Beauty is big business: In 2017, it was valued at over $532 billion, according to Orbis Research. That’s thanks in large part to disruptors in the space, like Glossier and Drunk Elephant. But the latest wave of brands shaking up the beauty world are bringing with them a new trend: personalization.
Companies like Prose, Belle Bar, Function of Beauty and Form offer customizable hair-care products that are changing the way we wash and condition our hair. Their products allow customers to either select ingredients that will address their concerns—thinning hair, weak roots and the like—or fill out a consultation form to determine the ingredients for them.
Tianna Bell, Belle Bar’s co-founder and marketing director, said she thinks customizable hair care is the “marriage between convenience and education.” You’re learning more about what sort of ingredients can help solve your hair-care woes, but you’re not having to do the heavy lifting. Instead, these products can do it for you.
“There are so many different hair needs and a lot of trial and error and switching to satisfy them all,” Lauren Vaynberg, the associate planning director for brand transformation company Burns Group, said. “Mass hair-care brands today have different products dedicated to each of those benefits, so it forces you to make a choice and it leaves those other needs unsatisfied.”
It’s also a way for consumers to find a something of a hair cure-all, Paul Michaux, one of the co-founders of Prose, said. “You don’t have to make any compromises anymore,” he said. “If you have more than two different concerns with your hair, basically you have to mix and match a few different products in your bathroom but nothing might actually be working for you. It’s hard to find something that will cover all your needs.”
When crafting their products, which are sold as a set of a shampoo, a conditioner and a hair mask, Prose takes into consideration not just the makeup of a person’s hair, but also factors like diet and where they live to determine things like pollution and the water quality. Not all is predetermined, either. Customers can select a fragrance for their their hair-care set and specify that they want their products to be gluten-free, for example, or silicon-free. And with each refill, Prose asks customers follow-up questions to determine if they should alter the makeup of their product. “The way we see Prose is not one-stop products,” Michaux said. “You’re not going to have one formula that you follow for your whole life.”
They’re also a saving grace for people who have struggled to find products that suited their needs in drug and department stores. Both Form and Belle Bar specialize in creating products for people of color, a demographic that has been notoriously underserved by the mainstream beauty industry. People of color are “the majority of the world and spend more money in this category than anyone else,” Tristan Walker, CEO of Form’s parent company Walker & Company, said.
Bell also blames the rise of companies like Belle Bar, which also focuses on creating products for women on color, on the growing public obsession with wellness and health. “Wellness is like an octopus,” she said. “If you start it in any way in your life, it will wrap its way around every area of your life.”
Personalized products that give consumers detailed descriptions of what’s in them and why also help satisfy public demand for greater transparency when it comes to beauty products. Realizing the lack of awareness she herself had about what was in mainstream hair- and skin-care products is part of what propelled Bell to launch her brand. “We were starting to find out how many harmful things are in what we use every day,” Bell said. “We were really taken aback by that and thought there should be a brand that practices full transparency on what’s in your products.”
These hair-care lines aren’t old—Prose launched in 2017, Form in June of that year and Belle Bar just nine months ago. And the predominant way all three have gotten the word out is via social media, whether it’s paid marketing or organic chatter. Vaynberg said this is part of the special sauce that helps custom hair-care companies win customers.
“These brands are reaching consumers at the exact right time,” she said. “It’s letting them click through, take a customized consultation quiz to learn all about the brand and directing them to purchase. It really disrupts the shopping journey that has been so standard in hair care.”