Unless I’m just re-ordering the same foundation I’ve been using for years, I still prefer to do my beauty shopping in brick-and-mortar shops, where I can test formulations on myself. But L’Oréal, the largest beauty company in the world—which owns both drugstore brands like Maybelline and prestige labels like Shu Uemera—just acquired the Canadian beauty tech company, ModiFace.
The company is known for making augmented reality apps that superimpose beauty products onto your face and hair, using an uploaded selfie. Unlike the Amazon smartmirror, which is an ambitious piece of hardware, every product that ModiFace has launched so far has been app-based and made for mobile.
As reported by Reuters, the Toronto-based firm employs about 70 researchers, engineers, and scientists who’ve registered over 30 patents and written over 200 scientific publications. Previously, ModiFace helped develop the AI apps of two of L’Oréal’s biggest competitors: Estée Lauder and Sephora, which is owned by massive luxury conglomerate LVMH. In March 2017, Sephora launched its Virtual Artist app, which lets customers test Sephora-sold products on their selfie—and then save the augmented image for future reference, and shop directly from the app.
In buying ModiFace, L’Oréal is aggressively embracing the digital beauty space—and potentially disrupting it as well. Right now, testing beauty products on your digital selfie is a novelty, not the norm. But e-commerce is driving beauty industry growth, and investing in augmented reality means that eventually—once you turn away from ubiquitous brick-and-mortar shops like Sephora and Ulta—you”ll turn to L’Oréal’s own apps (and products) instead.
As Digiday notes, Sephora is considered to be the earliest adopter for AI technology for beauty. But L’Oréal is making fast and heavy investments into the sector. In the past four years, the company has added more than 1,700 employees to work on digital projects, while last year, L’Oréal’s augmented reality engineer, Panagiotis-Alexandro Bokaris, presented at the AI conference, Machine Intelligence in Autonomous Vehicles Summit.
L’Oréal also created an accelerator for early-stage beauty startups at Station F—an influential Paris business incubator. In January 2018, the company launched the Style My Hair app, also made by ModiFace, which allows users try on new hair colors from the L’Oréal Professionnel line and view themselves in live video to see the new hairstyle in 3D. At this rate, you may eventually be able to do all your beauty shopping—and experimenting—in bed.