Q&A: L’Oréal’s Head of Innovation Labs on What’s Working and Not Working With Wearables

L’Oréal thinks the big future of wearables is getting smaller. Specifically, wearables will be the size of one of your fingernails. Literally.

Two years ago, L’Oréal launched a heart-shaped patch called My UV Patch with La Roche-Posay sunscreen that sticks to skin and uses Bluetooth technology to push data about a person’s exposure to UV rays to a mobile app that keeps track of how much sunlight the receive each day, all with the goal of getting people to apply more sunscreen to stay protected. Since then, L’Oréal has delivered 1 million free patches in 37 countries inside boxes of sunscreen and through dermatologists and pharmacists.

“We picked UV because people don’t understand the amount of exposure that they get,” said Guive Balooch, global vp of L’Oréal’s technology incubator. “So, we set out to do something that was really accessible two years ago.”

So far, the results seem promising. In a study run by Ipsos, 63 percent of people reported getting fewer sunburns as a result of wearing the patches, and 36 percent said they were wearing more sunscreen. Another 31 percent of consumers said they looked for more shade to keep themselves protected from the sun.

This week, L’Oréal will be showing off a new version of the My UV Patch that comes in the form of nail art decals that are less than two millimeters thick and claim to stay on for up to two weeks. Similar to the original My UV Patch, the nail decal relays UV data to a mobile app, and consumers can buy sunscreen through ecommerce links. However, the new version is battery-free and can store up to three months of data, making it more powerful than its predecessor.

L’Oréal’s goal in making its devices smaller was to convince consumers that wearables can work as long as they do something valuable.

Adweek spoke with Balooch to learn more about L’Oréal’s work with wearable technology.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: Two years ago, L’Oréal created the first version of My UV Patch. What is different in this iteration?
Guive Balooch: When we launched it, we saw many markets with high levels of engagement. We realized that we should redesign the version that we have to have more options. We wanted to make it something that could be accessible to people that maybe don’t want to wear a heart[-shaped patch] but want something more sleek.

Then we tried to create something that could measure UV for longer lengths of time and purely with an electronic sensor, not by taking a photo.

We wanted to create the technology so that it could still go on the body because we realized that we didn’t want to create a wristband—we want to make something that’s not at a price point, has a battery and Bluetooth.

How does it work?
This is actually a UV detector. The sun hits the detector, it goes on the nails and it can absorb the amount of UV, but it doesn’t need any battery power to push the data [to the mobile app]. You just need to bring the phone close to it, and it will power it through near-field communication.

Ok, so how do you go from patch to nail?
The second thing: When you remove the battery, you make it thinner, so you’re able to put it on the nail. You make it cheaper so that it’s more accessible.

The last piece, which is most important, is how do we make it beautiful? How do we push design as a lead in the creation of this product?

Why not just something for your wrist?
Today’s real estate on your wrist is very limited. When you do a wristband, it becomes something that today has become a very saturated market. I truly believe that wearables will become something that are worn on the body in a very confluent and organic way. That’s where I believe this trend in flexible electronics and materials that’s just starting to go on.

Why your nail?
We’re taking the bet that wearables will go in an area where people will be able to accessorize them on parts of the body—it’s almost a jewelry accessory. Nail art has really increased over time. People love putting things on their nails [because] it’s an expression of themselves.

Are people applying more sunscreen from using the patches?
The first thing is getting people exposed to it, and we had more than 1 million of them launched. It’s been part of the product. It’s been in some of the boxes [of La Roche-Posay sunscreen]. It’s been given away by dermatologists and pharmacies.

Last year, you introduced a smart hairbrush at CES. Are consumers buying that, and is there any difference in designing a styling tool compared to a decal?
With the connected hairbrush, we sought out to create something for professionals. The reason for that: They’ll do their own home tests where they take your hair and move their hands around your hair.

The idea with creating the brush was for professionals to have the ability to help them diagnose or a measurement tool. We’re still iterating that in the salon. It is kind of similar, but it’s more of a connection between the professional and the treatment right at the moment where you’re using it. The wearables are more about getting consumers to empower themselves through technology and design to use products better.

What’s your biggest challenge in educating consumers about IoT?
You have lots of technology on the market today that are wearables. A lot of them are based on algorithms and accelerators.

What we see is this movement towards how do we bring the Internet of Things that can be worn on the body in a way that’s not competing with many other things.

What other parts of the body are you interested in creating wearables for?
There are so many things that we can measure. We can help consumers measure signs of aging and beauty. There are many health implications in medical. There are abilities to use this for other industries.

There are many biological things on the skin that IOT can help with clinical signs in the future—things like hydration, temperature, thermal properties. All of these can be related to things like hyperpigmentation and rosacea.

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