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Beauty’s Imagination Nation

The nature of beauty products is evolving as quickly as technology itself.

Procter & Gamble Co.’s Deb Henretta delivered a clarion call to the industry at the WWD Beauty Summit last May: Push the boundaries on product development or risk going the way of the Polaroid camera.

“The world is no longer moving at a linear rate, but at an exponential rate. It is the pace of Generation Y and all generations to come,” declared Henretta, group president, P&G Global Beauty, challenging beauty firms to fully embrace the digital revolution to give a more compelling purpose to traditional product categories.

“Imagine a lipstick that can tell you when it’s time to reapply, or a lotion that can give you feedback about your skin’s health,” she told attendees.

Her ideas may sound far-fetched—or like the makings of a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—but beauty’s most forward-thinking scientists are already creating the future today with products that transcend existing categories and expand the industry’s relevance.

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“Beauty is no longer about lipstick, powder and foundation. It’s looked at more in terms of attitude, and its relationship to science and to food,” says Chris Sanderson, cofounder of The Future Laboratory, a U.K.-based trends, consumer insight and brand-innovation consultancy. “What was once a highly delineated market is increasingly different. Many large organizations are going to continue to address issues of beauty above and beyond the traditional cosmetics market. Our relationship with beauty increasingly permeates through every single thing that we do,” he concludes. “It has become less superficial.”

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Sanderson is keeping a close watch on a number of percolating trends, including edimetics, or edible cosmetics, that enhance one’s outward appearance; super nutraceuticals to boost beauty from the inside; hyperpersonalized formulas and wearable technology with sensors designed to detect issues or deliver the appropriate level of active ingredients.

In the nutraceuticals space, Sanderson points to Coca-Cola’s collaboration with the pharmaceuticals company Sanofi to develop Beautific Oenobiol, a range of vitamin-infused beauty drinks and candies, and a health drink by Bionov called Cellulight S that is designed to fight cellulite with an enzyme called superoxide dismutase.

“Those are the kinds of product categories that successful businesses cross. That’s what Apple did with iPod. It moved across categories, but was still true to its core philosophy,” says Sanderson.

Technology, of course, is the main accelerant in the formation of new beauty categories, and as Henretta pointed out, it’s advancing more rapidly than ever.

“The rate of beauty innovation is exponential versus linear,” says Nick Hotham, communications and trends director at P&G Beauty. Hotham says that a greater understanding of human biology and advances in genomics and proteomics, or the study of proteins, could lead to personalized formulas to address particular skin and hair-care concerns over the next decade. He adds that the move toward testing “in silico,” or via computerized models, allows scientists to analyze ingredients about 1,000 times faster than before.

Several skin-care brands marketed online already offer DNA test kits. For these brands, an act as simple as running a cotton swab along the inside of the cheek is the first step in determining the appropriate product assortment for individual customers.

And that’s just an inkling of what may be possible. “Scientists believe at some point we will definitely be able to develop a youth pill tailored specifically to our genes and to our aging profile to delay the signs of aging,” says Hotham.

It’s a revolutionary notion in an industry that has traditionally moved at a more cautious pace.

Beauty has had a slow evolution over the past 100 years, says Ben Bennett, creative director and managing partner of Hatchbeauty, a brand strategy and product development firm. But those dawdling days are over. “Right now we are in disruptive change,” he says. “We’re in a period of time where there is an enormous amount of innovation that is being driven by consumers’ inquisitiveness and their access to information.” Bennett points out that retailers are playing a role too, in their push for new products. “Retailers are putting tremendous pressure on brands to innovate, innovate, innovate. They always want to have something to talk about.”

To thrust beauty forward, Bennett sees an opportunity to borrow from the sports world, which is successfully rolling out wearable technology to monitor an individual’s performance. For instance, the Nike+ FuelBand allows users to set goals and track calories burned and steps taken during a host of different sports activities. They can then keep an activity history via an app or computer software program. Bennett himself has taken to wearing the FitBit Flex wristband, which tracks the quality of sleep, distance walked and calories burned.

“[The devices] open our eyes to the effectiveness or frivolousness of what we are doing,” he says, noting such an item could easily have applications in beauty in terms of measuring products’ effectiveness.

