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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Beauty brands are hiring — or buying — technology companies that let customers virtually try on makeup, hair and skin care products.

Why it matters: With COVID keeping people away from cosmetics counters, the latest thing in "beauty tech" is the VTO — or virtual try-on. Customers love playing with these apps so much that companies see big revenue boosts after introducing them.

Driving the news: Hair, skin and makeup companies used to focus on acquiring smaller brands with cult followings, but now they're also chasing AI and AR firms that can help them develop personalized customer experiences.

  • L'Oreal led the charge by buying ModiFace, an AR specialist, in 2018 and using its patents "to create a number of virtual try-on tools that consumers can experiment with across a number of their brands," Vogue Business reports.
  • L'Oreal has its own technology incubator with a team of 30+ physicists, engineers, UX specialists, hardware designers and data scientists.
  • The beauty conglomerate uses AI to let people craft customized lip colors, chat with a professional colorist on live video before buying an at-home hair dye, and try on makeup shades in a virtual mirror app called Makeup Genius.

What they're saying: "People don't necessarily want to travel to a store to just try stuff before you buy it," David Ripert, the CEO of Poplar Studio, told Futurism.com, a digital magazine.

  • His company created an AR campaign for a Maybelline lip gloss and one for NYX Professional Makeup that used an AR face filter to let people try on Halloween looks on Instagram and Snapchat.

Between the lines: With VTO, beauty companies are able to turn the sales experience into a form of entertainment, which lifts sales.

  • Yesterday's high-pressure sales pitch at a department store counter has morphed into an at-home digital game where shoppers can feel like they're at a slumber party trying on different "looks."
  • "We see at least 38% of those who go through our color quiz, and then explore our hair colors using our AR Virtual Try-On Tool, convert to purchasing," said Tyler Wozny, senior vice president of the hair color company Madison Reed.
  • Perfect Corp., the AI and AR vendor that built Madison Reed's VTO platform, went to the big CES tech show last week in Las Vegas to show off how brands could use its technology in the metaverse.

The bottom line: While virtual try-on technology is rapidly becoming table stakes for beauty brands, nothing can substitute for sampling a product in the flesh, where it may look very different on your non-virtual skin.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Jan. 13.

Go deeper

15 mins ago - World

Scoop: Ukraine tells senators post-invasion sanctions are no help

Zelensky. Photo: Johanna Geron/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told U.S. senators visiting Kyiv this week that waiting to impose sanctions on Russia until after an invasion is of no use to Ukraine, according to four sources familiar with the discussions.

Why it matters: The Senate is currently working on a major sanctions package to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine. Democrats and Republicans are united in their support for Ukraine, but divided over whether it would be more effective to sanction Russia now to signal resolve, or hold up the threat of future sanctions to demonstrate the high costs of an invasion.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks has dropped plans to require that U.S. workers get the COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing, the company announced Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

4 hours ago - World

Netanyahu plea talks enter crunch time

Netanyahu (right) meets with his lawyer ahead of a court hearing last February. Photo: Reuven Casto/Pool/AFP via Getty

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and former prime minister, is negotiating a possible plea deal over the corruption charges against him, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit appears to be toughening his terms.

Why it matters: Mandelblit leaves office on Jan. 31. Negotiations could continue beyond that point, but the next attorney general may be less interested in quickly reaching a deal.