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Try Makeup Genius, an Incredible Magic Mirror That Lets You Test Out Beauty Products

Jason O. Gilbert
Technology Editor
June 18, 2014

(L’Oreal Paris)

Trying on makeup just received a beautiful 21st-century update.

On Wednesday, L’Oreal Paris released an innovative app called Makeup Genius, a free “magic mirror” for iPhone and iPad that lets you see how you would appear in different eye shadows, blushes, and other beautifiers without actually applying the products. The app takes a sophisticated scan of your face with the device’s front-facing camera, digitally paints on your selected product, and then reflects all your movements, accurately portraying what you would look like in different cosmetics, from different angles, in real time.

(If you’re having trouble imagining it: You know how Google’s video chat app Hangouts lets you wear a hat or a mask that stays on your head as you bob around? Think of that, but with the precision necessary to mimic realistic eyeliner.)

I tested an early version of the app at a special event in New York thrown by L’Oreal Paris last month. To answer your first question: No, there will not be photos forthcoming (even though I looked stunning with smoky eyes and hot-pink lipstick).

Columbia student Meghan Cross “tries on” some lipstick and eye shadow at a launch event for Makeup Genius in New York. (Yahoo Tech)

Even in its prerelease form, Makeup Genius is indeed quite smart. While competing apps let you upload a photo of yourself and then apply different products to that still image, Makeup Genius shows the makeup on your face as you move, so you can tilt your head around and see how you look with different facial expressions.

The app also includes different “looks,” or beauty combinations, worn by celebrities like Eva Longoria and Lupita Nyong’o, created by the makeup artist Billy B.

Two women try the Makeup Genius app at a L’Oreal event. One is wearing actual makeup; the other has had her makeup digitally applied. Can you tell which one? (cassandraramos/Instagram)

In addition to its technical delights, Makeup Genius also has a whimsical, delightful origin story. The app was born in L’Oreal USA’s Connected Beauty Incubator, a branch of the makeup giant devoted to technological applications for its cosmetics. (Because of course L’Oreal has a tech incubator.) Developers teamed with Image Metrics, the graphics studio behind the visual effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in the app’s creation. (Because of course you want your cosmetics business associated with Brad Pitt’s wrinkled zombie-head from Benjamin Button, of all movies.)

Regardless, the app is a success. And while those who don’t wear makeup — I rarely, if ever, do — might not have any interest in this particular app, Makeup Genius is still exciting for the possibilities it suggests in other fields. Tech startups and retail giants alike have sought to create an effective, fluid, and convincing magic mirror to allow people to envision what they would look like in different outfits, or haircuts, or pairs of eyeglasses. The best solution I’ve seen thus far comes from –– of course –– L’Oreal. 

Together with Mink, a recently unveiled 3D printer that lets men and women print their own cosmetics at home on demand, makeup could be entering the digital age.

Makeup Genius does have its limitations. There is not yet an Android version of the app; L’Oreal says that’s coming “by 2015.” And not all L’Oreal products are available to try on; only select brands are featured in the app. The version I saw did not allow you to purchase products directly from the app; that was also in development as of a month ago.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, makeup shoppers are limited to L’Oreal Paris products within the app. If you prefer, say, Avon or Olay, you’re stuck with a trip to the mall and a bottle of makeup remover. 

Still, at the price of free, Makeup Genius is worth a try –– if not to actually purchase makeup, then at least to glimpse a potential future of much of retail shopping. I’ve seen it, and it looks fabulous.

You can download Makeup Genius for iPhone or iPad here.

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