Making that paper. It's the end goal for every company and L’Oréal is no different. It has just launched its My Skin Track UV, a $60 sensor that you can clip onto your clothes and can track UV exposure, pollen and pollution. No doubt the beauty brand hopes that selling it exclusively through Apple will bring in those dollars for its skincare products.
I haven't got a problem with that, simply because L’Oréal is doing wearables the right way. Every startup or company I speak to says the same thing when I ask what makes a good wearable. It has to offer a solution to a problem. I'm not sure how many actually think long and hard enough about that before launching a product, but I get the sense that L’Oréal has got a good handle on this.
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I first covered the L'Oreal My UV Patch, which has since evolved into the Skin Track UV wearable now on sale, back in 2016. My Skin Track UV will be much easier to get hold of than the original heart shaped stretchable sensor. When you hear about a beauty brand the size of L’Oréal entering the wearable space, it's impossible not to initially think that whatever it does, it's going to be a bit of a gimmick. But it's clear this plan to make wearables has been a long time in the works.
L’Oréal first generation My UV Patch announced in 2016
Its Tech Incubator research and development lab has been live for seven years, well before the UV Patch was announced. It's worked with companies and individuals that have wanted to help make wearables become more mainstream. Whether that's making form factors that are easy to wear anywhere on your body, or simply making them more visually appealing. That first wearable that the Tech Incubator delivered had a clear solution to a problem; to help create better awareness about skin protection and the dangers of staying out too long in the sun.
That first wearable was bundled with sunscreen purchases from the beauty giant's skincare brand La Roche-Posay. There were minimal electronics, you could wear it on your skin and it would last a week away in the sunshine. Then L’Oréal launched a second generation version of the UV Patch, designed to be worn by children as well as adults, gamifying the experience for those more likely to blissfully spend more time out in the sun.
With each product launched, the team tasked with building them has shown a clear understanding of what makes a good wearable tech device. It's done the studies and made changes where those changes were needed most. That first patch felt more geared towards women, so it changed that with the second version. With its UV Sense prototype it pushed the idea of a sensor that could be worn on a finger nail. Now that the UV Sense has become the Skin Track UV, L’Oréal wants its wearable to be comfortable enough for anyone to wear. Wearables should be inclusive as much as they possibly can. Especially one that wants to create a greater awareness of the effects of UV exposure.
The new clip-on sensor is what a lot of companies like to call an 'invisible' wearable. One that can be worn discreetly and is waterproof so you don't have a reason to take it off. The onboard electronics have also been kept to a minimum. There's no battery or Bluetooth here. Just the NFC tech to transmit the data the sensor captures. A lot of people are concerned about having too much tech in close proximity to their bodies and that's perfectly understandable.
This is a clearly thought out wearable project, with a clear vision of what it can do, how it delivers on that vision and with a design focused on doing the job simply and with minimal interaction. Now $60 will inevitably still be considered by many to be a great deal of money to spend on a device like this. Until we have it in our hands and clipped onto our clothes, we don't know whether it's going be worth shelling out for too. But sometimes you just get a good feeling about something.
When we spoke to Guive Balooch, head of L’Oréal's Tech Incubator earlier this year, he was honest about what the company sought to achieve with its tech. "We want to use technology to get people to use the product the right way." So yeah, if you want to be cynical about it, it's another way of pushing people to L’Oréal's skin protection products". I'm sure that the Skin Track UV will no doubt give its skin protection products and other similar products a boost. But if this tiny little device can get us thinking about something very serious, that can't be a bad thing can it?