Just for you - the new frontier of personalised skincare

Personalisation has always been a liberally used buzzword in our industry. Listening to clients and identifying their skin’s need, then adapting your treatment and product recommendations to suit is beauty therapy basics. Any professional brand worth its weight in cleanser will tell you that they offer an individualised approach to skincare.

But with advances in technology, the term “personalisation” has come to represent something much more sophisticated than simply remembering how a client takes her tea, or whether she has dry or oily skin.

Research released by analyst Canadean last autumn found that almost half of UK adults would be interested in skincare developed in a lab specifically for them. As an idea, that’s not as crazy as it might at first sound. French skincare brand Biologique Recherche has been running its Haute Couture facial programme for some years. The six-month long service involves a consultation with the brand’s head of research and development Dr Philippe Allouche (he’ll fly over from Paris for the appointment), a tailored treatment plan, and a skincare regime with products created specifically for each client in Biologique Recherche’s labs, based on Dr Allouche’s assessment. The brand launched a one-month long version in January to meet growing demand. “The products that are created as part of our Haute Couture Programme contain ingredients so rare they cannot be used in our regular products as they are simply too expensive,” Allouche explains.

This sort of service doesn’t come cheap – the one-month version costs £5,000 and the six-month programme comes in at an eye-watering £15,000, but that’s part of the appeal, explains Esther Fieldgrass, founder of West London luxury clinic chain EF Medispa, which offers the service. “People want something that’s exclusive for them, if they can afford it, which a lot of my clients can,” she says. “If you look at the market today – and this is not just related to beauty or aesthetics – there is nothing I would count as special. When I was a kid, to be able to wear cashmere or have a Hermes bag was a real privilege but that’s no longer the case. This is really special, because nobody else is going to have the same as you.”

The next level

While a four- or five-figure sum may be well beyond the budget of most salon and spa clients, the demand for products more tailored to individual needs is certainly growing. Spafinder Wellness 365 dubbed “hyper personalised beauty” one of its key trends for 2015, tracking the global rise of brands offering a new level of individualisation, such as bespoke blending brand TruthArtBeauty and Singapore-based Skin Inc Global. “The multicultural beauty market is the fastest growing sector of the overall industry,” said Spafinder’s report. “We are becoming a much more blended population. All the variations in skin colour, and the need for complementary skincare, will fuel an even greater desire for customisation.”

New apps and other tech-based innovations are allowing clients to become increasingly aware of their own skin and its characteristics. SkinBetter+, for example, is an app launched last year in conjunction with US beauty magazine Allure that lets users take a picture of their skin then uses diagnostic technology to identify skin conditions. It combines that information with answers to some basic questions about skin type and concerns then recommends products from a list curated by dermatologists and plastic surgeons.

Telling clients what’s going on under the surface of their skin has long been the domain of beauty professionals, thanks to Woods lamps and skin scanners revealing fine lines, pigmentation, and bacteria not visible to the naked eye. But with clients now able to do this for themselves, beauty pros will need to work harder to stay ahead of the game.

“The media is taking a much more scientific approach to skincare,” explains Dermalogica’s UK education manager Sally Penford. “That’s good, because it means the consumer is more educated, but the therapist needs to know more too. If a client is going to a professional therapist, they should be able to give advanced scientific knowledge, and help consumers understand their skin. Education is critical.”

One size fits one  

It’s inevitable that skincare is moving in this direction, claims Dr Maria Karvela, PhD scientific consultant at new skincare clinic Geneu, because that’s the way medicine is going. Geneu, another operator cited as an example of the hyper-personalised beauty trend identified by Spafinder Wellness, launched in November, and develops skincare products for clients based on the results of a DNA test done in its Bond Street clinic.


The Geneu clinic on Bond Street


“I think this is about the new wave of clients,” Karvela explains. “I don’t have a cosmetics background; I was a leukaemia researcher. I always thought when I went to buy skincare that it can be a grey area, where you don’t know if something is credible.”

Geneu assesses two factors of its clients’ skin – antioxidant levels, and the rate at which it degrades its collagen – and then develops two serums for the client, designed to help reduce the appearance of ageing and prevent damage to skin. Karvela says the process is as much about educating clients about their skin and what they need as it is about selling product. “We would never go to a cardiologist and say ‘I’d like the pink pills, the blue ones, and maybe two of the purple ones’. But when it comes to buying skincare, I feel this is how we do it,” she says.

But not everyone is on board with the idea that a DNA test can provide a perfectly fitted skincare solution. “There is no doubt that DNA plays an extremely important part in determining how we age and how susceptible we are to getting wrinkles, pigmentation, blemishes and so forth,” says Environ founder Dr Des Fernandes. “However, environmental stress plays a [great] role. Take, for example, identical twins, who have virtually identical DNA. Put one into the sun and protect the other, and we will see totally different degrees of wrinkling.”

Scanning over

Taking into account a client’s lifestyle to help select the right products and treatments for them is nothing new; it has long been recommended best practice from pro skincare brands. And while skin scanners have been around for some time, new devices continue to hit the market, helping therapists to see what clients really need from their skincare. Marine spa brand Thalgo has plans to launch a skin scanner especially for the body later this year, measuring things like cellulite. “There are lots of machines coming onto the market to test hydration or the elasticity of the skin,” says Tracy Tamaris, training director at iiaa. “So the more switched on therapist could incorporate those into consultations.”

Tamaris says we are at the beginning of the trend for personalisation, and at the moment it’s only the more “switched on” clients who are actively seeking out in-depth consultations like a skin scan to find out about their skin. However, Cally Forsythe, general manager at Beyond Medispa in Harvey Nichols, London, says she has noticed more interest from clients in the spa’s Stratum 3D skin analysis machine, which is offered to clients as a complimentary service on its own or as part of the consultation before any facial treatment.

“We have a lot of clients that are more aware of their skin, I feel,” she says. “We offer six-month and 12-month facial courses. Every three to six months we can review to see how the treatments are helping with their concerns, and you can measure the results against the last scan.”

With bespoke skincare businesses popping up and grabbing headlines with their unusual business models, gimmicks or not, client demand for a more tailored service is only going to increase. And likewise, the technology that allows businesses to offer individual formulations direct to the consumer will, according to analysts, become more common.

“The trend for individualism within the skincare market will evolve over the next ten years,” says Michael Hughes, lead analyst with Canadean. “Consumers will be able to order products for their skincare needs by visiting a consultant and exchanging personal details, such as swab testing, so that this information can be sent back to laboratories to specifically formulate products that meet the consumer’s exact requirements.”

Salons are in a strong position to offer clients detailed advice about their skincare, especially if therapists are keeping themselves well educated on the latest ingredient formulations. But as bespoke services become more mainstream and affordable, salons will have to think outside the box if they want to keep up.