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The future of beauty: 3D printing?

The technology is used in almost all industries and is now set to revolutionise make-up and skincare with products custom-made for individual users

3D printing looks set to be a gamechanger for how we choose and apply our make-up. Photograph: iStock

3D printing looks set to be a gamechanger for how we choose and apply our make-up. Photograph: iStock


Every woman knows how crucial it is to find the right shade of foundation for their skin. But what if you could not only have a custom shade made just for you, you could also have it applied to the exact areas on your face where you need it?

This may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but all this and more will be made possible by 3D printing, which is set to cause a revolution in the beauty industry. The technology has been around for more than 30 years but the latest application of biological printing means these truly individualised beauty options may eventually become the norm. And far from being a marketing gimmick, this technology looks set to be a gamechanger for how we choose and apply our make-up.

Colin Keogh, a 3D printing expert from UCD School of Engineering, explains that back in 1986, an American engineer named Charles Hull created a prototype for a process called stereolithography, which used acrylic-based materials to solidify from liquid to solid using ultraviolet lights. He eventually patented the first 3D printer, becoming known as “the father” of 3D printing.

“They were mainly used for research, advanced manufacturing and very niche applications until the mid-2000s,” says Keogh.

These days, you can buy a consumer 3D printer for about €100, but the technology is being applied in almost all industries. According to Keogh, there are now 3D printers for every material you can imagine – from plastics, metals, and ceramic, to bones, food, and cells. Indeed, he says, biological printing is the next frontier in 3D printing.

One area of aesthetics where 3D printing has already had a significant impact is in obtaining that Hollywood smile – the extremely popular Invisalign braces are all 3D-printed, making them one of the mostly common 3D-printed objects in the world. “Most people wouldn’t know they are 3D-printed,” admits Keogh.

Over the next five to 10 years, Keogh expects we will see more and more customisation options in consumer goods, all aided by 3D printing.

“Things like custom 3D-printed nails, replacement skin using your own harvested and cultured cells, and custom 3D-printed therapeutics and medicines including custom-blend skin creams, medications and health supplements will become more common on the high street,” he says.

It isn’t hyperbole to say this will revolutionise make-up and beauty, Keogh adds.

Unprecedented customisation options

“3D-printed cosmetics will allow unprecedented customisation options to customers. Paired with advanced 3D-scanning and imaging technologies, near perfect skin colours and shades can be imaged in person; then using 3D printers, your perfect colour or shade can be made for you on demand, right in store,” he explains. This “on demand” production could ultimately reduce the cost of products while increasing the options for consumers.

These innovations aren’t just coming down the tracks – many are already here. Back in 2016, cult beauty brand Smashbox asked consumers to choose from 120 different lipstick shades from their #BeLegendary collection. Their desired colour was then printed on a compact in any desired shape using a 3D printer.

Hailing itself as the “world’s first 3D make-up printer”, the Mink 3D printer boasts of being able to instantly transform any image into wearable make-up. Due to launch next year, the portable printer is apparently capable of printing 16.7 million colours.

In a similar vein, the Opté Precision Skin System scans your face with blue light to identify age spots and pimples and uses a facial-recognition algorithm to determine each blemish’s size, shape, and colour. It then prints the perfect amount of foundation to cover them. Beauty editors raved about the “spotless, smooth skin” the wireless device created.

Another innovation is 3D-printed sheet masks, which Neutrogena unveiled at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show and is due to launch before the end of 2019. Called Neutrogena MaskiD, facial-recognition technology allows it to scan and create a 3D model of your face in order to provide you with a mask that fits your face perfectly – unlike the current ones, which can leak the valuable serum everywhere. It can even use different active ingredients for different areas of your face.

These are just some examples of how 3D printing could shake up the beauty industry, but theoretically, anything is possible, says Keogh.

“New products will be developed, new applications for cosmetics and beauty will arise, and these will create whole new industries and niche areas in the field,” says Keogh.