Will Personalized Beauty Get you Better Results?

Will Personalized Beauty Get you Better Results?

This is not a new concept, but personalized beauty is having a major moment right now. I get the hype. As a Skin Therapist, who's been creating personalized skin routines for over 10 years, I understand the desire for a custom approach to beauty. In fact, it's what I set out to focus on when I started my career. I grew up in the era where the  "3 step" skincare routine was the only available option; marketed based on general skin types, rather than individual skin needs. Thankfully, those days are gone and brands are making personalized skincare more accessible than ever. 

I can't help but wonder though, is mass personalization too good to be true? 

Personalized beauty is the expectation

The topic of personalized skincare has been around for a while. I remember hearing about this up and coming trend as early as 2016. Over the years, computer learning through AI (artificial intelligence) has reached incredible heights, which has made it even easier for companies to offer personalization on-demand. 

It doesn't surprise me. The first thing I hear from my clients mouth is often, "I'm so confused." The second thing I often hear from my clients is, "just tell me what to use."

With a beauty and skincare market that, some may say, is oversaturated with products, it's no wonder people are seeking custom regimes. They want to see results and know exactly what they need to use. 

Are custom formulas really that unique? 

A 'custom formula' has to start from a series of base formulas, otherwise it would be unsustainable. Each newly created formula has to undergo many lab tests that are required to go to market. So no, it's not realistic or probably accurate to say that each product is one hundred percent personalized. 

Among the companies who promote personalized beauty, there are varying levels of customization.  

A brand like Proven is quite extensive in their personalization, using AI technology to create custom clinically effective skincare formulated for individuals based on skin, life and environment. Their 3-minute Skin Genome Quiz™ analyzes 47 factors, including skin concerns, gene expression, lifestyle, and zip code. It's not a one and done formula. The personalized formula is also designed to adapt with you over time. Ironically, just like the traditional spa skincare lines, the Proven Personalized System consists of a 3 step routine, only this one is unique for each person. 

Function of Beauty who pioneered the customized model back in 2015, creates personalizes hair care formulas based on a series of questions on their website. The customization spans from hair type and condition, to scent preference and product colour. In order for this model to work for expansion into retail stores, like their new launch into Sephora, Function of Beauty had to limit personalization to using booster packs that are added to a selection of pre-made base formulas. For brand expansion, this requires much less tech and planning, but results in a less personal formula. 

Can computers replace beauty experts? 

Proven Skincare has 'proven' (pun intended) that AI can be highly successful at creating a personalized skincare regime that's effective and sustainable. It's also extremely time intensive and expensive; Proven launched a $60 fund-raising round last year. This may not be possible for many average beauty brands, especially for indies and start-ups. 

Hello Ava, which launched in 2016, was also a pioneer in AI skincare. The company started as an app that used AI technology to create personalized skincare routines, referencing hundreds of skincare brands to prescribe a custom routine. After the first iteration, the model evolved to use AI driven data as the first step, followed by a consult with a dermatologist or esthetician to ensure the algorithm was accurate. 

Urban RX is an example of a brand that relies less on AI to personalize the user experience and more on human expertise. Customers can book a call with one of their many estheticians to help create custom routines specific to their needs. 

Using data to create personalized beauty routines sounds like it offers a limitless ceiling of opportunities, but there are a few factors that may always have customers returning to humans for the final answer. 

Hello Ava's founder, Siqi Mou noted in this 2018 Allure article that, "a computer is more efficient than humans for selecting products, but humans are there to cross-check the algorithm, and to offer emotional support. If someone is having a severe acne problem, they may need assurance from someone else before purchasing.”

It's also worth noting that in order to get good data out, you need to put good data in. Many of these questionnaires are based on an individual's assessment of their own skin or hair. In theory the resulting product recommendations and formulas should be correct, however a skin assessment by an expert may result in more accurate results. Having consulted with thousands of individuals myself, most people cannot tell the difference between dry and dehydrated skin, or may think they have oily skin when in reality the skin barrier is compromised and producing more oil as a result. 

But wait! A manual skin assessment by a dermatologist or an esthetican may also be replaced by AI. There's new evidence validating AI technology as an effective tool in evaluating skin characteristics in dermatology practice and medical spa settings. 

Do you need to have custom or personalized skincare to make a brand feel personal? 

As a one woman show, whose expertise can only reach so many people, I understand the desire (and need?) for ways to capitalized on this consumer demand for personalized skincare, whether that's using AI to create formulas for specific products, or a customized routine using existing products. 

Without an investment of $60 million like Proven, or a team of estheticians on your staff, how can brands offer customers a personalized experience? 

Simple quizzes, like Octane AI are always a great place to start and are used my many brands to help customers seek their perfect picks. 

AI based chat bots are also an easy and accessible way for beauty brands to expand the personalized experience for their customers, by offering on-demand product recommendations based on their answers. 

Let's not forget about the power of personalized branding. When a brand truly niches down and knows their audience's needs, wants, and pain points -- from the food they eat, to the tv shows they watch -- audiences will feel that a brand speaks directly to their needs and is formulated just for them. 

Going one step further, co-creating products with a community is a highly effective way to have your ideal customer's needs in mind. Take French brand, Nideco for example.  A call for projects is launched on the site. Consumers respond and submit their ideas for products, often based on a specific issue for which they found no answer on the market. One to two projects are selected per month and put to the vote. The idea validated by at least 2000 voters will directly trigger the formulation process with constant consultation of the community. At that point, the project is co-developed via Instagram with interested parties involved. To date, 20 projects have been created, with 16 of those going to market. 

Is personalized beauty here to stay? 

There are many ways to look at personalized beauty, and it doesn't have to be formula driven. Customized advice and regimes, based on existing product formulas can be just as effective, and even more sustainable.

That said, computer driven product formulations can be eerily accurate. They can provide a solid foundation for anyone seeking answers to how they should approach to their beauty needs. The begs the question, will a custom formula work better than a pre-made product? No one can say for sure without further evidence. 

I can say though, that a personalized routine, where products are hand-picked for an individual's needs --whether by a computer or human -- will end in a better result. I've seen this first hand and know how variable every person's beauty needs truly are. 

The newest expansion of Proven Skincare and Function of Beauty in Sephora, and Curology in Target, is evidence enough to show that personalized beauty is only on the way up. The question remains though, how "personalized" can these brands truly be when mass production and expansion remain at the helm? 


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