Digital Strategy

IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE REALLY LEVERAGING INNOVATION AT L’ORÉAL?

L’Oréal is leading the worldwide beauty industry. With 37 brands, L’Oréal covers
consumer’s needs from hair to toes. Every year, L’Oréal is investing to innovate: research and
development, acquisition of new companies, incubating start-ups, to keep their leading
position. Who would imagine years ago that we could now try lipstick on without having it
physically in hand? Or have a sticker on your hand sending your phone a text to tell you to put
sunscreen on? The company is changing, from new development methods to a high-tech
production chain to new recruitment methods. With the rise of artificial intelligence in the
beauty industry, can we state that it is leveraging innovation at L’Oréal?

First, let’s define Artificial Intelligence. Some can challenge the use of the word
intelligence here or talk about Assisted Intelligence. For this essay we will take the Cambridge
dictionary definition: “Artificial intelligence is the study of how to produce machines that have
some of the qualities that the human mind has, such as the ability to understand language,
recognize pictures, solve problems and learn”. Artificial Intelligence simplifies human’s
everyday life: autonomous cars, smartphones, smartwatches, connected objects, are
omnipresent. AI helps to test and run solutions through data analysis and machine learning. It
is a way to go further in research, to open doors that humans could not even imagine 10 years
ago. If nowadays AI is largely associated with sci-fi movies showing the machine overcoming
Human, it is much more a tool than a threat to human prosperity. In the era of the 4th
industrial revolution, machine learning could be seen as the springboard of human evolution.

As their consumer’s behavior is changing, companies must adapt. This is what L’Oréal
is doing by implementing new technologies and changing their consumer’s but also
employee’s habits.

L’Oréal is giving a lot of importance to innovation. It is one of the main values. Many
teams are even dedicated to it, from the R&D center to HR, through Sales department. AI,
augmented reality, machine learning, are influencing the beauty value chain.

MACHINE LEARNING

Can a machine really learn? Machine learning is defined by Collins dictionary as “a
branch of artificial intelligence in which a computer generates rules underlying or based on
raw data that has been fed into it”. In L’Oréal’s laboratories, for example, Artificial intelligence
is used to analyze consumer’s anonymous data, understand them, and create the perfect
formulas adapted to their needs.

A NEW IN SHOP EXPERIENCE

Technologies such as connected mirrors or skin scanning tools transformed the
consumer’s shopping experience.

Let’s take the example of Lancôme. Lancôme unveils the promise, for all women, of
getting their customized, custom-made foundation with « le teint particulier ». Thanks to a
technology protected by 9 patents, the foundation can be declined in 72,000 different
combinations. Consumers can have an in-shop diagnosis led by a beauty consultant. After a
skin scan, the carnation-related data is processed to find the perfect match between skin and
foundation. The tailor-made formula is then prepared live in about twenty minutes in the
shop.

This technology is a process innovation, changing the way a simple foundation is
created and delivered. It offers the consumer a new shopping experience, a customed service
and product. Thanks to this example we can see how AI is changing first, the way we consume
by redesigning our consumer experience, second, how we can provide a tailor-made solution
to each consumer transforming massive production or one size fits all philosophy to ondemand production.

As we stated it before, AI is a powerful tool to enhance human diversity and
capabilities. We can imagine that once this technology is well in place, the amount of data
collected and processed through AI systems would give the opportunity to provide consumer’s
tailor-made advice?

What about trying makeup without even having to touch it or put it physically on your
face? This is the challenge L’Oréal is now facing for 5 years, by developing connected mirrors.
This technology is based on augmented reality.

AUGMENTED REALITY: MODIFACE

Augmented reality can be defined as a live superposition of real images and graphical
elements.

As a matter of fact, artificial intelligence plays a massive role to get qualitative and
performant augmented reality. L’Oréal saw the opportunity and recently acquired ModiFace,
a company specialized in virtual fitting of beauty products. Human resources are crucial to
developing such a tool, on both L’Oréal and ModiFace side. ModiFace employs nearly 70
engineers, with access to some of the largest facial data sets in the world, but also researchers
and scientists who have submitted more than 200 scientific publications and registered over
thirty patents.

The aim is to create beauty-try in simulations on live video by tracking facial details.
ModiFace face AI SDK tracks movements and expressions through 68 parameters such as lips,
eyes edges, iris sizes, eyes location, head pose, but also skin features like spots, textures or
wrinkles. This recently acquired technology will change the consumer’s journey on the
internet and in shop. It can be implemented as an HTML e-commerce module for the web, or
mobile app, or custom AR software designed to match any in-store smart mirror.

One of the first projects is a live skin diagnosis, on which L’Oréal R&I teams is working
for more than 15 years. This tech is based on an AI algorithm created by ModiFace and
L’Oréal’s image bank. Through deep-learning methods, the algorithm has been trained
through 6000 clinical images. It then has been tested on more than 4500 selfies of Asiatic,
Caucasian and Afro-American woman, with 4 types of different lightnings. Results were
analyzed by dermatologists. In 2019, Vichy will be the first brand to launch it, under the name
“SkinConsult”.

Other brands like Garnier, already started taking advantage of such technology with a
less developed application/web app called “Virtual Shade”. It allows customers to try different
hair colors before buying the right product. Giorgio Armani, YSL, L’Oréal Paris, referenced all
they makeup catalog within the YouCam makeup app, for the consumers to try on and directly
buy the wanted products. Finally, Sephora shops installed virtual mirrors with direct makeup
try on.

DO AI LEVER INNOVATION?

Digital innovation can be articulated around 4 P: Properties, Platforms, People, and
Practice, that are in my opinion well managed by L’Oréal, using artificial intelligence to lever
it. Digital experiences are put in place to enrich organizational conversations. Digital
technologies such as in shop foundation creation create proximity between those that
produce and those that consume. Working in L’Oréal for a year and a half now, I can see how
digital and machines are important for our work. L’Oréal won’t be as performant without all
this new technology. Habits are changing, services and products are evolving. Machines are
interacting with humans daily, from chatbots for consumer services to recruitments. However,
non-digital teams are not enough aware and sensitized to this digital revolution. Some
employees think it is only relevant to digital teams, others think it is not necessary. In a context
where we live surrounded by technologies, artificial intelligence is still seen as a futuristic tool.
Fortunately, managerial mindsets are starting to change. Will artificial intelligence lead to a
work revolution?

About the author

catherine chourpa

catherine chourpa