Hold On!

Hold Up

Please select a minimum of three sectors in the menu above.

Got It
  • Why do AR apps and ‘magic mirrors’ matter for inclusivity?
  • Why do AR apps and ‘magic mirrors’ matter for inclusivity?
    TED Conference, Creative Commons (2018) ©

How is AR technology personalising beauty?

Augmented reality has already established itself as an exciting technology across several sectors, letting people visualise furniture in their homes and play real-world video games. How is it being harnessed in the beauty world to deliver personalised and seamless shopping experiences?

Location Northern Europe / Global

Consumer confidence in the UK may be ”stuck in the doldrums,” according to market research firm GfK, but the health and beauty market continues to boom – between 2017 and 2022, annual spend on such products is forecast to rise from £73 per person to £487. [1][2] Vanity is playing a part in this surge, especially as the generation raised on Instagram gains more buying power, but it may also be attributed to how brands are innovating in-store.

Augmented reality (AR) has already established itself as an exciting technology across several sectors, but how can it be used within beauty to improve the typically time-consuming shopping experience? How is it being harnessed to help people make the right product decisions in seamless ways?


Tech tactics in-store
While the decline of the British high street has been well-documented in the press, 93.5% of health and beauty consumers still prefer to buy in store, with online sales set to account for just 11.6% of the market by 2022. However, as noted by GlobalData lead analyst Kate Ormrod, although ”online accounts for just 8.5% of the market in 2017, online pure-plays are poised to make the most of the channel’s growing appeal. The likes of Feelunique, Cult Beauty and Lookfantastic hold significant strength in branded ranges, but differentiation will be key.” [2]

To retain their hold over beauty consumers, brick-and-mortar stores and pop-up shops are experimenting with augmented reality to create more pampering and personalised experiences that will increase dwell time. With a US-based survey finding that 61% of people would prefer to shop in stores with AR tech over those without, this investment may provide an advantage over high street rivals. [3]

”Personalised experiences and products are a result of consumers not knowing what's right for them,” says Adriana Goldenberg, a marketing strategist at AR software provider Holition. ”Tailoring the journey to a customer establishes a sense of trust and curation. It's no longer about how large and diverse your range is – customers want you to help them make the decision through curated products that align with their lifestyle and values, putting the power in their hands.” [4]

AR brings online product discovery to brick-and-mortar settings AR brings online product discovery to brick-and-mortar settings
Yelp Inc, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Charlotte Tilbury is just one of the make-up brands using AR in-store, having partnered with Holition to produce its ‘Magic Mirrors’. Customers simply sit in front of the mirror, which scans their face and shows ten of the brand’s most iconic looks on their reflection. Sylvain Delteil, director of business development at Perfect Corp Europe, explains that this kind of tech ensures that people can find the most suitable make-up for them. ”Compared with physically testing shades, AR is totally riskless. You can test as many shades as you want, copy others’ style or create your own,” he says. ”You can also share with your friends and learn from them or from make-up artists, so it opens up so many creative possibilities to the user. This is not something brands can afford to avoid.” [5]

While a ‘magic mirror’ can make AR more accessible for the average person, there are many other applications brands may explore. ”AR isn't only used for virtual try-on – it can help with tutorials, creating your own looks, and even with consumer confidence,” she explains. ”It is vital that brands that don't have the ability to connect with their consumers on a one-to-one level invest in conversational AR in order to cater to ever-evolving consumer needs.” [4]

The omnichannel opportunities of AR tech are a big draw for brands that want to intertwine their digital and physical presence. AR applications nearly always feature a social media aspect so that customers in-store can share their experience via Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, or a branded app, explains David Ripert, the CEO and founder of AR studio Poplar. ”This allows consumers to share with friends, get their opinion and show off their look,” he says. ”Promoted by social influencers, AR becomes even more efficient.” [6]

Tech is ensuring that beauty buyers get the right items first time Tech is ensuring that beauty buyers get the right items first time
Yelp Inc, Creative Commons (2016) ©

Digital beauty
Globally, spending on VR and AR products and services is projected to rise from $11 billion in 2017 to roughly $215 billion by 2021. [7] Boasting over 600 million total downloads, the success of Perfect Corp’s suite of apps – including YouCam Makeup, YouCam Perfect, YouCam Nails, and YouCam Fun – demonstrates how the beauty world is quickly adapting to these new tools. [8] As well as letting people try on make-up, analyse their skin, visualise new nail art, and use real-time beauty filters for photos, it encourages users to join its Beauty Circle social network where they can engage with other ‘beautyists’.

Rimmel and Feelunique have similarly launched apps that offer colour-matching and face-scanning tech to enable people to ‘try on’ products and buy straight away. Meanwhile, L’Oréal acquired beauty tech company ModiFace in March 2018 with plans to introduce advanced tools including virtual tutorials, smart mirrors, hair scanners, and scalp testing. [9] The brand is also rolling out a digital beauty assistant service,which will remotely connect users with a human consultant via video chat to provide advice on different looks that can be tested on-screen. [10]

”AR, and digital in general, brings a lot of data to brands,” says Delteil. ”YouCam users are on the app an average of ten times per month and try an average of ten shades per visit.” [5] Perfect Corp also found that Japanese users of YouCam Makeup were 1.6 times likelier to buy cosmetics than women who didn’t use the app, spending 2.7 times more money on such products. [11] This may be attributed to the fact that the app lets brands follow up on how many users ‘try’ and ‘save’ their shade, so that they can adapt their communications and anticipate new trends, explains Delteil. ”You can measure the efficiency of a campaign. During a product launch, you can interact with online prospects, get them to discover your brand, and also invite them to visit your physical stores to have a personalised live experience. These ‘online to offline’ campaigns offer new opportunities to convert Millennials into loyal customers.” [5]

