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AI blends with beauty products for personalized skincare, products like smarter toothbrush

Frances Yue

Amanda Li, 25, looked at herself in a mirror. She saw her own reflection, but with extra blush, extended eyelashes and a different lip color. As she blinked, her look suddenly changed, this time with a smoky eyeliner. 

The scene was part of Sephora’s efforts called Virtual Artist, which debuted in 2016 and has gotten a makeover over time. The feature, powered by augmented reality (AR) technology, is available for consumers to try on different cosmetics products virtually.  

"The fact that they have that kind of technology is really amusing," said Li, who experienced the feature for the first time in a Sephora store in Las Vegas this February.

She also liked the feature that she can take pictures within the machine and share it on social media easily. "You can take home the memory with you rather than just experiencing it in-store," she said. 

Sephora is not alone in adopting such technologies. For the past four years, global beauty and personal care companies, such as Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, and Shiseido, are using technologies including AR, artificial intelligence (AI) and smart devices to create products that are “much more personalized than ever before,” experts said. 

Sephora's Virtual Artist

The technologies also help “streamline and facilitate the shopping process for the consumer,” said Sarah Jindal, senior global analyst of beauty and personal care at research firm Mintel. “I think as we shop differently and as we kind of discover new brands and new products differently, having these kinds of tools really is gonna end up being the only option,” she said. 

Here is what the brands are offering: 

Skincare 

Snap a selfie, and Olay Skin Advisor, which is free to use on the brand’s website, will tell you how old your skin looks as well as your best- and worst-performing facial zones. It also offers you product recommendations accordingly. The software uses a deep learning algorithm that was first trained with 50,000 selfies of women of different skin types and age groups and assesses your skin’s condition by comparing it with others.

Olay skin advisor

Frauke Neuser, associate director of science and innovation communications at Procter & Gamble, said the tool aims to bring educational, personalized skincare information to users. “Oftentimes women will think, I really hate those wrinkles around my eyes. And then (the Skin Advisor) is gonna tell them: hey, your biggest improvement area is actually something else.”

Though Neuser said the Skin Advisor was not only a selling tool, she admitted it has boosted sales. "Once people go to the Skin Advisor, they are much more likely to stay with it than if they just go to olay.com," she said.

In fact, she said, visitors stayed five times longer, are twice as likely to buy something and spend 30% more.

Some other brands assess users' skin conditions to build customized products. In July, Japanese personal care company Shiseido has upgraded its personalized skincare system Optune, which debuted in 2017, to the full scale. The subscription service, now available in Japan, charges 10,000 yen, or about $94, per month. 

The service works in a comprehensive way – the Optune app first measures users’ skin conditions through one’s selfie, collects external environmental data such as temperature and humidity automatically, and asks for information like menstrual cycle and mood of users. The app then analyzes all the factors to decide a formulation from 80,000 patterns and selects customized products, which will be sent to the users’ homes. 

Shiseido's Optune

It is also the first time that a smart beauty device is combined with "more data analytics behind scenes," said Mintel's Jindal. “They're actually integrating information about how the person that's using it lives their life. Are they stressed out? Are they sleeping well? What's their mood for that day?”

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Dental care 

Electric toothbrush brand Oral-B has developed its smart toothbrush series Genius, which could detect when and where a consumer is moving the brush in their mouth. The function is supported by sensors installed in the handle. The toothbrush also contains a pressure sensor that tells when you press too hard. 

But the technologies are not solving all the problems. “With all the technology in our portfolio today, we still know that consumers aren't brushing correctly,” said Sherrie Kinderdine, senior scientist at Oral B. 

To improve users’ oral health and their brushing experience, the company now turns to artificial intelligence. It latest Genius X electric toothbrush, which will be available to purchase in September, is powered by an algorithm that was built by tracking thousands of consumers’ brushing habits. 

Oral-B Genius X Electric Toothbrush

You can watch on your phone where you are brushing teeth and get feedback through the connected app. “As you start brushing it recognizes your individual brushing pattern,” Kinderdine said. "Everybody has their own pattern, and the artificial intelligence is able to recognize that.”

The two coming products, Genius X and Genius X Luxe, will be sold at $219.99 and  $249.99 each, respectively. 

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Virtual tryout 

In addition to Sephora, some other companies offer the virtual “try-on” option, such as L’Oreal, which built the feature into its website. Click “try on” on a product page, choose to view live or upload a photo, and you can see how you look in specific lipstick, eyeliner, or eyeshadow. The feature uses both facial recognition and AR product simulation technology.

L’Oreal also offers a tool called Style My Hair, which allows you to see yourself with different hair colors virtually. The feature employed a deep learning model that was trained by 220,000 images to recognize the overall shape of a user’s hair including the shape and structure of every individual strand.

Both tools were developed by ModiFace, a company that develops AR tech for beauty brands and was acquired by L’Oreal in March 2018. ModiFace once partnered with other major beauty brands, such as MAC Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown and Estée Lauder to launch AR-powered beauty products in 2017.

Such technologies change how people discover new things, according to Jindal. "You don't necessarily have to go into Sephora or a department store every month to see what's new," she said. "You can just jump on your phone on some of these apps." 

Follow Frances Yue on Twitter: @FrancesYue_.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Blending AR with makeup for personalized beauty at Sephora, others