We all probably know better by now not to assume what "the future" will look like. Just a few decades ago we all assumed that floating cars would be a thing by 2021 and yet here we are, still using wheels like basic peasants. The future of beauty, specifically, is a little easier to predict, though, and that's unfortunately thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the rapidly spreading virus, in-store product testing became more-or-less extinct as retailers tried to create safer shopping environments.
"Primary transmission for COVID-19 is through respiratory droplets, but they are very susceptible to gravity," Cassandra M. Pierre, a physician specializing in infectious diseases and the medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, previously explained to Allure. "You're talking and droplets are emitted and they fall … on something that you're sampling. That can carry that infection particle to the next person who uses it."
Technology quickly swooped in with a solution: augmented reality try-on features, which many believe are about to become a rather commonplace online shopping function. With apps like YouCam and certain features on Snapchat, users can now see what they'd look like wearing a specific eye shadow or lipstick — and then buy said eye shadow or lipstick — without even getting out of bed. This month, Essie is the latest brand to introduce this type of technology, but in a way that has yet to be done.
Together, the brand and AR company ModiFace [both are owned by L'Orèal Group] spent two years creating a tool that allows you to virtually "try on" varying Essie nail polishes shades called Essie On Hand. Starting February 18, you can go to Essie's website on your computer or phone to use this feature. It'll access either your web camera or the camera on the backside of your phone (not the one you use to take selfies). You can also take a photo of your own hand in advance, upload it to the site, and see Essie polishes on yourself that way instead. Once you find a shade (or two, or three) that you like, you can instantly add it to your cart and buy it directly from Essie — everything happens in just a few clicks.
The whole intention of creating this tool, as Essie president Alanna McDonald tells Allure, is to provide a pandemic-friendly alternative to nail polish swatching that's far easier to use than similar tools already out there. The first of its kind, Esse On Hand doesn't require you to download any apps, period. "All that someone needs to do is go to essie.com and they can immediately interact with [the feature] rather than putting one more potential friction point in the user experience by requiring an app download,” she explains. "It was really about making it as seamless as possible for consumers."
Essie On Hand is also unique in that, when launched on mobile, it lets users access their phone's primary camera rather than limiting them to the front-facing one — a factor McDonald is quite proud of. "Virtual try-on in the beauty industry has been using that selfie camera, so for makeup you're looking at yourself on your phone and you're using that camera," she explains. "But the technology shift that had to be done for Essie On-Hand to use the back camera makes it a much easier consumer experience to then look at how nail color would appear on your hand." It makes sense — it's far more comfortable to look down at your own hands rather than holding them up near your face.
And don't worry; Essie On Hand can also account for your unique lighting situation, skin tone, nail shape, and other factors. "Someone can choose to upload a photo of their hand, or if they don't feel comfortable, they can select from model hands — but the user experience is designed to use your own hand because there's so much shade nuance, and so that is the [best] reflection of what the colors look like on you," McDonald explains. "That's what makes it special and much more personalized."
To start, this try-on feature will only let you preview Essie's 75 Gel Couture shades. Sure, Essie has a lot more to offer than just those, but I think we can all agree that 75 is a lot of nail polishes to virtually swatch. Plus, as McDonald explains to me, the Gel Couture line has skyrocketed in popularity because folks want longer-lasting polishes during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the brand has big plans to add more shades to this experience down the line. "We'll subsequently roll out to the Essie core lines and Expressie, as well," McDonald teases.
These types of virtual tools might not become our primary beauty shopping method any time soon, but we and McDonald alike can see them becoming far more commonplace as the years go on. So, if you haven't hopped on the augmented reality bandwagon, this tool is a perfect place to start. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have some nail polishes to buy.
Essie On Hand is now available to use on essie.com, from mobile or desktop.
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