Lines between beauty and tech are fading, says L’Oréal’s innovation thought leader

7 Jan 2016

Pictured: PCH founder and CEO Liam Casey with Guive Balooch, global vice president of L'Oréal’s Technology Incubator

The reality today is that beauty, fashion and tech are merging into one movement where tech is fashionable and beauty and health need tech. This was exemplified yesterday when Irishman Liam Casey’s PCH joined forces with global cosmetics giant L’Oréal to create a wearable UV patch that could have implications for industries like health and sports.

In fact, Ireland is very much in the driving seat for this new space where fashion and health meet tech. Hours before PCH and L’Oréal revealed their new UV patch, Intel revealed that its “designed in Ireland” Curie chip for the wearables revolution will ship this quarter.

The announcement included sports and media deals with ESPN and Red Bull to employ wearable tech to gather sports analytics and fashion and music icon Lady Gaga also forged a technology alliance with Intel.

At CES yesterday, PCH – a $1bn global fulfilment giant headquartered in Cork and with operations in Shenzhen in China and San Francisco in the US – revealed a global strategic relationship with global beauty leader L’Oréal to develop personalised beauty products and connected devices.

The world’s first stretchable skin sensor for consumers


The first product to go to market under this relationship is the My UV Patch. The My UV Patch, which will be marketed under L’Oréal’s La Roche-Posay Skincare brand, is the first-ever stretchable skin sensor available to consumers.

The patch basically tells people how much UV radiation they are being exposed to. It contains photosensitive dyes that detect changing skin colour when the wearer is exposed to UV rays.

Users can take a picture of the patch and upload it to an app, which will then analyse it to determine how much UV exposure has taken place, while also offering sun-safe recommendations.

L’Oréal and MC10 developed the technology and PCH design-engineered the product for commercial production.

Casey and Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, who spoke with from CES last night, both agreed that technology is growing beyond obvious devices like smartphones and computers and is filtering into a variety of industries, making new business models possible.

‘L’Oréal has a forward way of thinking, we care deeply about where the consumer experience is going and when we do things at L’Oréal we do them the right way’

In Silicon Valley, established brands from airlines to car companies, and beauty brands like L’Oréal, are establishing incubators to get close to innovation and explore new possibilities.

The My UV Patch is the first of many tech products that L’Oréal will develop with PCH, Balooch said. He said L’Oréal is excited to be the first beauty company to enter the stretchable electronics space.

“The innovation here is that we can now make electronics stretchable and so thin on skin,” said Casey, who is viewed as the go-to guy in Silicon Valley for innovators who want to make their inventions become a reality in the tough hardware space. PCH orchestrates the entire process from design to manufacture, from online order to delivery at the door.

“This is not a typical wearable where you are using accelerometers and other measurement tools. Consumers simply don’t know how much UV they are consuming, this kind of wearable will go beyond any gimmick,” Casey said.

Balooch chimed in: “This is precisely the reason we started a tech incubator three years ago. The reason we started this was because we knew the consumer is changing and that change is happening around connected objects and the digital revolution is affecting industries like media, transport and more. By opening the doors to disruptive new consumer electronics, bioprinting, 3D printing and customisation, we are finding ways to bring new products to market.

“We are bringing beauty and technology together and we will partner and build relationships with people we believe can make beautiful products that are simple and elegant for the consumer,” Balooch said.

The next wave of consumer health hardware start-ups

As well as running its own Highway 1 incubator in San Francisco to help hardware start-ups, PCH has been instrumental in helping recognised new hardware brands like LittleBits and Pebble enter the mainstream retail world.

PCH is also allying with established industry giants in various industries to help them navigate the world of digital disruption. In August, for example, PCH joined forces with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to jointly develop and accelerate the next wave of consumer health hardware start-ups.

‘The beauty industry today is where the music industry was in 2001’

“We’ve done a lot of work with start-ups over the years,” Casey explained. “But established companies face a range of challenges too.

“L’Oréal is an established company with many different brands and the challenge is identifying how they can use technology in these product ranges. This was a really exciting challenge for us. Unlike start-ups, these companies already have a phenomenal distribution network, we know the selling part is going to be easy once they get the sales and marketing engine behind it.

“The beauty industry today is where the music industry was in 2001. Unlike the music industry, it is moving fast to use technology to deliver a better experience for consumers. It is exciting for L’Oréal to put an incubator into Silicon Valley, we are hugely excited about working with them and what we can do with technology in the beauty sector.

“The exciting part is the relationship with the consumer is one that gives a very different view of what kind of products can be created than from the traditional tech industry viewpoint. L’Oréal had a vision three years ago of the kind of products they could bring to the market.”

L’Oréal is becoming a life sciences company

“We saw it coming,” Balooch added. “L’Oréal has a forward way of thinking, we care deeply about where the consumer experience is going and when we do things at L’Oréal we do them the right way.

“The key thing to do is build products that are valuable to the consumer. We decided to figure out how to bring beauty and technology together. We wanted a team in Silicon Valley and we also have a deep science background where we build products in France and New Jersey and we decided it was time to be in the Bay Area and make connections with the amazing ecosystem there.”

I put it to Balooch that products like the UV patch do not only blur the lines between beauty and tech, it makes L’Oréal a life sciences/healthcare company.

“For a long period of time there was a clear distinction between the beauty industry and the medicine industry and there are moments where they overlap. For example, UV protection in sun cream. We work with dermatologists and we understand the benefits of sun cream.

“Ultimately, the lines between tech, lifestyle and beauty are fading and innovation in all of these areas are important to the consumer’s life in the 21st century,” Balooch said.

‘Where wearables work best is when you can create devices that change their behaviour and give people knowledge and insight they didn’t have before’

Both Casey and Balooch laughed knowingly when I suggested they should talk with Intel and sports brands like Nike and Adidas about incorporating their stretchable wearable tech in a variety of sports applications.

Balooch said: “We have the brand power to do things that will help people’s lives through interaction with our products. It is not only about marriage between tech and our products, but also the ability to have products that have helped people for many years and that is about trust.”

Casey concluded: “That is totally right. It’s about brand equity and trust. But, also, what brings about disruption in industry is empowerment.

“People can use wearable technologies that aren’t as obvious as smartwatches or smart eyewear. Young adults and children spend hours walking in sunlight and they don’t know how much UV they are getting. Where wearables work best is when you can create devices that change their behaviour and give people knowledge and insight they didn’t have before.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years