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Technology has always been the beating heart of the beauty industry. Without it, we’d have stopped at milk baths and olive oil, never to know the wonders of multiple-weight hyaluronic acid serums or the Dyson Airwrap. And perhaps no technology has been more pervasive over the past year than ChatGPT, a generative artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot by OpenAI that answers prompts input by users. Broadly speaking, it can help you do just about anything you ask it to — plan trips, write code, develop business strategies, edit emails, or, as I was about to find out, successfully overhaul my skin-care regimen with just a few back-and-forths.
“Generative AI” works by learning from big swaths of data on the Internet, which it synthesizes, allowing it to create brand-new content in the form of text, images, audio, and code. “The development of AI is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone,” Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder, wrote last March. “Entire industries will reorient around it. Businesses will distinguish themselves by how well they use it.”
Make no mistake: The beauty industry isn’t behind in utilizing AI. Neutrogena Skin360, for example, uses a form of AI technology that scans your skin for potential needs and delivers product recommendations in real time. The Aesthete Genius app is an illustrative consultation tool that uses artificial intelligence to show you what your face might look like with Botox or filler. Prose launched an AI-driven customizable skin-care line that has upwards of 15 million unique combinations. Sephora, Ulta Beauty, LVMH, and Estée Lauder all utilize AI in some manner to help customize recommendations, allow you to see the effects of skin care on your face, and help make beauty more accessible for people with disabilities.
Yet, the possibilities for using generative AI span beyond what traditional beauty companies are tapping it for presently. AI-first companies — like OpenAI — that aren’t affiliated with the beauty industry still learn from publicly available information, including information on the internet widely available about skin care. Given this, ChatGPT is able to answer broad questions about which products to use, advise you generally about lifestyle habits to change for different results, and even devise regimens based on what you tell it about your skin.
Given this, I devised an experiment where I’d get a skin-care regimen from ChatGPT, use it for a month, and consult with dermatologists along the way to see their perception of how things were going. Importantly, OpenAI’s usage policies disallow using ChatGPT to treat or advise someone on a health condition or use models for diagnostic or treatment services for medical issues. Right now, skin care is a gray area. While some may use it to ask for answers to dermatological conditions (rosacea, eczema, acne, and beyond), others might just be looking to try a new cleanser or test a new serum. Given that I’ve been in the beauty industry for about a decade, I felt like I could vet recommendations fairly easily and alter my prompts to get a routine that I could get behind.
“I am looking for skin-care product advice,” I wrote to ChatGPT at the end of November. “I have dry, rosacea-prone skin and a good amount of hyperpigmentation. I’m looking for a full skin-care overhaul. Please provide me with recommendations.” After a few entries where I altered my prompts, adding that I liked “clean” products and was willing to splurge, ChatGPT gave me the rundown of what I should be using and avoiding, along with short product descriptions not unlike those you’d find on your favorite beauty retailer’s website:
Cleanser: Tata Harper Refreshing Cleanser ($88)
A gentle, moisturizing cleanser ideal for sensitive skin, made with natural ingredients.
Toner: Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner ($38)
Alcohol-free, hydrating, and soothing with antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 and hyaluronic acid.
Serum: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum ($78)
A vitamin C serum to help with hyperpigmentation, brightening, and firming, made with clean ingredients.
Moisturizer: Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream ($300)
Luxurious and deeply hydrating, perfect for dry skin, with cutting-edge skin rejuvenation technology.
Sunscreen: Supergoop! Zincscreen 100% Mineral Lotion SPF 40 ($44)
A lightweight mineral sunscreen that’s gentle on sensitive and rosacea-prone skin.
Cleanser: Use the same Tata Harper Refreshing Cleanser.
Toner: Use the same Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner.
Serum: Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Serum ($370)
This luxurious face oil is formulated with a blend of plant-based oils and antioxidants. It’s designed to nourish, hydrate, and protect sensitive and dry skin. [Ed. note: ChatGPT originally offered me a less expensive rose-spiked serum, but rose scents don’t agree with me, so I asked for a replacement.]
Moisturizer: Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Overnight Cream ($75)
Rich in nutrients and natural botanicals for deep overnight hydration. [Ed. note: Originally, ChatGPT recommended Goop by Juice Beauty Replenishing Night Cream, a product that was discontinued in 2020 — a reminder that Chat GPT doesn’t deliver up-to-the-minute information — so I chose the next-closest option.]
Treatment (optional, two to three times a week): Herbivore Botanicals Blue Tansy Resurfacing Clarity Mask ($50)
A gentle exfoliating mask perfect for sensitive skin types.
- Introduce new products gradually to monitor skin reactions.
