Beauty’s Never Been More Personal Than It Was in 2018

Prose, Function of Beauty and landmark brands like Clinique show a growing personalization movement

Personalization is a major part of Function of Beauty's success. Function of Beauty
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Let 2018 be remembered as the year that shampoo no longer felt like enough. Same goes for conditioner, moisturizer and serums. Instead, the new standard is a version of those products that’s been specifically engineered for you.

Seemingly never have there been so many options to customize your beauty routine to directly address your particular hair- or skin-care concerns. This year has seen the growth of several custom beauty brands: Prose and Function of Beauty, which create tailor-made shampoos, conditioners and hair masks, have grown in large part thanks to social media buzz. In 2017, Olfactory, a custom fragrance company, opened for business. It now has a storefront in NYC’s Nolita neighborhood.

And legacy brands are getting in on the action, too. Cosmetics brand Bite Beauty has become synonymous with its custom lipstick “lab,” with locations in New York and Los Angeles. (Bite was, admittedly, an early adopter of the trend, opening its first permanent lab in 2013.) At SXSW earlier this year, L’Oréal unveiled a partnership with skin-care line SkinCeuticals called Custom D.O.S.E., which creates personalized skin serums. Just this month, Clinique rolled out customizable versions of its famed Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion.

There’s no denying that as the beauty world continues to boom, customers are hungrier than ever for the most effective products they can find. And what could be more effective than a product specifically catered to you? With that thinking, the primary reason behind the consumer interest in these products seems obvious. Why wouldn’t you want something that’s been tailored specifically to fit all (or at least most) of your needs, rather than trying a slew of products in the vain hope that they will address just one or two of them? Tristan Walker, CEO of Walker & Co., the parent company of custom hair-care line Form, said that “the only reason we ask this question is because it’s never existed before.”

Janet Pardo, svp of product development at Clinique, adds that even if you have a product you already love, customization offers a way to enhance that experience. “It’s not necessarily asking you to change your moisturizer if you love it,” she said. “We’re asking you to embrace the concept, customize it and make it right for you.”

Clinique's new line of customizable Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotions debuted this month.

It’s also a reaction to a growing shift toward customization in other sectors. “With the rise of Instagram and Snapchat, people are searching for ways to stand out and be unique,” Quynh Mai, founder of content agency Moving Image & Content, which works with brands like CoverGirl and Sephora, said. “This yearning has shifted consumer desire from wanting trends to wanting personalized products.”

But different than fashion or other areas is the fact that beauty—in particular skin care and hair care—concerns are directly related to an individual’s body, with, of course, each person’s needs being different. Never does this sort of personal attention feel more important. “Consumers feel that their look, skin and hair is truly unique to who they are,” said Mai.

Perhaps nowhere is this need for specialized products more prevalent than for customers of color, said Walker. These customers were often “relegated to having to use products that don’t work for us, that aren’t uniquely tailored to us,” he said.

Brands like Form, as well as Belle Bar, seek to democratize the market. And in doing so, these challengers are paving the way for the future of beauty. Without the red tape that can plague larger corporations, they’re at an advantage in the space.  “It is much easier for a new brand to dive into customization, as they are able to start small with personal consultation services and offer some human level of expertise to help convert the consumer,” said Mai. “Larger corporations are burdened by infrastructure and are having a harder time delivering a bespoke experience.” However, as Clinique and L’Oréal show, landmark brands are starting to dip their toes into the personalization pond.

The customization trend may have burst onto the scene in 2018, but it’s nowhere near a prerequisite for success in the beauty sector today. Some of the industry’s buzziest brands (think Glossier, Drunk Elephant and The Ordinary) have won plenty of fans without offering any personalization options.

Prose, a custom hair-care line, launched in 2017.

But still, Mai doubts that this trend will be relegated to the 2018 scrapbook. Once customers get a taste of personalized products, all they seem to want is more.

“We have come to expect that brands can serve us like a VIP customer at every price point,” she said. “This level of personalized service and product will only grow once consumers get this level of customization, and they will require it in more categories.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.