Botox, fillers and industrial-strength chemical peels, make some space. Poised to hit the mainstream later this year, skincare wearable tech is the latest magic bullet to add to the anti-ageing arsenal and it's coming to a beauty counter near you.
Hyper-personalised and fully interactive, it's no wonder that the beauty industry is excited about wearable tech that monitors and improves our skin. Research by Mintel has identified bespoke, ultra-customised beauty as one of the hottest trends in beauty between now and 2020. These days, we want skincare that is precisely tailored to our needs and beauty companies are falling over themselves to launch ever more individualised products.
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And there is the potential for an awful lot of money to be made. While the global wearable tech market is set to treble in the next five years with a projected turnover of $34 billion by 2020, the anti-ageing market – predicted to enjoy a super-healthy annual growth rate of 7.8% – is expected to be worth a staggering $191.7 billion by the end of the decade.
L'Oréal's UV-detecting patch
When it comes to anti-ageing, protecting skin from the damaging rays of the sun is pretty much priority number one. "Most signs of skin ageing are a consequence of UV or sun exposure," says Tamara Griffiths, a consultant dermatologist at Salford Royal NHS Trust.
In fact, a whopping 80% of skin ageing can be attributed to UV exposure according to a 2013 study published in the medical journal Clinical, Cosmetic And Investigational Dermatology.
Keeping tabs on your UV exposure and knowing exactly when to slap on the sunscreen could make all the difference to your complexion later on in life. Enter L'Oréal's My UV Patch. The product was developed by L'Oréal's Technology Incubator Research and Innovation division, a US-based team of 25 scientists headed by cosmetics genius Guive Balooch.
The division focuses on creating beauty-orientated disruptive technologies. "We have spent many years understanding the effects of UV exposure on skin and how to accurately measure exposure." says Balooch.
His team worked with expert dermatologists at La Roche-Posay to devise complex algorithms that accurately measure UV exposure, and turned to medical wearable tech company MC10 to help engineer the stretchy skin-like patch, after Balooch read about the firm's research on skin-like wearables in 2012. MC10 provided the technology behind the flexible electronics and embedded electronics involved.
My UV Patch isn't the first wearable sun exposure tracker. Low-tech colour-changing wristbands and patches have been around for years, while the more hi-tech June by Netatmo UV-detecting band (pictured below) was launched in 2014. But Balooch believes My UV Patch is the most advanced and accurate, plus there's no denying it'll be the most ubiquitous sun exposure tracker and anti-ageing wearable once it launches. "Other trackers on the market are mainly rigid electronics that are worn on the wrist," says Balooch.
"This does not allow you to apply the wearable on the part of the body you are most concerned about. And furthermore, applying product on the device is not possible either which makes it difficult to know the true level of protection. The level of accuracy of our wearable has been thoroughly tested through multiple controlled studies as well as real-life studies which we believe also bring us to a very innovative solution."
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We asked top dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams of European Dermatology London for her take on My UV Patch and wearable sun exposure trackers in general. "I welcome the development of sun exposure trackers as they keep reminding us about the possibility of sun-induced skin damage and the need to protect our skin," she says.
"These trackers are also a good idea because the warning sign of sunburn only reaches its maximum after 24 hours, so you could continue to expose your skin before you actually see any redness. I like the general thinking behind My UV Patch. However, you have to take a photo and then upload it to a mobile app before you can find out more about your personal UV exposure. This might not be the most usability-friendly approach."
If My UV Patch is a success, what sort of wearable tech can we expect from L'Oréal in the future? Balooch's team is currently testing second skin patches that measure hydration levels, skin elasticity and skin temperature, which all have potential anti-ageing applications. And L'Oréal's willingness to adapt MC10's BioStamp technology coupled with its strategic partnership with PCH International means that these wearables may actually see the light of day.
Balooch's ultimate aim is to create a skin-like device that can give the wearer personalised beauty advice on skin moisture levels, UV exposure, the best rejuvenating products to use for their complexion and all sorts of other customised anti-ageing hacks.
