wearable technology skincare

On waking in the morning, you glance at your watch. Not to check the time, but to check how well you slept. Because a wearable device has been collecting data about your movements and temperature all night, so it can tell you what your energy levels might be like today, and whether or not you’re in the right state of rest to tackle demanding tasks. The device can also take an ECG to check in your heart health, and read your blood oxygen level — and this is just a standard Apple or Android smart watch, not a dedicated medical device. 

The use of wearable devices, including smart watches, smart rings, and smart clothing, is on the rise. Data from Knowledge Store shows the wearable tech market is growing at a CAGR of 18%, and predicted to hit a global value of USD $265.4 billion by 2026 (compared with $83.32 billion in 2019). 

People are using wearables to record and interpret data about their bodies, for an ever increasing number of things — fitness tracking is a key market, but wearables are also used to support productivity, sleep, manage health in relation to specific health conditions, and more. There’s also a growing market for gaming wearables, as VR tech develops, and haptic clothing — that enables the wearer to feel the sensations they’re encountering within a VR game — becomes more advanced. 

The fashion industry has been experimenting with wearables for a while now. It makes sense — tech-infused fabrics, with sensors that allow the wearer to measure their movements and physiological processes, and that can respond to the body of the wearer (for example, by heating up or cooling down depending on their body temperature), present a new realm of possibility to clothing designs who want to blend fashion and function. 

But what about beauty? So far, wearable tech hasn’t boomed within the industry. But as data-capture devices become more flexible, beauty tech is beginning to change the way we approach skincare. 

Is Data-Driven Skincare The Future?

The pandemic has presented a new opportunity to expedite beauty wearables, because consumers haven’t had access to in-person assessments and diagnostics with skincare professionals. As a result, some brands have launched virtual skincare clinics, enabling customers to benefit from professional advice via video chat. But tech-minded beauty developers are taking inspiration from the way that wearables have become a part of daily life for millions of people around the world — and developing technology to give consumers real-time insights into their skincare needs. 

In May this year, international skincare giant Beiersdorf, along with venture capital fund 9.5 Ventures, co-invested in a Dutch beauty startup called Routinely. Founded by Charlotte Van Loock, a marketing expert with former roles at Facebook and L’Oréal, Routinely is a D2C brand offering 13  unisex skincare serums. Before their initial purchase, customers complete a detailed online questionnaire to determine their skin type and health; and after purchase, they receive ongoing, real-time support via the brand’s app, which is designed to help ‘track, review, and refine’ skincare routines. Speaking to Cosmetics Design Europe, Van Loock said, “We must reconsider the traditional, static way of thinking when it comes to skin care…our goal is to create more clarity in the skin care segment.” 

Routinely’s algorithm adjusts skincare advice for each customer every day, based on factors including air quality and solar radiation. And it’s not the only tech-focused brand that Beiersdorf has invested in recently. In fact, the incumbent has also launched its own AI-powered face care title, O.W.N. — with a range of vegan formulas blended according to data produced by an algorithm and scientific questionnaire. These brands aren’t yet offering beauty wearables, but they’re showing that the skincare of the future will be shaped by technology that gathers data on the moment-to-moment state and environment of the skincare user. Wearable tech is just one step further down this path. 

A few years ago, anti-aging wearables (like a UV-detecting skin patch by L’Oréal) were expected to go mainstream, but it didn’t really happen. The tech was clunky, and consumers weren’t ready for it. But the ubiquitousness of wearables in general now, in 2021, means that beauty wearables are ready to step into their moment — if brands can solve the problems that consumers want them to solve, and market their devices effectively. 

In August 2021, South Korean cosmetics leader Amorepacific announced that it’s developing a wearable skin measuring device in collaboration with scientists at MIT — a partnership that’s definitely one to watch. The sweat-proof patch device will be stuck on to skin, remaining comfortable for the user for a long period of time, and will track the condition of skin. At present, the company hasn’t shared plans to commercialize the device, but intends to use it for research purposes in-house — to create more responsive, situation-appropriate cosmetics. 

No One-Size-Fits-All: Skincare Will Be Responsive And Bespoke

In a global culture that is increasingly data-driven and data-aware, demand is growing for consumer products backed by science. So data-driven skincare is, I think, an inevitable aspect of the future of beauty — whether it comes in the form of beauty wearables, or whether that data is recorded and transmitted in a different way. 

For consumers, the benefits are clear: situational skincare that is responsive to their physiological experiences and to their environment, able to protect and enhance their skin in a hyper-personalized way. And for beauty brands, this means that consumers themselves will change. It’s already happening; people know they can access products tailored to their unique needs, and that are more valuable to them than off-the-shelf cosmetics.

So the rise in beauty tech will likely go hand-in-hand with a boom in D2C beauty brands that have data at the heart of their product development, and make it easy for consumers to gather and understand personal data for themselves.