L’Oréal’s recent purchase of Modiface has directed interest to how technology can benefit the beauty business. Simultaneously, there is a quest for personalization, especially in skin-care where DNA plays a role in selecting products. Those trends dovetail in a new product from SkinGenie.
SkinGenie is a skin-care adviser that analyzes DNA and lifestyle. It also taps artificial intelligence for a deep dive into a user’s skin-care needs. From there, a report is generated that incorporates genetic predispositions for skin characteristics, including collagen breakdown, sensitivity to sun and photo-aging. Ingredients are recommended, which can be purchased from the web-based app or sought out from a retailer. Currently, SkinGenie features all of Sephora’s skin care products with plans to add other merchants this year.
SkinGenie’s technology is available across several platforms, including a direct-to-consumer SkinCare Advisor app, a SkinNome DNA report and a DNA report created via a saliva test. SkinGenie’s Skin Care Advisor App includes a SkinNome DNA Report that covers 30 skin traits; the report is generated from a saliva test that the company sells if the customer has not already done DNA testing.
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SkinGenie has been racking up awards for its innovation, including being named one of the Top 50 Retail Tech Start-ups Worldwide by Insider Trends, nabbing one of two top awards from Johnson & Johnson’s Digital Beauty Quickfire (the Innovation Award and the People’s Choice Award) and being selected as second-place winner at the Coty Digital AI Accelerator.
Here, Sindhya Valloppillil, cofounder and chief executive of SkinGenie, digs deeper into its technology.
WWD: How Does SkinGenie work?
Sindhya Valloppillil: With genomics and AI, we can personalize products based on how active ingredients in a product address a particular person’s unique genetic skin-care traits and their lifestyle and preferences. Genes are important since 60 percent of aging can be attributed to our genes, according to a recent JAMA Dermatology study, “Factors That Affect Skin Aging: A Cohort-Based Survey on Twins.”
We have an agnostic platform, meaning customers can sync their raw DNA data from any test including 23 and Me, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, etc. It takes about one minute to process the raw data and one minute for a customer’s SkinNome report to be generated — it is very fast. Then a customer’s DNA results are combined with a lifestyle assessment to produce comprehensive and unique skin-care profiles.
After a user profile is created, customers can browse the products that SkinGenie ranked for them based on a product’s active ingredients, taking into account thousands of research studies on how each ingredient works on a specific skin attribute. Products are also ranked according to allergies and average customer rating in addition to filtering for organic, natural, gluten-free or fragrance-free products. SkinGenie works for customers without DNA data by personalizing products based on their answers to our lifestyle questionnaire. The personalization is more powerful with the addition of the DNA data, though. The genesis of SkinGenie began with LifeNome, a DNA-based wellness AI company with the goal of helping individuals make personalized wellness decisions. Cofounded by renowned genomics and technology leaders, Raya Khanin, Ph.D. and Ali Mostashari, Ph.D., the two joined forces with me last year to build out how the technology could serve skin care. Since then, Raya and myself are now spinning out SkinGenie as a separate company to focus on the massive opportunities in the beauty industry.
WWD: Why is it so right for now? How has the ecosystem changed for beauty tech?
S.V.: Beauty tech is really hot right now due to consumers’ desire for high personalization and engagement levels, more than any other category. Technology can be truly disruptive and forever change how we experience and shop for beauty products. Case in point: many consumers have now come to rely on shade-matching technology to find the right foundation or the Fragrance Finder technology that Sephora acquired to find the right fragrance. So many people use apps like Meitu and Perfect 365 to play with makeup or even just improve their selfies. People don’t worry about lipstick that’s worn off at dinner because you can virtually reapply it to a picture with these apps. Technology offers real value for consumers, brands and retailers.
WWD: Why are we seeing so many acquisitions?
S.V.: Companies like Modiface and Giaran are getting acquired by beauty conglomerates like L’Oréal and Shiseido since they recognize the immediate value to multiple brands in their portfolio. Good beauty technology has been proven to enhance the customer experience and double conversion rates for retailers and brands. Moreover, technology provides valuable insights with respect to product performance and product development.
The ecosystem has completely changed. Increasingly, beauty technology is being outsourced because it is difficult to create in-house. Now, many of the big beauty conglomerates such as L’Oréal, Revlon, J&J, Coty and P&G are actively trying to keep up with, partner with or incubate start-ups by creating accelerators, digital quick-fire contests or even incubators.
WWD: SkinGenie has retailer and consumer uses. Can you elaborate on that?
S.V.: The really successful beauty tech companies like Meitu and Perfect 365 don’t just rely on licensing deals with retailers and brands. They both optimized their technology business with their direct-to-consumer apps. We are following the same path with our business model.
In addition to our direct-to-consumer SkinGenie Skin Care Advisor app, we have SG Enterprise Services, which can help brands and retailers by offering personalization experiences for customers and by providing valuable data for their product development and marketing efforts.
WWD: What is your new launch called Kode?
S.V.: Using the same core technology as our SkinGenie App and SG Enterprise Services, we are about to begin the development of Kode, our AI and DNA-based bespoke skin care, hair care and beauty supplement brand.
WWD: What’s next for SkinGenie?
S.V.: To be really competitive in beauty, you must lead with both science and technology. That is our game plan. SkinGenie has built the world’s largest beauty database that is constantly updated. No one else even comes close with respect to the number of genetic variants, biomarkers, traits, ingredients, products, etc. that we cover. We also have a dynamic, deep learning algorithm that automatically adds new scientific knowledge as it becomes available and gets smarter as it absorbs new genotype-phenotype data, customer reviews and ingredient information. We are hoping to close our first round of funding soon. With that funding, we plan to scale our business and finally start doing some marketing. Since there are already nearly 15 million people in this country who have already done DNA testing, we plan to retarget them and give them a new use for their raw DNA data beyond ancestry. I believe to be really competitive in beauty must lead with technology and science. That’s the approach we are taking with SkinGenie. Our chief science officer Dr. Raya Khanin is working on expanding our science to include microbiome, epigenomics and RNA.
We are adding more retailers and products to our app. It will be expanded to include hair care and beauty supplements. For our Enterprise Services business, we plan to offer the option to add on complementary technologies that address environmental aging such as 3-D imaging and selfie analysis. We are also going to focus on our Kode launch and begin the development of that. Hopefully we can become as relevant in skin-care and hair care as the AR/VR companies like Modiface, Meitu and Perfect Corp. have become for the world of color cosmetics.