Issue 15: Beauty and the Tech

July 19, 2019

This week, we're deep-diving into the world of beauty and self-representation today in the U.S. and around the world. We'll be taking a look at how technology, social media and personalization are changing beauty norms, beauty practices and the product landscape. We ask ourselves — are these technologies (and how we use them) further entrenching or challenging, diversifying and opening up existing beauty standards?

Given that beauty industry innovation trends tend to be indicative of broader changes writ large, this industry's use of social media as a bellwether for trends and AR as a customer experience enhancement tool are indicative of where innovation more broadly is headed.

Then, we'll survey the AI investment landscape, read Kayak's caveat emptor about AI's limitations and learn about Cigna's investment in precision medicine firm GNS.

Focus: New-Age Beauty

In an age of Instagram- and Snapchat-filtered images and AI-created images, beauty expectations are quite literally being shaped by technology. Technology is also enabling the development of totally new beauty product categories, such as virtual try-ons, custom-made products and smart skincare tools.


While celebrity-driven beauty trends are nothing new (perhaps some of our readers remember 'the Rachel' haircut during Friends' height?), social media is driving people to extremes to improve their selfie game. More broadly, how are technology and social media impacting how we see, value and prioritize ourselves?

In a study of 118 women ages 18-29 primarily in the U.S. and UK, researchers found that viewing images of women who'd undergone cosmetic enhancement made participants more likely to want cosmetic surgery themselves. In extreme cases, called "Snapchat Dysmophia," people seek cosmetic procedures to replicate their filtered faces so they can look like their Snapchatted, Instagrammed or Facetuned selves in real life.

Dazed Digital reports that people are getting plastic surgery younger than ever before because of social media's influence on Generation Zs (the cohort after Millennials): in 2016, there were 66,347 cosmetic surgical procedures performed on people ages 13-19 (a 3% increase over 2015). Broadly speaking, the emphasis teens and young adults place on keeping up with the Joneses on social media speaks to the importance of digital-first strategies for all manner of businesses. A strong social media impression can shape young customers' faces as well as their wallets.


While social media is exerting significant influence on beauty standards and practices, it's not the end of this path. AI and AR promise even greater changes in beauty practices down the line. In China, the South China Morning Post documents live-streamers' use of "scary make-up" and camera filters to radically change both their faces and bodies.


As AI and AR technologies' integration into the beauty space becomes more prevalent (there are also numerous AI-enabled personalized products, such asfoundation and skincare, coming to market), expect customers' expectations of their skincare and beauty products to rise. Personalization and tailored routines will become the norm.

For more on what's coming down the pipe in tech-enabled beauty and skincare products, read about what major brands brought to CES 2019.

AR is also enabling beauty customers to try makeup from the comfort of their homes. L'Oreal's debut of a WeChat mini-program that lets users try virtual Giorgio Armani Beauty makeup on in the app is increasing WeChat's potential as a product demonstration and mobile shopping platform.


L’Oreal isn't the company investing in AR for beauty: for more on this, check out Sephora Virtual Artist, a 3D live try-on experience in the Sephora app; YouTube's new AR Beauty Try-On, which lets viewers virtually try makeup on while watching product videos; and six more AR apps in this space.


In addition to customers' faces, technological advancements are also reshaping the beauty industry itself. From products themselves to the consumer experience, technology is changing every aspect of this industry.

Megatrends in Beauty: Dive Inside the Next Wave of Tech
What Successful Beauty Startups are Focusing On Now
Is Edible Beauty a Scam?
Why High-Tech Beauty is a High-Stakes Game 


In a December 3, 2018 company feature, Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) CIO Michael W. Smith wrote that the company's vision "is to lead the prestige beauty industry in tech innovation" through AI, AR, VR and other emerging technologies.

With this mission in mind, ELC created a new technology hub in Long Island City to drive collaboration throughout the company. The company has made it easier for teams to collaborate on technology-focused consumer experiencesand the creation of unique technology-enabled experiences that'll keep customers in store longer or lead them to experiment with products in new ways.

Last year, the company also hosted its first-ever Beauty Hackathon with over 120 participants from 35 universities and 28 corporations. This external innovation event (as you may recall from last week's newsletter, hackathons are becoming a way for companies to bring in innovative thinking from other industries) exposed ELC employees to new ways of thinking and working and gave non-beauty participants an opportunity to see how the beauty industry works.

Extended Reading

Artificial Intelligence Deals Tracker: ~7K Deals Across 20 Industries In One Heatmap

CB Insights has put together a heat map of AI startup deals across 20 core industries (including healthcare and finance) and 12 cross-industry applications (such as sales and cybersecurity).

Kayak: AI isn't a "wonder weapon" that will solve all your problems

At VentureBeat's Transform 2019 conference, Kayak's chief scientist and senior vice president of technology Matthis Keller discussed some of the limitations of AI, which he contends shouldn't be considered a "wonder weapon" to solve all of a company's problems. 

Using the example of image processing — which has 5-20% error rates depending on image types — Keller warned the audience that AI is "not gonna generate any new solutions." He also warned the audience about the allure of neural networks, which are time-consuming to use in real-world business applications and often fail. 

Cigna Ventures is investing millions of dollars in precision medicine

Cigna Ventures — the healthcare venture arm of global health service company Cigna — has led a $23 million funding round for GNS Healthcare, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based precision medicine company. Cigna hopes to use GNS' novel machine learning technology to bring personalized predictive care to its 86 million customers. If this works, the approach could deliver care with pinpoint accuracy and lower customers' costs.

However, the Business Insider team is skeptical about whether this bet will pan out due to two major barriers: 1) massive data interoperability barriers in healthcare and 2) a dearth of the data that's needed to account for basic patient population differences, such as race and ethnicity.

Subscribe to Innovation Monitor Here