THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY IN THE AGE OF A.I.
Sephora x Pantone Color IQ via YouTube
In The Matrix (1999), sentient machines retaliate against their creators, trapping their minds in a simulated universe. Modern Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not yet capable of infiltrating the brain, but it has already diverged into fields outside of the tech realm: specifically, the beauty industry.
AI’s integration into the beauty industry is premised by the demand for convenience and the case that most digital try-on experiences feel distinctly artificial. Earlier this year, cosmetics conglomerate Coty unveiled an augmented reality mirror for trying on makeup at its Bourjois boutique in Paris. A press release claimed that “72% of consumers surveyed said they want an in-store beauty experience to be a mixture of both physical and digital elements in order to make it feel more 'real' and 'believable'.” When a shopper picks up a lipstick in front of the ‘Magic Mirror,’ the color virtually appears on their lips. This evades the use of unhygienic tester products and the problem of having lip stains after try-ons. The Magic Mirror also works for eye makeup and blush.
Like Coty, Olay utilizes AI technologies to improve customer experience with their Skin Advisor. In the name of investigative journalism, I tried out the application. The Skin Advisor analyzes a single selfie, then asks you a few questions about your skincare practices and preferences. In the end, you’re delivered a report with your “skin age,” a personalized routine, and recommended products for problem areas. I’m 18, but expected to get a little older, so I was pleasantly surprised when my skin age was calculated as 21 and gave myself a pat on the back for adhering to a pretty consistent skincare regimen. The dark circles under my eyes, however, were deemed a focus area with a skin age of 20-30. Ouch. My verdict on the Skin Advisor: a good merger of AI and the beauty industry, not great for self-esteem.
AI is doing more than just streamlining the sampling and shopping of products. It’s making the beauty industry more inclusive. A partnership between Sephora and Pantone yielded Color IQ, a handheld device that reads a customer’s skin tone and assigns them a number that best corresponds with their shade, which will aid them in sorting through lip colors, foundations, and concealers. Sephora has a history of being racially insensitive, and though Color IQ is not a solution to the many salespeople and makeup artists that are not equipped to help POC, it eases the difficult process of finding the right makeup for a spectrum of real skin tones.
Although AI’s presence in the beauty industry appears to be more helpful than harmful, there are a few downsides to relying so heavily on technology. The obvious caveat to AI is that it takes away jobs from humans. Programs like Skin Advisor and Color IQ eliminate the role of skincare professionals and sales representatives, and with the rapid rate at which AI technology is evolving, it has the potential to replace more complex occupations, like makeup artists and hair stylists, in the near future.
Another drawback to the assimilation of AI into the beauty industry is that it may eliminate smaller, indie brands. AI is a highly specialised area of computer technology, and therefore, is extremely costly to develop, especially because the software is created specifically for the brand, so they must fund the production of the application themselves. It’s still early enough in the AI-beauty industry partnership that AI feels more like a high-tech gimmick than a necessity, but this could easily give way to reliance at some point in the future. (Remember when iPhones were for Fruit Ninja and the small pool of Instagram users? Now, they’re basically required for the millennial job market.) Indie brands won’t have the financial backing to keep up with the budding AI dependency and might be forced to sell out to investors or a larger company. That, or be wiped out completely.
I’m all for what AI has done for the beauty industry thus far, but I sense an eventual flip-flop on this as new advancements are made. While the real life Matrix seems pretty far off, it’s probable that beauty companies and consumers alike will encounter pitfalls if AI is to become the new norm. As for now, only time will tell.