ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

French beauty conglomerate L’Oréal recently acquired ModiFace, an augmented reality (AR) tech company founded by University of Toronto engineering professor Parham Aarabi.

This unprecedented move is said to reflect L’Oréal’s plans to reinvent the consumer’s beauty experience. It is the cosmetic giant’s first tech acquisition in its 109-year history and the first time a Fortune 500 beauty company has acquired a major technology company.

ModiFace uses advanced technologies to allow users to render various skin, makeup, and hair effects with mobile apps that track facial features using video or photo capabilities. In short, ModiFace allows individuals to try out a hairstyle or try on lipstick without physically trying them on.

“When it comes to beauty Augmented Reality, ModiFace is the definitive leader in the beauty industry, powering numerous applications including Sephora’s Virtual Artist, L’Oreal’s Style My Hair, and many other AR applications,” said Aarabi, who will retain his position as ModiFace’s CEO.

Since its creation 11 years ago, ModiFace’s technologies have been used by more than 100 brands. ModiFace currently employs approximately 70 engineers, researchers, and scientists, whose output comprises over 200 scientific publications and 30 patents.

For example, L’Oréal’s Style My Hair is a mobile app that allows users to realistically live-test various hair colours.

The technology used by ModiFace was developed using a “mixed-type deep learning model,” that ModiFace employees manually annotated 220,000 facial images for, training the neural network to detect the shape and structure of hair.

“The combination of the leading beauty tech company and the world’s largest beauty company will bring about many interesting advances in AR and soon [artificial intelligence (AI)],” said Aarabi.

Stéphanie Binette, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of L’Oréal Canada, said that ModiFace will join L’Oréal’s Digital Services Factory and benefit from L’Oréal’s “century-old expertise in beauty, [research and innovation (R&I)] and marketing,” and its external open innovation network.

Through new technologies such as AR, AI, and voice enabling, ModiFace will work with L’Oréal’s 34 brands to pioneer new innovations such as makeup and hair colour try-ons, shade finders, skin care diagnostic tools, and AI projects developed around beauty.

“ModiFace technologies based on augmented reality and artificial intelligence will be key to make the shopping experience of the future more fun, effortless and personalized,” said Binette.

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