When Rihanna released her line of Fenty Beauty foundation last fall, it was revolutionary. With 40 shades spanning the skin tone spectrum, women—especially women of color—who have struggled to find themselves represented on beauty-aisle shelves had a match.
But still, 40 shades are just 40 shades. Skin tone is one of those things that’s impossible to package—each person’s is unique, and no matter how subtly varied, off-the-shelf options always fall a little short.
As the world’s largest beauty company, L’Oréal is acutely aware of this issue. So five years ago, its Research and Innovation Division, led by Guive Balooch, began to develop a solution: A highly personalized, on-the-spot custom foundation machine, that mixes a formula to complement your precise skin tone as you wait. Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier, as it’s called, is being rolled out across the country, exclusively in Nordstroms.
I got to try it out Saturday at the Fast Company Grill at South By Southwest (L’Oréal is a sponsor.) First, Nicole Pitcher, LTP’s foundation specialist, pressed a contact camera to three points on my face—the proximity prevents any light from entering and disrupting the color—and then fed the information into an iPad-powered algorithm. It analyzed the samples and came up with my precise tone: Very fair and cool (i.e., pinkish), but with just enough warm overtones to nudge me slightly toward neutral. That would normally make shopping for the right foundation frustrating.
“For so many women, it’s transformative,” Pitcher says. “They finally feel seen.”
To develop LTP, “we analyzed the unique skin tones of 400 women, ranging from very light to very dark skin, and we take the 3D space of color [the respective amount of cyan, magenta, and yellow in a given color], and map exactly where your skin tone lands,” Balooch says. “Almost 100% of women can get their perfect match” from a total of 72,000 blends.
Which is truly incredible, but as any beauty junkie knows, good makeup starts with good skincare. And the latter is just as difficult to pin down.
Another L’Oréal brand, SkinCeuticals, has some new tech for that. Debuted at SXSW, Custom D.O.S.E. is a carousel-like machine that produces a custom blend of SkinCeuticals active ingredients (like acids and retinols)
formulated specifically to your skincare needs. A quick tablet survey will collect data on your skin based off a few questions–Is it oily, dry, or combination? Are you struggling with blotchiness or wrinkles? Then, a consultant will ask you what kind of product you would like–a liquid serum, for instance, or a cream.
Then, the data feeds into the algorithm, which powers up the D.O.S.E. machine to dispense a small bottle of unique treatment. The SkinCeuticals team tested the needs of 250 skin types and combined 8 ingredients into a total of 48 unique blends and concentrations–and once the tech rolls out in select dermatologist offices this summer, those numbers will continue to grow.
Of course, with a bottle of LTP running at $88 and D.O.S.E. treatments likely running higher, it’s not cheap–but L’Oréal is betting that people would rather not have to suffer through trying multiple products when they could just snag one crafted specifically to their needs.