Nulty+ shines a light on skin tone

Nulty+, UCL and Xicato have collaborated on research into the optimum light source specifications for foundation colour matching within cosmetics stores. The research has led to a new LED module from Xicato, experts revealed at LuxLive last week.

The innovative research for a leading global cosmetics brand was headed by designer Claire Hamill from London-based lighting design practice Nulty+, with support from fellow designers Anna Sandgren and Christina Hebert, alongside University College London (UCL) and supported by Xicato. The team developed a controlled experiment to ideal lighting conditions for foundation colour matching within cosmetics stores and concessions.

It is well known that lighting is critical for the successful  retailing of cosmetics and for a meaningful beauty consultation. However, customer feedback has suggested that quite often the light sources used to  light these stores are not always ideal for colour  matching products to skin tones.             

One of the largest issues facing cosmetic retailers is the number of customer complaints and returns due to mismatched foundation shades. Research aimed to prove that by finding the correct quality of light/                Spectral Power Distribution (SPD) for colour matching, customers would in turn have a better brand experience, therefore reducing product returns and ultimately increasing profits for cosmetics retailers.             

Accurate rendering of skin tone is a difficult challenge, because skin is such a rich and complex palette, consisting of many subtle shades"

Claire Hamill

The team split the lighting research into a number of different phases. The first stage of research consisted of a field day within five flagship department stores throughout central London. Visual analysis, interviews with customers and in-store beauty managers yielded a number of key findings and highlighted significant variation in light quality and customer satisfaction.

A focus group then targeted 30 visual managers and make-up artists from the cosmetics brand. Under controlled conditions each participant made a visual assessment of themselves during the application of foundation make-up under a total of 12 different lighting conditions.

Following the assessment, Hamill selected the six highest-ranking sources for more detailed analysis. Each LED light source has a number of variables including Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT), Colour Rendering Index (CRI) and Gamut (GAI).

Using this information an enhanced study under authentic cosmetic counter conditions was undertaken within the cosmetic brand’s London HQ. The space was divided into identical zones, each with only one variable. Independent volunteers from the cosmetics industry participated throughout the day with the overall aspiration of identifying which of the six LED modules would best render skin   tone and foundation match, thus meeting the need to reduce mismatches, whilst at the same time providing a perceived improvement in the quality of the illuminated environment.

 I find this a fantastic model of how to carry out market-based product research"

Roger Sexton

The procedure saw participants given three shades of foundation on their forearms, with the best colour match decided within daylight conditions. They were then moved between the zones and exposed consecutively to the different light variables. After each station they were asked the same set of questions to identify if there had been any distortions of foundation shade under the artificial lights.          

The module results were collated and analysed by UCL and from these results manufacturer Xicato has developed a commercial LED module entitled ‘Beauty Series’.                             

Claire Hamill, lighting designer at Nulty+, says: “Accurate rendering of skin tone is a difficult challenge, because skin is such a rich and complex palette, consisting of many subtle shades. Our studies show that people feel good when they look good. This means that people-centric lighting should be applicable anywhere it is important for people  to look  and feel good.”

Roger Sexton, VP of specifier services at  Xicato says: “Nulty+, together with UCL, defined a retail lighting  issue, weighed  up scientifically different possible solutions and now continue with an instore longitudinal study. I find this a fantastic model of how to carry out market-based product research.”

The Beauty Series LED module has been designed into a new lighting scheme at a flagship cosmetic store in Covent Garden, London by the team at Nulty+. Over a one-year test period, sales, dwell times and product returns will be compared with averages within other stores London wide.