After a wave of tech-driven change in other sectors, innovative companies are betting beauty is the next industry to be disrupted, changing the way we interact with the products in our daily beauty and grooming routines.

Connected beauty is part of the blossoming Internet of Things (IoT), where regular items are transformed into “smart” items by connecting to the internet. (The IoT has already invaded the kitchen, cars and clothing with more industries on the way: According to Intel, the IoT is projected to spread to 200 billion devices by 2020.)

Smart makeup

But what does “smart” makeup look like? L’Oréal’s technology incubator is a good place to start. The lab’s newest innovation is L’Oréal subsidiary La Roche-Posay’s My UV Patch, which started shipping in July 2016. The stretchable patch adheres to the skin like a high-tech Band-Aid and is made of photosynthetic fibers that change color when exposed to UV rays. Customers can also connect to the My UV Patch mobile app, which analyzes the amount of UV exposure received and offers tips for sun protection.

“Connected technologies have the potential to completely disrupt how we monitor the skin’s exposure to various external factors, including UV,” said Guive Balooch, global Vice President of L’Oréal’s technology incubator, in a press release.

Feeligreen, another French company, makes high-tech beauty products that are steered with an app. The company’s i-feel Beauty and i-feel Sport, launched in spring 2016, contain a series of creams with a connected applicator, the Activ’feel, that treats skin with micro-currents and LED lights. The Activ’feel is connected to a mobile app, which allows users to controls settings, track usage, and connect to tutorials and the company’s store.

WEB FLG Coffret I feel sport
i-feel Sport
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i-feel Beauty

“In order to provide tailored treatments and customize the beauty or sports skincare protocol to the specifics of each user, we needed the ability to integrate diagnostic capabilities (sensors) and connect to large databases to optimize every use of our device,” said Christophe Bianchi, CEO of Feeligreen. “This came with side benefits such as the ability to provide coaching and recommendations, as well as maintain a direct link between the brand and the user for future offers.”

Some companies are taking the personalization of “smart” products to the next level. Romy Paris launched the Figure last fall, a Keurig-like formulator that combines any combination of capsules of active ingredients. The connected Romy Paris app takes input from personal data (sleep levels, exercise) as well as local data (local weather, pollution levels) to identify which ingredients should be used based on skin needs.

“It is scientifically proven that the environment you live in and your lifestyle cause 75% of your skin aging,” a representative for Romy Paris told the Innovation Group via email. “This means you need to have a skin care which adapts itself to this moving environment and lifestyle and keeps its freshness every time you apply it on your skin.”

Some of the industry’s other innovations have come from crowdfunding. Wired Beauty launched Mapo on Kickstarter in December. Billed as “the world’s first connected beauty mask,” the custom 3D-printed mask can analyze skin moisture levels in less than a minute. The data is uploaded to a smartphone app, which coaches users on efficient (and personalized) skincare.

Another crowdfunded product, the handheld device Way, began shipping in the spring. Shaped like a makeup compact, Way contains sensors that monitor a user’s skin as well as the environment. The device’s app makes recommendations like applying moisturizer or sunblock, as well as recommending specific products. Way also shows that personalized, data-driven skincare strikes a chord among consumers: The product’s Indiegogo page raised 243% of its initial goal.

Beauty hacking

Other frontiers for tech in beauty include hacking what’s currently on the market—using technology to make existing creams and treatments more effective. Launched in March 2016, GloPro is a high-tech micro device that combines LED lighting and vibrations with micro-needling, a facial technique that stimulates collagen production and opens the skin to absorb product more effectively. The JeNu uses pulses of ultrasonic energy to boost the effect of retinol creams or other serums, while Foreo’s Iris uses opthamologist-approved vibrating technology to reduce the signs of aging and improve the absorption of most eye creams. (Both devices were launched at CES 2016.)

Other companies are taking a different approach from connected products, but with the same aim: to take personalization to the next level. Released in April 2016, the Mink Makeup Pen can 3D-print makeup to match any shade. The corresponding app can identify any color in a photo and print an exact match. A similar product, Adorn’s foundation pen, launched in December 2015, has an inbuilt sensor that scans a user’s facial tone and prints the perfect shade.

Augmented beauty

As augmented reality becomes more advanced, beauty brands are finding ways to incorporate it that resonate with customers—and drive sales. Rimmel London’s Get The Look app, launched in July 2016, lets users steal from looks that inspire them. (It’s been dubbed the “Shazam for beauty.”) The app scans images and finds Rimmel products that match the shades and styles featured. Users can then try on and shop the corresponding Rimmel look.

Rimmel’s ability to match products from imagery is the latest feature to be added to augmented reality beauty apps that let users try before they buy. Similar to Snapchat filters, the apps use digital filters to help users predict what products will look like on their faces. L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius app (launched in 2014 from the incubator) was a hit, with more than 20 million downloads. Sephora launched its Virtual Artist tool in January 2016 on its homepage exclusively for lipsticks, while CoverGirl added an app called BeautyU in April.

Brands are hoping these apps will encourage users to feel more comfortable purchasing new products or shades, with the added convenience of ordering them online. And there may be even more room for AR to improve sales: ModiFace, which created the AR technology powering many of the beauty brand’s apps, launched a Facebook Messenger bot in June. Users can research and try on products within the Messenger interface, and the app also shows them where to buy the cosmetics. According to our Frontier(less) Retail report, 60% of US millennials prefer interacting with a chatbot to interacting with a human, making this a potentially important tool to boost online beauty sales.

See our roundup of key trends at CES 2016 for more on beauty tech.

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