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Make Up Genius: the virtual beauty app milking the market


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Even now, VR and simulation still seem pretty crazy to me. From the simpler apps that show 3D previews of sofas in your living room, to the fully-immersive video games where you’re literally afraid to turn around; the market seems boundless.

One industry that was quick to jump on the trend was cosmetics. Cue the birth of the ‘Beautifying’ apps. These touch-up apps allow users to cover their spots, apply makeup and alter their features, all under the guise of helping you achieve ‘flawlessness’. In reality, they do nothing more than reinforce how unachievable this creation really is.

They provided the desired results, and while some insisted on stamping their logo in the corner *cough* Retrica *cough*, the services remained, for the most part, free. While these apps are marketed as the ‘behind the scenes’ of Instagram, it was only a matter of time before the focus shifted from being ‘consumer-driven’.

L’ Oréal… I’m looking at you.

L’ Oréal were the first (though to be fair to them, won’t be the last) makeup brand to capitalise on the idea with their “virtual makeup tester” app, Makeup Genius. You can just see the development team twitching after seeing teenage girls wearing virtual eyelashes; every selfie representing another lick of mascara going unsold. As they slammed their fists onto their desks shouting “No more free samples!”, a new (unofficial) motto was born: “You try it? You buy it.”

Makeup Genius allows you to virtually apply a variety of their products onto your face in real time, with the option to purchase them through the app if you like them. It shows you their latest celebrity catwalk looks, with the option to select it as a whole, try it and then buy it for yourself. The most interesting feature is the side-by-side comparison they offer. With your image divided down the centre, you get to see a fully decorated face, alongside a makeup-free half designed to remind you how shite you feel without all of it. Awful, but smart.

While the app isn’t just a selfie tool, it still decorates your face in a way that real makeup simply never could. It’s like sitting in the passport photo booth and having a lipstick drop onto your lap, a tick box for ‘Photoshop assistance’, and an automated voice whispering “now try it”.

Okay, so obviously there’s no contracted obligation to purchase the products, but seeing yourself in some glamourous lippy is going to prompt you to spill your bank details. Well, you would… if the app actually worked.

The results were laughable. According to their simulation, one of their mascaras will somehow see my eyelashes miraculously grow by another inch, while remaining perfectly spaced and clump-free. Cosmetics companies have been in trouble in the past for using false eyelashes on their models, so if you’re telling me this isn’t false advertising, I don’t know what is.

Apps like this would make me less likely to buy products I would have once considered. I get that shades aren’t universal, but surely bronzer isn’t supposed to leave your skin yellow. The result suggested a poor liver function, rather than two weeks in Malta. As for the ‘smokey eye’, you’d think an app that that can track subtle facial movements would be capable of blending. “Mother of all that is holy, no L’ Oréal, I can assure you Eva Longoria did not attend the Cannes Film Festival looking like this.”

Finally (though I could go on), this concept just takes all the fun away from makeup shopping. Nine times out of ten, you don’t buy bright blue eyeliner because you think it’ll look good, you buy it because it is bright blue. I don’t need an app to visibly demonstrate how ridiculous I’ll look. Please just let me make this mistake on my own. In a practical sense though, seeing a personalised virtual advert tells you so little about the product. You learn nothing about texture, comedogenicity or durability. I get the app is designed for convenience, but who wants a non-returnable lipstick that leaves your lips looking like alligator hide?

Regardless of how hilariously bad the results on the app were, the convenience of it can somewhat distort why many of us buy makeup. Enjoyment? Artistic expression? Granted, items aren’t always accessible locally, and some may not have the time to go out and shop for their cosmetics, but surely that should be the inconvenience, rather than the fact you’re not wearing any makeup. The developers know apps like this just don’t work for sampling products, so don’t try to convince me it’s a beauty tool, rather than just an easier way to remind me how much better I could look.

L’ Oréal Make Up Genius App is available for free on Apple and Android.

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