Elisabeth King talks with L’Oréal’s Architect of Tech Beauty Solutions
Guive Balooch doesn’t do gimmicks or marketing speak. The global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator has a Ph.D in Biomaterials and a strong background in the pharmaceutical industry. Five years ago, he set up the French beauty giant’s New York based research hub with a single goal in mind. To predict and produce high tech solutions to how consumers will select and use beauty, sun protection and hair products in the future.
Balooch criss-crosses the globe in search of progressive start-ups and collaboration partners to guide his 25-strong team who are based in San Francisco, New York, Paris and Japan. He regularly speaks at conferences such as the 2016 IFSCC Congress, the global federation dedicated to international cooperation in cosmetic science, in sessions entitled “Beauty Has No Borders”. On a recent visit to Australia to talk about the Kérastase Hair Coach, he stresses that the ground-breaking smart brush is a collaboration with Withings, the global consumer electronics company now owned by Nokia, whose best-selling connected health devices include a smart sleep system, automatic activity tracking watches and the first-to-market WiFi scale.
Everything we do is rooted in research, says Balooch. “People don’t need another gadget. The new brush features Withings advanced sensors and designs teamed with L’Oréal’s signal analysis algorithms. With a built-in microphone that listens to the sound of hair to provide analysis in preventing frizziness, split ends and breakage, the Hair Coach is a game-changer in haircare. Yes, there’s been some snarky headlines but we had the longest queues at the 2017 CES electronics show in Las Vegas because people recognised its huge potential to impact how people care for their hair”.
Passing trends don’t interest Balooch. No one needs to monitor their heart rate or sleep patterns on a continuous basis and the market is over-saturated with fitness trackers and smart watches, he says. “But few developments showcase the fusion between personal care and advanced technology better than the My UV patch launched under the La Roche-Posay brand”.
Created in collaboration with PCH, the US$1 billion global fulfillment multinational, My UV patch is the first stretchable skin sensor available to consumers. “The patch basically tells people how much UV radiation they are exposed to”, says Balooch. “It contains photo-sensitive dyes that detect changing skin colour and pictures can be uploaded to an app for analysis. It’s been such a success. We released 500,000 worldwide last year and are aiming to distribute one million in 2017. We weren’t the first to bring a wearable sun exposure tracker to market but the My UV patch is the most advanced and accurate”.
Other patches are already in the works, says Balooch. “We are already working on second skin patches that measure hydration levels, skin elasticity and temperature. Our ultimate aim is to create a skin-type device that can give consumers personalised data on their skin moisture levels, UV exposure and the best rejuvenating products to use”.
L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator focuses on the three pillars of beauty technology - Coaching (tools, sensors and data which adapt to consumer needs), Personalistion (honing a brand’s ability to create custom products) and Virtual Try-Ons - (apps and other ways to provide customers with virtual reality services). The Kérastase Hair Coach and My UV patch fall under the first two pillars. But the Tech Incubator’s main success to date under the third classification is the L’Oréal Paris Makeup Genius app, which has been downloaded more than 20 million times since its launch in 2014. The Makeup Genius is meant to improve the in-store experience, not replace it, says Balooch. “We worked with animation industry experts to create an app that knows which parts of a person’s eyes require shadow, liner and mascara and track them in real time to keep the virtual makeup in the correct spot. L’Oréal took images of 100,000 products in 40 different lighting conditions on models with different skin tones to make sure colours and textures looked right. It’s quick and easy because people don’t want 47 steps to do anything these days. They don’t have to try 20 shades in store, they can narrow them down to a few they know looks best and go and purchase them”.
Makeup Genius also allows L’Oréal to spot trends and improve products, says Balooch. “Virtual reality and artificial intelligence will soon be the conventional way to try things on. We are already working on two other apps - Hair Genius and Nail Genius”.
Another exciting development, which debuted in selected Nordstrom stores in the US and is scheduled to launch in Australia in August, is Lancôme Le Teint Particulier foundation. Basically, the system scans a person’s skin and employs an algorithm that designs a custom-blended product from 20,000 pigments based on individual skin tone. The technology was developed by Sayuki, a California start-up acquired by L’Oréal in 2014.