Any beauty enthusiast will tell you that one of the best parts of shopping for makeup is the colors. Cosmetics companies spend months picking shades for highly anticipated palettes, and every Sephora and Ulta is filled with excited people running around with countless swatches on the backs of their hands. The only time when color doesn’t bring quite as much excitement is when it comes time to shop for foundation. Not a single person on this planet looks the exact same, so how are people expected to match their incredibly unique skin tone to one of 20 or so flesh-colored fluids? The simple answer would be to just try on the foundation before leaving the store, right? But this is easier said than done, considering most drugstores do not have samples, and in higher-end stores that do allow you to try makeup on, lighting is often unhelpful. With all of these factors, how is anyone supposed to find a shade that matches them?
Sephora sought to solve this very problem in 2012 when they collaborated with the highly esteemed Pantone Color Institute to create Color IQ, a system that calculates and catalogs customers’ skin tones to find the perfect match across all Sephora products. A handheld device is used to scan several parts of the surface of the skin, averaging out to a four-digit code that is allegedly the exact skin tone. Of course, most skin is not all one shade, but Color IQ is meant to find the shade that, when applied, will bring about a flawless and even complexion. If the customer is a Sephora Beauty Insider, they can store the code in their account, and from then on any complexion product that they browse through will be the color they have been matched with.
In theory, this is an incredible and revolutionary service, but in practice, customers and employees alike have mixed reviews. Common complaints amongst users are that results are often darker due to detection of freckles or birthmarks. The colors chosen are inconsistent between devices, and that the color that is their “true match” is not the color they wish to use. For example, a customer with rosacea or similar reddish discoloration may be calculated to have a very pink-toned, warm skin tone, when in fact they would rather their foundation mask discoloration instead of mimic it. Many Sephora employees are aware of the issues with the devices, and will test the foundation on the customer’s jawline and adjust accordingly.
This is what happened to me about a year ago, when I went into Sephora looking to get shade matched for the Too Faced Born This Way foundation. The Sephora employee matched me with the Color IQ device, and upon swatching the color on my face, grimaced and said, “Noooo.” Since I had gone over the summer, my tan and freckles had given a false read of a much too dark skin tone. After making this observation, the Sephora employee matched me to the correct shade and sent me on my way with a great new foundation.
The Sephora x Pantone Color IQ is definitely an interesting look at how beauty and technology can go hand in hand to make customer experiences easier and more seamless across all platforms. For someone who struggles with makeup, it may be a lifesaver, but for the more advanced beauty connoisseur, manual shade-matching may still be the way to go. Despite these shortcomings, this integration of beauty and technology is an exciting look into what the future holds for makeup.