With L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius app, curious drugstore beauty customers can try a bold smoky eye without making a purchase. Through Urban Decay’s Vice Lipstick app, the more adventurous can try on lipstick shades in Jawbreaker (a bright purple), Heroine (a dark blue) and Trick (a metallic gold) before buying. Anyone contemplating a new hair color can download Conair’s Virtual Hairstyle Makeover app to test out shades before hitting the dye bottle. This app’s hairstyle feature can also answer the persistent question, “should I get bangs?”
Augmented reality has infiltrated beauty, with individual brands like L’Oréal and Covergirl and retailers like Sephora and Ulta releasing apps that lay products over faces of customers willing to download and try them out. And while each app claims a unique approach, 46 of these hair, beauty and skincare brands have one thing in common: Their augmented reality experiences are powered by technology company Modiface.
The company, while officially founded in 2006, has roots dating back to 1999 when CEO Parham Aarabi began researching automatic facial analysis that could visualize the effects of Botox and other anti-aging tools. Seventeen years later, Modiface is having its biggest year to date. With 46 brand partnerships already underway and 20 more still to be announced, Modiface will operate the technology behind 66 different augmented reality experiences in the beauty industry by the end of 2016. Across all of the apps it’s currently behind, Modiface’s technology has been downloaded over 60 million times, according to the company, and it estimates that it can increase mobile conversions by 80 percent.
“We’ve been working at this for a long time, and recently, we crossed the threshold where we’re actually seeing the technology making an impact,” said Aarabi. “People believe the augmented reality makeup looks like it’s real. So now, it’s only a matter of time before customers can’t avoid it.”
Beyond a gimmick
Aarabi said that as recently as two years ago, Modiface had to convince brands to try their technology. Modiface uses its native apps to demonstrate the type of work it can do with augmented reality, and then brands looking to partner with the company can license that technology for their own mobile apps, in store integrations, or websites. Now, the company, which employs 50, many of them scientists, is working to scale faster in order to meet demand, as well as introduce new forms of augmented reality to the beauty industries.
In August, ModiFace launched a “live scan” version of its face-analysis technology that reverses the AR process: Rather than overlaying a person’s face with products, it takes a frame-by-frame scan of a photo and determine the shades and products worn. Then, it can recreate the look for the user. The scan works on any photo or video still, meaning shoppers can figure out how to recreate the glam worn by models in magazine spreads, by actresses on television and by friends on Facebook.
Aarabi said that brands have signed on to connect their product catalog to the technology, though he couldn’t disclose which brands will have it first. When a customer using a branded app scans a photo, related products from that particular brand will appear as a result for the recreation.
“This technology has long gone past the gimmick,” said Zach Paradis, director of experience and innovation strategy at Sapient Nitro. “It’s growing because it’s tapping into the dream of exploring and going wild with the makeup, but they manifest in a meaningful decision to support in the path to purchase that can differentiate a retailer. People have confidence that they can walk out of the store with something that they feel good about, and it’s related to the brand experience.”
The Snapchat effect
Modiface’s developments and brands’ continued focus on technology have contributed to the surge of augmented reality in beauty. But the technology is also becoming common user behavior, thanks to Snapchat. The social app’s lens function regularly uses augmented reality to overlay colors and shapes on users’ faces, including lipstick, eyeshadow and eyeliners. Brands like L’Oreal and Urban Decay have also sponsored lenses to show off their shades to Snapchat’s 100 million daily users.
“Snapchat has helped the customer understand what the technology is, and makes it second nature to the customer,” said Aarabi. “It’s a nice catalyst. Brands can introduce people to their experience from an entertainment angle on Snapchat, and then hopefully that will drive people to their apps for the real thing.”
Modiface has officially partnered with another app to get access to a broader user base. In June, it launched a Facebook Messenger integration to overcome the friction of mobile apps and the mobile web, which have to be downloaded and have a slow-to-load experience, respectively. On Messenger, users can start a chat with Modiface or a retailer using the function, like Sephora, and start a conversation around color, brand name and product type. Then, they upload a photo and can swipe through different shades. Purchases can be made directly from the chat.
The plan now is for Modiface to infuse the live scan feature into Facebook Messenger. “We’re spending significant resources there,” said Aarabi. “It started as an experiment, but we really see it becoming a main avenue for AR in the future.”