Most of the attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show, in January, were on the hunt for self-driving cars and improved smartphone cameras, but I arrived at the Las Vegas expo looking for high-tech innovations in beauty. I walked past the AI chemistry teachers and the robot puppy, and headed straight to the at-home lipstick maker and plaque-detecting toothbrush. Over the course of three days, I discovered that our makeup and skin-care routines will be just as high-tech as our living rooms—and change is coming faster than you’d think.
The Smart Toothbrush
Brushing your teeth is possibly the least sexy part of your daily routine, which is probably why the average person only spends about 45 seconds doing it. (The American Dental Association recommends a full two minutes.) But new electric brushes are making this mundane experience more fun, more efficient, and more worthy of 120 seconds.
This story originally appeared on Allure.
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Remember those chewable tabs that made your teeth glow pink to show where you needed to brush? Well, the 2020 version of that is the Colgate Plaqless Pro brush, which can actually pinpoint the buildup that leads to plaque. “We use blue light fluorescent technology and the toothbrush itself can see, as it is being used, where you have buildup,” explains Derek Gordon, VP and GM of global toothbrush at Colgate Palmolive. If you have biofilm on your teeth (and we all do, from bacteria), the brush handle shows a blue band to indicate you’ve got more work to do. After you’ve cleared the area of debris, the band turns white.
When developing the iO Toothbrush, Oral-B’s research team studied and decoded the movements of thousands of toothbrushers to create a custom algorithm. The result: The brush’s handle can sense the angles you’re using to determine exactly where you are brushing and identify where you need to focus more time. (Spoiler alert: You probably missed your molars.) Sync with the app to see your real-time progress across 16 different zones inside your mouth. This advanced brush also has a next-generation linear magnetic motor that reduces noise and vibration.
And oral hygiene may get even better: “You’re putting this brush in your mouth every day,” says Sherrie Kinderdine, senior scientist with Oral-B Research and Development. “You could, in theory, collect [data] and turn this from a cleaning tool into an oral health diagnostic tool.” By analyzing this data, dentists could make links between oral health and certain diseases. At the very least, you won’t be able to convince anyone that you floss daily if your toothbrush can reveal the indisputable truth —Jessica Cruel, Allure
The Next-Level Sleep Aids
If you’re tossing and turning, you’re not alone. In a good year, 30 to 35 percent of Americans have insomnia (defined as difficulty going to sleep, staying asleep, or waking too early). Those numbers have likely skyrocketed during the pandemic, say researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Big changes to your quality of life, like rarely leaving home, can trigger short-term insomnia.
Sleep-tracking wearables (which are similar to, or built into, fitness trackers) promise a better night’s sleep. Out of all of them, I found the Fitbit Charge 4 wristband has the best hardware and software available. It records your time spent asleep and in different stages of sleep (using a heart rate sensor and a motion sensor called a three-axis accelerometer) and blood oxygen levels throughout the night (using an optical SpO2 sensor). Fitbit inputs these factors into a proprietary algorithm to calculate your “sleep score.” If you’re not getting enough sleep or adequate deep sleep, Fitbit suggests personalized recommendations, including wind-down times, avoiding exercise before bed, and sticking to a new bedtime and wake-up schedule.
Still burning the midnight oil? Apps like White Noise Lite and MyNoise turn your phone into a soothing sound machine, can be played through Bluetooth speakers, and offer a sound catalogue that gets very specific—”Cat Purring,” “Grandfather Clock,” and “Tibetan Singing Bowl” are some options on White Noise. Or you can choose pink or brown noise, which have sound waves on the lower end of the spectrum than white noise, and have been shown to be more relaxing.
You could also just say, “Hey, Google, help me relax,” and your Google Nest Mini will play the comforting sounds of rain or a crackling fireplace. Smart speakers like the Mini can establish an automated good-night routine for you by dimming the lights in your house and playing soothing sounds leading up to bedtime. Want a dedicated device? At pre-programmed times, a grown-up night-light like the Hatch Restore will dim for reading in bed, play calming sounds while you snooze, and gradually wake you with a sunrise alarm (30 minutes before it’s time to get up, the Hatch starts a color display that mimics a sunrise).
