Last week, I wrote about how 3D printing in cosmetics is happening mainly at the industry level via packaging solutions and bioprinted skin. Mixed and augmented reality, on the other hand, (3D printing’s sister tech) is being used by major brands to directly engage consumers, and could soon change how we shop.
Global research firm Gartner has predicted that 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality by 2020, and that 1 in 5 major brands will use AR for shopping by the end of 2017. In the beauty industry today, that ratio could be even higher.
Big-name makeup and cosmetic companies, including Sephora, Clairol, L’Oreal, Unilever and more, have begun integrating immersive technologies to boost product sales, including AI chatbots and real-time 3D simulations.
This may just seem like another high-tech marketing gimmick in the already-saturated beauty market. But the accuracy and realism of today’s 3D facial recognition and real-time AR will soon be an extremely useful tool to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions across nearly every industry.
Take Sephora, which has skillfully integrated augmented reality into its online and in-store shopping experience via Sephora Virtual Artist powered by Modiface. Using advanced AI that understands images and recognizes colors, the app allows users to upload a photo of nearly anything – a party outfit, runway look, or even bouquet of flowers – and match it to the most relevant shade of real-life beauty products. They can then virtually try on the makeup in a real-time AR mirror, and purchase what they like from Sephora.com. The app runs through Facebook Messenger, so users can also chat with an intelligent ‘beauty expert’ chatbot and receive personalized shopping guidance from their phones.
Similarly, Clairol has just launched MyShade, also powered by Modiface, which lets users try on a hair color before they commit. Again, the technology here is more advanced than it first seems. Modiface delivers patented hair coloration and shade matching technology that can detect the texture and color of a user’s hair right down to highlights and lowlights.
The ultimate advantage is simplifying and improving the cosmetic shopping experience. Faster than testing dozens of new colors, and cheaper than impulse-buying an unflattering shade, these AR apps let consumers step out of their comfort zones while discovering new products they’ll actually use.
“Our goal is for the consumer to feel like they are actually trying on the product in real life, so when they go to make a purchase, they are fully informed,” said Miriam Pettinen, Executive Director Partnerships & Strategy at Modiface.
Born out of Stanford University in 1999, Modiface creates patented AI and AR technology for e-commerce, mobile, and in-store applications. Along with Sephora and Clairol, they work with L’Oreal, Unilever, Yves Rocher, and even Allergan.
For these high-profile beauty names, the benefit is absolute customer engagement: “It’s a new way of educating consumers on their product lines, and getting consumers engaged,” said Pettinen. Feeling more confident that a product will look good, and being exposed to a wider range of shades, can also boost conversion rates in a big way.
Science of Skin
In addition to makeup and haircolor, Modiface has worked with a team of dermatologists to create Skin AI, a machine learning technology that detects and assess individual skin concerns such as rosacea, dark spots, discolorations, dryness, uneven skin, and fine lines. Rather than generic, photoshopped ads, skin-care brands can offer clinically-accurate and customer-specific product visualizations in 3D augmented reality.
“We want to make sure that everything we’re putting out there is scientifically validated to ensure that what we’re simulating truly mimics what the product does in real life” Pettinen told me.
Modiface isn’t alone in the quest for intelligent personal care. Chemical company Lubrizol created an educational VR demo for its new line of facial and body cleansing polymers.
In terms of potentially life-saving applications, IBM researchers have developed an AI system that can identify a form of skin cancer more effectively than a dermatologist. While the smartphone-based device likely won’t replace doctors, it could lead to faster and more affordable diagnoses.
So far, it seems like Gartner’s prediction will come true. Thanks to Modiface, augmented reality shopping is already available in-store, online, and even in the clinician’s chair, where patients can use live 3D simulations for decisions that require more commitment, such as Botox injections or dental implants. VR can also be used in personal advertisements or for education and training.
Though additive manufacturing and mixed reality technology often centers on advancements in transportation, energy, aerospace, architecture and construction, Modiface has caught on early that VR/AR and AI in consumer products is something brands across every industry will soon have to adopt.
“As a company, we try to make applications that are actually useful on a day-to-day basis for women, something that’s actually going to help them and be more than entertainment,” said Pettinen. “We create apps that give the consumer a realistic preview of what products can do for them, so they can make better purchasing decisions wherever they may be.”