Feeligreen's anti-ageing patch
L'Oréal isn't alone. French startup Feeligreen is also developing a skin-like patch with potential anti-ageing benefits. DermoPatch goes further, using microcurrent technology to actively treat the signs of ageing, and diffuse topical medication and beauty products into the skin. "To develop this wearable, the Feeligreen team combined expertise in micro-electronics, chemistry, galenic development and printed electronics," says Christophe Bianchi, the company's founder and CEO.
"We benefited from the recent evolutions in printed electronics derived from advanced solar cell development, as well as low-power communication electronics, which have been driven by the Internet of Things market. In addition to these, we have applied for seven patents."
Only a couple of millimetres thick, Feeligreen's dermoPatch packs a dinky electronic module that powers the microcurrent tech and fits snugly inside a bendy second skin 'plaster' onto which you can apply beauty products or topical medication.
DermoPatch isn't the only microcurrent skin patch on the block either. Patchology's Energizing Eye Patches, Patch+ and Biobliss use similar technology but Feeligreen's baby is more potent and potentially more effective. "DermoPatch, produces 10 to 20 times more current than existing microcurrent patch technologies," says Bianchi.
According to the International Dermal Institute, microcurrents allow for superior penetration of water-based products into the skin and clinical studies have shown that after twenty days of microcurrent treatments, collagen and elastin production increases and blood circulation improves.
Feeligreen's dermoPatch could be developed in tandem with a major beauty company to supercharge anti-ageing lotions and potions, or treat the skin to boost cell turnover and rejuvenate the complexion.
Bianchi believes the dermoPatch product will be on the market within the next two years. Reports actually suggest that Feeligreen is in talks with L'Oréal, among other major beauty multinationals, to collaborate on wearable tech and connected devices, so you never know, L'Oréal's future skin patches may well rock Feeligreen's microcurrent technology.
Futuristic wrinkle-busting masks
Aside from second skin patches, futuristic facial treatment masks represent the other hot anti-ageing wearable tech trend. Wired Beauty's Phantom of the Opera-esque MAPO is the world's first connected beauty mask.
This €199 crowdfunded device is a soft 3D silicone face mask fitted with moisture bio-sensors that measure skin hydration levels in real time. The info is relayed to an app, which tracks the health of the wearer's complexion and offers skincare recommendations. The mask boasts a patented 'Treat' function, too - it basically heats up to ensure more effective delivery of moisturisers and anti-ageing serums into the epidermis.
Wired Beauty worked with prestigious Franco-Japanese design studio A+A Cooren to perfect the stark, minimalist prototype. Stanislas Vandier, co-founder and President of Wired Beauty explains how the mask works: "MAPO senses hydration levels by measuring the skin's electrical resistance which is related to the water level on its surface.
"The conductivity of skin is better if it holds more moisture. By measuring this parameter with super-miniaturised bio-sensors, which is also known as impedance, we can determine whether the skin is dehydrated or not."
Keeping your skin optimally hydrated is advisable if you're keen to minimise lines and other signs of ageing. "When skin is well-hydrated, it's more plump and resilient," says leading dermatologist Dr Doris Day. "When there is adequate water from inside and out the skin looks healthier and more vibrant and is less prone to wrinkles."
Studies also show that heating the skin increases the absorption of drugs and beauty products, so MAPO could well be a star device to add to the anti-ageing regimen when it begins shipping in June.
Masks that deliver LED light therapy are also trending. Apira Science, which makes the best-selling iGrow Hair System, a head-mounted hair-stimulation wearable, launched the iDerma Face Beautification System on Indiegogo in January 2015. The product ships later this year. It uses red light which is a tried-and-tested skin rejuvenation therapy in dermatology clinics and salons.
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Unlike the current at-home models, the mask should be more effective at replicating professional salon and dermatology treatments. The advantage is, at $350, iDerma makes for a far more affordable option over the long run than a course of professional red light treatments, which can cost $50 - $100 a pop.
Competing for their share of the pie, the makers of illuMask, a similar red and blue light treatment mask for skin rejuvenation and acne prevention, are re-launching a "bigger, better device" later this year, which should command a similar price-tag.
This is all just the beginning. Anti-ageing wearables are set to become a whole lot more sophisticated over the next few years. And if they really can help keep us looking youthful and wrinkle-free well into the 2020s and beyond, these newfangled beauty devices will no doubt be flying off the shelves.