IMAGE: ST PHOTO
If you tend to be stumped for answers whenever a beauty adviser asks about your skin concerns, you can find them using the nifty skin-check machines some brands have at their beauty counters.
At least five beauty brands here have started to use gadgets to help customers take a much closer look at their complexions, so they can pick suitable lotions and potions to improve them.
From pore size, sebum level to the amount of sun damage below the skin's surface and cell turnover, these gadgets are able to churn out a report on the microscopic details of your skin in minutes.
The levels of sophistication of the machines vary across the brands and most of these services are free of charge.
SK-II was one of the first to introduce this service. It has been using its Magic Ring skin-check device since 2012.
In April, the brand upped the ante by becoming the first to add a Skin DNA Analysis service. The brand claims it has identified three genes which are linked to the quality of one's complexion. By assessing the customer's DNA for those genes, they will supposedly get a better idea of the potential for more flawless skin.
"This new service is set to redefine the skin-counselling experience, making it more personalised and in-depth," says Mr Taro Yamaguchi, the brand's global scientific communications manager.
Last November, when French brand Ioma debuted in Singapore at Robinsons Orchard, it brought along its swanky Sphere 2 machines that cost 25,000 euros (S$42,500) each. Resembling an astronaut's helmet, it makes use of microelectromechanical systems, a type of multi-purpose technology used in everything from aeronautics to medicine, to analyse the skin.
The gadgets at Ioma's counters are the same ones it has been selling to dermatologists since 2002.
Other brands which have also introduced such tools at their counters are: Lab Series (a mobile one replaced a larger machine in 2009), Biotherm (in April) and the multi-label Derma Center at Westgate (in January).
By next month, Derma Center, which stocks SkinCeuticals, Vichy and La-Roche Posay products, will also ship in another two machines - the Derm Analyzer (which checks both the skin and hair) and SkinCeuticals SkinScope (right, which uses LED light technology to reveal underlying skin damage).
When most other beauty brands rely on their beauty advisers' eyes and sense of touch (such as Clarins), or digital questionnaires on lifestyle habits (such as Skin Inc and Clinique) to get a sense of their customers' needs, why are others turning to the devices?
For some, the newfangled equipment is part of a strategic marketing plan, as they give the impression that the brand's products are cutting-edge.
"The skin-analysis devices are the DNA of the brand," says Ioma's chief executive Jean Michel Karam. "After all, the brand's devices existed before the skincare line was launched in 2010."
The machines, which offer personalised recommendations, are especially relevant at Ioma as it also offers bespoke skincare formulas. Almost every customer who visits an Ioma counter gets their skin tested.
These contraptions - which profile and record the skin reports of each user - also let customers track the progress of their issues and judge the efficacy of the products.
Ms Christine Goh, brand manager of Lab Series, notes: "Our Mobile Skin Analyzer objectively measures and analyses, removing any guesswork on our customer's skin condition, and allows them to measure the improvements over time.
"Credibility is built instantly, heightening the consumer experience and fostering his trust."
Eight out of every 10 Lab Series customers take up the skin tests when they visit the store or counter.
And, of course, the gadgets - which are considerably more convincing than the sales pitch of the beauty advisers - are money-spinners too.
At Ioma, Lab Series and Biotherm, more than half of the customers who have their skin analysed by the tools end up buying something.
Biotherm customers who have had a closer look at their skin with the brand's device are also more likely to buy one more item than the others who did not try the gadget, says the brand's training manager Ms Diana Ng.
So, perhaps, it would be prudent to read the minutely detailed data churned out by these machines with some scepticism.
As Dr Chan Yuin Chew, a dermatologist at Dermatology Associates at Gleneagles Medical Centre, notes: "While these machines offer an objective way to document a person's skin condition before and after treatment, they also pick up fine details and will reveal minor skin imperfections not visible to the naked eye, even in those with good complexions.
"One should not be unduly alarmed and feel the pressure to correct every single 'abnormality'."
Dr Rachael Teo, a consultant and specialist in dermatology at Raffles Skin & Aesthetics also adds that these machines cannot replace a thorough history-taking and visual examination by an experienced doctor, especially for people with skin conditions such as eczema and severe acne.
So, are these skin-analysis machines at the beauty counters useful devices or mere sales tools?
Urban road-tests four of them to find out.
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on July 4, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.