Brands are embracing AR to refine what they offer to consumers Brands are embracing AR to refine what they offer to consumers
Marcus Lewis (2018) ©

Pretty personal
The level of personalisation provided by AR is making beauty more inclusive. ”It answers a lot of problems for people who have historically fallen outside of mainstream beauty categories, whether that’s in terms of skin tone, hair type or skincare needs,” says freelance beauty editor Amy Lewis. “The average beauty consumer is a lot more savvy these days too – they don’t want to waste their cash on products that may or may not be right for them. The ability to virtually test shades of lipstick, eyeshadows and foundations before you invest will help give consumers more confidence in what they’re buying. Foundation matching is notoriously tricky, especially if your skin tone sits outside the small range that sits on shelves, and how many times have you tested a lipstick on your hand only to find that it looks completely different on your lips?” [12]

Of course, online beauty influencers already provide this reassurance for people who struggle to find the right products, with 65% of Gen Yers saying they trust their favourite YouTubers more than in-store advisors. [13] ”They were born with technology in their pocket so they want quick answers and will rely on the info they find online,” says Ripert. ”Gen Y’s role models are mostly digital natives who have built their own brands from scratch, using curated social tools like Instagram or YouTube. Gen Y is the ‘maker’ generation – they've been given the power to curate their own life.” [6]

The key advantage of AR tech within beauty, however, is that it can simultaneously provide personalised guidance while streamlining the buying experience. Face by Holition, which has been adopted by brands including, Bourjois, Shiseido, and Charlotte Tilbury, allows users to scan a make-up product in-store, try it on with their phone, share with friends, and then buy it directly. The Lookfinder function even lets people scan an image or advert to ‘get the look’.

People want cosmetics that are suited to their exact needs People want cosmetics that are suited to their exact needs
Charisse Kenion (2018) ©

Insights and opportunities
According to Ripert, tech could eventually remove the need to physically try on make-up. ”Technology will be so advanced that it will enable the products to exactly fit users' body types, skin colours and other attributes,” he says. “AI machine learning will also generate experiences based on users' tastes, location and activities to deliver magical storytelling for a brand.” [6] While AI may yet be a source of concern for many shoppers, harnessing it for an AR app could make it more approachable for beauty buyers. Indeed, a report published in 2015 revealed that 30% of American women would be interested in facial skincare products with integrated diagnostic tools. [14]

The same study showed that 23% of British women aged 16-24 who’ve had hair treatments at a salon are interested in using smart mirrors to envision their desired style before committing to it. [14] The endless number of potential haircuts or colours one could model using the technology highlights a key benefit for stores (from all sectors) that can’t possibly stock everything they sell online. ”It allows brands to display an infinite number of products, which would be hard to showcase in one physical place. It's a great way to increase engagement with consumers and can lead to purchases,” says Ripert. [6]

The next step for beauty personalisation is weaving all of the channels together, continuing the journey on or offline. ”We've seen through research that consumers are craving a stronger connection to brands, and this is where the technology can help,” says Goldenberg. “By tag-teaming technologies such as AR, AI and the Internet of Things, these interactions can achieve a sense of hyper-personalisation. A customer will search for something online, see it on social media, try it on virtually, purchase in-store, and then have an AR tutorial on how to apply or wear the look. This journey will make shopping seamless and bespoke.” [4]

Related behaviours
Personal Worlds: People expect goods and services tailored to their unique needs

1. 'UK consumer confidence 'stuck in doldrums', says survey', The Independent (April 2018)
2. 'UK health & beauty market set to reach £27bn as it outperforms all other sectors', GlobalData (November 2017)
3. 'Saks Fifth Avenue attracts shoppers in store with AR', Canvas8 (June 2018)
4. Interview with Adriana Goldenberg conducted by author
5. Interview with Sylvain Delteil conducted by author
6. Interview with David Ripert conducted by author
7. 'The State of Augmented Reality: How current industry success stories can inform future use cases', RYOT Studio (2018)
8. 'Perfect Corp. strengthens position as AI & AR beauty leader reaching 600 million global downloads across their suite of YouCam apps', Business Wire (April 2018)
9. 'L’Oreal acquires Modiface, a major AR beauty company', The Verge (March 2018)
10. 'L’Oreal is bringing the makeup counter experience into your home with AR and livestreaming', Adweek (June 2018)
11. 'Perfect Corp. study finds augmented reality drives two times more cosmetic sales', Fashion Network (July 2017)
12. Interview with Amy Lewis conducted by author
13. 'Three reasons AR will help the retail beauty industry capture the next generation of buyers', Forbes (December 2017)
14. Beauty & Personal Care', Mintel (2015)

Featured Experts

David Ripert

David Ripert is the CEO and founder of Poplar, an AR content creation firm that has worked with the likes of L’Oreal, EasyJet, and Aviva.

Adriana Goldenberg

Adriana Goldenberg is a marketing strategist at Holition, which builds AR software for beauty brands including Charlotte Tilbury and Bourjois.

Sylvain Delteil

Sylvain Delteil is the director of business development at Perfect Corp Europe, the developer behind the YouCam app series.


Ginny Weeks has been a trend analyst for ten years, working across fashion, beauty, health and motoring. She is also a travel journalist and the Content Director at Citizen Femme.