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Up Close With L’Oréal at SXSW

The beauty giant is turning to tech to take a more personalized approach.

Beauty giant L’Oréal is turning to tech to bring more personalized potential to its skin-care business.

Guive Balooch, global vice president of the beauty brand’s Technology Incubator team, was in Austin at South by Southwest, sitting on an artificial intelligence panel and showing off the company’s latest hardware — a countertop machine that uses wireless Near Field Communication and a centrifuge-like component capable of producing individualized skin-care formulations.

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Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator Adriana Lee

On Friday, Balooch joined Reveal’s Megan Berry and Tony Pinville from Heuritech in a panel discussion titled, “AI: Transforming Luxury, Fashion and Beauty.” The biggest takeaway from the session: Technology’s influence on retail lands at every level, from inventory management in the back end to customer engagement out in front — or online — and all the data points in between.

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“I couldn’t do anything I’ve done today without partnering with startups and entrepreneurs outside,” he said on the panel. “We know the science of beauty, and we know how to translate technology into what’s relevant. But we’re not necessarily the only people that have that core intellectual property in technology.”

That openness leads to opportunity: “A lot of times, we’ll see a really cool technology that’s outside of beauty, and we’ll think that, ‘Oh, this could be really relevant for what we want to create,’” he said.

One of those creations is the new DOSE system for custom skin-care serums.

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DOSE is filled with canisters of active ingredients, ready to be blended into a custom skincare formulation. Adriana Lee

Later, at L’Oréal’s installation at the Fast Company Grill, Balooch offered a closer view of the countertop appliance. Positioned under the SkinCeuticals umbrella, DOSE, or “diagnostic optimization serum expertise,” looks like a large 3-D printer or maybe a robotic bartender on the outside. Inside, the device features serious tech. Its NFC-equipped canisters and scales measure out precise quantities of active ingredients — such as Retinol, Glycolic, Lactioc and Phytic acid, Hepes, Hydrovance and others — based on the assessment of medi-spa specialists or doctors.

Like any decent tech company would beta-test a solution, the company piloted DOSE with a handful of professionals first.

“We got such positive response,” said Christina Fair, U.S. general manager for SkinCeuticals. “And they’re creating their own packages around this — with treatments plus custom formulations. They’re getting really creative.”

Also on display was Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier, L’Oréal’s previous customization innovation for Nordstrom’s cosmetic counters.

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Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier custom foundation Adriana Lee

The system consists of a skin scanner and another large box, this time outfitted with extruders that blend custom foundation on demand. The technology may be two years old at this point, but still seems ahead of the curve, as personalized makeup on demand hasn’t quite become standard fare yet.

And yet, according to Balooch, L’Oréal is not a technology company. But he concedes it “takes inspiration from the tech community,” he said. “We’re thinking about and creating things in an agile test-and-learn way.”