Beauty brands are giving consumers the keys to the chemistry lab.
If you happen to be making a time capsule for 2017, you may want to toss in your long-time moisturizer along with that Fitbit and those Vetements sock boots. While we have more innovative options in the skincare aisle than ever before, the days of shopping straight from the shelf may be numbered thanks to an influx of customized serums and made-to-order options that could make mass-produced skincare look like the beauty equivalent of a floppy disk.
“Consumers are rejecting the one-size-fits-all approach,” says Theresa Yee, senior beauty editor at trend forecasting agency WGSN. Rather than relying on a brand to dictate what they should use, “women want products that work and deliver results for their skin type and concerns,” she says. The “make it mine” movement, says Yee, is also being driven, in part, by a growing interest in knowing where our products come from as well as the Maker Movement, a tech-influenced DIY community. Moreover, there has been a societal shift: the rise of the selfie generation. “It’s all about the ‘me, me, me’ culture, and this has led consumers to think more about themselves and what fits their lifestyle,” says Yee. After all, even the most beloved beauty brands can’t please everyone all of the time. It’s that thinking that inspired Chitra Desikan, founder of Canadian eco-beauty label Subtle Green, to offer customizable options for her serums and moisturizers. “When there are way too many ingredients in one product, the concentration of any one ingredient is so small it hardly contributes to the solution,” says Desikan. “With individually crafted skincare, people can target their skin’s needs and ensure that they are getting highly focused solutions that work for them.”
While the Industrial Revolution defined the 19th and 20th centuries, the “Custom Revolution” is defining the 21st century, writes Anthony Flynn, author of Custom Nation: Why Customization Is the Future of Business and How to Profit From It. “In the 20th century, conventional wisdom was that customization was a bad business model for anything but a small niche seller because it was expensive and slow.” But that thinking has clearly changed. Now, “even the non-materialized parts of our lives are teeming with customized products,” says Flynn, citing examples like Netflix, personalized playlists on digital music services like Spotify, Google’s just-for-you ads and Facebook’s tailored news feeds.
Kiehl’s Apothecary Preparations Skin Strengthening Concentrate and two targeted complexes (from five available options; $110), at kiehls.ca.
Customization is indeed happening across all industries—from technology to food—with some fashion labels being the earliest adopters. (Think Nike iD’s “build your own sneaker” program or monogramming bars at retailers like Topshop and Coach.) Now the beauty industry is catching up, with new players in not only skincare but also makeup and haircare jumping on the bandwagon. Take Finding Ferdinand and Function of Beauty, which let you create your own lipstick and shampoo, respectively. And the MatchCo app builds a unique foundation shade based on a selfie rather than directing you to a library of set foundation hues.
Bespoke beauty is nothing new to Montreal-based Blend & Boost. The skincare brand, which mixes custom formulas for customers, has a history of making made-to-order salves—Medisca, its parent company, is a leader in pharmaceutical compounding. For skincare and haircare giant Kiehl’s, creating a personalized offering meant going back to its roots as a homeopathic pharmacy in New York’s East Village, where John Kiehl and his apprentice Irving Morse blended lotions and potions on the spot for customers, a practice that continued until the early ’80s. For its 165th anniversary last fall, the brand launched Apothecary Preparations, a nod to its origin story and a coup for anyone looking for a potent serum tailored specifically to their complexion needs. After a consultation with a skincare specialist, customers are sent home with a base (the brand’s Skin Strengthening Concentrate) and two individually chosen problem-targeting complexes—a pore-minimizing samphira-oil and salicylic-acid blend or a wrinkle-fighting combo of vitamin A and pro-retinol, for example. Although there is the DIY element of combining the three components at home, Dr. Adam Geyer, a consulting dermatologist for Kiehl’s, points out that the ingredients are designed and tested for their compatibility and stability when mixed together. “This isn’t the same thing as mixing your own assortment of products in your cabinet into one cream,” he says. At Sephora, Skin Inc. also offers a chance to play chemist with My Daily Dose Custom-Blended Serum Set, which includes three serums of your choice and a mixing bottle. And, like a Blue Apron meal-delivery kit, Loli beauty boxes provide fresh ingredients to make from-scratch skincare at home.
Dr. Jaggi Rao, an Edmonton-based dermatologist, sees the merits in customized skincare but also advocates for the traditional skincare model: “The beauty industry and, of course, dermatologists have the advantage of resources, quality research, education and experience to back up their knowledge of the skin and skincare.” He also says that Googling ingredients and skipping an assessment with a licensed, trained and experienced technician means results could be varied. “This knowledge and skill cannot be substituted by self-research or computer-aided replaced software,” he says.
Bobbi Brown Remedies Skin Clarifier No. 75 Pore & Oil Control ($55), at bobbibrowncosmetics.com.
If you’re not into creating an entire product from scratch, you can still amp up your everyday moisturizer with the buffet of boosters available. This spring, Bobbi Brown launched Remedies, a range of six treatments targeting different concerns. (The antioxidant-rich Skin Reviver, which aims to boost skin health, reads like a Greenhouse Juice menu featuring algae and fermented kale, Brussels sprouts and spinach, while the Skin Salve is infused with shea butter and turmeric extract to help soothe dry or damaged skin.) After launching its self-tanning booster, Clarins introduced three more skincare-specific boosters last fall. And Cover FX is also expanding its portfolio with four concentrates infused with everything from vitamin A to neroli and adding three new shades to its range of Custom Enhancer Drops, which are designed to deliver a hint of highlight or bronze to your skincare. You can also turn your moisturizer into a BB cream with Clinique’s new BIY Blend It Yourself Pigment Drops.
Whether you are ready to put on your lab coat or prefer to dabble with boosters, the custom-skincare trend shows no signs of slowing, says Yee. Personalization based on an individual’s lifestyle and genetic makeup is the way of the future. “As consumers’ desire for more bespoke solutions for long-term preventive care grows, beauty products tailored to their DNA will be the next evolution of this trend,” says Yee, who cites companies like Geneu that provide a personalized skincare program based on DNA and lifestyle analysis.
Ironically, as things get more scientific, one of the biggest benefits of custom skincare is also the simplest: building loyalty, which may help with follow-through, says Geyer. “There is a greater likelihood that you’ll consistently use a product you’ve taken the time to help formulate versus an off-the-shelf product.” And, as we know, consistency means better results—and possibly one less product to toss into that time capsule.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of ELLE Canada.