household printers that deliver precise amounts of ink to targeted locations, an intriguing new technology combines the mechanism of a printer with a pre-measured cartridge of foundation or other cosmetic product. This completely personalized skin care system can analyze the skin for color, tone and blemishes. Then it delivers a carefully calibrated amount of the product to each individual area. That’s the premise of Optune, a digital tool developed by Japanese cosmetic conglomerate Shiseido.
Launched in 2017, Optune is a fully personalized skin care system that detects disruptions in a user’s biorhythms that can affect the health and appearance of the skin. Optune operates off a database of 80,000 different skin care patterns. These patterns are matched with a user’s personal data, which can also include various kinds of external information such as the current humidity, sleep patterns and diet.
Data collected by Optune can be sent to Shiseido for analysis, and the company provides product recommendations and suggestions for a skin care routine. Currently Optune is only available as an app from Shiseido and new users must sign up for a subscription on the site.
Another type of makeup printing device promises to transform any image into wearable makeup with 3D technology. The Mink printer is a hand-held printer that comes with a set of specially formulated makeup sheets. Users scan the desired image or makeup color into the Mink app, load the makeup sheet into the tray and press print. When printing is complete, the makeup can be lifted off the sheet with a brush or sponge and applied to eyes, lips or face.
These and similar technologies can also be used in other areas of the beauty industry. Virtual simulations and augmented reality technologies can be used in cosmetics labs and manufacturing companies to create and test new products in virtually endless combinations. Virtual try-on apps and imaging tools can also help to train beauty professionals such as cosmeticians, nail techs and hair stylists. When live models aren’t readily available, these technologies allow students to experiment with color palettes and style variations, and practice skills such as applying makeup or nail polish.
Looking Ahead to a New Normal
The beauty industry’s digital transformation is the product of multiple forces that have made traditional business models less relevant, if not completely obsolete. Ecommerce is growing faster than any other retail model, as shoppers enjoy the convenience of buying what they want, whenever they want it. With access to AI-powered apps and cloud-based data, businesses of all kinds can deliver a unique shopping experience tailored to each customer’s interests and needs.
Ecommerce also supports the rise of new beauty brands and businesses. Without a physical storefront to maintain, these startups can concentrate on delivering the products and services customers want, quickly and economically. Ecommerce lends itself to customizable experiences, which helps beauty brands accommodate consumer driven demands for more diversity and inclusivity.
Beauty culture itself is changing, too. Where buyers once turned to advertising by large brands like Cover Girl and Maybelline for information about cosmetics and other beauty products, today’s consumers are just as likely, or more so, to pay attention to online beauty influencers – the bloggers and vloggers who demonstrate products in real time, interact with their audiences and make recommendations about beauty products and services.
The products and other things these influencers recommend are more likely to come from a trendy online boutique or a new cosmetics startup than from the old, established brands that used to dominate the industry. In fact, those brands are lagging behind newer companies, including the celebrity backed Fenty from Rihanna and Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics.
Along with those changes, consumers now see beauty products as part of a larger paradigm of healthy living and self care. That means there’s more interest in buying products that are eco-friendly and contribute to overall well being than those that simply enhance appearance. The tools of the digital world make it easy to offer those kinds of personalized recommendations that align with customers’ philosophies as well as with their lifestyles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has united all these influences. As beauty businesses struggle to accommodate the changes caused by the pandemic, they’re increasingly turning to digital tools that can connect them directly with buyers and provide the kind of shopping experience these customers want. AI driven technologies allow these brands to connect directly with shoppers and offer them products and services that are tailored to their needs, all while maintaining the safety measures required by the pandemic.
The changes caused by the pandemic aren’t limited to cosmetics retailers, either. Digital technologies and tools also help other businesses in the beauty industry to stay open during COVID-19 and beyond. Digitally-driven customer service portals, chatbots and automated processes can even help “face to face” businesses like hair salons manage appointments, serve clients safely and help them choose the right services and treatments with virtual tools for trying on new hairstyles or manicures.
All these trends are converging to create a very different landscape for the beauty industry as a whole in 2020 – and the digital innovations developed in response to these changes will continue to define the way beauty products and services are delivered for years to come.