You Don't Have to Be a Tetrachromat to See That People of Color Were Underrepresented in That Weird Virtual Beauty Pageant

Also in this week's beauty news: PUT DOWN THE ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP.
Publish date:
September 7, 2016
mac, YSL, technology, lipstick, fragrance, FDA, Beauty Pageants, Antibacterial, diversity

I just got back to the office from an incredibly fascinating MAC event. A few dozen beauty editors were introduced to Maureen Seaberg, who's a tetrachromat.

What's a tetrachromat, Marci?

I'm glad you asked.

A tetrachromat is someone who was born with four kinds of cone cells in their eyes. That means that, unlike we trichromats, Maureen can perceive as many as 100 million color variations that we can't see. (Or as she put it, "Being a tetrachromat is like living the 'What color is this dress?' debate for your entire life.") And her genetic gift inspired the Lipstensity collection, 24 lip colors that Maureen herself helped select.

Her ability immediately made me think of the Himba tribe of Namibia, who don't have a word for "blue" and consequently (according to psychologist Jules Davidoff) cannot distinguish it from green. I wanted to ask her if she'd heard of them and if she comes up with her own names for all the shades she sees, but alas, I didn't get the chance.

This isn't the last you'll hear about Liptensity — I'll show you all the colors soon — but in the meantime, here's some other interesting beauty stuff that went down this week.

Even robots struggle with diversity when it comes to beauty

Back in January, I told you about a virtual beauty pageant called Beauty.AI that would be judged by a robot jury — or, more specifically, algorithms that were trained, so to speak, to recognize beauty from a database of photos of faces.

Well, the results are in, and they're... not cool.

Of the 44 winners, almost all are white. There were six people of Asian descent chosen by the robots. Only one winner, a woman named Sheri, appears to have darker skin.

So, does this mean robots are racist? Not exactly.

"The problem here is with the lack of diversity of people and opinions in the databases used to train AI, which are created by humans," Motherboard explains.

"Our database had a lot more white people than, say, Indian people," Konstantin Kiselev, chief technology officer of Youth Laboratories, said in an interview with Vice staff writer Jordan Pearson. "Because of that, it’s possible that our algorithm was biased.”

Come on, humans! Get it together!

Buh-bye, antibacterial soap

Despite what your most germaphobic friends say, antibacterial soaps are no more effective than plain old soap-soap, but if they insist on believing otherwise, they're going to have to stock up on the stuff ASAP. Last week, the FDA officially banned 19 of the most common antibacterial-wash ingredients, including triclosan.

"Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections," the FDA statement reads. They also threw in some smart advice: "Washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others. If soap and water are not available and a consumer uses hand sanitizer instead, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that it be an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol."

The future of perfume shopping has arrived! (Well, it has arrived in London, at least.)

When you want to test out a fragrance at a store, what do you usually do? Spray it on a little card and wave it under your nose? Perhaps put a little on your wrist?

Well, YSL and Selfridges, the famous British department store, have come up with an utterly whimsical new way to get a feel for a perfume. They've constructed what is essentially a fragrance fitting room — a glass closet in which the Les Vestiaire scent of your choice wafts in gently from the walls, letting you experience it in a less wet-wrist-up-your-nostrils kind of way.

If you don't dig the scent that's been pumped in, you can have it pumped right out, clearing the air and preparing the room to give you a totally clean slate for the next Les Vestiaire parfum of your choice.

Pretty neat, right? And not at all like your recurring nightmares about being trapped in a confined space that's filling with something suffocating, you know?

  • Would you like trying on perfume that way?
  • Did you enter that robot-judged beauty pageant?
  • Do you swear by antibacterial soap?