cosmetics Technology

World Lipstick Month: How lipstick has brought the world of beauty and tech together

Representational image of a lipstick wearer

Representational image of a lipstick wearer  

July has been observing World Lipstick Month, and it is worth noting how this little beauty maverick has been a testament to beauty-tech convergence

A smear, a swipe; the simplicity of the lipstick hasn’t gone under-appreciated in the centuries observed by this little beauty gadget. According to Orbis Research, the global cosmetics market is expected to reach a market value of US$805.61 billion by 2023, a figure with way too many commas if converted to Indian rupees.

In a tube with a bullet or in liquid form with a doe-foot applicator, the lipstick doesn’t merely take up a little space on the vanity but also shows how technology has nurtured a relationship with the beauty industry over the past century.

Think about the ergonomics of a lipstick; how the lipstick bullet is designed is reliant on technology and intense study — a factor which affects the final purchase. The tapered end of a lipstick bullet allows the wearer to apply with precision at the outer edges of the lip, and the diameter has been constructed for careful thought into the pressure during application.

For retail

Browsing online for lipstick is almost as intense as browsing for a car; the look, feel and durability have to be just right… and if they aren’t, well, there are thousands of alternatives to consider.

Some brands offer various try-on techniques for shoppers; while Sephora India takes the try-on method further, promising ‘natural light’ in-store, the Lakmé Makeup Pro app, lets you simply upload a picture of yourself and you can ‘apply’ the different shades of lipsticks for sale and see how they fare with your complexion. This method, which employs a dose of Artificial Intelligence to ‘read’ the customer’s face, isn’t exactly favoured by many shoppers for two reasons: some aren’t comfortable with their picture being uploaded to any server, plus the lighting in which you take said picture may not match up with your true complexion, which can affect your purchase. And, of course, the feel of the lipstick isn’t conveyed as well as when a customer physically tries it on.

A sample of Smashbox’s 3-D printed lipstick

A sample of Smashbox’s 3-D printed lipstick  

In 2016, Smashbox Cosmetics invited beauty enthusiasts to enjoy 3-D printed lipsticks through their #Belegendary 120 Lipstick Matching Game. The customer was allowed to choose any design of which the print would get super-imposed into a mirror compact, and you can apply the lipstick using a brush or your fingers. Not your typical lipstick bullet but the company appealed to the customisation most wanted at the time.

In history

Before companies moved to putting lipsticks into a tube and adding (and then removing) chemicals, ancient natural constructions of lipsticks were deemed the original means of manufacturing. Last year, Weibo user MianYiang Danshen went viral for her visually calming videos of creating make-up from raw materials from her backyard. For lipsticks and lipstains, she used careful proportions of rose petal dyes, white wine, honey and oil... and a lot of patience. Safe to say, without these techniques, we wouldn’t have been where we are today with the cosmetics industry.

The ‘Kiss Of Death’ at New York City’s KGB Museum

The ‘Kiss Of Death’ at New York City’s KGB Museum  

Fast forward to the Cold War. Lipsticks weren’t only a beautification accessory small enough to fit in your clutch. Peruse history books and indulge in enough James Bond films, and it won’t surprise you that lipsticks have been used as weapons. At KGB Espionage Museum in New York City, the Kiss of Death appears to be a simple lipstick in a chrome silver case, the bullet (no pun intended) itself a true red. But it’s actually a single-shot, small-caliber gun. The one pictured was designed for use by KGB operatives during the Cold War, and this particular gun was confiscated at an American checkpoint in West Berlin.

For gadgetry

Then there are times lipstick-like projects don’t turn out. Remember the Nokia 7280? The phone was also dubbed the ‘lipstick phone’, given its cosmetic-like appearance.

An out-of-the-box creation, it was mocked relentlessly for the non-functional experience it offered. Back when gender politics seemed to be worth ignoring, the 7280 was designed ‘with women in mind’ and had a Navi spinner as a central control unit, which made the already-tiny device difficult to use with input and output.

The Nokia 7280

The Nokia 7280  

While many continue to poke fun at the Nokia 7280 for its misogynistic undertones, it’s worth mentioning how unconventional mobile phone design was the ‘must be’ of early-2000s technology.

In the digital space

The beauty vlogging industry is practically a whole economy on its own. According to a dataset by Mediakix’s 2019 ‘Influencer Marketing Survey’, brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022. But what happens when those numbers turn on the creators of lipsticks themselves?

In May, YouTuber and entrepreneur Jaclyn Hill released her own cosmetics line and unveiled a line of lipsticks. Many fans, including those in India, placed orders. However, according to customers around the globe, many lipsticks turned out to have mold, unidentified black spots, white hairs, or uneven texture — all showcased in social media posts on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. But it didn’t stop there; the publicity-heavy space of YouTube sent Jaclyn into the frontline of a battle with trolls, angry fans and other entrepreneurs, who either pointed out or refuted the claims of a poorly-maintained lab and compromised ingredients.

Beauty vlogger and entrepreneur Jaclyn Hill and one of the lipsticks received by a customer

Beauty vlogger and entrepreneur Jaclyn Hill and one of the lipsticks received by a customer  

Shortly after the first wave of dissent, a statement was released by Jaclyn Cosmetics stating, “Jaclyn Cosmetics are made with cosmetic industry-standard, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-compliant ingredients and are produced in an OTC (Over the Counter) compliant factory that is registered with the FDA, providing high degrees of safety standards and rigorous testing… The preservative system, material composition of the formula, and processing temperature of our lipstick does not support microbial growth and protects the product through the expiration date of May 2021.”

Software developer Ritu Shetty (26) in Gurugram, who ordered a few of the lipsticks, believes popularity in the online space can cloud one’s judgement. “These lipsticks aren’t ‘budget’ by any means, so you’re really paying for the connection with a creator. I think online platforms such as YouTube and social media, where you can see and interact with the creator, can swell the problems and anger. If you have issues with brands that don’t have that one active face you can associate with the brand, you are bound to have less of a backlash.”

The infrastructures of YouTube and Instagram have helped usher in an Age of Enlightenment around beauty conscientiousness. Many can argue that were it not for these platforms, young people, whether they live in Tier 1 or Tier 3 cities, wouldn’t be so keenly interested about what goes into the mass market cosmetics.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 5:22:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/lipstick-and-technology-not-just-a-pretty-phase/article28671575.ece

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