For a few years now, we’ve been hearing a lot about the promise of augmented reality — technology that can add to the real world through the window of your phone’s display (or, soon to be more often, a headset!). The most famous example so far is Pokémon Go, which added Pokémon to reality on your smartphone, and massive crowds in public spaces to everyone’s actual reality.
But, before Pokémon Go, one industry, in particular, had already caught on to the potential of AR — the beauty industry.
Augmented reality beauty apps have been helping to make shopping for products much easier by allowing you to try on a range of cosmetics virtually, often without the need to so much as step into a store.
Over the past few years, technology has been improving rapidly. One of the first big companies on the scene was ModiFace, whose first app used a smartphone to scan your face, then virtually apply the product onto your face as if you were actually wearing it — something that now works in real time.
This past weekend, we found out that this technology is here to stay — ModiFace was acquired by cosmetics giant L’Oréal, guaranteeing that you’ll be seeing more augmented reality technology not only in apps but in stores.
But, chances are if you’re a big cosmetics shopper, you already know something about this — augmented reality apps and experiences have become commonplace, with magic mirrors quickly becoming fixtures at makeup stores and counters. Here are a handful out there right now!
So, this is kind of cheating, because ModiFace has way more than one app. They now have augmented reality apps that let you virtually try on makeup, new hair colors, new eye colors, new hairstyles, and a ton more. Just put your phone’s camera up to your face, then tap away at all the products, looks, and styles that ModiFace has.
Everyone working with augmented reality has a ways to go to improve accuracy, realism, and maintaining focus when virtual makeup is being applied to your face, but ModiFace is probably doing it the best right now.
Their apps are great, but ModiFace’s specialty isn’t even their own apps anymore. Recently, they’ve been more keen on partnering with established cosmetics brands to get their shopping and virtual try-on technology integrated with their online and physical shops.
Their technology is behind the makeup mirrors appearing at MAC stores and the virtual try-on tool in the Sephora app, and they recently worked with Benefit Cosmetics to release an eyebrow try-on tool!
We’re not sure if that technology is going to be shared as much now that they belong to L’Oréal, but there’s no doubting that ModiFace has really spearheaded the augmented reality movement in beauty.
You might consider YouCam to be the Pepsi to ModiFace’s Coke, but unlike ModiFace, YouCam isn’t content to fade into the background — YouCam Makeup has become one of the most popular AR beauty apps in the world.
Using 3D face scanning, users can create a whole virtual makeover, applying the product to lips, eyes, brows, and cheeks — the whole package! There are also options to try out new hairstyles and colors.
YouCam Makeup might be as popular as it is because it’s slightly less commercially inclined than some of the others — most people are using it as a selfie makeover tool to make selfies look their best for Snapchat or Instagram.
But, YouCam has been building out the business side of their app, too. They’ve had partnerships with L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, and a bunch of other major beauty brands to introduce their products through in-app purchases, as well as partnerships with professional makeup artists like Kristofer Buckle to offer users comprehensive new looks for them to virtually try on.
And, just recently at SXSW, YouCam parent company Perfect announced that they will start to offer 1-on-1 beauty consultations through their app, complete with the use of their AR tech to apply virtual looks during those appointments.
AR isn’t just handy for the face! We saw Sally Hansen apply the technology to fingernails with the ManiMatch app a few years ago. The app scans your hand, then lets you choose from any number of Sally Hansen nail products to virtually try on.
The only hitch is that the 3D scanning tech isn’t quite as sophisticated, so sometimes keeping your phone hand steady enough to scan your try-on hand can be tough.
The app is still around and has since been released on Android, too, but it looks like the developer might not have kept the app updated for newer Android phones.
FaceCake is another company like ModiFace that has turned its attention toward working with partners — they now have a web app browser tool called Swivel that other retailers can use to give customers a virtual try-on tool integrated with product pages.
FaceCake debuted Swivel about five years ago, making them one of the earliest companies involved in AR and retail.
But, FaceCake powers some smartphone apps, too. GlamScout can scan pictures of celebrities, then search for the shades used in their makeup looks.
The app works with cosmetics companies across price ranges, too, so you can opt to find more inexpensive ways to get those same red carpet looks (speaking of which, the app just had a special event for Oscars looks).
ShadeScout is color-based — if you’re walking around and see a particularly Instagram-worthy shade of red, you can scan it with your smartphone’s camera and browse cosmetics products that match that shade.
The Olay Skin Advisor still only works as a web app, but that’s not the only thing that sets it apart from the other apps on this list. The Olay Skin Advisor doesn’t use AR to virtually apply products, but to give you a detailed, visual breakdown of your skin’s health.
The app scans your face using your device’s camera, then breaks down all the flaws in your skin — wrinkles, crow’s feet, pore problems, and all that bad stuff — before recommending a skin care regimen based on which problems you’d most like to address. Is it the most judgmental of the AR beauty apps? Possibly!
MakeupPlus is similar to YouCam in that it’s used more for playing around with selfies than actually shopping for products. But, like YouCam, they haven’t ignored that angle, either — while app developer Meitu doesn’t have any partnerships with cosmetics giants, they do have products from some well-known brands like Tyra Beauty.
The COUNTER section of their app can be used to shop for, try on, and buy products from those partners, which has helped to make it one of the more popular beauty apps worldwide.