atima lui nudest
photo: Ashley Soong; Courtesy of Atima Lui

Atima Lui has a very deep, rich skin tone. As she tells me over the phone on a scorching July afternoon, her father was a South Sudanese refugee, which attributes to her skin's depth and undertone. “My skin tone comes from East Africa near the Nile River,” she states proudly.

But having that deep skin tone and growing up in the overwhelmingly white town of Topeka, Kansas, had a detrimental effect on Lui’s self-confidence and feeling of belonging in the world. “No one really looked like me growing up,” she says. “So I always thought I was the minority, right? That no one else looked like me, that I didn’t match beauty standards, and that subconsciously there was something wrong with me.”

Trying to shop for makeup in the beauty world, where deep-skinned women were not being catered to, certainly didn’t help. Up until Fenty Beauty launched in 2017 with 40 foundation shades that were heralded for their diverse range of deep and dark options, beauty brands that created makeup for skin as deep as Lui’s were extremely rare — and the brands that did cater to her, Lui recalls, had maybe one shade that sort of matched her skin tone.

The exclusion Lui and other women of color consistently faced — and are still facing today — when shopping for makeup eventually drove Lui to found Nudest, a company revolving around artificial intelligence that helps shoppers of all backgrounds identify their true skin tones so they can make more informed online makeup purchases.

Nudest just landed its first-ever brand partner, and by the way things sound, it won’t be long until Lui’s groundbreaking technology is considered a necessity across all digital beauty shopping platforms. Because Nudest does far more than just match skin tones, folks.

At its core, Nudest's skin-tone-matching technology, called Nudemeter, is an easy-to-use online tool that can definitively identify your skin tone.

And though for some people that might not sound like a big deal, it's actually pretty revolutionary — especially for women of color who've struggled to find brands that carry products matching the depth and the specific undertone of their skin. 

In a more general sense, people of any skin tone who prefer to shop for makeup online or don't have easy physical access to beauty retailers such as Sephora and Ulta can benefit greatly from a tool that definitively states what types and shades of makeup a person will match — and that's because online makeup swatches are way less reliable than one would think.

"Something that people don't know is that depending on the device you're using, the way that your screen renders color is different with its own unique recipe. So even if [we] are all looking at the same website together on the same day, the way we see those colors will be different," Lui says.

Ergo, you might think the foundation you're buying online looks like it has the right depth or undertones, but it probably doesn't. You truly have no way to tell without going to a store — and even then, in-store lighting is a whole other can of worms when it comes to shade matching.

In June, Spktrm Beauty became the first brand to adopt Nudemeter onto its website, allowing customers to determine their unique skin tones and get personally matched to a specific Spktrm foundation shade.

From what brand founder Jasmine Glass tells me, the partnership was basically fate. Lui and Glass are both members of The Wing, a women-only workspace based in New York City. When The Wing launched its own in-house messaging system a few months back, Lui and Glass mystically connected and began talking about their respective business prospects.

Glass quickly realized that Lui's technology could majorly change her brand for the better. "We had just launched, and I realized very quickly that with inclusive shade ranges, a new issue emerges in the online space, which is that most people have absolutely no idea what shade to get," she says. Until meeting Lui, Glass had been fielding customer questions about foundation shades by herself with Instagram direct messaging. Upon hearing of Nudemeter, "A light came on. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is a dream come true,'" Glass says. 

Additionally, Lui noticed Spktrm's wide range of diversity both in its its marketing materials and its products (it currently offers one foundation, Happyface, in a whopping 50 shades). She thought its variation of foundation shades made it a perfect place for Nudemeter to live — because what's the point of offering skin-matching technology if a brand only has a narrow field of mostly pale options?

Glass quickly asked Lui about setting up a partnership; a couple months later Nudemeter was introduced on Spktrm's website.

The way customers use Nudemeter on Spktrm's site is quick and easy.

When visiting SpktrmBeauty.com, users can click the "Match Your Skin Tone" button in the menu at the top of the web page. Nudemeter will direct them to a short quiz that asks how light or deep their skin is, how it reacts to sun exposure, what color their veins appear, what type of makeup coverage they prefer, and more. 

After the quiz, users are asked to upload a well-lit selfie. As Lui describes it, "Nudemeter’s artificial intelligence balances the lighting in that selfie and predicts the color of your skin based on the neural network, which is fancy language for machine learning that has figured out how to understand the color of someone’s skin."

After analyzing users' quiz answers and selfies, Nudemeter provides statements with details about their skin tones and types alongside recommendations for specific Spktrm foundations in the shades that Nudemeter has determined to be their closest matches.

