L'Oréal hasn't been at the wearable game for long, but it's quickly established itself as a maker of simple, effective devices that can help you take better care of yourself.
It started with the My Skin Track UV, and now it's jumped to the My Skin Track pH, which uses your skin's pH level to recommend skincare products that can actually help your skin. It's primarily aimed at people with conditions like eczema; there are around 35 million Americans with the condition, according to Neosporin.
Read this: L'Oréal is making wearables the right way
At CES 2019, I was able to try a prototype Skin Track pH in action. You put the patch on you for around five minutes and wait for the dual dots in the center to colorize. Then you take a picture, and within seconds your phone will spit out your skin's pH reading and tell you what it means.
A normal skin pH level is between 4.5 and 5.5. When you have some sort of condition, whether it's eczema or dry weather, it can go up by a point. If it goes out of that range, your skin is in a bad place. Putting a certain kind of lotion or ointment on it can bring that pH back to normal.
The problem for most people is finding a lotion or ointment that actually works. I have family members with skin conditions, and it's a lot of trial and error. You do some cursory research, you ask a bunch of people, you ask a store clerk that might or might not know, and then you try something out. If it doesn't work, you rinse and repeat. Rarely do you get it right first time.
The problem for most people is finding a lotion or ointment that actually works. As someone with loved ones with skin conditions, it's a lot of trial and error.
The My Skin Track pH is meant to cut through all that, according to Guive Balooch, VP of the L'Oréal Technology Incubator. You get your pH score and then the app suggests a number of products that are aimed at fixing your specific score. Later, you can use the Skin Track pH again to see if it works.
"The more that you scan, the more you give it information, the more the algorithm can tell you more precise information about what products to use," Balooch says. "Then it will ask you questions about how it's gone and what are the things you notice about your skin, and over time it can tell you new products that could be more tailored to you."
Ideally, you only have to use it once, but everyone's skin is different. While there are no differences between skin tone and pH, there are environmental differences that could affect your score. Someone in Japan's pH is going to be different compared to someone in California or England.
Advanced tech, simple use
But how does all of this actually work? It's a combination of technology from L'Oréal and Epicore Biosystems. Dr. Roozbeh Ghaffari, Epicore's founder and CEO, tells me that the microfluidic technology the Skin Track is based on has been around for around 20 years. We've known that normal skin pH is between 4.5 and 5.5 for even longer than that.
What Epicore did was figure out how to use its tech on the skin. On the underside of the patch, its adhesive layer has a couple of "windows" where the microfluidic sensors come in contact with your skin. So you can wear the My Skin Track in the shower or in the pool, or apply sunscreen on top of it and it won't affect the reading.
The second part is connectivity. Balooch says the company didn't want to use Bluetooth, which can be unreliable; instead they wanted a faster tech, so the My Skin Track UV uses NFC and the pH uses picture scanning. It was certainly fast in our demo - Balooch was making use of Skin Track's pH reading in under a minute.
The final bit is the algorithm that powers the recommendation engine, which is the entire reason L'Oréal is still considering the Skin Track pH a prototype. As most of the studies that link pH and skin conditions is done, Balooch says the company is focusing on six months of studies to fortify the algorithm.
After that, it's planning on launching the Skin Track pH with some dermatologists in late 2019. That effort is largely around getting consumers educated on the link between pH and skin conditions. Then, in early 2020, L'Oréal is planning to release the My Skin Track pH as a full, mass-market consumer wearable that people can buy and use at home without having to go through a professional.
L'Oréal sees My Skin Track as a brand of products that could eventually work together to give you a more comprehensive picture of your skin's health. In the My Skin Track app, you can quickly toggle between your UV and pH information. And the streams will cross. Balooch says there's evidence that UV affects your skin's pH levels, but L'Oréal first needs to figure out an algorithm for how to tie them together.
Beyond that, there are a number of other environmental indicators Balooch is interested in exploring - like how infrared or visible light affect your health - but those are far-off for the time being. For now, it wants to circle back around to UV and take it to the next step, adding sensors and features. One thing is for sure: it doesn't want to leave wearables. "We are not going to leave this space, we really think we have a lot to do."