The Beauty Industry Has Reached Peak AI-Washing

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This can lead to “over-inflated expectations, that when not met, result in decreased public confidence in the technology and reduce its actual meaning.” Lauren Wilcox, a senior director of Responsible AI at eBay, says that lately, she’s seen the term “AI” attached to beauty products and technologies much more frequently, especially now that generative AI has become more accessible.

How do beauty companies use AI?

AI comes in many shapes and sizes—from quizzes that generate personalized product recommendations to voice-activated beauty assistants—which is why it can feel relatively tricky to dissect and understand. Vivian Cheng, an investor at CRV, a VC firm that focuses on companies that implement next-generation AI technology, believes there are three kinds of AI companies: native, incumbent, and AI-washing.

Native companies are companies that were born and raised in the AI era, building from the ground up with AI technology in mind. Function of Beauty (which creates customizable hair products) and DCYPHER (which makes bespoke foundation) are two beauty-industry examples. AI-centered machines–like Luum’s AI lash extension machine and Nimble and Clockwork’s robot manicure devices–also fall under this category. Nimble, an at-home manicure device that looks a little like an oversized toaster oven, clocks in at 18 pounds and uses AI technology in the form of a 270-degree scanning system to scan, paint, and dry your nails. Clockwork similarly provides an AI-powered robot manicure, but instead of the take-home element that Nimble is known for, it’s commercially available in locations like JFK Airport’s Terminal 4 and LinkedIn’s headquarters in San Francisco.

Incumbents, says Cheng, are companies that established value and built meaningful businesses before the rise of AI, but are incorporating it now. YSL Beauty, which introduced YSL Makeup Stylist, an AI-based tool that analyzes your facial features in a photo and picks a look–and suggests products–based on your coloring and features, is one such example.

The last category, AI-washing businesses, use the term “AI” as a buzzword to draw in the attention of consumers. This can be compared to food companies calling a product “healthy” without actually disclosing any meaningful evidence on the nutrition label that supports that claim. In these cases, Cheng said, “AI appears on the label, but it’s mostly marketing fluff and not a lot of substance in terms of truly leveraging AI in a substantial way.”

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