Microchips Meet Skincare: An Interview With IOMA Founder Jean Michel Karam

It’s not everyday that a technology visionary launches a beauty brand, but that’s just what Jean Michel Karam Ph.D did. Using the most advanced imaging and probe-based techniques, powered by MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems), Karam’s brand IOMA creates targeted and customized skincare regimens. The brand designs and manufacturers its own hi-tech analysis devices and formulates its own skincare products, which fit the treatment recommended by the devices. So far, 25 skincare products have launched in the U.S. with a body line, hand cream, and foot cream slated for the coming months. We spoke to Karam about what the reaction was when he announced he’d be branching out into skincare, what sets his face scanning devices apart, the research behind his products, and more.

The Fashion Spot: Was it ever in your game plan to expand into the beauty industry?

Jean Michel Karam Ph.D: Obviously not. I come from a completely different world and all the companies I launched were in the world of micro-chips. My first contact with the beauty industry occurred in 2002 and I was very skeptical initially. I spend 8 years studying, learning, and listening to people from the industry and developing the solution – which became the IOMA Concept – and finally became passionate about it. In 2010, I was convinced that we have a disruptive technology and that we are bringing a true value to beauty, this is when I decided to launch IOMA on the market and the results so far are fantastic!

tFS: I imagine the cosmetic industry has a certain stigma in the eyes of cerebral engineers. What was the reaction like from your peers when you announced your new venture?

JMK: Yes, you can say that for engineers like me, we think that this industry is “pure marketing.” People expected me to launch all kinds of companies, but no one thought I’d ever launch and run a company in skincare. Now that they listen to the story, they understand that we have a great story built through innovation and this is what really counts, more than which industry you act in.

tFS:  Did you approach breaking into the beauty industry any differently than you did your other projects/patents? Anything particularly surprise you about the industry?

JMK: When I launch a company I look to the fundamentals:

  • Am I doing something good for life and people or not? I try to be always acting in companies improving human life.
  • Do I have a technology/entry barrier (i.e. how difficult will it be for the competition to mimic what I am doing)? Do I have a disruptive technology?
  • How big is the market?

IOMA is a true game-changer in the industry of beauty. Our vision is really big and we have a very strong roadmap with a lot of innovation. Competition can copy portions of our offering, but will never be able to mimic us. Other brands ask consumer to believe in them and in their claims, we give consumers the tools to prove our products are efficient and works. We also focus on customization of the treatment and we will drive that this approach very far, starting from a unique treatment to a unique product – customization is the DNA of the brand.

tFS: In the simplest terms can you explain what MEMS is and how you’re using it to diagnosis skincare problem areas?

JMK: MEMS stands for Micro Electro Mechanical Systems. MEMS are tiny/small devices, made of silicon, which realize functions like measuring the hydration of the skin or the pressure of the air for a plane or the acceleration of a car for the airbag… In IOMA devices, MEMS are in the probes and enable the measurement of skin hydration, trans-epidermal-water loss, temperature… They are very small and very integrated, enabling us to make a lot of measurements simultaneously and in a very narrow area of the skin.

tFS: Face scanner machines have been becoming increasingly popular, can you explain how you’re working to make sure that yours clearly stand apart?

JMK: We know the competitive devices very well. Those brands purchase those devices from suppliers that we know very well. We don’t compare ourselves, but if you do an analysis on any other device you can see the difference.

IOMA devices are designed and manufactured by IOMA for IOMA. The devices were built together with the brand and intimately connected.

Our devices assure reproducible (different devices gives the same result) and repeatable measurements (different measurement of the same subject on the same device gives the same results), which enables us to track history (by the way our devices store the measurement and compare them at each time you run an analysis). This also enables our consumers to make a diagnostic in NY and then travel to Beverly Hills, getting an analysis and a comparison of the progress made on the historical data.

  • IOMA devices  generate automatically the recommendations since the brand has been developed at the same time as the devices, we have generated an expert rule database which can recommend the treatment automatically out of a set of skin parameters/characteristics measurement.
  • IOMA devices are networked and remotely maintained.
  • IOMA devices are fully integrated (we do not have a computer on one side, a screen on another, a camera, etc.), modular (it is updated with new capabilities every six months), nice design (very important), and easy to be used.
  • IOMA Sphere operates 5 high resolution images:
    • Natural look
    • Skin texture (fine lines, wrinkles, firmness)
    • Diffused redness
    • Pigmentation and UV damage
    • Bacterial activity, excessive oiliness, and clogged pores.

tFS:  What do you say to those who may be intimated when looking at your Beauty Diag or Beauty Sphere?

JMK: You cannot be intimidated by the results of IOMA Beauty Diag, as you do not have “aggressive” images. It is completely another approach based on microscopic MEMS-based measurements. However, the images of the IOMA Sphere are not images you would like to put on the wall at home! But our beauty advisors are trained and explain to the consumers that the images they will see are not like how the people see them or how they can see themselves in the mirror.

tFS: In a rare feat, you design and create your devices and all your products. Can you explain why it’s so important for you to keep everything in-house?

JMK: It is very important, both fundamentally and operationally.

Fundamentally, our devices are built in parallel to our skincare products. Interaction between the two is very important and this is the only way to have devices automatically generating a treatment based on measurements. Also, the roadmap of skincare products and devices goes in parallel, so the devices will be able to measure the body skin (not only facial skin) when the body line is launched.

Operationally, it is more efficient as we make sure our devices do not fail and if they fail, nobody feels the failure as we repair them remotely. If you buy a device from a supplier, you will need to call the hotline of that supplier and you better be their biggest customer so that you get something fixed in a week!

tFS: Are there any products that seem to be selling particularly well? Does it vary by season? Have the products that have been selling in France differed from the ones that are doing the best stateside?

JMK: Of course, we have best-sellers: The Eye Contour is a best-seller independent from the country as is the Gentle Exfoliating Emulsion, but in general, as the treatment is generated based on a diagnostic, you see that the full spectrum of product is moving well. The Eye Contour sells even more because in the U.S., the eye contour is very important and this product shows results very quickly, so in general this product sells even more than what is recommended based on diagnostics.

tFS:  You launched with a fairly extensive lineup of products. What kind of research led you to the specific ones you opted to launch with and are any others in the works?

JMK: Very simple, we launched 25 Skus for facial which exactly respond to the diagnostic requirements. We address the seven major imperfections of the skins and so we have seven families. Every family can have from 1 to multiple products, depending on the skin needs.

  • We select the best of class ingredients with in-vivo and in vitro efficiency tests, with solid scientific publications.
  • We build our formulas working with those ingredients at the highest concentration and working on the sensorial aspects … all without fragrance (to avoid allergy) and parabens (which means that our packages have to be airless).
  • We run clinical trials on the products to prove they are efficient (made by third parties, not internally).
  • I then read personally the clinical trial reports and decide to release a product or not. I’m a Ph.D so at least I know how to read reports!

tFS:  What’s your skincare routine?

JMK: I use:

  • The Exfoliating Gentle Emulsion one to two times per week.
  • The Eye Contour (I should use morning and night, but to be honest, I use it an average once per day as sometime I lack time and I am tired and forget).
  • The Optimum Moisture Cream Day/Night.
  • And I use a hand cream (which we launched in France, but not yet in the U.S.) and difficult zone cream/feet (also launched in France but not yet in the U.S.)