Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2012

Sephora and Pantone's New Foundation Matching Solution

A 2009 Essence magazine study found that African-American women spend a staggering $7.5 billion on beauty products each year. And when it comes to cosmetics in particular, black women spend 80% more than other women, in part, because they often need to try out more products to find the right color match.

It's this costly dilemma, faced by women of all skin tones, that beauty retailer Sephora hopes to solve with its new collaboration with Pantone, called Sephora + Pantone Color IQ, a foundation-matching solution that debuts July 26 at one of its New York City locations (5 Times Square), and in its Powell Street store in San Francisco on Aug. 2.

The technology behind Color IQ is advanced, but the concept is simple: a handheld device allows Sephora makeup artists to digitally scan various spots on a customer's face, resulting in 27 images in less than two seconds. The color capture technology then assigns each person a Pantone skin-tone number, which when entered into the coinciding iPad app, brings up a list of foundations — of the more than 1,000 Sephora sells — that are the closest match for the customer's skin tone.

Around 10-20 results typically show up, and customers can then narrow down foundations by their preferences for formula weight, coverage, SPF availability or eco-friendly ingredients.

"Foundation matching is the hardest because you are dealing with pigmentation, undertones, ambient lighting and the season of the year," says Margarita Arriagada, senior vice president of merchandising at Sephora. "And for a client to navigate through all the shades in our store is a huge task. Color IQ gives you a precision on your skin tone — a universal code — instead of digging through all the formulas."

Consultations will be free for customers, but, for now, Sephora only has plans to make Color IQ available in the New York City and San Francisco stores, meaning women in other parts of the country will still have to keep sampling (and spending).