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Online Skin Consultations — The Beauty Industry’s Next Move

By Guan Tan

 
Felicia Yap
 

Here is a question — why do you use the skincare products that you use? I went around asking this question, and most ladies (and men) responded with "I think..." For many, our daily skincare regime is a result of trial and error and many guesses. We read vague descriptions printed on the back of these bottles and browse through some reviews online before deciding to give the products a try. Sometimes the products do not seem to work. Sometimes the products trigger breakouts or adverse allergies. It is only when things get bad do we cease application and realise that the product was not for our skin type. We then promptly head back to the drugstore or departmental store for another look, and the trial and error cycle repeats itself. 

The beauty industry largely pivots around the products and what they offer. It is a mass-market, mass-selling situation. Very seldom is it about the consumers' individual needs. Let us put things into perspective — our diets are built on doctors' advice and recommendations. If you are lactose intolerant, you will avoid dairy products. If you have a weaker stomach, you will not take spicy foods. Neither will you consume coffee or tea. At the basis of such a behaviour is a diagnosis. For the most part, consumers have not been to a proper skincare consultation for a diagnosis. We shop for skincare products like they were clothes — based on brand value, packaging, and even the way it smells.

"75 percent of women are using the wrong skincare for their skin type," co-founder of the newly launched Singapore-based skincare label Alcheme, Tuyen Lamy, quotes from a report by the global market research group Mintel. Prior to starting her own brand, the 40-year-old previously worked for some American beauty giants. "When I meet women and share that I work in the skincare [industry], I often get spontaneous requests for quick skin assessments. So there is not just a genuine interest but a growing demand for objective and accurate skin assessments." 

Felicia YapAlthough Alcheme's online skin consultation is available on both desktop and mobile, the mobile option is more convenient as users can access the phone's camera immediately for a selfie.
Although Alcheme's online skin consultation is available on both desktop and mobile, the mobile option is more convenient as users can access the phone's camera immediately for a selfie.

This was a realisation that came to Lamy two years ago. She partnered with Constance Mandefield, a colleague from her former workplace. Together they launched Alcheme in Singapore last month. The label introduced an Artificial Intelligence-powered online skin consultation for its users. "Developing an online skin consultation system was inspired by our conversations with women who shared that they were not completely confident they knew what their skin concerns were. It dawned on us that the way to move forward was to use innovation to bring accurate skin assessments to each woman that," Lamy continues to add they consider themselves the first Southeast Asian brand to carry an online facial recognition system of this calibre.

The process is quite straightforward. First, you create an account, answer a questionnaire about your skin and lifestyle before uploading a selfie of your bare face. The webpage then generates a report for you. If the user were keen on purchasing a personalised serum, the brand's skincare specialists will drop an email with more questions and a detailed explanation of the online assessment and their proposed serum. 

Felicia YapUsers have to answer a few questions prior to uploading their selfie for the online skin assessment test.
Users have to answer a few questions prior to uploading their selfie for the online skin assessment test.

The online assessment told me that I had two key concerns — ageing and a lack of radiance. Here is an excerpt from their email:

"In your case, we considered that your priorities would be to smoothen your skin [and] reduce pore size, enhance skin radiance, [and] first-level of anti-ageing.

So for your first priority, we are customising your serum with the following ingredients: zinc sulfate which tightens the skin pores enlarged by excess production of sebum, retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) which reduces skin inflammation, Iris florentina root extract which purifies the skin by reducing bacteria proliferation, leading to reduced blemishes and blackheads. 

As we age, our skin loses its tonicity. This loss in skin tonicity, unfortunately, also increases pore issues as the skin takes more time to get back into shape. So we are adding on Centella Asiatica extract, Ginseng extract — both of these ingredients help with collagen production, in order to enhance skin tonicity.

As for radiance, your formulation will include vitamin C and Babchi seeds extract. These ingredients reduce melanin production and enhance skin tone and evenness." 

Felicia YapThe online skin assessment culminates in a report which highlights the users' key skin concerns. Users can opt for a personalised serum from the brand.
The online skin assessment culminates in a report which highlights the users' key skin concerns. Users can opt for a personalised serum from the brand.

Here is the thing — is this accurate? How much could the brand tell from a selfie? I visited a Japanese skincare store in Somerset to run another skin diagnostic test. The beauty specialist used two tools to scan the skin's outermost and inner layers. The first revealed that I had plenty of dry and flaky skin on the surface, explaining the lack of radiance. That aside, the skin was starting to show signs of age as it has lost elasticity in some areas. The second test later revealed that the pores were clogged — a result of my sub-par daily cleansing routine.

If you were to compare the two tests, the results were definitely similar — both cued at signs of ageing and dull skin. Yet, the second scan in-store divulged so much more about the clogged pores on the inner layers of the skin. This was something that the online selfie test did not pick up on. 

I went back to Lamy about this. "For now, our facial recognition focuses on what is apparent on the surface... On the question of whether there will be machines to scan the inner layers of the epidermis — there is research currently undertaken in universities to make this a reality, such as the use of filters to scan just below the surface of the skin. We monitor these progress closely, in order to adopt [this] state-of-the-art technology."

It sounds incredibly promising. The accessibility of skin diagnostic tests will greatly help consumers navigate the buffet of skincare products on the market, and subsequently formulate an accurate skincare routine of their own. Alcheme is, perhaps, more than personalised serums or online skin consultations. It is "a new way of understanding your skin".

Visit Alcheme here.