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How robots help design our beauty products


Dove haircare that reconstructs strands from within. Hourglass red lipstick that’s 100% vegan. TRESemmé shampoo that can lock in colour for longer. Just some of the new products created with a little help from Unilever’s bionic beauty experts. Meet the robots revolutionising our approach to innovation…

A robot used to help create beauty products for Unilever’s Dove brand at the Materials Innovation Factory in Liverpool

At the 120,000 sq ft Materials Innovation Factory (Opens in a pop-up window ) (MIF) in Liverpool, UK, robots are part of our team.

We’ve even named some of our favourites. Ariana, Shirley and Gwen are three of the completely unique machines working alongside more than 250 R&D experts to help develop superior science-backed beauty products that could otherwise take decades to create.

Co-founded by Unilever, the University of Liverpool and Research England, the MIF has the highest concentration of robots doing material chemistry in the world and they’re a game-changer for our €12 billion Beauty & Wellbeing business group. Here’s why…

A Unilever scientist with long brown hair examines hair samples prepared by a robot at the Materials Innovation Factory

Unlocking time to invent, explore and create

Each machine at the MIF is designed to crunch colossal amounts of data and maintain consistency across samples and testing. But this isn’t a case of robots replacing humans. It’s more that they’re able to take on time-consuming, repetitive jobs at an otherwise impossible pace, freeing up valuable hours for our brilliant in-house experts and collaborative partners to invent, explore and create.

Take Ariana. This beauty bot prepares multiple consistent hair fibre samples in seconds. These perfectly prepped strands are then used for research and testing as part of our scientists’ work to create haircare products for Unilever brands.

Dove’s Intensive Repair line, now on sale in the UK and the US, was developed with Ariana’s assistance, resulting in our patented Fibre Repair Actives technology that helps to reconstruct inner hair fibres, reducing breakage and repairing from within.

A beauty robot named Ariana prepares hair samples for Unilever product testing at the Materials Innovation Factory

Shirley’s mission is to wash and condition hair in a way that mimics human methods, just far faster, tackling 120 samples of hair every 24 hours. The robot rinses, detangles and blow-dries so that when researchers analyse different haircare product formulas they can be confident the samples up for comparison have been treated in exactly the same way.

TRESemmé’s Colour Radiance Booster range, now available in several markets around the world, was created using technology that Shirley helped discover. It’s scientifically proven to protect the hair surface, locking hues into hair fibres to keep colour looking fresher for longer.

A beauty robot named Shirley washes, rinses and detangles hair samples to help develop new product technology for Unilever

Meanwhile Gwen generates, measures and analyses foam – an important sensory attribute in products, with consumers associating the amount, quality and type of bubbles and froth with performance.

Foam is also used to deliver functional ingredients, so understanding its physical, chemical and consumer relevance is important in product development.

A beauty robot named Gwen analyses foam to help develop new product technology for Unilever

From artificial intelligence to real beauty innovations

Our beauty bot co-creators are a big part of MIF’s magic, but it’s also home to a wide variety of deeply bespoke beauty tech.

Artificial intelligence is one advance that’s helping us make progress at pace, allowing scientists to explore vast quantities of data in record time and translate discoveries into disruptive new formulas.

The vibrant yet fully vegan Hourglass Confession Red Zero lipstick is one such example. Red lipstick is usually formulated using carmine – a pigment requiring over 1,000 crushed beetles per product. But using AI, our experts were able to analyse colour combinations and possibilities that would have taken millions of physical experiments to replicate. The lipstick launched in 2021.

A photo of Hourglass 100% vegan and carmine-free Red Zero lipstick. One open product sits above an array of metallic red cases.

We are nothing without our science-backed products

Dr Samantha Samaras, Head of Science and Technology, Unilever Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care.

“We are nothing without our science-backed products,” says Dr Samantha Samaras, Head of Science and Technology, Unilever Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care.

“The MIF’s purpose is to create a community of talented future research leaders, exchanging ideas with academic colleagues and accelerating the discovery process. Our partnership here allows us to tap into the best minds and resources in robotics, which strengthens our insights and capabilities to power next-level innovation, scientific discovery, and produce products with superior performance.”

More than 200 patents were filed between 2020 and 2022 based on data generated at MIF, and Unilever has invested more than €100 million in the innovation hub in the past three years.

Science shaped our very first branded product – Sunlight soap – back in 1884. Now, more than a century later, it’s still driving how we do business at Unilever. Thanks to the MIF and our robot helpers, our quest for pioneering products backed by innovative ideas will continue to keep us future-fit for many years to come.

Watch this 60-second film to find out more about the MIF

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