Your circadian rhythm doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it’s often triggered by outside stimuli, like how much sunlight or exercise you get in a day. You may soon find your home packed with Pavlovian cues for sleep, such as lights that gradually dim, cooler bedroom temperatures, and relaxing lavender scents piped through a smart diffuser. It’s nice to dream…. —Adrienne So, WIRED
The Souped-Up Sheet Mask
The humble sheet mask isn’t so humble anymore. A microcurrent version from Franz Skincare, a Seoul-based company, uses a mild electric current to push its ingredients deeper into the skin than a normal sheet mask. “Imagine panning for gold,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “You put the dirt, clay, and rocks in the pan, and they just sit there — that’s a traditional sheet mask. Now shake the pan around, and you are going to move more dirt through that pan.” That’s the microcurrent mask, but instead of moving dirt through a pan it’s moving hyaluronic acid and a ceramide through the uppermost layers of the skin. Franz’s Microcurrent Facial Dual Mask comes in three parts (and costs $50 for two sets): a classic sheet mask soaked in a serum, and a dry mask and booster vial that together produce the current. You might not feel anything when you use it, says Myounghoon Jang, CEO of Franz Skincare, but one 25-minute treatment left our faces dewy, hydrated, and ever-so-subtly buzzing.
Next up: imperceptible acne patches, made with “electrospinning” technology at Franz HQ. Applying an electric field to a polymer solution creates nano-size fibers, which are then used to form a thin, flexible film. It is infused with skin-care ingredients and invisible under concealer—it’s 20 times thinner than the average acne patch.
Another method that is revolutionizing sheet masks is 3D printing. The Amorepacific IOPE Tailored 3D Mask uses an in-store app to scan the dimensions of your face and then prints a hydrogel mask to fit you. It will even customize active ingredients in different sections of the mask based on, say, what your T-zone needs vs. your cheeks. Currently, this tech is only available in Korea, but you can expect to see 3D-printed masks in the U.S. soon: Neutrogena MaskID could be available early next year and uses the same facial-recognition technology that lets you open an iPhone by looking at your screen to create a 3D model of your face in their app. —J.C.
The AI Makeup Artists
Imagine beaming Pat McGrath into your living room so you can have perfectly highlighted skin before dinner. We aren’t there quite yet, but new gadgets are angling to be your at-home makeup artists, manicurists, and facialists—and you may never have to apply your own foundation again. The handheld Opte printer scans your face for dark spots with a digital camera and then prints tiny dots of tinted skin care to camouflage those spots (using 120 nozzles). “It’s difficult to print makeup onto the face with any real accuracy,” says Phill Dickens, a professor of manufacturing technology at the University of Nottingham in England, who spoke to us about the concept last year. So it makes sense that the Opte is printing sheer, tinted skin care—that can blend into surrounding skin—instead of something that requires more precision, like eyeliner. Because the formula, which is boosted with skin-brightening niacinamide, is so sheer, the company says three shades (light, medium, dark), can cover 99 percent of the skin tones on Earth. But we haven’t been able to try the machine yet, so we can’t say if that’s true.
If you’re skittish about getting your nails done in this weird, new world, ManiMe nail stickers come in solid colors and designs from top manicurists, like Alicia Torello’s dreamy clouds and Madeline Poole’s graphic patterns. (There are 81 available designs in all.) You snap photos of your nails to upload to their website and ManiMe uses 3D modeling to laser-cut stickers to fit your nails, then sends them to you within four days.
Next on the horizon: Lipstick that matches your most-missed, discontinued shade, your favorite color of jelly bean, your bright-red sunglasses — you name it. The Perso by L’Oréal (slated to launch in mid-2021) is about the same size and shape as a Thermos, but instead of coffee it’s filled with pigment cartridges. Upload a photo of watermelon—the best jelly bean, clearly—and the Perso mixes the perfect amount of pigments to match and a small motor pushes your blend up and out through the removable cap, which doubles as a mirrored compact. (L’Oréal is working on custom-mixed foundations to perfectly match your skin’s every undertone.) The Perso will also create signature skin care for you: To analyze your complexion (lines, dark spots) and environment (humidity, UV index), it syncs to an AI-integrated app on your phone, then blends your ideal balance of sunscreen, highlighting particles, and hydrators into a personalized moisturizer. As a cosmetic chemist, Wilson has dreamed of a skin-analysis machine in every drugstore that will help customers pick products, but this tech concept sounds more advanced to her because it mixes a custom formula at home. “This is my dream tool, better than I could have imagined it,” she says. —J.C.
The Virtual Trainers
The home workout machines of yesteryear were often unwieldy contraptions—older, bulky Bowflexes and creaky bikes that gobbled up garage space. Also, using them was a lonely process—you’d huff and puff with only your inner monologue for motivation.