“As consumers we have become very confident and very empowered and sometimes very arrogant because we have so much information,” says Bennett. “It requires brands to be honest with us. It’s changing the way we develop products. People want to be able to see with their own eyes that a product works. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen an explosion of clinical results and paneling. The next generation won’t be impressed by that. They’ll want to measure results for themselves.”

Bennett, along with several trend watchers, forecasts that consumers will increasingly expect products tailored to their individual needs.

“Customization is an enormous emerging trend. Young consumers are so comfortable ordering beauty online that there’s an opportunity to customize product virtually and then send it to them,” says Bennett, noting the trend has already taken root in the concept, which creates custom-blended hair color based on a client’s profile and then sends along the at-home formula for $19.95.

Fragrance creators have also devised ways to explore a customized or bespoke approach through the Internet. Sanderson singles out the scent purveyor Commodity—slated to launch on the Web this fall—that has developed an online profiling system to create personalized scents, and the company Nose, which has a boutique in Paris and uses an online questionnaire to match customers with scents based on their preferences. Customers can then order samples of the five recommended scents.

“Custom blending via [do-it-yourself] at home will become more popular,” says Christophe de Villeplee, global vice president of fine fragrance and beauty care at International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. “Technology will provide mechanical mixers and the consumer will choose how much or how little to include of particular ingredients. This will be done at home with personal devices to create personal formulas.”

Frédéric Walter, creative marketing director of fine fragrance at Givaudan, spoke of an app that would allow users to send an olfactive message from their smartphone. The recipient would be able to smell an olfactive representation of the image, and ultimately store it. “It could be an image of your birthday cake when you were five, and you’d be able to smell the cake,” says Walter. “It would be a way to enhance your life, and could help you recreate your memories.”

He notes that technology is already being employed in The Olfactive Project, created by an international team of artists, scientists and designers including the founder of Le Laboratoire, David Edwards, and the master perfumer Olivier Pescheux from Givaudan, that aims to explore the concept of a “Virtual Coffee.” The experiment includes sending an electronic coffee odor around the world with Le Laboratoire’s latest invention, the oPhone. The device, which is currently a prototype, allows users to send olfactive messages instantaneously around the world to other oPhone users. As of May, 10 oPhone devices existed. Beyond cyberspace, Walter also anticipates fragrance will play a larger role within the home. He envisions a “fragrance shower” built into the home that would spritz users with a signature scent as they walked out the door. The concept would fit perfectly into the apartment of the Blade Runner character Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, says Walter, referring to the Ridley Scott sci-fi film.

Digitally enabled devices also are expected to transform the traditional beauty routine by offering instant analysis.

“Over the next 10 years, our lives will be enhanced by tiny sensing devices embedded in everything from coffee cups to mirrors,” says Hotham. A diagnostic mirror, for instance, could offer real-time data that takes both hormonal and environmental factors into consideration. Hotham also nods to sportsband technology and its potential applications in beauty, saying “If you increase the data, you can improve performance with better-tailored products and compliance.”

Shiseido has begun to head in this direction in Japan with its Mirai Mirror, or Future Mirror, a device that allows customers to virtually sample color cosmetics. The motion-sensitive mirror uses moving images (rather than still photographs) and depicts textures to offer a more realistic view of what a product will look like when applied. A beauty consultant uses a touch-screen pen or scans a product’s bar code to select the makeup for the customer to try. Currently, four units of the Mirai Mirror are installed at Shiseido The Ginza, in Tokyo. Shiseido expanded the concept in July by distributing 11,000 iPads featuring the virtual sampling technology to beauty consultants throughout Japan, and in August expanded its capabilities to include foundation products.

Data-analyzing devices may also have a place on the face. Ian Pearson, a futurologist at Futurizon, suggests makeup application may one day rely on a thin electronic circuit that would cover the face like a thin film and be programmed monthly. Once activated, the circuit would impart preprogrammed colors in specific areas of the face. Going one giant step further, he suggests the circuits could eventually allow for video, which would update the wearer’s makeup look throughout the day.

Pearson suggests that the circuit could be made of a variety of different materials, including conducting polymers, graphene (an incredibly lightweight and flexible carbon material) or conducting body paints, which already exist to some extent. He says the circuits would pick up electromagnetic energy and convert it into electricity, like an electric toothbrush does from the transformer when it charges or a mobile phone does from radio waves when the user is speaking with someone.

