The Beauty of Virtual Reality: selling cosmetic and personal care ingredients in the digital future

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Deanna Utroske, senior correspondent for Cosmetics Design, tries out VR at IFSCC 2016
Deanna Utroske, senior correspondent for Cosmetics Design, tries out VR at IFSCC 2016

Related tags Cosmetics design Virtual reality

At this month’s IFSCC event in Orlando, Florida, two suppliers incorporated VR technology into their booths to attract the attention of chemists and formulators. The experiences were quite different one from the other, and how VR can best serve the beauty industry is up for debate.

Givaudan and Lubrizol both included virtual reality technology in there booths at this year’s international gathering of cosmetic chemists. Givaudan presented an immersive look at the skin, while Lubrizol’s experience was all about a particular ingredient portfolio.

These two short demonstrations only touch on what’s possible with new technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). To find out what else is happening and what’s likely coming next, Cosmetics Design checked in with Karen Alexander, strategic management consultant with Denver Arts and Technology Advancement (a non-profit specializing in creative technology).

“VR and AR are very new, and the possibilities, at this point, seem endless,”​ Alexander tells Cosmetics Design, all the while noting data that shows “2.6 million people are already using AR smartglasses in the workplace in the US alone.”

Thinking space

Critics agree, just where this technology can go is uncertain. In this week’s New York Times Magazine, Steven Johnson likens VR to stereoscopes of the 1800s and surmises that the “meditative quality” ​of VR “could turn out to be the most magical trick of all: harnessing all this advanced technology to slow us down and make us wonder again.”

The Givaudan VR experience is somewhat meditative. It first debuted at in-cosmetics Brazil this October. Skin Odyssey, the title of the VR episode Cosmetics Design experienced at IFSCC, showed the skin from the inside. The experience was a place to explore, to learn, think, discover, and image new solutions.

The viewer descends into the skin and is able to look around at various cells and components, as a voiceover points out certain features and skin activities. The skin in Skin Odyssey is very colorful, not the sort of thing you’d see through a microscope, more like a color-coded reference illustration.

Besides being a draw at events, the app and cardboard headset version of Skin Odyssey is available to customers and the company’s sales team as an educational and inspirational tool, Beth Mota, sales and marketing associate with Givaudan, tells Cosmetics Design. She believes VR is a chance to “elevate the awareness of everyone in the industry and to have a little fun with your cosmetic chemistry.”


Lubrizol debuted their virtual reality expertise at the IFFSCC event. This particular experience encourages viewer participation beyond head movement and gives the user mechanical looking hands to push or pull levers and tap buttons with.

Meant to educate users about the company’s portfolio of Carbopol SMART Polymers, the experience is a sort of rudimentary videogame that stepped the user through a simple formulation task.

The VR booth seemed to be attracting a fair amount of attention, but to really learn about the ingredients, visitors had to go to the company’s main booth just down the aisle and speak with another team. Lubrizol first showed its Carbopol SMART Polymers at Suppliers Day earlier this year. The portfolio consists of three surfactant-activated microgels that respectively work well for soap-based systems, sulfate-free systems, and for clarity and suspension at every pH level.

The digital future

Alexander tells Cosmetics Design that VR and AR are quite useful in business as training tools, for sharing compelling content with consumers in new ways, along the supply chain to stream line distribution, and much more.

“One of the advantages of using VR is the sense of presence and immersion that it can provide,”​ she says. And perhaps better yet, “AR headsets are hands-free and have a see-through display, which means workers can wear them on the job; they’re not cut off from the real world, but the technology offers an enhancement of or addition to it.”

Asked about the particular opportunities for VR and AR technology in chemistry and beauty, Alexander pointed to the tech’s in-lab potential: “Augmented Reality goggles worn in a lab context can have information displayed on them that provides instructions and information. This is useful on the job as well as for education and training,” ​she says.

Especially in an industry that reaches so many women, VR and AR solutions should be developed thoughtfully, believes Alexander. “The VR industry in general needs to engage women and to develop content that interests them. Although the tech industry is known to be a highly masculinized one, there are many women working in VR and AR, and since it is such a new field, there is hope that their influence will lead to applications and content that appeal to women.”

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