In 2017, Rhianna made a major splash in the beauty market with the launch of Fenty Beauty, which featured 40 shades in its foundation line. Until then, most beauty brands offered a notoriously narrow range, leaving many customers frustrated with their options or excluded entirely.
Fenty Beauty reported $570 million in revenue in 2018 and, in 2023, was valued at $2.8 billion, making it the most successful celebrity-backed brand in the industry.
Demand for more inclusivity throughout the beauty industry has grown significantly over the last several years. Millennial and Gen Z consumers want to support brands that share their values. They also want a quality product that works for them and are willing to pay
As companies look for ways to make their offerings more inclusive — of skin tones but also skin types, hair types, disabilities, and other individual characteristics and identities — many are turning to technology for help. Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, connected devices (IoT), and other technologies have revealed valuable new use cases, making the technologies more accessible. From start-ups to large corporations, beauty brands are experimenting with technology to stand out as industry innovators and as companies willing to invest in their customers.
Pioneers of Inclusive Beauty Tech
Beauty companies have been experimenting with tech-based solutions and approaches for quite a while. Still, recent technology advancements are making it easier for companies of all sizes to bring sophisticated solutions to mainstream markets.
At CES 2023, L’Oréal debuted HAPTA, a handheld device that uses AI, intelligent sensors, and motion-stabilizing technology to assist people with limited mobility in putting on makeup. Around the same time, Estée Lauder launched the Voice-Enabled Makeup Assistant (VMA), a mobile application that uses AI to help individuals with visual impairments apply makeup more confidently. The app uses AI to assess the uniformity and coverage of lipstick, eyeshadow, and foundation applications and gives users audible instructions for how and where to touch up.
Beauty companies are also using technology to develop more inclusive products for people of color, who have been historically underrepresented in the beauty industry. Although Black customers contribute about 11% of total beauty revenues, Black-founded or Black-owned businesses account for only 2.5% of the industry’s total revenue. The same study shows that Black customers in the United States are three times more likely than non-Black customers to express dissatisfaction with the haircare, skincare, and makeup products available.
While retailers are working to address this issue by dedicating more shelf space to Black-owned brands and offering a wider variety of products, entrepreneurs are using technology to go even further.
Candace Mitchell Harris came up with the idea of Mayavana — a company that uses AI and scientific analysis to provide specialized hair care recommendations to people of color — when she was studying computer science at Georgia Tech and was tired of wasting money on products that damaged her hair. Sisters Isoken and Ifueko Igbinedion founded Parfait, a wig company that uses AI and facial recognition to customize wigs to customers’ head shape and skin tone, “to provide a fully customizable experience to wig wearers…at a fraction of the cost and significantly faster than traditional methods.”
By experimenting with technology to refine product lines to be more accessible, or to develop something entirely new, these companies are reaching a wider audience and demonstrating their commitment to their customers and to inclusive practices. This inclusivity delivers real reputational value.
Low-cost, Low-Tech Solutions are Valuable Too
Inclusive beauty tech can be inclusive from a financial perspective, too. Small beauty brands might need more funds to develop a proprietary device or software, but implementing low-tech solutions can go a long way to address inclusivity challenges.
Minor adjustments to eCommerce sites and retail locations can dramatically improve the customer experience's inclusivity. Equipping eCommerce sites with image-to-voice and text-to-voice capabilities, for example, can improve the shopping experience for individuals with visual impairments.
Mobile applications have also been a popular foray into beauty tech because they’re relatively inexpensive, easy to scale, and easily accessible to customers. In 2019, Estée Lauder released Clinique Clinical Reality™, a mobile application that uses augmented reality to scan a customer’s face, assess their skin, and create a recipe for a personalized skin care product. Already, the app has helped the company increase customer engagement. People spend more time on the website, and that engagement is converting to sales.
Such apps can also help make the customer experience more inclusive by allowing customers to create products to fit their needs, or simply better identify the ideal product. The best solutions are often not the most technically complex, but rather the ones that understand the challenge and the people involved. What do customers want? How can companies address those needs as quickly as possible (and serve a fully diverse customer base) with the technology currently available to them? Website changes and mobile applications are practical ways to ease into beauty tech and pave the way for more ambitious projects.
As brands begin experimenting with beauty tech, they must be sure they’re also implementing the necessary guardrails to protect their customers and their data. Customer trust is critical. So is regulatory compliance. Responsible AI practices can help guide companies, encouraging them to be mindful of the impact of their solutions. Many companies overlook cybersecurity and data management in the early stages of product development and deployment, leading to costly disruptions down the line. Prioritizing these areas upfront can help avoid penalties and build trust among customers.
Fostering a Culture of Innovation
Companies like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder have established themselves as frontrunners in beauty tech by fostering a culture of innovation through hackathons and creative problem-solving using technology. Estée Lauder’s annual hackathon is focused on highlighting new ideas for how to make beauty more sustainable and inclusive. These collaborative events are great for introducing the new approaches and perspectives that are vital for innovation. They’re also an excellent way for brands to engage the community, learn about areas for improvement in the brand, and experiment with novel solutions.
For companies just breaking into beauty tech, the future can seem infinitely inspiring and daunting. New technologies are making everything seem possible, but are those solutions practical?
While some beauty tech use cases might seem too ambitious, what’s important is that companies are thinking differently, expanding their understanding of the customer experience, and looking for ways to be more inclusive. Ambitious ideas can shed light on more practical solutions to challenges. Even small, meaningful changes can make a big impression on customers.
Like customers in every industry, beauty customers want to support companies that align with their values. Inclusivity is essential, and customers respond well to brands that put their money where their mouth is. As brands look to invest more in inclusive beauty, beauty tech can help them do more with those investments.