A blue box arrived at my doorstep. It said it was custom-made to meet my haircare needs. It promised great texture, volume, and whatnot, but it turned out to be underwhelming. I'm talking about personalised haircare and skincare brands that are wildly burgeoning in the market. It's all I see when I open Instagram. These brands formulate their products after we take an online quiz. We're asked plenty of questions — from our food habits and lifestyle to our hair and skin quality. In fact, we even list out how thick our hair is — is it thicker than that of a fine thread? AI generates our hair or skin health report; tailor-made products are suggested based on our answers. We can pick the products' colour and fragrance, which are then delivered in 7-10 days.
When I placed my first order, I was excited, not gonna lie! Perhaps it was a fleeting thought, but I imagined good days were here for my hair. I have curly hair, and most brands that I've used were, well, useless. Here's what I received in my blue box: shampoo, conditioner, and a pre-shampoo mask. The mask was sort of decent, but the shampoo and conditioner didn't work for me — my hair was drier than ever, and although the brand said it takes a couple of washes for my hair to adjust to the products, it didn't help. I ordered thrice because the brand convinced me to take an annual subscription. Of course, I've cancelled the subscription. The brand said the shampoo doesn't froth much because it has no chemicals, but then I've been using vegan and chemical-free shampoos, and they froth alright. So, I didn't get why people were raving about these brands on the internet. Were they sponsored? Maybe the shampoos didn't work for me? I've decided to ask others who've tried these brands out.
"Last year, I decided to give a brand's hair products a shot. I loved their packaging, how personalised it is, and the process of choosing something so specific for my thick curls. Unfortunately, once I used it, it just didn't work for me. The daily grime wouldn't wash off well and it felt sticky to an extent that I had to ditch it for my conventional shampoo. That experience deterred me from trying customised purchases, despite being very invested in their campaigns and ideas. The serum was decent though and I continued using it. I didn't repurchase anything from the aforementioned brand," says Paulami Sen, a freelance writer and content strategist.
So, Is It A Marketing Gimmick?
After three purchases, I figured its best to understand a doctor's perspective. Dr. Syed Shazia Fatima — a Hyderabad-based cosmetic dermatologist, says, "I am a huge fan of customised medical care, and when it comes to skincare or haircare, my stance is no different. From the start of my practice, I have made sure that no two prescriptions of mine are same unless the situation really demands it. Each of us is unique, with a different make and habits, and customisation is the key to getting the best results in any situation."
When asked if we need customised skincare or haircare, Dr. Shazia says, "I wouldn't trust a brand to customise skin or hair needs for you. It takes a lot of planning, and though I am sure some brands are backed by science and researchers, I strongly believe they can't replace a doctor's expertise or even perhaps an aesthetician. A doctor can help with the science and experience, and an aesthetician definitely with their expertise, which is usually not backed by scientific studies. You'll notice the latter with your hairstylist — they might not exactly know why a product may suit you, but their recommendations are sometimes pretty on point given their experience and exposure."
I've recently stumbled upon another brand that offers solutions after calculating our doshas. To understand it, I took its quiz too. There were questions like patterns of sleep, teeth, size of eyes, lashes, etc. In fact, I was asked how often I feel thirsty, hungry or what my social skills were like. My result said my health issues are caused due to an elevated state of doshas (internal body mechanisms) in the body. While I didn't understand it clearly, the result said I needed multivitamins, especially Vitamin C and E.
I asked Dr. Shazia's opinion on brands that are formulating skincare based on doshas. She says, "Doshas — a beautiful field of Ayurveda that had a lot of work done on it back in the 20th century, is an age-old science of temperaments that originated in ancient Mesopotamia. I love this science and truly believe that one's temperament can correlate to one's health and likewise their hair and skin issues. The customisation with such parameters in mind is great. However, I am skeptical if a brand is capable of identifying one's dosha or temperament accurately, as it requires years of study to be able to "diagnose" and if it can be done on a wide range, rather than a one on one basis. One on one would be an ideal diagnostic situation and once detailed history is taken, considering allergies. I'd render them safe only after knowing what ingredients are used too. It is definitely a great idea and I hope to see more of it done in a practical, proper way and not just as a marketing gimmick."
Are Consumers Looking For More Choices?
Well, yes! Aparnna Hajirnis, a freelance writer and journalist, says, "I feel customised skin and hair care need to be more democratised when it comes to choosing fragrances and products. For eg., almost all Freewill's products offer similar fragrances, and that too fruity. I am averse to fruity fragrances in hair and skin care. I prefer floral fragrances. Also, I feel you use one product more than others. My conditioners last more than my shampoo because I don't always condition my hair but sometimes use a live-in serum. But with customised products, you end up buying the entire kit because you don't have the option to choose individual products." Aparnna has tried several brands and discovered them online while looking for a hair loss cure and when she wanted to incorporate paraben and sulfate-free products.
Beauty Products Are Having Their Moment Though
Customised lipsticks, foundations, and creams are having their moment. Mainly, Tinge by Sabrina — a cruelty-free, vegan beauty brand that crafts various beauty products. Aakanksha Singh Devi, AVP, Content at LBB, says, "A friend knew Sabrina personally, and suggested I check out the products. So, of course, I did and loved the product, the process, and Sabrina herself. It's a vegan, cruelty-free brand that you can customise. That doesn't happen often, but when it does in the form of Tinge, it was magic."
Padmaja Konisetti, Head of Press and Communications at British Deputy High Commission, also tried Tinge. She says, "Lipsticks available in the market are largely designed for fair-skinned people without realising that most of us have brown skin tone. I like the concept where they design lipsticks depending on your skin tone, occasion, and choice. I also liked that they help you identify which shades work better." When asked what made her choose a custom beauty brand when there are several brands in the market, she quips, "I like lipsticks that are subtle and not loud. The ones available in the market didn't work for my skin tone. Also, these custom-made ones are not mass-produced and hence do not use harmful preservations. This was another step in my attempt to move to eco-friendly brands."Brands like LipHue, Emcee Beauty offer customised lipsticks.
Now, this brings us to the main question — do we need customised haircare or skincare? It's still too early to answer. While most of these products work a lot like conventional skincare or haircare range, it's best to seek a doctor's advice for dire conditions or if we're looking at targeted solutions. Also, customised skincare/haircare are priced higher than conventional products. So, it's worth asking if we're paying more and gaining less. That said, BRB, I'm off to check out some customised lipsticks because those are the only products worth trying out, from what I see.
All pictures are used for representation purpose and are license-free from Unsplash.