Big beauty’s futuristic vision of skin and hair care is on display at CES 2019

AI for your face.
AI for your face.
Image: L'Oreal
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Seven conglomerates dominate the global beauty industry, and nearly all of them are investing in high-tech consumer experiences that involve budding technology like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, facial recognition, or 3-D printing.

In 2018, Coty created a VR experience to help users pick perfume, while its Clairol brand partnered with Snapchat to allow customers to try on different hair colors. Other beauty companies debuted technology that promised to assess and improve skin health. Meanwhile, the use of facial recognition to test makeup looks has been a big business for beauty since 2016, thanks in large part to the augmented reality startup Modiface, which was acquired by L’Oreal early last year.

Many of these beauty giants are showcasing their latest ventures at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Coty plans to present an augmented-reality mirror that allows customers to try on a range of hair colors, while Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena will 3D-print custom face masks based on measurements taken from the buyers’ skin. L’Oreal, which has its own technology incubator program, will exhibit a wearable sensor that measures skin pH levels via an app. And for its first showing at CES, Procter & Gamble (P&G) is exhibiting an array of high-tech products (paywall) across its portfolios, including an Oral-B toothbrush that uses AI to monitor brushing habits and offer users’ customized advice.

Interestingly, Big Beauty’s push into technology is happening at a time when natural and “clean” beauty has been on a tear as consumers reject synthetic cosmetics in favor of expensive, organic alternatives. Beauty retailers like Sephora and Nordstrom have quietly introduced clean, natural, and “wellness”-oriented beauty departments, and the preponderance of natural beauty brands would seem to indicate a shift toward pared down, plant-based products for faces and bodies.

But there’s also a desire (and growing expectation) for customized beauty and health regimens. In any case, the intersection between technology and beauty is becoming an increasingly busy, and buzzy, space.