Augmented reality is forever changing the cosmetics industry

Try lipstick before you buy it It used to mean dealing with an apathetic seller with questionable hygiene putting their lips on the same surface as countless other buyers.

Now, amplified by the pandemic, a multitude of leading cosmetic brands are trying to replicate this experience in applications that overlay digital representations of cosmetic products, from eyebrows to eyeliner to contouring cream, on your face. as seen through your phone’s front camera. And then, of course, they’re trying to sell you that real-life augmented reality vision.

Take Pam McKim, an Orange County resident who recently downloaded My Dior, an app from famous fashion brand Christian Dior, for his iPhone 12. McKim tried out several shades of lipstick by digitally projecting them onto his face, eventually ordering two shades of Addict Lip Glow Oil – 001 Pink and 006 Berry , to be precise – directly from the app.

“It was an interesting concept, so I tried it,” she told Futurism. “My lips were on fire.”

The trend is already making deep inroads into the beauty industry, which is worth over half a trillion dollars. Top brands like Fenty Beauty, Glossier, Gucci, NYX, Maybelline, and Rihanna’s Makeup Revolution are all experimenting with technological variations, some in increasingly serious ways. In 2018, cosmetics giant L’Oréal bought an entire AR development studio, ModiFace, to help it develop its offerings in space.

“It will be fully standardized before you buy a cosmetic product,” said Tom Cheesewright, a UK business consultant. “Then you can create a truly unhealthy digital experience, at a very low cost to the brand.”

Behind this phenomenon arises a cottage industry of AR developers specializing in the new convergence of cosmetics and filters.

Software developer Poplar Studio, for example, has worked for brands such as L’Oreal, NYX and Maybelline to create what those in the AR industry often refer to as “experiences.”

“People don’t necessarily want to go to a store to just try things on before they buy them,” David Ripert, CEO of Poplar, told Futurism.

The beauty industry, he says, demands a level of loyalty that users don’t necessarily expect from an Instagram filter that adds bunny ears or a flower crown.

“The way it works for most of the existing technology is that it’s going to apply what we call a mask,” he said, which Poplar accomplishes by training the system with thousands of photos and of 3d face models of real people. “On this mask, we said it’s the color of the lips and it’s the blush and that’s what we’re going to change, and he’s going to try to apply this mask to your face.”

The difficulty, he says, is that “all of our faces are different and the shape of your lips is different from mine and everyone else’s. It won’t look as realistic as it can get unless it completely matches your own shape, and that takes a lot of development. “

And just as difficult as the variety of human faces, he said, is the unpredictability of the environments they can appear in.

“There could be things like, say, reflections, like I’m looking at you on the camera right now as you move your face,” Ripert said. “So because you might have a blue light or maybe your wall is hard, the color is going to reflect it on your skin.”

The specifics of Poplar’s work can vary widely. For a recent collaboration with Maybelline, for example, Ripert’s team created an Instagram filter that digitally erases the user’s eyebrows and then allows them to swap products like the company’s eyebrow pomade pencils. . The aim, he said, was not only to show the end result, but also to give an idea of ​​the intuition of the products to be applied.

And sometimes the point is to create an outright narrative. For a Halloween-themed Instagram filter for NYX, Poplar created a “haunted houseWhich allow users to meet horror movie-style characters like Prima Ballerina and Broken Beauty, and virtually try on everyone’s makeup aesthetic.

For cosmetics brands, of course, two questions arise about this nascent technology: whether it connects and captures users’ attention, and whether it drives them to actually make purchases.

“Is this one of those shiny new things?” asked Catherine Erdly, retail consultant. “Is this a beautifying filter or is it a demonstration of what the product can do?”

There is often a line between a gadget and breakthrough technology. QR codes, for example, languished for a decade – before finally taking off during the pandemic as a contactless way to view everything from restaurant menus to medical information. It remains to be seen whether AR will ever reach this level of ubiquity, in the beauty industry or elsewhere.

There is also the question of the effectiveness of the technology in describing the undertones of an actual product on your face. Filters can be technically impressive immediately, but often fail to capture the textural and lighting subtleties that makeup connoisseurs look for in a retail environment. The underlying technology is set to continue to improve, but currently it still lacks the sophistication to truly outshine testing a product.

And as with other filters on social media, the technology also raises questions about the relationship between improvement and manufacturing. Faces exist in the real world, but they also exist as data, like with the masks Poplar works with, and the boundary has never been clearer.

“It gives this false impression that in fact this filter magically makes you more beautified,” said Erdly, echoing an observation from McKim, who felt that the app “clearly adjusted me before I put the colors on. . “

In other words, the rise of AR in the beauty industry is part of a preexisting spectrum of digital representations of ourselves, from Snapchat to Instagram to TikTok and Zoom, all of which offer form. of beautifying filters.

Ultimately, the question could become what matters most, and in what contexts: the analog version of yourself or the digitized version? It’s easy to imagine a world, maybe five or ten years from now, in which putting on makeup doesn’t mean spending hours in front of a mirror – instead, it might be more like a “Customize” selection screen. your character ”in a video game that shows others how to see you on their own AR material.

One thing, at least, is clear: Makeup companies are trying to bridge this strange valley as soon as possible – with your money, your time, and your attention.

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