Augmented Reality Beauty Apps Are Transforming How We Shop for Makeup

Technology has been changing the way we shop for cosmetics for a long time now. First, there was the advent of online shopping, which in turn spurred a host of websites and forums dedicated to sharing feedback on consumer products. Then YouTube beauty vloggers came along and launched an army of amateur makeup artists that further democratized shopping by sharing product demonstrations without being restrained by any exclusive brand contracts. The result has been invaluable for our ever-growing makeup kits. We’ve all become skilled at educating ourselves about beauty products, hunting down deals and applying our makeup like bona fide professionals (move over Pat McGrath!). Technology in the beauty aisle has indeed served our luscious pouts and elongated lashes well.

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Virtually try on L’Oréal Paris’ inventory of beauty products in real time with the MakeupGenius App; Image: L’Oréal Paris

The next step in this digital transformation takes consumer shopping experiences to the next level through a concept called augmented beauty. Major beauty brands are increasingly looking to connect with consumers by digitizing the process and providing customization where possible via augmented reality beauty apps. One of the first of these innovations was the L’Oréal Paris MakeupGenius app, which came to market in 2012. This app allows you to virtually try on the brand’s extensive range of products and check out, for example, what that sultry taupe eyeshadow will look like before making a purchase.

This same facial recognition and object placement technology has been repurposed by other brands looking to provide similar immersive experiences to their customers. L’Oréal Paris’ drugstore aisle counterpart CoverGirl offers the BeautyU app, which also helps customers try out a product before purchasing. Like MakeupGenius, BeautyU uses facial scanning to determine skin tone and virtually apply makeup in real time. It also provides consultations through a series of questions — like, “What’s the one makeup item you can’t live without?” — to narrow down customer preferences.

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Sephora’s Pocket Contour Class will teach you how to highlight and enhance your features; Image: Sephora

Taking makeup consultation a step further, IMAN Cosmetics, a makeup brand for women of color, has developed a namesake beauty app that determines a customer’s “color signature.” Using patented color matching technology to analyze facial features, the app offers customized recommendations that complement complexion and other features.

Makeup retailer Sephora has also taken on this mission of finding the right makeup match for women. According to Sephora, it takes seven purchases of the wrong color foundation before we finally get it right. To combat this challenge, Sephora has launched Pocket Contour Class, a beauty app that uses makeup mapping technology to provide step-by-step contouring instructions and product recommendations. It’s like having your own personal Kim Kardashian consultation on the go, which is really what millennials like most about these apps. They allow us to save our most treasured and scarce resource: time.


Snap a photo of a beauty look you want to imitate, try it on using Rimmel London’s Get the Look app, then purchase through the app; Image: Rimmel London

Some other neat beauty apps on the market include Rimmel London’s Get the Look, which allows downloaders to point their phones at beauty ads or any photo of a person’s face and then virtually imitate that same look in a high-tech game of copycat. You can also give augmented reality a go for your nails with OPI’s beauty app, which shows customers what its extensive collection of polishes will look like on their nails.

It appears we are really just beginning to see what this technology can do for us and our beauty routines. With technology evolving at an ever-increasing rate, we’re sure even deeper engagement with consumers is to come and thanks to augmented reality, our mobiles have yet another hat to wear in our fast-paced lives: beauty expert.