It’s time for skin care to get personal

In a market flooded with so-called “miracle products”, Claire Coleman asks whether brand personalisation will prove to be a winning formula for engaging customers and driving sales?

Mintel estimates there to have been 3,190 skin care products launched in the UK during 2011 alone. It’s a figure that would boggle the mind of even the most beauty-savvy of customers. So in a competitive industry, where the race is on to find ever more advanced skin solutions, how are we to tell the winners from the also-rans?

Figures from the Nielsen Research Group show that various influences are at play; 58 per cent of consumers say they are guided by recommendations from friends, while around 37 per cent will consider products they’ve read about in magazines and newspapers.

Yet no matter where the recommendation comes from, the fact remains that one woman’s skin-perfecting miracle worker is another’s spot-inducing disaster. And this is the challenge facing skin care’s leading innovators. As humans, we share approximately 99.9 per cent of our DNA. However, it’s that tiny but significant 0.1 per cent, plus variations in lifestyle, that make a huge difference to the skin care we need.

Consumers can be their own personal chemist, creating personalised skin-care regimens via the virtual apothecaries of their computer screens

Where once skin care was a case of “one size fits all” – or at the very least was tailored to dry, combination and oily types – brands with an eye to the future are taking a more bespoke approach to their product development.

In the budget-squeezed days of 2012, bespoke skin care may sound like an excessive luxury. Yet thanks to the internet and a range of technological advances, it’s not only becoming more widely available, but it can also be surprisingly affordable.

These days, consumers can be their own personal chemist, creating personalised skin-care regimens via the virtual apothecaries of their computer screens. A number of brands have realised that handing power to the consumer can pay huge dividends.

Etat Pur and MyCodage are both web-based companies that allow consumers to create bespoke skin-care solutions for themselves, just by answering a series of questions. Etatpur.co.uk will recommend the most appropriate actives from a list of 30 designed to target individual problems that include wrinkles, blackheads and dark circles, with prices starting from £8.50. MyCodage.com uses the responses from 22 questions to formulate a unique serum that will cost €44(£35).

This does, however, pose a new problem? Given that the general public are notoriously bad at diagnosing their own skin’s needs, placing product selection so entirely in their hands is bound to lead to some customer dissatisfaction – something that no brand welcomes.

Harrods’ recent acquisition of the IOMA system seems to offer the solution. The IOMA Sphere technology combines detailed images of the face with a handful of questions in order to prescribe a bespoke skin-care regimen from their product range, priced from £27. Within the same customer consultation, a small probe, called the IOMA Diag, measures a number of different skin-care parameters to create two bespoke formulae, one for day and one for night. At a total price of £290, it’s still cheaper than a number of premium brands and at least you know it’s been designed specifically for you.

If money really is no object, EF MEDISPA’s Haute Couture six-month, made-to-measure skin-care package, created by Dr Philippe Allouche of the brand Biologique Recherche, is the ultimate in personalised skin care.

Weighing in at a cool £25,000, it involves an initial two-hour, in-depth skin analysis with Dr Allouche, who usually reserves his time for the likes of Brad Pitt and Madonna. There follows a tailored skin-care regimen, comprising two creams and up to eight serums, that changes every four weeks,  plus a monthly treatment using products formulated especially for you.

With the recession ongoing, this is clearly not for everyone. Yet mass-market brands are starting to harness technologies that could well be adapted for more personalised products in the future. In recent years, both L’Oréal and Olay have studied differences between young and aged skin as a means of generating products that recreate the genetic profile of the former.

But is personalisation really the Holy Grail of skin care or is it simply the latest marketing buzzword?

Cosmetic doctor Sam Bunting is convinced that not only do savvy consumers want bespoke skin care, but that it’s also a sensible approach.

“There’s the ‘basic’ skin-care wardrobe that removes make-up, moisturises, offers UV protection and essentially helps prevent problems in the future. Then there are ingredients designed to correct specific issues, like hyperpigmentation, but these requirements vary from person to person. A reductionist approach works well because every ingredient has a valid reason for being there, so the customer gets results – and value for money.”

CASE STUDY

From smartphones to skin solutions

IOMA (flip it and you get “A Moi”, French for “mine” or “for me”) was devised by Jean-Michel Karam. His background is in microelectro-mechanical systems ( MEMS), microscopic devices that detect changes to give a desired response. It’s MEMS technology that triggers airbags when you’ve been in an accident or swivels the screen on your iPhone sideways when you turn it round.

In the IOMA Diag system, a similar approach is used to measure more than 20 parameters of skin at one time, including hydration, water loss and temperature. And it’s this information that is harnessed to create individual formulae. Customers are invited to return after using the products for six weeks for another reading that can show them how their skin has changed; the ultimate in results-driven customer satisfaction.

“Our goal was not only to provide proven beauty, but also to understand the skin in a way that allowed us to create a personalised treatment based on the scientific characteristics of each individual,” says Mr Karam. “I believe what we offer represents the highest level of personalisation on the market today.”

It’s a financially appealing prospect to investors too. Mr Karam estimates that worldwide revenue from the IOMA brand will be in the region of US$20 million over the next year.