Johnson & Johnson-owned Neutrogena knows you buy a lot of its skincare products – it’s the number one facial skincare brand in the US, and at least $1 billion of J&J’s quarterly sales came from its beauty segment in the third quarter reported last fall. Now it wants you to buy even more Neutrogena, with the help of a skin-scanning gadget and app.
The company announced today a hardware product called SkinScanner that attaches to the upper portion of a smartphone and, using a combo of sensors, is supposed to give users the kind of magnified image of their facial skin that you usually see in before-and-after pics in ads. The scanner wirelessly syncs up with a mobile app, called Skin360, which will show a person’s skin health over time and suggest they improve their skin.
With Neutrogena products, naturally.
YOU OPEN THE APP, PRESS THE DEVICE RIGHT ONTO YOUR FACE, AND MEASURE YOUR SKIN’S MOISTURE LEVELS, WRINKLES, AND PORES
The Neutrogena SkinScanner will be formally unveiled next week at the annual CES in Las Vegas. It’s the latest in a series of connected beauty products that have been shown off at CES in recent years; and is part of a larger attempt by traditional consumer product goods companies to adopt digital strategies that appeal to younger, tech-savvy customers.
It’s also the latest in a series of beauty products that promises self-betterment through a Bluetooth attachment to a specific brand, which in the past has inspired some beauty-related soul-searching on the part of our editors.
The SkinScanner product was made in partnership with a New York-based company called Fitskin. It’s a tool that slides onto the top of your iPhone and uses 12 LED lights and a 30x magnification lens to capture an up-close image of your skin. It also has a moisture sensor, around the rim of the lens. You open the app, press the device right onto your face, and take a series of images. Glamour shots these are not: these are close-up readings of your skin’s moisture levels, wrinkles, and pore size.
Using machine learning, the app compares your skin to other users in your age range. It then assigns a score, up to 100, for each of these three categories. Below that, the app shows a blue "Improve” button, which leads you to a Neutrogena store. This is where that nudge happens; it might suggest, for example, that you use a Neutrogena sunscreen, or cleanser, or a product with retinol or hyaluronic acid.
Right now the SkinScanner is entirely focused on aesthetics. It won’t attempt to treat acne, or detect signs of melanoma, which would require Johnson & Johnson to get FDA approval of the device. SkinScanner also only works on iPhones, and for now, will only point users towards Neutrogena products, though at some point it may expand to include products from some of Johnson & Johnson’s 19 other beauty brands.
COULD A GADGET THAT MAGNIFIES YOUR SKIN FLAWS LEAD TO AN UNHEALTHY OBSESSION?
A moisture sensor for your skin sounds like it could be an interesting tool, and it’s something that is already available to people, both at retail counters and online. Wrinkle-tracking and pore-judging, though, especially at a super-magnified level, seems like it could potentially lead to unhealthy behavior, as some dermatologists have pointed out about other skin-scanning gadgets.
Molly Garris, senior manager of digital marketing at Neutrogena, said in an interview that the point of the new product is to educate people on their journey to better skin, and help them track their skin in more detail. She said there will also be more holistic health tips offered in the app: reminders not to touch your face, or to remove your make-up at night.
But even that latter example could result in a recommendation for a Neutrogena product, which calls to mind for me something Verge editor Tasha Robinson wrote last year about L’Oreal’s "smart” hairbrush:
I’m betting that what the average woman most wants from her beauty routine (apart from feeling more beautiful when it’s done) is for it to take less time and cost less money. And that’s not a need beauty companies will ever want to serve. Their needs are directly opposed to ours. They have an obvious vested interest in making us feel like we need more products and need to spend more money.
The Neutrogena SkinScanner will start shipping in the US this summer and will cost $50.