The skin-matching tech ultimately empowers shoppers to make confident decisions, but it also flourishes Spktrm's business by encouraging more sales and simplifying the shopping experience as a whole.

The tech has only been featured on the Spktrm site for a short amount of time, so Glass is still waiting to hear more in-depth customer feedback about Nudemeter. Nevertheless, she's confident it'll do nothing but improve the commerce experience for everyone.

"I want people to have a comfortable user experience without guesswork or worrying about the annoyance of returning items that are wrong for them," she says. "I think it’s really cool that you can go through this process and actually learn more about your skin during it and then have all of those options that are right for you as we launch new products — I think it’s very helpful for people to have things pared down, especially when there are so many products available, and we get to that space in a very fast-paced world where people have short attention spans — it’s good to just be able to see what products work for you and cut through the noise."

Lui adds, "Unlike in other e-commerce industries, or consumer industries, where someone returns something and it's in good condition, you can just resell it — for hygienic purposes, you can't do that with beauty brands. If someone orders multiple [foundation] shades to use their home as a Sephora staging room and try on different colors and return back what doesn't work — that's bad for the environment and that's bad for business. That's also what we're trying to solve."

But Nudemeter's purpose goes far beyond simply helping customers find shade matches (an already valiant purpose). When data comes into play, the picture gets much, much bigger.

As Nudest collects customers' quiz answers, selfies, and shade matches, it stores that data to be relayed back to the business owners. That way, brands can see what skin tones their customers actually need to buy — and determine if there are significant demographics they're leaving out of their shade ranges.

"We teach brands with a data-driven approach how they can be better, and that’s also part of our technology — empowering brands like Spktrm Beauty to understand, 'Hey, what are the colors of my customers’ skin? Am I meeting their needs?'" Lui says. "The technology is capable of telling them, 'Here’s where I have gaps in my shade range.'”

Consider how this could affect the beauty industry's outlook on shade inclusion. Should more old-school brands adopt Nudemeter down the line, the data collected would be able to show them how many people on the deep end of the skin-tone spectrum are trying to buy their products but can't due to lack of shade match. And this is Nudest's greater purpose — to show brands firsthand how much diversity really exists in human skin, especially on the deeper side of the shade range. Lui refers to a wide-known myth in the cosmetics industry, wherein darker skin varies less in undertone — simply not true — caused by simple lack of diversity in boardrooms. This is one of multiple skin misconceptions that Nudest aims to extinguish with hard facts.

Alongside collecting consumer data, Nudest also analyzes popular brands' foundations and doles out awards for inclusion efforts. Thus far it has given awards for depth of shade range, highest number of shades, best customer reviews, and more. No shocker, the Nudest Award for best foundation overall went to Fenty Beauty.

On an even bigger scale, Nudemeter's AI could expand beyond the beauty industry.

"I think that color and color-matching is so exciting for skin, and there's a lot you can do with brands even outside the beauty industry to help a customer receive recommendations on what to wear across fashion categories as well — hosiery, shapewear, shoes, everything across the 'nude' category — but also complementary color for their skin tone. So I can see companies in the fashion space and retail at large having this technology whether they're in beauty or fashion," Lui predicts.

"Our technology at the end of the day is a color-matching system. We've chosen to apply it to skin because that's our initial area of passion; that's also where the industry is really launching this technology. However, Nudest also has the power in the future to help someone match any object through a photo with another item that they might want to pair with it. Imagine a future where you can take a picture of a red pair of shoes and get a red dress to match. That's where we're really thinking big picture."

But for now, Lui and Nudest will continue their efforts to change the cosmetic industry's beauty standards and inclusion efforts, one brand at a time.

This idea might seem simple at its core, but sadly it's still very much a necessity in the beauty industry.

"Let me tell you about the psychological pain of shopping in this world," Lui says. "Whether it's from trying to use technology that’s biased and can’t even recognize my face — something I deal with when it comes to AI and facial recognition technology — or looking for foundation, and it’s like, 'Wow, I’m not seen. No one’s considering me.'”

Lui, in partnership with Glass and Spktrm Beauty, is taking that pain and turning it into hard evidence that beauty companies would be unfathomably stupid to ignore — and when Nudemeter starts getting attention from additional brands trying to make active changes in their shade ranges, something tells me no one will be able to ignore it.

To learn more about Nudemeter, visit Nudemeter.co, and shop for Spktrm Beauty products at SpktrmBeauty.com.