Like most aspects of modern life, skincare has undergone a technological revolution in recent years. Not only are products and treatments increasingly sophisticated, but consumers also expect a higher standard of efficacy and transparency.

Maria Avis, Lancôme’s national education manager, says one of the most significant shifts she has observed in her 25 years in the beauty industry is the increased knowledge and sophistication of customers.

These days, “customers are very savvy” about ingredients and technological advances in skincare says Avis, who joined Lancôme 17 years ago. “They want to know what’s in products. They want to know more about what’s going on their skin… and they can find out more information themselves. Customers come prepared and our beauty experts need to have that expertise to talk ingredients and what they do.” The result is an industry that is much more transparent, Avis says. “There’s also more emphasis now on sulphate-free and paraben-free products. No one used to think about that 17 years ago – we never talked about that.”

Consumer demand is also driving sustainability in skincare. Historically, the industry generated enormous volumes of waste. “Now we have recyclable packaging and refilling stations for our latest fragrance,” Avis says. “Brands are under scrutiny to do better for their environment.”

The rise of personalisation Advances in technology are also driving a push towards personalisation in beauty and skincare. One example is Lancôme’s Shade Finder, which uses digital technology to accurately match skin tone with foundation shade. Another is their Skin Screen, which uses tripolar light technology and advanced algorithms to provide a detailed skin assessment in a 20-minute consultation. Each personal skin analysis includes scores for eight parameters – texture, red patches, brown spots, hydration, firmness, wrinkles and fine lines, clogged pores, and UV damage. The customer also answers a series of questions about lifestyle, family history and other factors that affect skin health.

A beauty advisor then uses the skin analysis and questionnaire to create a customised skincare routine to suit individual needs. “You still need the human element for the service and connection with the customer,” says Avis, “but using this technology really drives expertise.”

One of the strengths of beauty tech is its ability to pre-empt how the skin is changing. UV light can be used to detect sun damage that isn’t yet visible to the human eye. “You can’t see it, but you can start addressing it,” says Avis.

Scientific frontiers of skincare Some of the skincare industry’s most significant technological advances stemmed from scientific research in unrelated fields. In the 1990s, NASA pioneered the use of light-emitting diodes (LED) to grow plants in space. Further research revealed LED light’s wound-healing properties, which led to the development of LED light therapy in skincare. Today, LED facials, masks and handheld devices claim to address a range of skin issues including acne, pigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles.

The microbiome, a familiar buzzword in the world of health, represents another exciting new frontier in skincare. The skin, like the gut, is the home of trillions of microorganisms, which vary according to factors such as our location, age and lifestyle. Healthy skin flora can reduce inflammation and protect against environmental aggressors.

Dr Jillian Kenny, an engineer and university lecturer who specialises in innovation and entrepreneurship education, says learning more about the microbiome has significant implications for personalisation in skincare. “Our microbiome is what makes us ‘us’.”

Over-zealous cleaning and harsh soaps can strip our skin of its natural flora, which probiotic skincare products – loaded with ‘good bacteria’ designed to nourish our skin’s microbiome – aim to correct.

Technological processes such as the Skin Screen can help identify these imbalances.

“When we can understand the make-up of our own microbiome and tailor our treatments or regime to what’s missing or what we want more of, then that takes personalisation to the next level,” says Dr Kenny.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Lancôme.