Pinterest, which bills itself as a visual discovery app, recently doubled down on its premise by releasing an augmented reality try-on for eyeshadow.

The new Pinterest Lens-based feature brings more than 4,000 shades from brands such as Lancôme, YSL, Urban Decay and Nyx Cosmetics to the AR platform, joining virtual try-on for lipstick, a tool released by the company last year.

“Millions of people come to Pinterest every month to search for beauty ideas and inspiration,” the company said in a statement. “This is our latest step in bringing together the worlds of visual search and shopping on Pinterest as people come to Pinterest to shop early in their decision-making process, ready to discover new brands and products.”

The development speaks to the advancing AR-fueled race for the face. Companies like Perfect Corp., AR developer and maker of beauty app YouCam, and rival Modiface, a L’Oréal company, have been promoting their own techie twists on the makeup counter for years.

But increasingly platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Google have been expanding into augmented reality makeup try-ons as well for their advertisers or brand partners. Pinterest’s latest move into eye shadow is a sign that the pursuit is no flash in the pan, like other tech trends. but a methodical and progressive expansion that could help further cement AR’s place in beauty e-commerce.

The irony is that, when it comes to innovation, Big Tech isn’t necessarily leading the way.

Perfect Corp., for instance, has been touting beauty AR for years, alongside artificial intelligence and machine learning. The latter technologies make the virtual makeup look more realistic, according to the company, as seen in real-time rendering of color that moves with the person’s onscreen face.

The large tech platforms seem to be pursuing similar features, with varying degrees of sophistication. But as they pursue beauty AR on their own platforms, the YouCam maker continues to speed its own innovation.

The company recently introduced more accurate virtual makeup with improved face tracking, AR-powered beauty livestreaming and an on-demand beauty adviser service for one-on-one remote consultations. On the physical retail front, the developer also launched contactless virtual try-on in the third quarter of 2020.

One of its most intriguing debuts is a new offering called YouCam for Video. The video editor allows users to enhance selfie video clips quickly with effects like AR makeup, skin smoothing, facial retouching and hair color effects, among other things. This year, the platform plans to launch a beta for facial aging simulations, as well as roll out AI skin diagnostics capable of identifying common skin health concerns.

Such advances are gaining notice, and not just from consumers.

Instead of going it alone, more Silicon Valley players — like Google — are seeing fit to work with beauty tech partners. After YouTube joined forces with Perfect Corp. for virtual video try-ons in November, Google partnered with both the YouCam developer and Modiface the following month to bring the experience to its own search.

These moves fit well within Perfect Corp.’s ethos. “We stress the importance of a complete 360-degree omnichannel approach to beauty tech,” Alice Chang, the company’s chief executive officer, told WWD. “Beauty tech solutions need to be implemented across all consumer touchpoints, including online, in-store, in-app and social media, as consumer shopping behavior is constantly evolving. This type of enhanced, interactive digital experience is becoming an expected part of the consumer beauty shopping journey.”

Perfect Corp. has become one of Big Tech’s key beauty AR partners.  Courtesy image

The implications for product discovery can’t be overestimated.

Shoppers actively looking for makeup can head to YouCam or other places like Sephora to find and digitally apply products. But reaching the passive consumer, who may stumble on a look and want to see it on their own face, is a different matter.

It’s the idea of catching shoppers at the moment they are inspired, wherever they are. That sort of ubiquity is becoming reality, driven by pandemic-era measures shutting down cosmetics counters and rapid adoption of beauty AR by the major tech platforms.

According to Pinterest, searches for so-called “out-of-the-box makeup looks” have grown over the past year, spanning pastel eyeshadow (by a factor of 12x), crazy eyeshadow (4x), sunset eyeshadow (4x) and butterfly eyeshadow (2x).

For the tech company, expanding into virtual lip color and now eye shadow is also a pay-off after years of work. Both features, which can toggle from one to the other, are integrated with skin tone ranges, so users can filter results according to items that best suit their skin tone. That’s possible, thanks to Pinterest’s robust store of skin data, and it comes together with its deep investments in computer vision. Reportedly the company also worked with Modiface to power the try-on features.

Pinterest eschewed skin smoothing or other image altering effects, allowing it to underscore the “authentic results” of the feature, said a company spokeswoman. The result offers necessary realism without foregoing the aspirational aspect, allowing users to see how similar eye shadow colors look on other people.

As retail experts wonder which trends will remain post-lockdown, beauty AR looks poised to raise customer expectations in the long term. Silicon Valley appears to be waking up to that now, and the result may fuel the technology as a standard for the beauty industry — anywhere and everywhere it reaches consumers.