Beauty and technology are continuing to merge — and according to Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, we’re only at the beginning.
“I think we’re at this really exciting moment, this inflection point, where [corporations and consumers] are seeing the value coming from technology,” said Balooch. “At the beginning [of the tech incubator at L’Oréal] I very much felt we were experimenting, but now the key is value creation — how do we ensure the balance of experimental and excitement to create real market value for consumers?”
At L’Oréal, Balooch oversees a team of 40 people across New York, San Francisco, Paris and Asia, all looking for ways to intersect new technology and innovation outside the beauty space with beauty. Over the past few years, the team has brought to market several projects, ranging from personalization — Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier unique custom foundation — to wearable technology — La-Roche Posay My Skin Track UV Sensor, which made its debut at the Apple Store last fall.
For his role heading up technology innovations at the world’s biggest beauty company, Balooch views the merging of beauty and technology through the lens of solving long-standing consumer needs, such as not being able to find the right shade of foundation or wanting to try on makeup digitally without having to enter a store. “All of these needs have been around for such a long time,” said Balooch. “The definition of beauty tech [for L’Oréal] is the empowerment of people to have a higher level of performance with their beauty products through technology. That’s how we choose our projects.”
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Some projects, such as the Le Teint Particulier foundation, which is custom-mixed at counter based on a consumer’s individual skin tone, are born from ideas that have been around in the beauty space for a long time — many brands have tried a hand at custom makeup before Lancôme. Balooch counts Le Teint Particulier as one of the “notches on his belt” at L’Oréal. The reason for the product’s success where others have failed, he said, is in part timing — technology has advanced to the point where consumers who historically have trouble finding foundations to match their personal skin tone can now be served. “It’s not like buying paint at Home Depot,” said Balooch. “Skin is a biological substrate — we need to do measurements on people. The advancement of data and data analysis is bringing way more advancements in personalization than it did 10 years ago.”
Looking ahead, Balooch pointed out that for beauty brands looking to get into technology, it is important to release innovations that not only solve consumer needs, but give consumers information they can act on. “We’re going to see higher demand for value out of these [beauty tech] experiences,” said Balooch. “When we first started, I thought maybe we should do diagnosis tools, but I realized later if you don’t put out something with that the demand and excitement goes down.”
Consumers — especially digital natives who have grown up with unlimited access to information — are looking for information they can act on, said Balooch — they know, for example, that UV exposure is bad for them or that skin needs to be hydrated, but they want more than just diagnostic tools. “We’ll see more demand for return on adoption [of technology],” said Balooch. “[Consumers] want to know ‘what I’m supposed to do for myself,’ — the winners of the game will be [innovations] that bring not just information, but tailor-made solutions where consumers can see over time how the innovation is working for them.”
As younger, more tech-savvy consumers enter the market and technology continues to advance, Balooch is focused on the future of beauty tech, citing smart data and mass customization as two trends he sees emerging in the near future — both the idea that personalization doesn’t have to happen in the luxury space, and that it will only become more exact. “Today I’m really interested in this idea of microelectronics and AI,” he said in closing. “This link between using smart data and how to be really precise — I think it’s going to create some new applicators that are a lot closer than we think.”