But a new crop of smart home gyms aims to change all that. They sync to the cloud, and want to look good doing it. Smart workout screens, like Mirror and Forme Life, resemble sleek, full-length mirrors. Tonal features various protruding accessories (digital weights, a smart bar), but they can be folded up Transformer-like at the end of a workout to save space.
Better still, these machines are portals to humanity. Via touch screen or companion app, you can access more workout sessions than you could likely attend with a lifetime of gym memberships. Professional trainers appear onscreen as if you had beamed a motivational human into your home to lead a level-three Pilates lesson. During live sessions or one-on-one training, instructors can shout out encouragement to you by your user name. It eases the isolation of exercising alone and makes you want to come back for more.
As we spend more time cooped up than ever before, home gyms of the future will have to make an even greater effort to fit into the space we have available. They’ll get lighter, slimmer, smarter, and more immersive. Someday soon, you could strap on a sweat-resistant VR headset or do jumping jacks with a holographic Tracy Anderson. Just BYO towel. —Boone Ashworth, WIRED
The New Zen Gurus
Our phones are extensions of us, and being connected at all times makes it hard to let go, even for a second. But what if those glowing appendages could actually bring us the moments of relaxation we so desperately need?
Apps like Headspace, Calm, and Unplug (all available on iOS and Android) offer libraries of guided meditations from mindfulness experts. No matter where you are, you can pop on headphones and get centered using speedy resets (Headspace’s minute-long “mini” meditations), mood-boosting series (Calm’s Seven Days of Gratitude, a practice linked to greater happiness), or targeted guides (Unplug’s series for kids and teens).
The Core meditation trainer is a small, even cute, device that you hold while following a guided meditation on an accompanying app. It gently vibrates in sync with how the instructor wants you to breathe, increasing in intensity as you inhale, pausing briefly, and then going down in intensity during the exhale. The gadget (plus premium access to the app’s library of meditations) costs $19 a month, but having something to focus on while meditating is helpful, especially for beginners. Its cooling metal sensors analyze heart rate variability by reading your pulse, with the aim of detecting how calm and focused you are during meditation, and whether you’re improving over time.
Meditative tech is not a substitute for the traditional practice, but our stress isn’t going anywhere and we need moments of calm, even if they require a screen. Maybe one day we’ll be able to activate a chip in our brain that puts us into a meditative state, but until then there are sure
to be more apps and virtual group meditations for calming down. We can also expect wearables to take a cue from Core, using pressure and vibrations to get us grounded. And if the Peloton was the last decade’s at-home wellness status symbol, maybe next we’ll be angling for sensory deprivation chambers in our bedrooms. —Medea Giordano, WIRED
The Beauty Biolab
A strand of hair, a swipe of skin cells—sounds like the stuff of cloning experiments, but we’re talking about beauty here. If you’re game, you can now hand over personal data in exchange for perfectly customized products. Send a sample of your hair to Strands Hair Care, for example, and “our lab runs a number of proprietary tests, looking at the hair’s cuticle quality instead of just guessing if it’s damaged or not, and identifying your true hair texture by looking at the thickness of hair under a high-magnified microscope,” says Rita El-khouri, chief innovation officer at Strands. For now, the analysis is used to create a custom shampoo-conditioner duo with the ideal balance of protein and moisture for your hair health, but additional personalized treatments are next on the agenda.
Taking it a step further, Biologique Recherche’s My Beauty DNA analyzes your genetic makeup (from a saliva swab that you send to them in a vial filled with a buffer fluid that keeps your sample viable) to assess your skin’s unique characteristics, such as predisposition to collagen breakdown, photoaging, and sensitivity. By the end of this year, the brand hopes to start using the data to help customize regimens using its own line of products. The goal is to prevent some of the genetic signs of aging before they appear. For example, if the swab analysis shows that your skin is prone to glycation (a process that causes fine lines), a Biologique Recherche aesthetician can recommend a serum containing mimosa extract.
With DNA testing, you’ll learn much more about your skin than what your eyes can see, says
Wilson. Genes are a little like light switches — they turn on and off — but some get stuck in one position, causing trouble. A gene that controls collagen breakdown — clearing away the old to make room for the new — can get stuck on, destroy fresh collagen, and lead to sagging, Wilson adds. In the future, pharmaceutical companies could use a topical ingredient to turn that gene back off. But you can bet it will cost a whole lot more than any of the skin care now in your bathroom vanity. —J.C.
As part of Allure’s Future of Beauty issue, Allure partnered with WIRED to explore the technologies of tomorrow and how they’ll shape the way we live. This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Allure.
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