I don’t generally think of wearing lipstick as a high-tech experience. But while applying a custom shade of bright red this morning, I realized that’s exactly what I’d just had. I’d taken a picture of my outfit on my smartphone, and an app generated a few colors to go with it. I then got to try each of them on using AR filters. Once I found the shade I liked, I hit a button, and the $299 Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Sur Mesure printed a pea-sized amount for me to wear.
At its core, the YSL Rouge Sur Mesure is a lipstick printer. It’s wild because, as a brand, Yves Saint Laurent conjures images of haute couture and red carpet galas — not gadgets and mixed reality. Then again, YSL didn’t actually develop the tech behind this device. That’d be L’Oreal, which happens to own the Yves Saint Laurent Beauty brand.
L’Oreal is one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world, but what you may not know is it’s invested a lot in developing the next generation of beauty tech. It’s created a wearable UV sensor, a sticker that can detect your skin’s pH levels, a water-saving salon hair care system, its own “digital” makeup line, and at CES 2020, it demoed Perso — a customizable skincare printer. That device is the underlying tech powering the YSL Rouge Sur Mesure. The only difference is that instead of serums, this device prints lip color.
The Rouge Sur Mesure isn’t that different from the Perso demo I saw more than two years ago. The way it works is you pair the device to your smartphone and then insert three lipstick cartridges into the base. Each cartridge set falls within a color palette — red, pink, orange, nude — and each tube has its own NFC tag. That tag allows the device to recognize each individual cartridge, its expiration date, and how much is left. The first time you load up the cartridges, you’ll be prompted to calibrate, and then you’re ready to go. The whole process takes about five minutes.
Each color palette can generate up to 1,000 shades, so if you buy all four, you could get up to 4,000. You can either go with L’Oreal’s presets, or you can customize your own within the companion app in a few ways.
First, you can pick a shade from a color wheel. Second, you can take a picture of an object — say your pink Kirby plush — and try to recreate the shade. Lastly, you can snap a photo of your outfit, and the app will generate colors that will either match or clash with what you’re wearing. (The latter is for those who like to be a bit more daring with their fashion.) Any shade you like can be saved so you can go back to it later.
Perso and the Rouge Sur Mesure also share a similar design DNA. The bottom base swings out to reveal three cartridge slots. The disc up top is actually a portable compact that can be detached so you can take your lipstick to go. What’s new here is the retractable lip brush that magnetically attaches to the back of the device. Regardless of what you think about how the device looks, you have to admit that it’s both clever and functional.
I was pleasantly surprised by the app, too. I’ve tested my fair share of beauty and wellness tech. Oftentimes, a cool idea gets derailed by a bug-ridden app. It’s a flaw with many connected devices — how are you supposed to get the hardware working if the app keeps crashing on you? While I occasionally lost Bluetooth connectivity, the app never crashed on me. There wasn’t a noticeable delay between me telling the app to create a color and the device dispensing the precise amount of lipstick necessary. The virtual try-on feature reminded me of Instagram and TikTok beauty filters, albeit for lipstick only.
Creating new shades is most of the fun. The color wheel was by far the easiest way to create a shade. You just tap a point on the wheel, and you’re pretty much done. The Shade Match feature is a better option if you know exactly which color you want. Whether it works depends on how exact you want the shade to be. I tried shade matching to a pic of Taylor Swift wearing red lipstick but no dice. It got very close, just not that exact shade. I had better luck with actual objects. I snapped photos of two of my favorite lipsticks, Pat McGrath’s Obsession and Elson 2. I bought both pre-pandemic, so they’re definitely past their estimated expiration date. Was it cool that I could dupe the colors without actually having to re-buy them? Yes, yes, it was.
But my favorite option was the Shade Stylist, which creates a selection of shades based on what you’re wearing. I was skeptical when it suggested a nude-ish pink to “clash” with a green top and black pants, but I ended up liking it. I’ve never liked nude shades before, but this has me questioning if I just didn’t know the best way to wear them.
The Rouge Sur Mesure, at times, feels like a gimmick. It’s hard not to get that impression when you look at the price. That said, makeup, in general, is typically expensive. I’ve got no less than 10 tubes of lipstick in my makeup drawer. A couple cost me as little as $5, but most cost between $20 and $38 because I am a sucker for Fenty and Pat McGrath. YSL’s less techy lipstick also costs $35–$38 a tube. These aren’t even the most expensive lipstick out there. It’s debatable whether an expensive lipstick is better — some people swear yes, while others say it’s marketing. This device dispenses YSL’s formula, which is on the pricier end but not as egregious as other luxury brands.
All this to say, I’ve already spent $299 on lipstick in the past few years, just in smaller increments. (Seeing that written out will haunt me for a long time.) If you’re the type of person that wants a lot of variety without having to buy several shades of lipstick to mix and match, the price is suddenly less ridiculous.
I’ve also run out of room to store these tubes in an easy-to-find way. This device isn’t exactly small, but it could theoretically save me a lot of space. Obviously, the more lipstick you have, the more space it saves. The main downside is it only comes in one texture — a velvet cream matte — and each cartridge set costs an additional $89. If you wanted all four, you’d end up spending over $600.
I’m also hesitant about how the Rouge Sur Mesure relies on cartridges. On the one hand, I’ve gone ham experimenting with all kinds of shades, and all my cartridges still have over 97 percent left in them. On the other, if this device gets discontinued, I’ve just spent a small fortune on a device that I can’t use once my last cartridges run out. It’s not dissimilar to when a makeup line discontinues a color but at a much higher cost.
I don’t expect the average person to go for the Rouge Sur Mesure. But one thing that struck me while using it was how low-tech this high-tech experience felt. A futuristic lipstick printer it may be, but it slotted so easily into my daily routine. It didn’t take any real tech savvy to use because all the disparate elements came together in an intuitive way. This might be a device that’s for first adopters, but it’s also part of a larger push in the beauty industry to use technology as a form of personalization.
All over Instagram, you’ll find ads for skincare and haircare startups that claim to use tech to create products that are custom formulated for you. It’s a hell of a promise — especially when you consider how much money goes down the drain finding products that work for you. I’ve tried several myself, but based on my experiences, it still feels like early days. The Rouge Sur Mesure, however, feels like the most tangible manifestation of that vision right now. It’s not perfect, but it’s easy to envision a future where you shell out for a makeup or skincare printer that relies on refillable cartridges. In fact, it’s already happening as brands opt for more eco-friendly packaging. This is just the next step in that evolution.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge