This article originally appeared in the June issue of GCI magazine, a sister publication of Skin Inc. magazine.
Wearables are technology devices oriented on the body, near the body or within the body. This type of computing innovation is nothing new. The Qing Dynasty, for example, saw the introduction of a fully functional abacus on a ring that could be simultaneously worn and used. In the late 1970s, a “body-borne computer” camera-to-tactile vest for the blind was conceived, which converted images into a 10-inch square tactile grid on a vest so the user could feel what the camera was seeing. These and other innovations focused on convenience and functionality. Starting to sound familiar?
Thinking back on all of the early wearable computing products (of which there are many more examples) makes me realize that Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was right: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The same reasoning that went into those early devices still resonates today—create wearable products that put consumers in the driver’s seat and empower them to improve their lives independently.
2015: Back to the Future—Year of the Wearables
Fast-forward to the present and one will quickly come to realize that 2015 is the Year of the Wearables. The wearables market, which is forecast to grow to $11.61 billion by 2020 according to Markets and Markets, is expanding at an exponential rate with hundreds of products either hitting the market or testing their wherewithal on Kickstarter every week. And it’s not just eyewear or wrist wear that is gaining interest; there were some very exciting wearables and cool gadgets noted recently at CES by Wired Magazine, including the Parrot Pot robot plant feeder, the SmartMat, your newest master yoga teacher, and health-related computer gadgets such as a lighter that tracks your cigarette intake and Fitguard, a mouthpiece that measures concussions.
Morgan Stanley recently predicted the wearable category could top 1 billion devices by 2029. Considering this and NPD Group’s 2014 Wearable Technology Study finding that women outnumber men as prospective buyers of wearable fitness devices, we are certainly looking at a future where beauty and technology is at hand—your hands!
The reality is: Wearable computing is still in its infancy, and the future is a more beautiful, healthier and youthful you.
My Own Aha Moment
My pivotal moment came several years ago when my daughter suffered from skin allergies. Every time she scratched herself, she would bleed. My wife and I went to several doctors and no one seemed to have an answer due to the fact that there were no diagnostic tools available to them to determine what was wrong with her skin in its static state. In fact, the only answer that they could come up with was “take her to Mount Sinai in New York so they can research her condition.”
I was not going to let my daughter be a guinea pig, and I knew that I was in a unique position to provide an answer—not only for my daughter’s skin issues but for other children and families just like mine that had been confused by medical professionals who didn’t have the necessary tools to identify the right solution.
This moment was the realization that even the experts did not have the means to measure whether skin, as an organ, was working well or not, nor was there a body of knowledge to determine the same.
Seeking whether others were equally as confused about “knowing” their skin, I went to a local Sephora and stood outside asking people what they thought of their skin, how they picked their skin care products and what were the criteria. I soon found out that they weren’t really sure what type of skin they had—and most guessed either a combination or “sensitive.” Their product selection criteria were color, texture, scent and packaging, none of which had anything even remotely to do with achieving an outcome such as moisturizing, reducing dark circles or addressing a zit.
At that time, my company was pursuing the development of software and imaging related to early melanoma detection. As a former engineer, my next stop was a trip to my office to meet my development team. I asked the group one question: “How can we create a product that can analyze what is wrong with my daughter’s skin and offer a diagnosis to help her find the right solution?”
We were able to create an early prototype and diagnostic platform, which helped us to identify my daughter’s skin issues by determining her moisture and oil levels and the texture of her skin. The early product that we developed was able to analyze her skin type and make product recommendations based on its particular characteristics.
Using our diagnostic platform, we were able to analyze, diagnose and solve my daughter’s condition, which came down to something very basic—using the wrong product for her skin type. From there we were able to develop a clear path to skin wellness by using a natural moisturizing factor (NMF) specific for her skin. Two weeks later, the problem was resolved and my daughter’s skin had completely cleared up.
This became the foundation of our company, mySkin, and our two skincare products, Dermograph and OKU.
Simplifying Self Diagnosis
First, we realized that consumers just didn’t have the time to devote to researching and evaluating what the right products were for their skin type and lifestyle. As a result, we developed a consumer-powered site called mySkin.com to help consumers find the right skin care products based on what worked for other consumers just like them (who we call “skin twins”).
Many variables affect skin health and appearance—genetics, lifestyle, health condition and environment, to name a few. Imagine finding your “skin twin,” someone with the same profile, and learning what works for him/her. Utilizing scientific principles and highly sophisticated algorithms, mySkin analyzes these variables for deeper insight into how products work on different skin.
We looked at thousands of product experiences and preferences for similar skin types to identify those most effective, then developed a community to be as unbiased as possible. We don’t make, sell or promote skin care products on our site, or take advertising from skin care manufacturers. Our mission is to provide people with the information and tools to help them make better decisions, while we remain independent and neutral.
Dermograph: for Skincare Professionals
We took our approach a step further and developed a professional system called the Dermograph, which estheticians and beauty advisors can use to determine what skin care areas to focus on for their clients.
This is now being used on five continents. Leveraging these learnings, we continued to push forward in our quest to empower the consumer with tools that will help them navigate the confusing world of skin care.
OKU: Mobile-connected Tech
Next, we focused on consumers and antiaging needs, and developed OKU, an iPhone-connected device developed specifically for looking after and maintaining the wellness of consumers’ skin from the comfort of one’s home. Consumers connect OKU to their iPhone, download the app, scan their skin as often as they like and receive real-time personalized skincare advice to help their skin achieve its optimal youthful potential.
OKU sees what the human eye can’t by literally looking under the skin. It takes a scan of the user’s skin, analyzes it in detail, takes into account the user’s lifestyle information and provides them with an easy to understand value called the SkinScore. This will tell the user how their skin is faring and identifies areas for improvement. The system then sets a daily goal toward unlocking the youthful best of the user’s skin. OKU provides advice on users’ lifestyle and diet and will recommend the right products for their current issue, or the right routine to improve their skin wellness. Much like a personal trainer, it helps get users’ skin in the best shape and lets them take charge of their skin.
Cutting Through the Confusion
mySkin, Dermograph and OKU were founded to answer not only my daughter’s skin issues, but also address the consumer confusion in finding the right product for an individual’s skin type. There are more than 150,000 skin care products in the United States alone. Consumers are clearly confused and overwhelmed by the number of products out there and how to make the right choices for their needs. We are not here to sell skin care products; what we care about is that consumers use the right product for their skin.
Beautiful and healthy skin matters. There are real implications to higher salaries, higher self-confidence and a happier life, all having to do with the quality of one’s skin. We realized very early on that if we give the right tools to the consumer, then they can make the right lifestyle and diet choices, and find the right skin care products without having to go to experts looking for answers, answers that can be found in the comfort of their own home and from others just like them.
Tech Companies: Empowering Consumers
Consumers today hold the keys to their overall health and wellness. I believe the key growth in wearables for 2015 and beyond will come in the area of health and wellness: from devices like the iGrow, which uses low-level laser treatment to stimulate hair follicles, to Apple’s HealthKit on the iPhone, to OKU, a personal skin coach.
Google has also moved into the medical contact lens market, developing a prototype lens that can monitor blood glucose levels by the second. No more pricking your finger and taking blood samples! Finally, Sensible Baby has developed a device that parents put into their baby’s night clothes to monitor their temperature, orientation and movement and which sends an alarm to a connected smart phone if there is a problem.
Are we going to become our own doctors? Certainly not. But in non-life-threatening areas I predict that self-diagnosis will be the next big leap in wearables.