“The area is called energy harvesting and is becoming well established now,” says Pearson. He adds, “It’s time we see some real innovation in beauty. There’s a huge temptation for companies to sit in a corner hoping that the future will go away. We may start seeing small companies spring up with new technology and wipe the floor with them.”

Pearson is not alone in his forecast that women may one day apply a thin film to put their best face forward.

“We would call skin a status symbol,” says Ilona Haaijer, president of DSM Personal Care and member of the executive committee of DSM Nutritional Products, an ingredient supplier that works with a number of beauty firms. “[The concern is] how do you hold your look during the day? We see an opportunity for the development of new polymers that place a layer over the skin to hold the look in place.”

Haaijer, however, also is quick to point out the growing sophistication in traditional topical formulas and the advancements in sensory modifiers to enhance the feel of a formula on the skin, from its thickness to how it spreads.

“There’s a lot going on in the scientific world in this area,” says Haaijer. She notes it could include time-released beadlets that deliver actives to specific areas of the face.

Regardless of how space age technology becomes, experts say consumers are increasingly interested in a mind-body approach to beauty, which could lead to mixing traditional products with holistic services and therapies.

“We really believe that injectable ingredients will become a big part of beauty,” says Bennett, adding that clinics offering vitamins and minerals delivered intravenously, or “vitamin drips,” are gaining popularity along the West Coast. “We are not a do-it-yourself generation. If we can afford to have a service, we’ll pay for it,” says Bennett.

In an odd twist, the convergence of technology and wellness seems to be taking steam out of the green beauty movement.

“This new customer is approaching green differently. She wants to make sure the stuff works,” says Bennett.

This is another area where the food industry is playing a role, says Sanderson, suggesting that a better understanding of genetically modified foods has warmed up consumers to the idea that other categories can be modified or improved upon by technology as well. “One of the big shifts that we’ll see over the next decade is that many consumers who were wedded to organic and natural will increasingly move toward product categories that are also driven by science. They will be swayed by the perceived benefits of these products,” he says.

The whole-body view of beauty is beginning to change the role or perception of skin-care products. They are now increasingly seen as protectors, particularly against environmental elements. The industrial design and branding firm Fuseproject, which redesigned the Nivea brand, is exploring this notion. “We are investigating the ideas around protection,” says Noah Murphy-Reinhertz, director of industrial design at the company.

“People are very aware of what they put into their bodies and the environment around them,” he says, forecasting that maintenance products, such as sunscreen, will become viewed as a protective layer. “There’s a real focus on prevention. Consumers used to be in the head space of immediate gratification. But younger consumers are going to start taking preventative measures more seriously” he maintains, in a quest to fortify themselves against aging. One area Murphy-Reinhertz is particularly interested in is the role apps may play. For instance, he envisions an app that could monitor sun exposure to prevent sun damage. These technology-laden advancements will likely change how consumers perceive beauty products and their role in their lives.

“It’s this idea of a less categorized [industry],” says Sanderson. “It’s less about simply a successful nail varnish or eyeliner. That’s not going away, but I would expect to see some of the larger beauty brands diversify their product offer so that we no longer think of war paint as beauty. If the premise of the business is to make you feel beautiful, than I expect that a clever beauty company is going to analyze what that means…and it could go beyond lip liner.” But he warns, breakthroughs are often the product of a slow build.

“From our perspective, five to 10 years is a such a short time frame,” says Sanderson. “If an idea isn’t already in the market in some shape or form, the likelihood of it emerging within a decade is almost zero. Product categories don’t develop out of nowhere in a decade. They have to be past the harebrained invention stage.” He adds, “They can mushroom very quickly and then grow very quickly if they catch on.”

The Future of Products: 5 Key Points

A Common Link:
Beauty will shed its traditional parameters and become more deeply intertwined with holistic and scientific categories such as health, nutrition and well-being.

The Need for Speed: The ability to move quickly and apply ever-evolving technologies to the category will differentiate the winners from the losers.

Measuring Efficacy:
Wearable technology, such as the Nike+ FuelBand, have energized the fitness category. Look for similar products with beauty applications.

Put It On Film: Many are exploring the idea of polymers that would form an undetected film on the face and act as a conduit for makeup or improve the appearance of skin.

Special Delivery: From injectables to ingestibles, a variety of delivery forms will emerge as mainstream options.