Custom skincare: how tech is shaking up the way we buy beauty products

  • From DNA tests to clever algorithms to convenient new devices, technology is creating a whole new market for made-to-measure skincare
  • Products can be customised to fit individual lifestyles
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 6:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 6:57pm

The bespoke movement came late to the beauty world, certainly compared to the fashion industry – where nothing more than a tape measure, some fabric and nimble fingers are needed to create a custom garment.

A lot more technology goes into creating a tailor-made beauty product, especially when it comes to devices that can analyse skin condition more effectively than by sight and touch.

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That’s not to say the concept is entirely new. Since the early 1990s, MTM Skincare has advocated its custom-blended skincare concept, which requires customers to go to one of its boutiques for a skincare analysis and consultation. The brand, which is headquartered in Hong Kong but has its research lab in Japan, then adds ingredient boosters to a base creation based on a person’s skincare needs.

But lately there has been a sudden mushrooming in new companies that create bespoke skincare solutions, while existing brands are adding more customised options to their line-ups. Why now?

For Singapore-based Alcheme, which launched last year, it is because consumers now have the tools to take ownership of their skincare regime.

The brand uses an “intelligent online assessment algorithm” to evaluate factors such as lifestyle, environment, and external and internal aggressors via an extensive online questionnaire that also appraises the individual’s personal skincare priorities. Users then have their face scanned via their device’s camera, with human experts at Alcheme checking the results. After that, an entire suite of bespoke products is suggested, which also takes into account the customer’s textural and fragrance preferences.

“We were inspired by our conversations with women, who shared that they were not completely confident of knowing what their skin concerns were,” says Constance Mandefield, one of the brand’s co-founders. “According to our research, 75 per cent of women unknowingly use the wrong skincare products for their skin types. Alcheme focuses on offering accessible and efficient bespoke skincare … available at your fingertips. You can get your free skin consultation from the comfort of your home and we ship products worldwide.”

Another online service, Italian brand Frame Cosmetics, launched in 2017 and brought its team to Hong Kong recently to promote its line of products. It is also looking at places where it may launch a boutique and spa (Sai Kung is apparently a possibility). The brand espouses a 360-degree approach to skin health and launched with a comprehensive suite of products.

“Our brand is built on three core pillars,” says Laura Ivaldi, the brand’s head of product formulation. “Topical cosmetic products; mechanobiological devices that amplify the cosmetics’ efficacy; and nutraceuticals, skin supplements and herbal infusions. Both [skincare and nutraceuticals] are focused on the health and longevity of our cells, the skin included.”

While an online survey is part of its bespoke process – with questions ranging from “do you dye your hair” to whether your workouts take place in a gym or outdoors – crucial to Frame’s diagnosis is a D1 Bio-Impedance Skin Analyser device. This device measures “conditions of moisture, oiliness and softness of one’s skin” and is a key part of the diagnosis. A specialist is then assigned to each individual to analyse initial data as well as go through follow-up.

“Frame’s M2M [made-to-measure] products are formulated by members of our scientific board, after careful analysis of client data,” Ivaldi explains. “Other skincare brands deliver the personalised product and the interaction ends there. Frame dedicates a specialist from our scientific board to keep up with every client who orders an M2M kit. Our experts check in with clients to see how they are progressing and are always available to provide answers to any questions or concerns.

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“Other brands also use repeated ‘personalised’ products that are already registered in the cosmetics registry, whereas at Frame, each and every product we create for someone is individually registered and will never be repeated in the exact same way.”

Customers keep the skin analyser tool and can use it to recheck their skin’s condition whenever they like, such as when the seasons change or if they’re travelling.

“Since we are aware that lifestyles can change and that a person’s skin condition is not fixed, we always ask for updated data,” Ivaldi says. “Simply put, every single time an M2M kit is ordered, even if it is from a repeating client, we always use new data, and new formulas are created according to that data.”

Frame’s tagline is “advanced Mediterranean pro-ageing solutions” and besides customised products it also promotes how the region’s covetable lifestyle lends itself to longevity. It even cultivates organic plants in southern Italy’s Pollino National Park for its production line, extracting high-potency active ingredients within four hours of harvest.

“The [Mediterranean] air is fresh, not polluted by big industry. The rhythm of life is attuned to nature; people heed the cycles of the moon and the seasons. Sunshine enriches everything. The food that grows in the land is nourishing, and the abundance of local varieties of crops is mesmerising,” Ivaldi says.

“The agricultural bounty is tended to with wisdom, sensitivity and dedication. People buy fresh ingredients and prepare fresh meals. Food that is frozen or tossed in the microwave without care is a rarity. Instead, people devote time to prepare thoughtful, nutritious meals that they share in joyful, vibrant company.”

Bespoke solutions … will change the way we consume skincare altogether, because it finally allows us to streamline our routines without compromising on results
Constance Mandefield

French brand Ioma Paris turned 10 last year and has built a physical presence in countries across the globe, including shelf space at UK chain Boots. In 2014 it launched its first customisable product, Ma Crème, a formula has more than 40,000 variations and can be machine-mixed at counters in seconds.

Last year the brand also launched its Youth Booster anti-ageing product which, while not customisable, comes with a hydration sensor in the cap that measures the hydration level of the user’s skin on a scale of one to six. This is no cheap device – the company offers a 40 (US$46) voucher to customers who send back the cap before reordering the booster, which sells for just under 140.

Devices like this that give control and understanding to consumers are successful because bespoke skincare isn’t the same as couture fashion, where the end goal is to create a product that is one of a kind. The goals of bespoke skincare is to harness cutting-edge technology to efficiently and economically determine which products best suit your skin. Another example is the DNA swab test used by Swedish brand Allél, the results of which are used to create a mix-and-match routine taken from five standard sets of skincare. (The brand skips questionnaires based on research that suggests up to 60 per cent of ageing is a result of genetic factors.)

As such, bespoke skincare is less a passing fad and more a sea change in the beauty industry that is likely to become standard. Why trust the words of a sales assistant when you can track your personal skincare needs whenever you want?

“Bespoke solutions help to address [most women using the wrong skincare], and on a broader level, will change the way we consume skincare altogether, because it finally allows us to streamline our routines without compromising on results,” Mandefield says. “It is a reversal of the current skincare paradigm. You will no longer need to schedule your time around your skincare routine – your product can now be customised to fit into your lifestyle.”