- Consult a dermatologist for personalized advice, especially for conditions like rosacea.
- Consistency is key for seeing results, but also listen to your skin and adjust as needed.
Impressed by the breadth of information ChatGPT shared with me and refreshed to see that none of the suggestions were sponsored or ad-driven as we’ve become accustomed to with Instagram, I had my eight new products in tow and was ready to get started — but not without first consulting a couple of dermatologists to get their take on what I was about to use.
Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, told me that she “ found the suggestions regarding ingredients and formulations pretty accurate and a great starting point,” but added that she usually starts people with rosacea on a very minimal routine, without products like toner, serums, and masks. Shereene Idriss, MD, a New York City board-certified dermatologist and founder of skin-care brand Pillowtalk Derm, agreed with the pared-back approach, telling me that I needed to “focus your skin-care routine on your biggest skin issue” rather than addressing dryness and hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
This feedback hits on the two biggest considerations that those using large AI models (like ChatGPT) should presently take into consideration. First, these models are very good at doing exactly what we ask of them, but they’re only as good as the information that they’re trained on. That could potentially mean content that hasn’t been fact-checked or vetted by experts. Second, these models aren’t yet able to reason or give nuance that you’d get from a professional.
Both of these points are presently being addressed by OpenAI. Early this year, the AI behemoth is set to launch the GPT Store, which you can think of like Apple’s App Store. It will allow people to create custom GPTs, which means that a brand or a skin-care expert could train a chatbot on its own information, resulting in answers aligning tightly with its own core set of values or intel. These custom GPTs can be shared and sold.
Simultaneously, OpenAI has been working on achieving Artificial General Intelligence, a distinction that has different definitions depending on who you ask but is broadly understood as computers being as smart as humans, with the ability to reason and self-teach. This means that when asked to overhaul a skin-care regimen for someone with dry skin, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation, it could say something like: “Hey, take a step back and address just one thing first” or “You don’t need to overhaul your skin-care regimen completely — maybe just try one new product.” While many AI experts have posited that we’re close to achieving this, OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman recently said that it’s not coming in 2024 (from OpenAI, at least).
Without superhuman suggestions, I diligently followed my skin-care routine each morning and night, finding that the recommendations were thorough and adequately addressed my skin’s issues over time. The cleanser was soothing on my complexion, removing dirt without stripping my skin. The toner was a nice bonus product that I don’t usually use, leaving my skin feeling incredibly smooth and prepped (again, without totally stripping it of natural oils). The serums brightened and helped to tamp down inflammation, leaving my complexion less red. And the moisturizers felt like I was cocooning my complexion morning and night.
When I traveled to a drier climate, Chat GPT told me to limit the use of the clarifying mask to once a week, and add in a humidifier, avoid hot showers, “consider a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, which can help improve skin hydration and reduce inflammation,” and exfoliate infrequently. It also suggested that I not “hesitate to seek professional advice for more persistent issues.” To me, this felt as if it was opening up a pathway for AI to be used hand-in-hand with medical or aesthetic assistance.
Dr. Levin agreed, saying that there were limitations to AI “such as incorrect diagnosis, reliance of AI solely rather than co-management with a health care provider, unnecessary overuse and selling of products.” But she added that there’s also an incredible opportunity. “High-quality health care is not simple, but I do firmly believe that AI is a tool that will enhance medical practitioners’ skills in patient care and management when used responsibly.”
By the end of the month, using eight products daily felt like a lot of work, so I asked ChatGPT to pare down my routine to just the essentials. It suggested a morning cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, and a nightly cleanser and moisturizer. As I slathered them on one night in a sprint to get into bed, I realized that the whole experiment was, in many ways, a test of my own agency. Did I achieve my best skin ever? Not no. My complexion consistently felt calmer, less red, and well-hydrated. It wasn’t necessarily any brighter than before, but I suspect I’ll need more dermatological interventions to address my hyperpigmentation (something that ChatGPT can’t account for, again, because this should be in the purview of a professional and out of the realm of a chatbot). As a nice bonus, some keratosis pilaris that has always hung out around my jawline was shown the door by the toner, which contains anti-inflammatory aloe vera.
ChatGPT is the Internet. It’s the calculator. We need to learn how to use it because there’s no going back to a time when it didn’t exist. If we can harness it in the right way (and that’s a big if), the possibilities for what we can achieve for our skin and otherwise are vast.
Read more stories about the intersection of beauty and technology:
- Would You Get a Manicure From a Robot? Renuka Apte Thinks So.
- The ChatGPT of Fragrance Has Arrived
- If Someone on TV Looks Perfect, They Probably Had “Digital Work” Done
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