Are you old enough to remember getting “color printed” at your local department store makeup counter? Cosmetics brand Prescriptives, founded in 1979, rose to prominence in the 1990s with its custom-blended foundations, allowing customers to incorporate their chosen finish and coverage into their custom-matched foundation shade, blended specifically for them.
It was, at the time, a novel concept and, seemingly, an excellent business concept, too. But it proved not to be a sustainable one; the brand was temporarily shuttered by parent company Estée Lauder in 2010, only to be revived as an online-only offering a year later, solely in response to the demand from its still-devoted following.
Of course, the makeup game has changed considerably in the years since, with full-spectrum foundation lines increasingly becoming the expectation rather than the exception. Lines like Make Up Forever, MAC and Color Fx, and even drugstore faves L’Oreal and Maybelline, have increasing expanded their foundation lines to be more inclusive.
But a month before Fenty Beauty wowed us with a much-lauded 40-color foundation launch, L’Oreal-owned Lancôme upped the inclusion ante with Le Teint Particulier, a customizable foundation available in 8,000 shades and 72,000 unique coverage- and moisture-level formulations. It is currently available exclusively at select Nordstrom stores in the U.S.
The cosmetics behemoth wisely took its show on the road this year to South by Southwest, bringing the customizable experience to the crowds at the annual conference and festival that merges technology, film, music and interactive media. It’s a fitting setting for this tech-forward offering from Lancôme, and here’s how it works: A Lancôme beauty specialist uses a handheld device called a color spectrometer to scan the client’s bare face in three places. The device bounces light off the skin, “reading” the skin tone. The specialist enters those results into a tablet app, coupled with finish preferences, and a custom formula is mixed within minutes—not unlike having paint mixed at your local hardware store.
For an extra-personalized touch, each bottle is labeled with the client’s name and specific shade ID for easy reordering. (L’Oreal says that all identifiable client data is scrubbed after point of purchase, and the resulting anonymous data is used to further product development.)
Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oreal’s technology incubator, told AdWeek: “When you look at all these companies talking about making more shades, the reality is that there’s way more skin tones than there could ever be in a supply chain. My team, working with engineering firms, created what could only be made in a lab or factory setting right at the point-of-sale.”
L’Oreal’s SkinCeuticals brand is also in on the SXSW action; its Custom DOSE (Diagnostic Optimization Serum Experience) will launch a line of customized face serums, created for dermatologists to use, in June. This process relies on a questionnaire to determine the skin’s specific needs. The answers are again entered into a tablet app, and using 2,000 algorithms, the serum is custom-mixed and labeled for each client.
Now, of course, this level of personalized attention doesn’t come cheap; a 1- ounce bottle of Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier retails for $88, while SkinCeuticals serums currently retail for almost twice that price, on average. So while our curiosity is definitely piqued about the possibility of a couture cosmetic experience, perhaps the real question is, what’s it worth to find your perfect match?