Battery-Operated Beauty

Thanks to a flood of at-home devices, consumers are taking derm-level skincare into their own hands

On sale for $1,036, the OxyGeneration Personal Oxygen system featured in the Bliss online catalog is a relative bargain compared to the $1,295 the sleek, “skin-re-vitalizing” 02 inhaler typically fetches. And it costs just a fraction of the $16,000 price tag attached to the Swarovski crystal-studded Wellbox, which “lipo-massages” from head to toe and is exclusive to Harrods. Still, either of the glitzy contraptions would certainly be the ultimate present for the beauty junkie in one’s life. (Save for a gift certificate for plastic surgery, of course.)

The Robin ReportBut while those two gadgets are likely targeted to a mere sliver of the population (the truly affluent part), make no mistake about it: DIY, at-home skincare devices – a market estimated at $30 million – are hotter than the tarmac at JFK in the middle of July. Why else would Sephora.com currently be offering seven variations, ranging from $149 to $225, of the Clarisonic skincare cleansing brush? And that’s in addition to the Nu Brilliance microdermabrasion kit ($200), the DDF Revolve 400X Micro-Polishing System ($95), the Tanda Clear Re-Generate Anti-Aging Starter Kit ($250) and the NuFace microcurrent skin stimulator ($325) it also sells.

Although the “skincare tools” section of Sephora’s website also features a few low-tech, inexpensive beautifiers (i.e., Shiseido’s classic CleansingMassage Brush for $23, and the retailer’s own Sephora Collection Pore Cleansing Pad for $5), the buzz is clearly on the goodies that are battery-operated and cost a pretty penny. And it isn’t only core beauty retailers that have recognized this fact; Amazon purveys hundreds of items in its own “skincare tools” section, including the $399 Baby Quasar Photo-Rejuvenation Light Therapy, a rising star in the device arena.

“Gadgets are the new kids on the block,” says beauty industry veteran Tina Hedges, co-president of brand incubator Twist New Brand Ventures. “Both retailers and consumers recognize that there is inherent value in applying technology to the beauty world.”

Not that there haven’t been hiccups along the way. One big issue is that most of the technology isn’t yet a seamless match with current consumer behavior patterns. Thus far, only the Clarisonic cleansing brush (and the rising horde of imitators) is a near-perfect fit with a woman’s typical skincare routine. “Consumers will wash their face and use a wash cloth, a scrub mitt, a loofah,” Hedges notes, “so using a device that cleanses / exfoliates more effectively, and takes the same amount or less time, is an easy “sell.”

In contrast, light-emitting diode, or LED, devices (e.g., Baby Quasar and the ANSR phototherapy tools), which are deployed to zap acne, laser-off excess hair, and turn back the hands of time, require users to move out of their comfort zones and essentially act as their own dermatologist or aesthetician. Using them can also be wildly time-consuming, since they typically target just a single square inch of skin at a time – at up to 15 minutes a pop. As such, they are ideal for only the most motivated, determined beauty consumers.

“LED light therapy is for the individual who understands about prevention and that prevention is ultimately the best way,” says skin doc David E. Bank, M.D., president of the New York State Society for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.“This is the same person who understands that improvements take time. There is no ‘diet’ LED treatment.”

Another hurdle for beauty-gadget manufacturers is the marketing of companion skincare liquid products that keep the love
affair going, so to speak. “Early adopters, and those who will do or try anything in the quest for beauty perfection are buying these devices, but the fall-off in usage is high,” says Hedges. With few exceptions – namely the proprietary “Conductivity Gel” necessary to use the NuFace microcurrent tool, and DDF’s Polishing Crystals to go along with its new microdermabrasion brush – most devices are marketed as stand-alone purchases.

To get consumers to keep using beauty gadgets, especially when they may not see tangible results before at least four weeks, it makes sense to try to sell them a liquid “partner” that they’re excited about  too. No doubt that’s why Sephora offers a suped-up Clarisonic set featuring products from four cult-favorite skincare brands: cleansers from Dr. Brandt and Peter Thomas Roth, a serum by Ole Henriksen and a moisturizer from Perricone, M.D. Yes, there is a also a Clarisonic Refining Skin Polish bundled into the mix. But let’s be honest: the liquid star of this $225 set is not the Clarisonic scrub.

And for at least a few Sephora customers, it’s the cult-favorite skincare products that really helped move them off the dime. “I have been wanting this brush for quite a long time and when I saw all the other products that came with it, I decided it was time to buy,” writes one purchaser  in the site’s comments area. “The cleanser from Dr. Brandt is great and I will probably repurchase.”

Enter the mad scientists, to concoct just the right brews to use with these 21st century beauty tools.

Dana Wood About Dana Wood

A beauty journalist for 20+ years, Dana Wood has served as Beauty Director for BRIDES, Cookie and W magazines, has written for numerous national publications, and is an author and a blogger. She also spent several years in the Luxury Products Division of L’Oreal, as AVP Strategic Development. She recently relocated to Florida, and is embracing high-speed, expressway driving.