The pandemic has clearly accelerated online sales in the beauty industry. While consumers have by no means deserted stores, they can now enjoy a hybrid and customised experience, both online and in person.

Available from a number of makeup and hair colours brands, virtual testing allows users to test all kinds of products online, including foundation, lipstick and eyeshadow. Apparently, the technology holds great appeal, although some consumers are complaining about a certain lack of precision, potentially linked to poor lighting or an average-quality camera.

This observation prompted three students from ESSEC business school in Cergy, France, to push back the limits of technology to enable as many people as possible to enjoy an online shopping experience combining personalization, inclusivity and realism. All this is based on artificial intelligence, through a combination of augmented reality and the art of the deepfake.

Sometimes seen as a threat when misused, sometimes viewed as an incredible innovation, in the case of virtual makeup testing, this kind of hyper realistic imagery turns the consumer into a virtual model, literally becoming the face of their own beauty needs and preferences.

A hyperrealistic face

More concretely, the URMODEL project, by French students Inès Flammant, Marie Landrevie and Sophie Martinez, involves using the two aforementioned technologies to enable anyone with a mobile phone to see themselves as the model on e-commerce websites, so that their face becomes that of the models they are used to seeing when purchasing a makeup product, all with the most realistic representation. Thanks to this technique, all skin tones and skin issues or characteristics can be taken into account during an online testing session, without the fear of buying the wrong shade or product range.

Although not yet accessible to consumers, this project won the three young women the international L’Oréal Brandstorm competition, the results of which were announced at the Viva Technology trade show in Paris. No fewer than 30,000 teams from over 70 countries competed, with just 10 teams remaining in the running for the final.

The prize provides the three students with the opportunity to benefit from three months’ support from L’Oréal to develop their project at the Group’s headquarters.

The three winners have already thought of improving their concept via machine learning, so that eventually, users will be recommended beauty products according to the characteristics and needs of their previously scanned face.