L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator: Creating the Future of Beauty
New York Times, March 30, 2017
CLARK, N.J. — Guive Balooch has seen the future of beauty — and it’s a smartphone.
As global vice president for L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, a 26-person team that operates like a start-up within one of the world’s largest cosmetics companies, Mr. Balooch partners with academics and entrepreneurs to make products on the forefront of the $438 billion global beauty industry.
“Everything starts with this pillar in my mind of where beauty and technology meet,” Mr. Balooch said while touring the New Jersey facility that houses the incubator’s first lab, founded in 2012. (San Francisco, Paris and Tokyo are home to additional labs.)
Since the incubator opened, Mr. Balooch has overseen the development of five products — a mix of wearables, objects and apps — that further his vision of a future in which cosmetics are connected, customized and designed to meet each consumer’s needs.
Take his team’s latest invention: the Kérastase Hair Coach Powered by Withings. Introduced in early January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the sleek silver hairbrush — the product of a three-way partnership of the incubator, the smart technology maker Withings and Kérastase, L’Oréal’s luxury hair-care brand — is described as the world’s first smart brush.
“More than 50 percent of Google searches today in beauty are about hair,” Mr. Balooch explained.
The device aims to banish bad hair days by offering technical insights into the state of the user’s locks, plus personalized advice on how best to care for them.
Scheduled to go on sale this year, the $179 brush contains a conductivity sensor that knows whether hair is wet or dry; an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure the speed and force of brush strokes; a microphone that captures auditory data; and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity to upload all that information to an app, which uses an algorithm to analyze the statistics and detect breakage. And, oh yeah — the bristles feel pretty good, too.
“It was very important for us to make a high-end device that, taking all the technology and sophisticated aspects away, is the best brush you’ll ever see,” said Cédric Hutchings, chief executive of Withings and vice president for digital health at Nokia, which developed the hardware.
Mr. Balooch said the brush uses a combination of synthetic fibers “that mimic $200 to $300 brushes on the market.”