Beauty Ai: Where are we now?

by | May 16, 2023

Beauty Ai has become a constant within industry over the last decade, with developments intensifying via virtual try-on and other systems. With the Competition and Markets Authority launching its initial review into artificial intelligence systems, where are we with beauty Ai?

Artificial intelligence (Ai) – the perceiving, synthesising, and inferring information demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence displayed by humans – development has reached unprecedented heights recently. As a result, conversations surrounding the security, efficiency and creativity-diluting nature of the technology have been whirring across the beauty and fashion industries. 

These have reached fever pitch following the publication of an open letter from more than 1000 tech leaders and researchers calling for a stop to Ai development for the implication of safety measures.

In the Value of Beauty Report 2023, Oxford Economics cited the development of Ai as one of the key structural changes/challenges facing the personal care sector. 

Major personal care product manufacturers launched Ai beauty applications to help consumers customise their product selection or create bespoke solutions catering to their needs – see Estee Lauder Companies’ Voice-enabled make-up assistant

And, try-on services are becoming an expected channel of e-commerce. In its recent report, Revieve writes: ‘With consumers hunting for more personalised solutions to their new online shopping experience, beauty brands are also expanding their product lineups to include Ai-powered platforms.’ Pointing towards its pilot programme with CVS Pharmacy, the Skin Care Centres harness artificial intelligence to assess customers’ specific needs via diagnostic technology tools. 

Ai is also being leveraged in other areas of personal care business such as product control, supply chain management, and customer analytics, as seen via Lush’s commitment to Digital Ethics throughout its supply chain.

In light of these developments global spending by retailers on Ai services is expected to grow to £10 billion by 2023 (Value of Beauty, 2023). This is as a result of younger generations accepting the technology with open arms – a survey of Generation Z consumers finding that 68% desire these personalised recommendations for skin and beauty products.

On top of IRL applications and supply chain management, Ai has also become a useful tool for the collection of data by beauty brands. The Value of Beauty report (2023) reads: ‘The company’s use of Ai software to support with customers’ queries and to provide them advice has contributed to a 96% customer satisfaction rate. The same company has established a data analytics team that analyses customers’ interaction with the brand at various online touch points. We also heard that the use of Ai was limited in one company’s beauty portfolio and that they instead focused on the use of analytics to understand the performance of digital sales and marketing channels given the wealth of data that was now available.’ 

This data harvesting is seemingly becoming a first point of concern for beauty consumers, who see privacy as a vital commodity in the digital age. If data is not collected responsibly, with awareness from the consumer it can be seen to manipulate consumers but could also manifest in biases across the supply chain. 

When it comes to the safeguarding of human data, the British Beauty Council urges brands that harness beauty Ai systems – that rely on personal data to work – to be transparent and accountable in collection. 

Another source of reticence is the loss of jobs to Ai generative machines that can ideate, cultivate written material, and forward-plan in seconds – which has the influence to leave creatives without agency, or in extreme circumstances out of work. What’s more, how can a beauty industry, that is so reliant on human touch, formulation of textures and unique application maintain success if Ai really does ‘take over’? 

In this case, it is useful to look at the rise of automation throughout the second Industrial Revolution and workers fears surrounding loss of employment. At this time, output per worker expanded by 46% between 1770 and 1840 however, the World Economic Forum notes that ‘humans were on hand to supervise the machines’. Thus, Ai can be considered in this way – as an enhancement to human productivity in the workplace. 

The safety of Ai can only be underpinned by legislation from government-level. The British Beauty Council is pleased that the Competition and Markets Authority has launched an initial review of Ai systems. This will explore what opportunities and risks these could bring for competition and consumer protection for the production of guiding principles to support competition and protect consumers as Ai foundation models develop. 

The Council will continue to work with key stakeholders and policy makers to ensure brands, and their consumers, remain safeguarded in a time of exponential digital development.

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